Creating a lasting Camino connection.
Before commencing my Camino, I approached long-distance hiking as a generally isolated exercise. My solo hike along South Australia’s Heysen Trail taught me that uninterrupted periods locked in my own head – contemplating the idiosyncrasies of life – was a good thing. I expected the same mental solitude when I left Saint-Jean on Day 1, but the first week could not have felt more communal. While I’d already grown close with my regular walking party, I would develop a deeper connection with the greater pilgrim community on Day 9.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 9
The Camino Francés is a truly unique experience; every day, I met fresh faces and discovered enlightening stories. The organic, open and flowing nature of a pilgrim pow-wow is like nothing else. There may be no greater example of this community spirit than our engaging conversation on the road departing Nájera. I learnt more about our new walking companion Marie on a morning’s jaunt than people I’d known for years. Our hunger-saving heroine from Day 8 had decided to join our trek to Grañón, and I was eager to find out more about our timely trail angel.
By Day 9, it had become a daily ritual to enjoy first and second breakfasts; the two tiny villages of Azofra and Cirueña, separated by 9 stress-free kilometres, were perfectly positioned to feast. A combination of my perpetually rumbly stomach, our insightful chat and the all-too-familiar agricultural landscape allowed the scenery to pass largely unnoticed until the final stretch to our lunch-stop in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
We dawdled for some time in the popular city – lounging in a main-strip restaurant and venturing into the Catedral Santo Domingo de la Calzada/chicken coop – which, as a result, presented us with yet another sweltering afternoon of weary walking. By the time we battled up the hill into Grañón, we were again questioning our routine sluggishness.
The Catedral Santo Domingo de la Calzada contains possibly the grandest chicken coop in the Western world, housing the descendents of the original hen and rooster who saved an innocent pilgrim’s life.
Our accommodation, located within another church-attached-Albergue, was modest and unassuming. The Romanesque structure contained only the bare essentials – sleeping mats for beds, no pillows, small cubicle showers – though, more importantly, it offered the atmosphere of a big warm hug. The inclusive nature of the hospitaleros made us feel welcomed upon entry, comforted during our stay and nourished via a healthy home-cooked dinner.
As we were again late, the designated sleeping space in the cosy mezzanine had filled, and we were directed toward the level below the kitchen. While the room wasn’t as well-equipped as the loft, we had the space all to ourselves, hidden away from snorers and 2 am’s assortment of rustling bodies.
Later in the evening, we were invited to attend a moment of reflection inside the 16th-century Iglesia de San Juan Bautista church. We were each handed a candle and asked to sit on the row of antique wooden chairs that lined the upper deck of the darkened choir platform. Once seated, the last of electric lights were dimmed and we awaited the service to begin. Looking around the room, I could just distinguish the outlines of pilgrim faces. After nine days of helter-skelter trail life, I was finally relaxed.
Without the distraction of scrolling phones or boisterous outside noise, the retrospective group soon opened up about their Camino journey. These shared experiences and aspirations helped create a greater connection with my fellow pilgrims while providing a platform to better understand the perspectives from different backgrounds. Pilgrims often walk The Way to ‘find themselves’; in this moment, I found everybody else.
The entire Grañón experience, from the hearty home-cooked meal to the inclusive twilight service, highlighted how humility, generosity and gratuity play a fundamental role in lifelong happiness. These worldly ideals can so easily be overlooked when you’re battling the emotion-sapping drudgery of everyday life; adventures like a month-long Camino pilgrimage reaffirm these principles.
This short service was truly insightful; however, after several days of tiresome heat, my eyes slowly and drearily began to close. I’d almost completely drifted to sleep when our 6-foot Italian Chiara (potentially suffering a similar bout of sleep-deprivation) momentarily set her hair ablaze with a misplaced candle. The commotion jolted me from my slumber as those nearby frantically patted her out. Luckily, she was fine, and, if nothing else, I was now wide awake – for the time being.
Overnight, I learnt my final life lesson from an illuminating 24 hours: physical exhaustion and internal contentment are a sure-fire remedy for uncomfortable bedding. I slept undisturbed until early morning alarms buzzed for Day 10.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
Albergue San Juan Bautista
The altitude steadily builds toward Grañón, but the low-impact terrain shouldn’t trouble pilgrim’s after nine days of Camino conditioning.