Day 6 – Torres del Rio to Logroño (20.6 km)
We were most surprised when the next morning the roof opposite the tiny window of our bedroom was powdered white. On leaving the albergue, Eric and I made the first footprints on the thinly snowed-over road leading out of the village. At first the snow was falling lightly, flakes just swirling aimlessly around. Then they became larger and heavier; later it was snowing intensely and the countryside was quickly covered and transformed into a white landscape. By about lunchtime the breeze became a wind and then a gale or blizzard, and the snow changed from drifting aimlessly to falling heavily in straight lines, followed by driving horizontally into our faces. I soon looked like a snowman, my sling bag covered, and my windbreaker and pants white in patches. I slipped my beanie over my head, pulled the coat hood forward and tightened the strings to seal ears and as much of my face as possible. I then strapped my wide brimmed hat on top and closed the flaps of my jacket over chin and mouth. I covered the remaining gaps around the neck with a scarf.
Yours truly well protected against the blizzard.
It was a matter of closing all hatches – even if I felt like a bogeyman, but I was protected and even enjoyed these conditions which, because of my living in Africa, were an interesting and contrasting experience. On the one hand I laughed into my mask and was excited; on the other hand breathing became restricted and I definitely had to grit my teeth to cope. I tilted my head forward to shield my eyes and as much of the remaining exposed face as was possible. As a result, visibility was reduced to just a few meters. Whenever I had to look up in order not to miss any yellow way-markers, the driving snow stung my cheeks. Obviously I put on the new leather gloves; I cannot remember whether I wore my woollen pair underneath for further warmth.
The transformation of the landscape was rapid. The lonely countryside with rolling hills nearby and black forested mountains in the distance became white and formed a stark backdrop. Later I passed through fields and vineyards, which by then were also heavily coated.
Snow transformed the landscape
Earlier on Eric and I walked together until I had my breakfast in the sheltered porch of a lonely church in the middle of nowhere. These small, forlorn-looking buildings are spread out here and there in this part of the Camino. They are either still intact or in ruins and testify to the early and extensive pilgrim movements.
The region we crossed was in the district of Viana, very close to the border between Castile and Navarre. In medieval days border skirmishes between the two kingdoms were common and seriously affected not only the population, but also the pilgrims.
In the 9th and 10th centuries the Moors occupied the Ebro Valley that was in close proximity, which made the area even more unsafe. Pilgrims had to adapt to prevailing circumstances and face the dangers. At times they had to find alternative routes to avoid hostilities and these routes were often longer, more strenuous and leading through rugged valleys and over high mountains.
The promise of ultimate redemption when reaching Santiago was, however, so strong that pilgrims were absolutely determined to reach their goal and the stream of devotees was so vast that on a fifteen kilometre stretch around Viana twelve churches, some minor monasteries and a number of hostels sprang up. They are situated on the direct path that leads through Navarre to Logroño, as well as on alternative routes.
Viana was a market town and pilgrims could stock up provisions and those who could afford it might have found more comfortable shelter than caves and hovels in the countryside. We need to visualize the conditions they had to master to appreciate the comparative luxury of our journey today. In those days there were no way-markings and no detailed guidebooks as we have them these days for pilgrims to consult. Pilgrims relied on word of mouth and the chance of missing the path must have been very real.
In the 12th century the French priest Aymeric Picaud compiled the first ‘guidebook’ of the Camino. It consists of five volumes and a letter of introduction from Pope Callixtus II, hence the name ‘Codex Calixtinus’, accompanies them.
In book V Aymeric Picaud describes the road from Panthenay-le-Vieux near the region of Poitou in France right up to Santiago de Compostela. It also provides practical advice for pilgrims on the way, informing them where they should stop, which relics they should venerate and sanctuaries they should visit. He refers to the various regions along the way and their inhabitants – sometimes describing the people and their conduct in harsh words. He also warns the pilgrims about bad food and commercial scams they should be wary of, and named churches which falsely claimed to hold relics of St. James.
The other four books, in brief, refer to the following: The first contains sermons and homilies concerning Saint James. The second lists twenty two miracles attributed to Saint James in Europe. The third book describes the transfer of Saint James’ body from Jerusalem to his tomb in Galicia. It also tells us of the custom of gathering the scallop shell as the identifying symbol for pilgrims.
The fourth book was multi-copied by the Catholic Church and widely publicized. It describes the legend of Matamoros or ‘St. James the Moorslayer’ and is considered by scholars to have been an early example of propaganda to drum up recruits for the Military Order of Santiago.
