Vineyard grapes along the El Camino trail, photographed by Madelyn Given.

El Camino: Keep Hiking Despite Distractions

I really do enjoy hiking and el Camino de Santiago is a great trail for me. It is so well laid out, well maintained, historic, and scenic, and it is a world-renowned trail. It is the first week of September 2014 and I begin hiking in the early morning darkness with the beauty of the stars and moon. It is cool but not cold and so far no rain. I have been hiking for a week now, averaging 6 to 8 hours daily.

Today I hiked all morning with a woman from New Zealand. She planned to stop in Viana and I hiked on alone through this 13th-century town with its high walls and mansions decorated with ancient family crests. I followed the yellow arrows through the town, out through the fields, beside houses, and over criss-crossed roads to Logroño, the largest town in the province of La Rioja and the center of the wine industry. The photo of grapes, at the top of this blog post, was taken that day in the vineyards I passed.

I walked past ancient medieval ruins, new factories, and a section of ram shackle houses where an old woman was offering sellos (stamps for the El Camino passport book, which had to be stamped every day on the trail) and selling cold sodas. I walked alone, not seeing any pilgrims, down the sidewalks to the Iglesia de Santiago, where this church stands on the site of a 9th century church. On the ground in front of the church is a large painted mosaic, the Juego de la Oca. It is like today’s board game of snakes and ladders, represented in mosaic form, where the squares are different places along the way and the passing pilgrims move from square to square. This was a fun distraction for a few minutes; then I headed on to the albergue and signed in.

I left my poles and back pack in the room and went to look for a place to buy a SIM card for my cell phone. In a modern shopping area of the city, I found a phone store, where I walked in, saw a long line, and began waiting. There was only one clerk and one technician. Despite the long line in front of the clerk, the technician sat at a desk doing nothing the entire time. The young clerk was frustrated and later explained that two clerks were out that day and she had been there with no help in this big modern store.

Although I had not stopped to eat yet today and it was now afternoon, I wanted to get my SIM card and re-activate my phone. I was concerned that the store would close for the daily two-hour siesta between 2 and 4 pm, yet what could I do but wait? During my long waiting time I struck up a conversation with a local woman ahead of me. She and her teenage son were world travelers and she could speak English; talking with her helped to pass the time.

We all continued to wait and finally it was 2 pm. The technician got up and left. And the door locked. Everyone stayed in that line. As we waited longer, the clerk told the people behind me they had to leave as it was after 2 pm. They said no, they had been there in line long before 2 pm, and they made no attempt to leave. Everyone stayed and the clerk continued to work during her break time.

I was so tired of standing, and I felt a bit faint, but I was determined to get that SIM card as I had not been able to call home for several days. Finally it was the turn of the woman in front of me. She leaned over the high counter with the clerk on the other side, and before she began her business, she tried to help me by asking the clerk if they carried SIM cards for international calls. The clerk said no, she couldn’t help me—and after I had waited all this time!

The lovely woman asked where I would find a SIM card. The clerk explained that a small place quite a ways from here might have one. The helpful lady asked her teenage son to go with me. She gave him exact directions and promised to meet us there once she had finished her business.

The teenager and I set off together to find this store down a few blocks from the downtown metropolitan section on a side street. Finally he walked into this tiny store just large enough to go in single file and I followed him. I asked the man behind the counter in Spanish if he had a SIM card. Yes he did. I began to smile then laugh and soon the teenager was laughing, too, as he knew how long we had waited in the other store. I purchased the card and the store owner graciously set it up and tested it for me. The lovely woman arrived just as I was finishing my transaction. By then we were all cheering including the store owner. I was so happy I thanked them over and over, gave them a big hug, and then said good-bye.

I found a grand mercado and bought food for lunch, dinner, breakfast, and snacks. I slowly walked back to the albergue, cleaned up, had something to eat, and called home. How good it was to hear my husband’s voice again!

The SIM card was a distraction. But I had conquered that obstacle! I was happy to have my needs met and be back on track, ready to hike again.

(posted January 20, 2015)