The Story of Rio Salado

“In a place called Lorca, towards the east, runs a river called Rio Salado. Beware from drinking its waters or from watering your horse in its stream, for this river is deadly. While we were proceeding towards Santiago, we found two Navarrese seated on its banks and sharpening their knives; they make a habit of skinning the mounts of the pilgrims that drink from the river and die. To our questions they answered with a lie, saying that the water was indeed healthy and drinkable. Accordingly, we watered our horses in the stream, and had no sooner done so, than two of them died: these the men skinned on the spot.”

Codex Calixtinus, Chapter VI

There’s some disagreement about whether this twelfth-century story, recorded in the very first pilgrim guidebook, is actually a firsthand account, or whether it was a rumor passed from pilgrim to pilgrim (a tradition that continues today; Eric and I called it Radio Camino), reflecting the general dangers of the road and also the common xenophobic suspicions that plagued the time (and, sadly, our own).

Either way, the story stuck, and the medieval bridge stands today. Just past Puente La Reina in Spain, the modern Camino winds several kilometers out of its way, under a busy highway and across some less-than-lovely territory, to get to this “river” that’s more like a stream.

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Bridge over the Rio Salado

We stopped for a picnic snack, chatted with other pilgrims, and rested our feet. I remember that we had oranges that day, and that the ants were huge and aggressive (well fed from thousands of pilgrims who pause here, I’m sure). There was a young pilgrim walking across Spain with his dog. Most of the people weren’t aware of the bloody history of the place where we sat.

Thankfully, no one drank from the stream, and no one tried to kill our horses.

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