Finding the Good in Rain and Mud: Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada


After a small breakfast at the hostel in Najera, we set out in the pouring rain and the cold, rejoined by our friends Peter and Bill. As we began walking out of town, we saw many pilgrims who had already decided that the miserable weather wasn’t worth braving and they were at the bus station waiting for buses to take them to towns on the Camino further down the trail. Most of them were doing the trail in 20-25 km stages as we were.

It didn’t take long for us to learn that those who had decided on buses had made a wise decision. It was raining hard, and although our rain gear worked very well, it was impossible to stay completely dry. We stopped in the town of Azofra after about 3.5 km and warmed up with tea accompanied by a snack. Warm tea on a cold, wet day was yet another miracle.

The rain cleared a bit and we moved back out on the trail at noon. However, almost immediately the trail turned out to be a quagmire. And then it began to rain again; we hurried to put the rain gear back on. From that point, we slogged through mud for a full 12 km. The mud slowed us down, made us very messy, and even made it more likely we could slip and injure ourselves, but because there were no towns or even signs of human habitation or construction–only farm fields–for the next 12 km, we had no choice and walked on. There were times when we could look ahead to the hills that blocked the horizon, and look back to the hills that blocked the other horizon, and not see a single person anywhere. We realized, though, that there was a reason no one else was around. No one else was foolish (or tough?) enough to be out on the trail in weather like this.

Beautiful but desolate between Azofra and Ciruena.
Now, normally, walking in the cold, the rain, and the mud kilometer after kilometer, with water but no food, would seem like an entirely negative endeavor. However, I noticed that my knees, which sometimes ached from years of volleyball-induced wear and tear, felt much better than they had the past few days. I figured out that the muddy trail provided a walking surface so soft that the trail became easy on the joints: a saving grace in the dreadful conditions. It was like walking on wrestling mats instead of stones, and anyone who has ever had pain in the knees or ankles can relate to the improvement the mud provided.

We ended up going 80% of the distance from Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which was almost 80% more than any other pilgrims went in the awful conditions, reaching the town of Ciruena. Vic and I were already scheduled to catch a 6 p.m. bus from Santo Domingo to Burgos to meet a friend of Vic’s flying in the next day from Canada, and thus it was decided that Peter and I should grab a taxi to cover the last 4 km to Santo Domingo and meet Vic and Bill there. After a late lunch with Peter and Bill at a hostel run by Cistercian nuns, Vic and I said our farewells to those two, who are now friends for life, and, rather wet from our wait at the bus stop, we took the one-hour bus ride to the city of Burgos, a picturesque city of 170,000 with one of the largest and most exquisite cathedrals in Spain, where we walked through the chilled streets to our hostel, checked in, and cleaned up for a good night’s rest.

The medieval section of Burgos upon our arrival.

Our feet were in good shape because every morning we put  moleskin pads and Vaseline on the places that could be susceptible to blisters. It is dull, tedious work, but it works, and it teaches us, just as UCLA basketball coach John Wooden did when he taught his astonished college basketball stars on the first day of practice every year how to put on their socks and shoes properly, that attention to small details can be of tremendous importance. Even Lao-tzu tells us in the Tao Te Ching (“Even the biggest problem could have been solved when it was still small”), and Antoine de St. Exupery’s Little Prince tells us that it is crucial to uproot the baobabs before they become so big that they destroy his planet. Take it from them, rather than from me, that if we take care of the little things each day, we are much more likely to have success with the big things.

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