We made it to the monastery of San Juan de Ortega today. People who know me well and know the history of my Camino experiences down the years know the significance of this place on my first pilgrimage to Compostela, way back in 1994, so arriving here is always a significant milestone in the Camino for me.
I’m glad that I listened to my guardian angel this morning and slowed my pace for the first half of today’s 24k walk to accompany Cheryl and talk to her about some of the things that had led her to make the decision to walk the Camino with us. We had a really interesting conversation, and it was actually good to fall into a different rhythm, although I didn’t have to slow my pace all that much; besides waking a bit tired from too little sleep (thanks to my determination to keep this blog up-to-date each day) and deciding to walk at a slower pace and conserve my energy for the second half of the day’s walk, through the desolate Montes de Oca, Cheryl’s pace has really picked up since we left Roncesvalles. Her uncertainty about being able to keep pace with us, or about whether or not she could cover the distances has melted away and she’s found her pace. It’s always a great moment to see her arrive, positive and bubbling about some conversation she’s had with someone she’s met along the way.
The first 12k of today’s walk passes through a number of small Castilian farming villages that are generally pretty undistinguishable from one another. They may have a small bar or shop where pilgrims can have a coffee or pick up some fruit, nuts or other drinks before pushing on to the next, but other than that there’s no reason to stop for long in any of them unless it’s to attend to a blister or refill you water bottle.
Villafranca Montes de Oca is a different case though. Back when I walked the Camino for the first time, all of the guides to the Camino advised the pilgrim to stock up on water and food for supper here because there would be no towns, houses or other signs of civilization for the next 12 kilometers, until reaching the pilgrim’s albergue in the abandoned monastery of San Juan de Ortega, where there would be no supper other than the garlic soup that the parish priest José María Alonso Marroquín would prepare for the pilgrims each evening. That still hasn’t changed much, although the small bar at the end of the monastery complex does now prepare simple combination platters of omelettes, tuna empanadas and morcilla (that’s blood sausage for you who don’t know, and it’s yummy!). You have to take a number and wait your turn for a table though, because the place seats about 15 at a time, and there’s usually upwards of 60+ pilgrims in the albergue. There’s also a bed and breakfast there now, which provides posh pilgrims such as ourselves a bit more privacy and comfort. I know I’d never have got a nice 2 hour afternoon nap in after my shower in the albergue.
As we started our ascent up the mountain from Villfranca, Cheryl stopped to fiddle with a blister she had put some Compeed on and told me just to go on ahead. I locked into my “let’s knock this baby down and get to that shower” rhythm, and the next 12 kilometers just seemed to fly by. I found Linda sitting at the entrance to the b+b waiting for me as I rolled up; as our bags hadn’t yet arrived, we repaired to the bar where I introduced her to tinto con gaseosa while we waited for Cheryl to roll up. She made her appearance some 20 minutes later, all smiles and waves, and we all headed off to our rooms to rest up.
The monastery of San Juan de Ortega has been much repaired and renovated in recent years. This is where the tomb of San Juan, one of the road-clearing saints whose devotion to their safety and his efforts to clear safer passages through the bandit-infested woods of this region made him much revered by pilgrims of former times, is located. Unfortunately, no Mass this evening, but I was able to spend a good bit of time praying before the saint’s sarcophagus before dinner. I wasn’t really in the mood for much hilarity and pilgrim banter, but I did end up talking for a bit with a German pilgrim who’s living in Switzerland until supper time.
Not much more to report. We’ll head off to Burgos tomorrow. Will keep you posted …