Sun-baked sanity.

The repetitive nature of long-distance hiking can disrupt the mental stability of even the most level-headed trekker – left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot; the routine will question your dedication and your sanity. This test of attrition became all too real during Day 8’s wearisome walk to Nájera when the most unremarkable, everyday occurrence seemed like a heart-stopping spectacle. My brain, just like the rest of my body, had begun to melt.

Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 8

Our typically tight-knit walking group dispersed from Day 7’s welcoming accommodation in disorderly dribs and drabs. Natalia had succumbed to her injuries and opted to rest in Logroño, Susan decided to take it slowly and ease into her day, while Chiara, still fit and firing, chose to plough through her day’s work and absorb the Camino’s myriad of cathedrals and chapels. As for me, I was left to wait until the local 3 Mobile opened, so I could fix my malfunctioning phone. By the time my walk began in the late morning, the path leaving Logroño’s city centre was already sizzling.

Logroño is La Rioja’s administrative and wine capital. Some 152,107 people live here, about half the population of the province.
Guidebook

With a scorching sun pummelling me from above and a radiating cement road pulsating from below, I felt like a toasted sandwich with bubbling cheese oozing through my innards. Not even a short section through La Rioja’s famous vineyards could cool the atmosphere. Instead, the air felt sticky and coarse. I needed shade, a break, and, most importantly, an ice cream. The hilltop town of Navarrete would come to my rescue.

Navarrete Vineyards Camino

The heavenly sight of Navarrete after 12 kilometres of toil.

My first inner-city stop was a well-stocked Carrefour Express to collect lunch, an electrolyte-fuelled drink and a well-earned Maxibon. My second stop; a shady lawned strip in the centre of town. I slumped on the grass, unpacked my newfound rations and stared blankly into the featureless blue abyss. Given the sweltering conditions, you’ll have to forgive me for starting my meal with the ice cream.

I checked my messages; super Swede Susan had also arrived in Navarrete some time earlier, finished her rest and was looking to continue the trail. I quickly gobbled my lunch, nipped into the impressive Church of Santa María de la Asunción to stamp my passport and found Susan adjusting her boots in a nearby café. Luckily, she had overcome several of her niggling aches, though, the blisters lining her feet still caused her to erupt in sporadic shrieks of pain. Nevertheless, we both felt motivated enough to continue our journey to Nájera.

Cathedral on the Camino in Navarrete

Our purposeful strides from Navarrete soon regressed to staggered plods; it wasn’t long before our communication evaporated entirely. A combination of the day’s 30+ºC breathless heat, the exposed terrain, a long stretch adjacent to a smoggy highway and the sprawls of uninspired scenery sapped our enthusiasm and muzzled our conversation. Every shred of our energy, aside from Susan’s blister-induced roars, was concentrated toward arriving in Nájera in one piece.

We remained in our heat-silenced stupors for several kilometres until our journey was unsettled by possibly the most commonplace event on earth. We’d walked for so long in the banal conditions that the sight of a crinkly, half-dead vine leaf blowing across our path caused us to simultaneously stop and gawk in amazement. After a moment of stunned bewilderment, we turned to each other, realised the dwindling state of our sanity, then burst into laughter. Soon, our conversations resurfaced and the challenging terrain felt somewhat friendlier.

Camino Najera Vineyards

Enjoy the shade when you’ve got it.

Following what felt like an eternity weaving our way to, and then through, Nájera’s greater metropolitan area, we arrived at the Municipal Albergue on the brink of hysterics; our energy drained and our minds barbecued. With fluorescent red faces and narrowing eye-lids, we booked our beds and shuffled toward the 90-bed dorm. Before we could move too far, a familiar Scandinavian voice drifted over from the dining table behind us, “you look like you could use some food”.

Marie, a kind-hearted Dane I had met leaving Estella on Day 6, sat with a group of well-rested and well-fed hikers in front of a spread of leftover pasta and garlic bread. With a solitary goal of simply arriving at our beds for the night, we’d disregarded dinner altogether. The generous offer was too good to be true. I could have kissed her; though, given my dishevelled state, I wouldn’t impose that on anybody.

It wasn’t long before my brain felt partially unlobotomised; however, Susan was taking a little more time to recover. She wouldn’t know it yet, but Day 9 – and every other day for the rest of the trail – would feel easier as a result of Day 8’s brutal baking.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

29.8km

Accommodation

Albergue de Peregrinos Municipal de Nájera

Price

Donation

Terrain

Pleasant in places, mind-rattlingly mundane in others. Easily the least appealing section of the trail so far. At least the terrain wasn’t too up and down until a hill before Nájera.