Canadians on the Camino, Day 5: Blisters underfoot

Early morning in farm country near Los Arcos, Spain
Early morning in farm country near Los Arcos, Spain

(September 08)

This is another day that begins with walking before dawn. We have a fast coffee and some wholesome brown bread at the albergue in Los Arcos and head off into the open farm country. It is quiet at this time of day and the light over the fields and hills becomes wonderfully soft prior to sunrise.

Blisters on the trail 

I have developed a blister under the second toe on each foot.  I have been rubbing my feet with Vaseline prior to pulling on my hiking socks each morning but that has not quite prevented the hot spot. I bought good hiking shoes and broke them in during our training walks in Canada but I think they might be a bit narrow and they pinch my foot.

Martha has taped a thin pad of gauze under my foot and I have shifted to wearing a pair of Keen sport sandals that I had packed. They have good sole and a protective toe box and are really comfortable but they will not work well if it rains, which it almost always does on the Camino. The rich red clay of La Rioja apparently becomes sticky gumbo when it is wet.  I have decided to have my backpack transferred by a service called Jacotrans to our destination in Logrono today but Martha will continue to carry hers.

Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago obsess about their feet in the way that farmers or fishers talk about the weather. Each day on the path one sees people hobbling under their backpacks in ways that at times appear unbearable. Several days ago I met an older, middle-aged man who had undergone knee surgery two months ago but who thought that he could walk the Camino anyway. He is hobbling more wretchedly each time I see him and now is relying on his friends to move him around in a car.  We have also met a Danish woman who has not walked for two days due to tendinitis. At our albergue one evening a Brazilian woman who is a nurse was lancing a blister for another woman and bandaging her feet at an impromptu foot clinic in the courtyard.

Today’s walk, in sandals, encompasses open farmland and as we get closer to Logrono there are more green vineyards. The grapes are sweet and deeply purple and we sample a few as they sag heavily  from the vines.

Long descent into Logrono

Logrono, which is about 30 kilometres from Los Arcos, has 150,000 people and is one of the larger cities along the Camino. About 10 kilometres before we get there our path ascends into the medieval town of Viana where we stop in an old square for lunch consisting of a ham and cheese bocadillo, washed down with carbonated water and topped off with cappuccino.

Then in the intense heat of early afternoon we begin our descent into Logrono along a dirt path that runs behind houses and past abandoned factories, and farther along we walk on an asphalt track industrial park. We leave the province of Navarre and enter into La Rioja, which is one of the smallest of Spain’s 17 autonomous provinces and famous for its fine wines.

After our long trek, we cross the Ebro River on a long stone bridge called just that (Puente de Piedra) and find ourselves immediately in the pleasant plazas and pedestrian streets of the old city centre. We had booked ahead in a private albergue and we find ourselves in a simple but pleasant room with a small balcony over a pedestrian street. Martha immediately sets about hand washing our laundry while I read our guidebook searching for somewhere for us to have dinner.

Encountering other pilgrims

When we venture into the street we soon encounter a number of other pilgrims who we have met along the way. There is a young German, likely in his 30s, who has worked in a bank since he’s been 18 but is asking himself if he wants to continue. There is also a young Irish woman, with whom he has been walking – he is transparently sweet on her. She has a wonderful personality and an attractive lilt to her speech. We have seen her at both of the pilgrim masses that we have attended.

We meet two older middle-aged Irish women sitting at the outdoor table beside us. They have been walking for a week and are ending their stint along the Camino. They both order tall glasses of gin to celebrate. We also bump into the Canadian couple from Toronto with whom we shared a room last night.

After dinner we are looking for Automated Teller Machine when it begins to pelt rain. Fortunately we are just beside an ice cream shop where we take refuge. We have been told to expect rain and we have packed rain jackets and even rain pants but have not had to use them at all so far.

An amorous night 

The albergue is clean and comfortable but its walls are thin. At some point during the night, I hear our neighbours returning, a younger couple who I had seen as we registered early in the afternoon. Now they engage in several vigorous rounds of love making accompanied by a sound track of moans, shrieks and even shouts. Unfortunately, they later begin to argue.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament