María Nájera: ¡Keep walking!

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“On el Camino I have felt things that I could not feel in any other place”

I love books more than many things, but the truth is, I never imagined that I would right one or that el Camino de Santiago would be the inspiration and main theme. Without a doubt, life is full of surprises and the publication of ¡Continúa caminando!, in May of 2015 was one of them.

I am a philologist and a journalist, currently living in Pamplona although, in just a few weeks, I will change scenery and move to Dumfries, Scotland. I was there last December and was excited to find a small street called ‘Pilgrims way.’ Coincidence?

El Camino de Santiago changed my life in 2009. I traveled it with my brother, Nacho and Edi, someone who became my third brother, my Colombian brother. We started from Astorga and I suffered terribly. I like to think that in my previous life, that which brought me to this experience, I sinned too much…And I payed for it amply!

On returning to Madrid where I lived, I decided that my life would be different, but I thought that el Camino couldn’t be radical. A friend from el Camino advised me this. Some time after, in 2012, something (or perhaps a lot) changed. I like to say that one must be careful about what they ask from the universe and carefully formulate desires, because they are often met

In 2012, my brother Nacho, a true lover of el Camino who had traveled the French portion of el Norte and la Vía de Plata, many times, opened Check In Rioja, a hostel for pilgrims in the center of Logroño

Weeks later, on July 13 (Friday…), he went into surgery and my other brother, Pablo called me: ‘Maria, can you open the hostel? Nacho is in the hospital.’ Then, I lived in Madrid and that day I left the job that I had for the past five years. I took the car and went to Logroño

I managed Check in Rioja for a month with the brave help of my partner, Josemi. Later, after recovering, Nacho returned, but upon finishing the season, in October, he told me that he would like to share the adventure of Check In Rioja with me

I’ve worked in this wonderful place for the 2013, 2014, and part of the 2015 season. Last September, I decided to write another page of my personal story and save my time living in Check in Rioja as an exciting part of my life. Now, in 2016, I don’t clean bathrooms, make beds or receive pilgrims, and yes, I miss the special energy of that place on Los Baños Street. It’s significant that, in 1935, the building was a dance hall and that the happiness endures

I think that those of us who trapped ourselves en el Camino were a little crazy. But it’s a blessed madness, following the yellow arrows! In 2009, I discovered el Camino de Santiago and have returned on different occasions. I have walked in winter and in fall, enjoying the vineyards stained red; I’ve walked with my father and have gotten close to people who are already part of my life. El Camino wasn’t just the inspiration for my first book, but it has also made me a better person. I’m sure of that.

Why a book? A multitude of pilgrims who made Check In Rioja their home for many hours and even many days, and who listened to the many stories of things that happened in our house, motivated my brother and I to tell our story. After returning from a week of walking, in February 2014, I started the work. Many pages were written while talking to pilgrims in the hostel. One of them asked me: “What are you writing, María?” They don’t know that I was working on my first book and that some of them are even part of the story.

portada-continua-caminando

Through the pages, march not only characters that decided to rest in our hostel but also other pilgrims that we have met on our walks. However, there are two main characters: Nacho, an example of strength and will, and our father, who at 72 years old and with surgery on his spinal column, throws himself into el Camino whenever the opportunity arises. In these moments, he follows el Camino of the wool, from Sigüenza.

“It is never a good time to do el Camino, but it is always the best opportunity”

I hoped that it would be a beautiful book, with a nice texture and good paper. This was very important to me. It’s 108 pages and weighs only 140 grams, an important fact in order to be able to carry it in a backpack. Also, I wanted the language to be simple, easy. That’s my style as a journalist: short sentences, uncomplicated syntax. And in the background: a reflection.

¡Continúa caminando! tells something as simple as the fact that the act of walking can change your life. How following the yellow arrows with eyes toward Santiago de Compostela can allow you to reflect, value, get away from some problems, and find soluciones that in other moments, in everyday life, you aren’t capable of discovering.

I gather small reflections about this life that we are living, through which we move so quickly, in which we forget to enjoy a field full of flowers or a simple plate of spaghetti. El Camino de Santiago connects you to the small things. When you return, you aren’t usually the same person. My brother Nacho and I are two examples of this transformation.

detalle-continua-caminando

As I say in one of the chapters, on el Camino I have felt things that I could never feel in another place in the world. I don’t know how to explain it, but it produces something special; it strips you of the unnecessary and returns you to the basic through the act of walking. You are aware of the pain in your feet, but it doesn’t matter; you marvel at seeing the horizon in front of you and the number of kilometers to go; it brings you to tears over small gestures…It’s incredible! Many people who have read ¡Continúa caminando!, say that it is a very intimate book. And certainly, it is.

“It’s not a question of agility, nor youth. Neither of strength or resistance. Its wanting to try and enjoying every step.”

There are usually bad moments during el Camino, but they do not outweigh the good ones. You face physical pain, but you learn to overcome it. You suffer blisters, joint pain, and other pain in unfamiliar parts of your body, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a revealing experience. I remember when I walked in February, practically all of the hostels were closed, and I had to walk further still…but I didn’t care, you see the bright side, you look forward and keep walking.

My brother Nacho always says that el Camino de Santiago teaches us to always look forward, to not think so much about the past, because it’s already over, it won’t return. I think that he’s right and that if we applied this maxim to our lives we would be happier. We would live more peacefully. So, whatever happens, keep walking!

Those who want to learn our story can request a copy at

info@checkinrioja.com It costs 14 euros for the book and 3 for shipping.

Check In Rioja – Los Baños, 2. Logroño – www.checkinrioja.com

Translation:Carolyn Montagnolo

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About Author

Isaac Martínez

Soy diseñador multimedia, hiker experimentado y arquitecto de Rutas en Vojo. Un día descubrí el Camino de Santiago y ya no me lo pude sacar de la cabeza. Me gustaría compartir con todos vosotros la experiencia y conocimientos que he podido adquirir a lo largo de cientos de kilómetros recorridios por esta y otras rutas, y dar a conocer consejos, historias y curiosidades que te ayuden a disfrutar mucho más tu Camino.

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