Thursday, November 5, 2009

Najera to Santo Domingo De Calzada

Head out early up and over the hill out of Najera. We're sorry to leave this friendly little town but are keen to get to Santo Domingo as we're staying 2 nights in order to fit in fairly long detours to Cana and Suso/Yuso.
Stopped to take a break at a purpose built pilgrim rest stop complete with concrete chaise lounges and mud traps for boots! Meet up with two young Austrian pilgrims there who left SJPP 3 days after us. Though walking together they had never met before until SJPP as they fixed the whole thing up on the internet-good grief Frances and I shared rooms in college, survived working as 'scavi slaves' on the TCD digs in Sicily and have known each other for over 30 years ..... and we were a wee bit worried about how we'd manage!
The two lads were puzzled by "all the mud because we have had no rain-no we never need our ponchos".........Frances and I are gobsmacked NO RAIN....the only explanation is that we have been walking in a parallel soggy universe!
But then I look at the panoramic vista and see the explanation before my very eyes- there are 'Winnie the Pooh' rain clouds of enormous proportions drifting along and dumping gallons of rain in very specific spots. So that's it we must have been walking under a cloud (s)-literally

Katherine and 'Winnie the Pooh' rain clouds

The lads head off and as they do we see a spec of blue coming towards us on the looks like a cowboy hat, the trademark of Katherine, so I stand up to see better and the blue speck starts waving its arms it's her alright! She reckoned on where we should be by now, got the bus to Najera asked some pilgrims if they had seen us and then walked like a Trojan to catch up.
It's nice to have a third and the change in dynamic gives both Frances and I a little energy burst. Katherine is like the Reuters of the Camino and has the latest updates on where people ar
e, who got sick and who got better as well as updates on her own situation. We feel dizzy with info and Katherine certainly 'shortens the road' we are in Santa Domingo de Calzada in no time.
The Hospederia Santa Teresita is amazing like a hotel with nuns and we attend vespers there in a small chapel. An elderly lady, obviously a regular attendee, chats loudly through the service until Katherine ssshusses her- quite the devotee! We laugh about it later though Katherine doesn't 'believe' she likes coming to services with us and says its something she mightn't have done on her own.
Visited an enjoyable interactive exhibition in the Cathedral on the theme of 'Sin and Redemption'. In one of the darkened rooms you faced a screen which showed your mirror image being showered with golden letters falling gently from the top to the bottom. The letters kept forming, breaking and forming the phrase "the gentle rain of grace" again and again. You could extend your arms and 'trap' the phrase along your arm or cup the word "grace" in your hand-it was clever and entrancing. Frances said if grace were rain then we would be candidates for beatification.
As we are here for two nights, I go and do a proper laundry of our collective gear in a self service launderette opposite the Del Santo Albergue sit there reading and watching pilgrims coming and going.
In celebration of Katherines 'recommencement' of her Camino we introduce her to her first Gin and tonic in the Parador on Plaza del Santo. An uptight chap in reception won't let us sit in the main lounge proper as 'that's for guests'. But we are allowed to sit in the bar or a small corner of the lounge-not the friendliest of greetings in what was originally a pilgrims hospital- However all is redeemed by the warmth and wonderful service of the lady who brings us our drinks and keeps refilling our bowl of nibbles so much that I worry we won't be able to get out of our seats not to mind leaving the premises.
Treat ourselves to a very posh meal at one of the best places in town -and it's gorgeous-but we all feel a bit like fish out of water not used to the rich fare.

San Millan Suso Looking up to the hermitage through spring blossom

Katherine comes with us the next day on our 'diversion' to Suso, Yuso and Cana. Only one light pack between us so walking is easy...........what bliss. Its lovely heading up into the hills we had been walking 'along side' en route to Santa Domingo. The extra diverseo
is well worth the effort as Suso is wonderful.
Only a handful of people got on the bus that ferries you up from valley to the hermitage site at Suso. Here the guide, a young lassie in green combats who has a tame robin, lets us wander around after the others have left. The janitor has a little booth and sells pebbles marked with the cross of San Milan for 50 cent but its all very laid back and peaceful. 

Sitting in the spring sunshine looking out down the valley with its dusting of blossom the only noise being made by the little bobbing robin scratching around for food was just wonderful.Saint Frances is said to have come here on his way to Santiago, and the contrast between the mountain hermitage and the grandeur and administrative bustle of 'Monastic powerhouse' in the valley below reminded me of the difference we experienced in Assisi last year between the main church and St Frances' retreat in the hills.

Suso one of my/our favourite places
View from the Loggia at Suso down to Yuso

Yuso the administrative powerhouse in the valley below Suso.

San Millan Yuso
The Cistercian convent at Cana with Gothic alabaster windows
At Cana we can only get access to the outside of the building as the convent is closed for lunch. However the Gothic alabaster windows are so large and delicate that its a treat just to look at them-even from the outside. Decide to push on back to Santo Domingo rather than wait as, though it's beautiful sweeping countryside, there is a definite smell of snow in the air.

Back in town tired but so happy we'd made the detour. Frances and I both agree that Suso and Eunate are two of our favorite places. Talking of Eunate reminded Katherine that Sebastian, the very earnest pilgrim we met at Roncevalles and Eunate, had to break off his Camino as he had pushed himself too hard physically. I hope he makes it to Suso one day and finds peace and calmness there.
We meet a Swiss pilgrim having a hissy fit as he had lost his guide. He was so sad and worried and Frances, who loves maps and knowing where we are on them-felt his pain most keenly. She showed him our 'Mr B' and he loved it said the maps elevations and accommodation info were all better than his guide. When Katherine told him she had got a copy in an English language section in a bookshop in Logrono he took down the details and was then a man on a mission and set off to call bookshops up route to see if he could get a copy. I think he would almost have considered busing back to Logrono to pick up a copy.
So if Swiss and German pilgrims think it- it must be official- Mr B is the best!

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