A note attached describes: “If the educated reader seeks the truth in our works, he approaches this book without hesitation or compunction, he is sure to find it there, for the testimony of many people alive attests that what is written is true.”
It is probably fair to assume that in those early days the ‘guidebook’ was hardly practical. The weight and size alone made it unpractical and how many of the pilgrims could read anyway? Also, only 8 books are traceable, questioning ‘mass copying’ – one of which is in the Santiago Cathedral.
To warm myself I had coffee in the historic town of Viana, where I bumped into Eric again. This time he was sitting in a wind-sheltered corner under the town hall arcades, had just finished his brunch and was soon on his way. I visited the large and grand church on the main square which had a most luxurious golden altar wall covering the whole width of the apses and rising about fifteen metre right into the ceiling vault. The wall assembly of pictures is gigantic and particularly ornate for this small settlement. Viana nowadays, with its modern outskirts and industrial areas, has only about 4000 inhabitants.
The massive golden wall framing the altar.
On my way out of town I bought a tortilla and a second cup of coffee. It was unusual for me to have two cups in one destination – but it was cold enough and I needed the energy boost for the remaining nine kilometres to Logroño. On arrival and before crossing the bridge over the River Ebro, I entered the tourist information office, which probably catered for just a sprinkling of pilgrims in winter. I was told that the Municipal albergue was being refurbished and I received instructions on how to reach the alternative private hostel. I either had not listened properly or misheard the instructions and could not find the place to which I had been directed.
Snow had fallen continuously and, although I had only walked close to twenty one kilometres that day, I was ready, in fact desperate, to have a nap. A police officer finally directed me to the refugio and I spread out and enjoyed the modern facility with its efficient central heating system. I was feeling content and at home. Humans, however, are seldom satisfied – at least I appear to be too hastily dissatisfied: the heating system in this hostel remained on all night and the heat was most uncomfortable for me. I did not have a good night’s sleep.
The cathedral in Logroño, which I visited that afternoon, was large and impressive. In many Spanish cathedrals, the choir – where bishops and priests sit on their richly carved benches during high mass – is central to the nave and the remaining space facing the altar is where the congregation gathers during mass. The hall-like space to the rear of the choir was, I assume, reserved for the public to mingle and converse without disturbing the proceedings. In this cathedral the rear part is now enclosed by glass and heated, making it suitable for regular church services. Worshippers drifted in and out, some settling while a woman prepared the altar for the next service. Once I had warmed myself sufficiently I left before the priest arrived.
I could not find a suitable restaurant in the city centre, so I returned to the hostel where I had seen a plain looking bar/shop/restaurant and Noelia joined me there for dinner. She had also visited the cathedral, and as we were waiting for our food, she poured out emotions and could not hold back her tears. Noelia is a very practical and down-to-earth young woman who knows how to organize and how to deal with people. She manages entertainment in a holiday resort on the Spanish island of Menorca, and most of her customers are from Britain. She certainly is not a shy person; she is a Spaniard and has a temperamental Spanish nature.
Noelia explained that in the cathedral earlier that afternoon she had been overcome with emotions: she had cried for a long time and was overwhelmed by the experience. She was a modern Catholic believer, and that was one reason for her to walk the Camino. Another reason was that she was caught in a fourteen-year-long relationship and saw no way of fulfilling the love they had in marriage. I understood that either his or her family disapproved of the marriage and this had prevented the union. She was now facing the consequences: if a solution could not be found, she would have to consider breaking off the relationship.
At this point Xavi, a young pilgrim from Spain she had met earlier in the day, joined us and we abandoned the discussion. What I would have suggested to her would have been along these lines: If the love is overwhelmingly strong and healthy, and the two lovers are mature and sincere in their union, then nothing should stand in the way of their marriage. Family concerns and opinions of family members should not prevent a union. This is my opinion, but I am not Spanish, so I do not understand the social dynamics that come into play. Nevertheless, it was quite disturbing that the family influence could be so strong.
I asked myself if their relationship of 14 years had not become a pattern or habit which might by now be lacking excitement and sincerity. For Noelia, having to wait for 14 years and still not seeing a resolution was a most distressing circumstance, one which prevented her from relaxing and enjoying her life. Perhaps a pattern of convenience had crept in. Noelia needed to evaluate her own feelings as well as those of her partner. If complacency emerged and the spark had dulled, then she should know what to do. If however, on final analysis, it was solely the family members preventing the union, an honest and frank discussion should take place between herself, her partner and the members in question. They should clear the air and assert the importance of their union over the family’s objections. If this is not possible and her partner was still not proposing, she needed to face the inevitable. Fourteen years of waiting is far too long and any action now would be better than none at all.