Time walked – 7 hours with 1 long coffee break and multiple small breaks
Total distance walked – 13.6 miles (151.25 miles total)
Weather – Hot and dry, full sun, no shade, upper 70’s to 83 degrees F
Terrain – dirt road, some pavement
Ray and I said good-bye to T.I. at the hostel in Najera, leaving earlier than usual because it was supposed to be another hot day. Even though we are always awake between 6 and 6:30 a.m., our morning routine of packing our bags and double-checking our plans for the day, getting off by 8 a.m. is difficult. This morning, we were on the road at 7:45 a.m. It did not take us long to wind our way through the city streets and back out to open trail. We only saw one pilgrim in front of us and none behind us. Now that the peregrinos have thinned out, it gives us something to talk about for awhile. We wonder if we left later than most, earlier than most, if most have bussed or taxied on to a more scenic part of the Camino, and on and on. We know of two pilgrims who specifically had to stop walking because of injuries, so we talk about how thankful we are that we’ve been able to continue.
The sun had risen just enough to reveal the beautiful blue, almost cloudless sky. In the far distance we could see a snow-capped mountain. One of the main reasons that we live in Panamá is to escape the snow, but we both enjoyed looking over and seeing the snow on the mountain so far away.
In all my hours of research, I read about the Meseta portion of the Camino. The Meseta is long stretches of farm ground with very little shade and is reported to begin after Burgos. Today, however, it seemed as though we were already in the Meseta. We’ve been trekking through wheat fields for quite some time, with barley fields, olive trees and vineyards now added to the mix. The ground is very dry, causing my black socks to turn brown with dust as we walk along. Next to the trail on this morning was an irrigation track doing double duty, marking the way of the Camino.
After an hour and a half of walking, we entered the village of Azofra. As per our usual custom, we stopped for coffee and a bathroom break. The ham and egg sandwiches looked delicious so we ordered those as well. Whenever we pass a market in the morning, we check out the fruit and purchase bananas, apples or oranges to eat later on the way. We still had an orange from the day before, so we peeled and ate that as well. Since we sit outside of the restaurant, Ray and I like to take our dishes back into the restaurant bar before heading to the water closet. As I carried my coffee cup and plate back in, I noticed a line of women near the bathrooms. I decided to go back outside to wait rather than get in line, but more and more pilgrims were showing up to eat. Getting antsy to leave, I finally took my place in line. The ladies in front of me looked fresh, full of energy and their clothes were bright and clean. I found out that they were in a tour group of 20 pilgrims from Ireland that had started in Logroño and would walk the Camino for one week. That explained why they looked so good and were smiling so much! But really, no sarcasm or judgment on my part, they were older than the majority of pilgrims, and I thought it was terrific that they could have this experience. One of the ladies asked if I was walking the entire Camino Frances. When I replied that I was, the women got very excited and were extremely encouraging. Other than having to wait for the bathroom, it was my pleasure to interact with these ladies.
Back to the endless trail we went. There was very, very little variety in this part of the Camino, and I realized that this was probably the perfect stretch for the group I had just met. It reminded Ray and I of Kansas, where you can see for miles ahead of you. I had started the day in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts knowing that it was going to be hot, but I was sweating far sooner than I had anticipated.
We crested a slight incline and found a few pilgrims resting at the only shady spot we had seen since leaving Azofra. Ray asked if I’d like to stop, but I wanted to keep going. This make-shift park offered nothing but a few benches and trees, and it was already full with others. I could see some buildings in front of us, which was usually a good sign. Soon we came across a golf course and what we assumed was a country club. Nearby was a newer housing development. The closer we got to the rows and rows of two-story condos, however, the clearer it became that the homes were empty. There were a few signs offering the properties for sale, but it was more like the homes had been abandoned or never occupied. Ray said that he felt like we were walking through a movie set. I told him that I kept expecting Mel Gibson to ride up on his Mad Max motorcycle.
Ray and I entered the small village of Cirueña after getting through the abandoned development. We only had another 7 kilometers to go for the day, but Ray had run out of water and wanted to refill his hydration pack. I was so hot that all I could think of was getting a cold soda to drink. We saw a park ahead and a few pilgrims sitting on picnic tables. We stopped there and Ray found a water fountain. He then walked back into the town to get us a couple of cokes. The park was next to a highway and we were surprised how loud the traffic was as well as how intimidated we were to cross the pavement to return to the Camino.
Our destination was the city of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, population 6,500. I had already made a reservation for us so we did not have to rush. From Cirueña, Santo Domingo was downhill and we could see it from very far away. It seemed like we kept walking and walking but weren’t getting any closer. At one point I felt a sharp pain in my right foot, but it was very brief so I assumed I may have stepped on a rock or something that affected my tired feet. The 17 mile walk the day before had definitely taken a toll on how my body felt today.
We entered the city through the industrial side and walked all the way to the other side to find our hostel. Again there were many empty and abandoned buildings. Ray and I wondered what had happened in this region to cause so much ruin. I turned on my map app to get us directly to the hostel. The last couple of kilometers had no been enjoyable for my feet and I was ready to get my shoes off and take a shower.
Warning: Graphic Content to Follow! Ray wanted to check the blister that had started the day on my heel. I pried my shoe off and realized the source of the sharp pain. The blister had expanded at least double in size. I now had a blister on each side of my right heel, the one on the inside was possibly from a rock, the one on the outside from my new inserts. In my opinion, Ray made a much bigger deal out of doctoring the blister than I thought necessary. I had endured the smaller one on the inside for a few days without treating it at all because it wasn’t bothering me. My philosophy is to leave them alone and they’ll heal on their own, but Ray wanted to go to the farmacia and get bandages, tape and something for sterilization. After he snapped a couple of photos, I let him doctor it up.
For dinner, Ray and I found a little place where the hamburgers smelled irresistible. We don’t often eat hamburgers in Panamá, so we placed our order and got to work checking emails and updating the blog. When I got up to leave, my foot had stiffened up quite a bit from sitting too long without moving it. It was hard to put weight on my heel, so I spent the rest of the evening modifying our schedule so that we wouldn’t have to walk as far as planned the following day.