Day 15. Ventosa to Azofra

I’m woken at 6 to the gentle chanting of monks.
I stay in bed till just before 7 and then pack and I’m on the street walking at 7.30, my earliest start to date.
I have the Camino all to myself in the brisk half light and begin climbing out of the valley finally being passed after 25 minutes walking. On the crest I stop amidst the vines and roll up my sleeves and trousers and have some water. Everything feels pretty good this morning and I proceed to wander the farm lanes of the famous La Rioja wine district.
The farmers are out and I spot some hand-harvesting. The grapes are heavy on the vine and as the pilgrim law allows I sample a few berries making sure I take the small ones in the centre of the vine.
After 90 minutes it’s all starting to ache a bit but I come upon the Tassies perched on a round concrete water thingy having a sip and a rest so I stop a bit but then push on. A little while later I can see Najera in the distance and I bump into the lady from Lennox Head and her friend Pam from Brisbane, who is having a little toe issue.
It’s a long lead in to Najera and not long after a few Spanish men pass me I come into a little run-down picnic are where they have stopped and I do likewise. Some almonds, chocolate and water go down well and while I’m sitting, Martine the French lady goes past. I follow Martine at an increasing distance over very rocky gravel roads that lead right up the the cityscape.
When I finally make it to the first bar I have a look inside but the fare doesn’t please so I continue on, bumping into Martine and then another lady from last night.
I find a fruit shop and but a big nectarine and a few shops further along is a cafe with a nice tortilla in the cabinet so it’s that with cafe americane (long black) for breakfast along with the nectarine. The Lennox-Brisbanes spy me and join.
We leave.
As we move into the centre of town the streets get very narrow and there are a lot of young African men milling around not seeming to be doing much. I try avoiding them by crossing the road several times. There is another large group in the park under the central bridge with the obligatory police car nearby.
The Camino passes through some arches and comes out near what looks like an old monastery where I bump into Brian from Dublin who is attempting access to a function going on there.
I follow the ladies out of town but they pull away going up the long hill and by the crest they are 300 metres in front. There follows a long march slightly uphill with a few riders going by. I shop and shoot a roadside market indicating 580 k to Santiago. I have covered 200 k since the start.
It’s already after twelve when I come to a tar road that the Camino now joins. So it’s a final slog into Azofra and I stumble into the first bar for a salad and beer. I’m the only seated customer.
It’s 4.50 for lunch and there isn’t any phone reception so I go outside but still no luck. I follow the yellow arrows and they lead me to the alburgue. There appears to be reception here and while I’m looking Utah calls out so I make my mind up to walk no further today and book in.
I grab a vend-coke and sit in the courtyard to call Ali.
Afterward it’s shower time followed by laundry and when I get back to my 2-bunk room I meet Rico. He’s from Slovenia and had some relatives living about 100 k out of Sydney on a chook farm. He visited with his wife and hired a car to do a little tour which included Canberra and Melbourne. He is a very neat and organised man unlike me.
It’s siesta time and I sleep till 6 waking again in a slightly shivering state.
I went out and sat for a bit but then walked up into the town looking for a shop and bought chocolate, orange juice, almonds and a nectarine for tomorrow.
When I emerged Connie and Lanie were looking for dinner so I joined them for a meal of Cuban rice, fish and chips and melon accompanied by La Rioja’s finest. We talked about our Camino adventures and life on the road. Afterwards we strolled back and were joined by Utah for a long chat. John provided a bottle of white wine given to him by some ladies over the road. It wasn’t sweet and had a nutty flavour.
Time slipped away quickly and it was soon lights out so I returned to a dark room where Rico was already asleep.
Buen Camino.

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