A Sense of Wonder: Viana to Najera


The distance from Viana to Najera is about 40 km, but because our friends Bill and Peter, who had parted with us in Viana, caught up to us in Navarette, the remaining 17 km flew by as on no other day. The key was the humor of our friends and the entertaining nature of the conversation as we walked.
After we passed a lake called Plantano de la Grajera, not only did it not rain in the morning, but the sun came out and it became a warm, beautiful spring day that took us through the famous wine region of Rioja. The surroundings were dominated by fields in which grew young vines of grapes for the Rioja wines. The soil was red like the soil of Kauai, which created beautiful patchwork tapestries of various greens juxtaposed with the red soil and black of the shadows of various crops.
Walking through the Rioja wine country in the sun.

In Navarette, we refilled our water bottles and then we took a moment to walk into the church that dominated the town. The inside was breathtaking in its size and opulence, which was undetectable from the outside, and we were amazed when another pilgrim, from Germany, broke into a beautiful rendition of a hallelujah hymn. He had an excellent voice that reverberated perfectly in the massive and acoustically excellent space of the church’s interior. It was unforgettable, a spontaneous and sincere expression of devotion.

By the time we reached Ventosa, we were hungry enough to make the modest lunch seem superb.

Lunch in Ventosa with the Spanish national soccer team.

Ventosa conversation.


The warmth of the day was soothing and reassuring. We trudged on through the wineries and the farms, but we began to notice that the sky had grown very dark over the mountains in the distance. The distance was not great, we soon discovered, as the rain began to move rapidly toward us. Though we had just been walking through a sunny, soothing day, in a matter of minutes we had to begin scrambling to put on rain gear and put rain covers over our backpacks. Then we took shelter under an overpass to wait for the rain to diminish. Had we not acted so quickly, we would have been soaked by the strong, sudden shower of large raindrops that seemed almost like hailstones and would have been chilled to the bone by he wind for the 6 or 7 km we still had to walk. As it was, only our feet were now wet.

We made it into Najera and our gear had already begun to dry. The city’s a fascinating medieval city, with its share of modern sections but still predominated by a feel for the old. A pretty river runs through the core of the city, and our hostel was just a block from it and from one of the pedestrian bridges that span it. After unloading our gear and cleaning up, we went out for a well-deserved snack. Our dinner across town later that night included the tastiest, most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten (pulpo de gallega, in this case). Many people don’t know that Spain is famous for its octopus dishes; I hadn’t known before this trip. Our waitress said she was originally from Turkey, and when I spoke some Turkish to her, her already cheerful face really lit up. I was thus made aware of an important truth, that it is often the case that we can make a huge difference in how other people feel with just the smallest of gestures, even something as simple as using someone’s name when you say hello to him or her. We don’t always realize how easy it is to bring enormous joy to other people, but when we do, it’s like having a license to spread happiness with almost no effort.

One of the striking developments that we noticed on the journey was that we kept running into wonderful things and having wonderful experiences, eating wonderful food, or meeting wonderful or impressive. We kept having to use the word maravilloso, which means “wonderful,” and it occurred to us that the reason we were using the word was very good, it obviously meant that we were surrounded by all kinds of wonderful things. At the same time, and for many kilometers, and maybe for a few days, I had been thinking off and on about Stevie Wonder’s song “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” for several reasons. The most obvious is that it has the word feet in it. Being knocked off one’s feet figuratively can often be a good experience; we had already had experiences that figuratively knocked us off our feet, but certainly a pilgrim does not want to be literally knocked off his feet. Many other meaningful associations with the song entered my head and both strengthened and pleased me, but the coincidence of thinking about the idea of ‘wonderful” while hearing in one’s head a song by Stevie Wonder was now not lost on me. There was reassurance and more in this development. Naturally, any life that makes it essential to learn how to say “wonderful” and provides many opportunities to use it must be a very good life, indeed.

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3 Responses to A Sense of Wonder: Viana to Najera

  1. Duane says:

    “…told only to the wind, felt even without being said.”

  2. Amanda Adachi says:

    Hi Mr. Greenhill,
    I’m glad you’re having a great time. It must be truly fascinating to be surrounded by all this new culture! Keep on blogging please. 🙂


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