One of the best parts about planning this summer’s mini-Camino is that it gives me the chance to go back and walk the 40 kilometers of “missing link” in my last Camino, between Viana and Najera.
There are lots of reasons why a Camino pilgrim might decide to skip ahead on the trail via bus, train, cab, or other motorized vehicle. (I met one woman who hitchhiked for half a day’s walk on a farmer’s tractor.) Generally it comes down to two things: limited time or some kind of body failure. For us, it was a little of both.
Our friend from Seattle, Ian, was coming to join our Camino for five days. The plan was to meet in Logroño on Saturday night, and set out together on foot the next morning. We would then have five days to walk the 120 kilometers to Burgos, where he would catch a train back to Barcelona, and then a plane home.
On paper, it looked good. In real life, things kind of fell apart. Ian’s bus connection in San Sebastian didn’t work out, and he was delayed until Sunday morning. Even worse, Eric and I came down with back-to-back stomach bugs that wiped us out for three days. On the night we were supposed to meet Ian, we were still in Viana, about ten kilometers from Logroño. We were physically on the mend, but we weren’t in long-distance walking shape.
I knew we would have to get flexible about our self-imposed “walk every step” rule, but the logistics confounded me. I needed a morning bus from Viana to Logroño, but I couldn’t figure out how that worked. The tourist office was, of course, closed. The website was confusing.
That night, I consulted our albergue hospitalero, a grandfatherly man who had set us up in a private room and cooked us a “healing soup” when we were miserable (shout out to Albergue Izar, one of the kindest and most hospitable stays of my Camino Frances). The abuelo confirmed that there were no buses on Sundays in Viana, because it was such a small town.
But still, the Camino provides.
Here’s the rest of the story, from my book-in-progress:
Eric’s stomach was on the mend. I was feeling almost human again. We decided we could walk ten kilometers to the city in time to meet Ian’s bus, and then together we’d take a cab ahead to Najera. It wouldn’t be fun, but we could do it.
The abuelo looked worried. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to that.
We both slept well that night, and the next morning I got up, packed, and went downstairs before Eric.
There was the abuelo. “No problem!” he was booming, in English. I recognized the man he was talking to as the driver of the support vehicle for the noisy, brash Italian mountain bike team who’d stayed the night before. As far as I had seen, none of them spoke either Spanish or English. But still, the driver boomed back, “No problem!”
I poured a cup of tea. My stomach still didn’t feel strong enough for coffee.
The men were still talking, one in Spanish and the other in Italian. I understood “Americans” and “enferma,” and I started paying attention.
“Najera!” the abuelo said.
“No problem!” the Italian said again.
Wait, what? I had several problems. I went and got Eric. “There’s a situation developing downstairs.”
As we reached the stairs, the abuelo waved us over. In Spanish, he introduced the Italian, and told us the man would take us to Najera.
“No problem!” The Spanish grandfather beamed.
“No problem!” The Italian grinned.
We tried to explain that there was a problem, because we weren’t going to Najera. We needed to go to Logroño.
“No problem!” both men replied, and they picked up my backpack and carried it to the van. I heard the driver tell another Italian, “Najera.”
“Problem!” I kept squeaking. “Logroño!”
But really, Eric was still a little feverish, and I was weak. Getting a ride into the city, as long as it was the right city, sounded good. And it didn’t really seem like cheating if we accepted the kind support of fellow pilgrims.
So in a rush of words and bags and confusion, we found ourselves in the back of a windowless van, driven by two men we’d never seen before, who spoke no English. We were surrounded by five dirty bicycles–evidently each rider had a backup–and a pile of duffle bags. I wondered if I should send out some kind of emergency text message, in case we were never seen again.
It was only after we pulled away, with the kind abuelo waving proudly and still saying “No problem!” that we realized the real problem: our drivers had no idea where we were going.
“Logroño ?” The Italian man in the front passenger seat asked, looking confused and pulling out a map.
“Logroño,” I said firmly.
It occurred to me then that mountain bikes travel a lot farther than people on foot, and these Italians had only mapped out their route to the place where they needed to meet their riders, probably fifty or sixty kilometers away. They had no reason to know how to get to a city just ten kilometers past where they started.
The next few minutes were a comedy. The drivers left Viana and got on a highway of some kind. We drove for a few minutes, the van feeling like it was going dangerously fast. But then again, I hadn’t been in a car for more than a month. I had no idea if we were even going the right direction. We all kept pointing at signs and reading them to one another.
Finally, there was a sign for a Logroño exit.
“Logroño!” All four of us shouted.
We ended up in some kind of modern industrial park, deserted at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. The driver skeptically asked us if this was where we wanted to go.
I shook my head. “Cathedral?” I guessed. Tall churches were generally easy to find.
But in a city of 150,000 people, even finding the historic section took a while. We kept driving in circles, taking sharp turns, until finally, the buildings started getting older. The streets narrowed.
“Sì?” the man sitting shotgun asked, waving out the window.
“Sì,” we said. I had no idea where we were, but we could navigate better on foot than this wild ride.
The Italians left us by the side of the road, while we thanked them over and over, and they assured us “No problem!”
The whole trip took maybe twenty minutes.
Two hours later, while we killed time at a cafe in the city square, we saw two women who had left Albergue Izar on foot while we were still sorting out the van question. They were just arriving in town.