Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Torrential Hailstorm Strands Pilgrims in Viana Overnight

Just a few kilometers out of Torres del Rio we came to a lookout that allowed a vista over the coming two towns: Viana and Logroño. As we looked over these mid-sized cities of Navarre and La Rioja we saw on the western horizon a vast strip of black storm clouds. At this point it wasn't clear they were heading toward us, but their presence gave us a sense of foreboding -- with no place in the vineyards and low bushes between here and Viana we would be vulnerable to whatever Mother Nature might throw at us.

With grim determination we walked briskly toward Rio Cornova, barely noticing the ancient ruins there. Just over an hour later we arrived in Viana, with the sky turning dark and the wind picking up. Here we faced a choice: press ahead to Logroño to cover additional ground during daylight, wait here until the storm passed, or stay overnight here in Viana to take advantage of the warm and dry albergue, staying off wet and muddy pathways. After a brief discussion the answer was clear: wait it out and see if the weather allowed more walking after the storm passed overhead.

Interior of Iglesia de Santa Maria, our refuge from
the hailstorm outside.
We staked out a rendezvous at the the 13th century Iglesia de Santa Maria and sent Connie and Catherine to find a good cafe/bar to hang out at and Alison and Jackie to the main albergue to see if it was a place we'd want to stay. The rest of us ventured into the gorgeous church. 

The splendor of the church is a clear indication of the prominence of the city in the Middle Ages. The gilded altar, the beautiful stone work, and the height of the ceiling are all indications of the care and expense that went into its construction. The church is also burial place to the infamous Italian, Cesare Borgia -- churchman, politician, military strategist and scoundrel who was praised as being an example of what Machiavelli meant in The Prince.

As we gazed at the church's statue of Santiago, one of the oldest on the Camino, we heard a loud crash coming from outside, followed by the sounds of a torrential rain storm pounding on the roof of the church. We headed to the door to witness the violent downpour and stood in amazement at the almost twelve inches of water that had already begun washing down the stone pavers of the medieval street. Soon the rain was replaced by hail and just as we were about to close the doors of the church we saw Alison and Jackie splashing down the street toward us, their hands over their heads for protection from the pelting of the hail.

Entrance to the Viana Albergue -- the morning after the
big storm when we discovered the fate of two of our group.
After the two arrived we waited another ten minutes, hoping for the storm to let up. At Jackie and Alison's urging we decided to head to the main albergue, just a block or so from the church it turned out, in order to assure ourselves beds for the night. We gathered up our packs and covered them with their waterproof covers, then headed out into the deluge for the albergue.

Although we were only about 50 steps away we were drenched by the time we reached the foyer of the albergue. We signed in, had our credentiales stamped, found our beds (triple-decker bunk beds in this crowded albergue) and got into dry clothes. By this time the storm had mellowed into a heavy rain and we all agreed it was time for a good dinner, so we headed to a nice restaurant just across the street and had a beautiful menu del peregrino. As dessert arrived, I think it was Elissa who asked the question, "Where are Connie and Catherine?"

We sat there in stunned silence. The last we'd seen them was before the storm.

This week's mileage totals are: Team John: 65.9; Team Charles: 95.7. Congrats to Team Charles for taking the lead. We regret that Connie and Catherine have dropped out of our cyber pilgrimage. Visit the blog tomorrow to find out what calamity has happened to them.

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