Madelyn Given enjoyed a great dinner with fellow hikers on the Camino de Santiago trail.

El Camino: A Special Dinner

I hiked steadily from Nájera to Redecilla del Camino, 32 kilometers in the terrible heat, except for a pleasant stop in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. That afternoon in September 2014, I was the second person to check in at the albergue. I found out from the other pilgrims staying at the albergue that I had hiked the farthest of all of them that day!

I was another step closer to Santiago when I crossed the border of the La Rioja province and entered Castilla y Leon. It was a good feeling to see progress on this long journey. Just before Grañón, I walked past a hill; later I learned that Celtic burials were performed there. It didn’t look any different than any other hill in the countryside, but so much history is buried.

I was so tired and hot that I almost finished my day in Grañón. I saw a small albergue with 3 – 4 people sitting outside by the door, waiting for it to open. There was not much going on: pilgrims were either back in Santo Domingo, or had gone on ahead. It was with effort and determination that I walked on alone to reach the one albergue in Redecilla del Camino, a one-street village with one store, one church, and one café.

I followed my daily routine: shower, hand wash clothes, and then get something to eat. At the little restaurant next door to the albergue, I sat down for a quick snack. I asked the manager what time dinner would be. She politely told me there was one seating at 7 pm—unless there was a group.

There were three Canadian women sitting at another table, and they said they would join me as part of a group so we could eat earlier. I went back to the albergue, where a Brazilian couple and three other people asked to join the group. A young biking couple saw me, and they said they would be happy to join us as well. I now had a group; I went back and notified the manager, who scheduled our dinner an hour earlier than normal.

Before dinner, I walked across the narrow street and into the church. Behind protective bars was an ancient, massive baptismal font—one of the most impressive on the el Camino. It was Roman, with a design of a city on it (probably Jerusalem).

Every day, there was something impressive to see along the trail; nature was at its best, too. Since leaving Belgium over three weeks earlier, I had not encountered any rain while hiking.

At 6 pm, our group sat down for a wonderful Spanish feast, in the little restaurant next to our albergue. The chef had fixed paella, the number-one native dish of Spain. It was a meal in itself. The chef had worked all afternoon to prepare this special dish for our group, and he proudly carried it out, steaming hot, and set it down in the middle of the table. This colorful paella was served on an enormous platter filled with chunks of tender chicken, shrimp, rice, vegetables, and spices.

As you can see in my photo at the top of this blog post, it was a fun time dining together; the hospitality was grand, and especially appreciated by the hikers from around the world. The manager was from France, but was living and working here while her son was going to school. She and the chef went out of their way to make our meal an event to remember.

Our group walked back to the albergue, a place built on the site of an eleventh-century pilgrim hospice. After hiking and a wonderful meal, I was ready for a good night’s rest.

(posted February 10, 2015)