Day 12, April 16: Belorado to San Juan de Ortega (24.4 km, 15 miles)

For the 15th day in a row, I slipped into my light (and lightweight) gray skate-boarder pants and the teal heavyweight Smartwool top. So easy not to have to make decisions! The pants have sometimes had long underwear underneath or rain pants over them, but the gray pants have been a constant; the only long pants I brought on this trip. The shirt? Usually topped by a Polartec 200 fleece vest and either my rain jacket or my winter coat. And thus I stay comfortable… except inside some of our albergues where the centuries-old stone buildings still retain the chill of winter but the heat is deemed unnecessary because, after all, it’s the middle of April. Brrrr… The cold is on my mind because I have been sitting upright in bed for the last hour, dressed in the above-mentioned Smartwool shirt and the Smartwool long underwear bottoms on top of my pjs, a wool blanket pulled over me and… missing the two microwaveable bed buddies I would have in bed with me at home, not to mention the flesh-and-blood buddy who would have me warm in a matter of minutes. Ok, pity party over, let’s move on!

Sometimes I title my blog posts and then never get around to including any references or explanations of the title. Let’s get that out of the way now. Yes, the train? You know: “toot, toot.” I keep hearing it, but not seeing trains or tracks. Whatever could it be? Surely not the huge bowl of bean soup I consumed last night? Surely not! But just in case, a fortunate thing I walked alone for the better part of today…. Speaking of trains (well, sort of…): usually when Ken and I are on vacation, our campgrounds are situated near train tracks. We constantly hear the trains rolling through. It occurs to me: other than the train that took us from Madrid to Pamplona back on April 3, I haven’t seen a train or a track. We are really in remote areas. The towns are serviced by buses, though we don’t see those either. Do not believe anyone who tells you that the Camino is on a lot of roadway. Or do not believe that the roadway is one that is traversed by cars. It’s just not so. Or hasn’t been so. There are more snails and caterpillars on the roads we’ve been on than cars, and I’m not exaggerating. This may not always be the case, but so far. As this post asks, “where’s the train?”

The Camino provides

Take our lunch, for example. We took an apple and an orange and one wrapped croissant from the breakfast buffet at the albergue. (Yes, I know the sign said that the food there was to be consumed only on the premises. Mea culpa! I did my penance climbing 153 floors today. And besides, we didn’t consume that much at the actual buffet.) We ran back to the dorm room to pick up our packs and head down the Camino, but then Ginny disappeared. She showed up a minute later with a big grin on her face and a plastic bag in her hands. “Lunch,” she said. “I found cheese and chorizo and brown bread and chocolate cookies just left out on the pilgrim’s kitchen table. Stuff people didn’t want to bother packing up.” Ah yes, the Camino provides.

It provided some really cool sights before we’d even gotten through Belorado. I’m afraid Ginny was a gal on a mission and she missed the following. I promise pictures in the next couple of days, but here’s the story behind them:

  1. I saw a pilgrim reading a sign not minutes after we left the albergue. It was on the side of a building, written in both English and Spanish. Something to the effect that pilgrims should walk ahead about 15 feet and turn around. ???? Silly, right? But what would it hurt to do just that; this is not Sodom and Gomorrah. So I walked on a bit and turned around. Whoa! A beautiful mural, two actually, each, I’m thinking, about three stories high. One of a mature woman, one of a child. Lovely! Hope my photos do them justice.
  2. Also just a bit from our albergue: an open store front with a long table set up just off the sidewalk. On the table: two huge pans, one empty and the other filled with just-cooked rice, set out to cool. I’m talking large pans. Maybe a square yard each? Off to the side, a large cauldron in which more rice was cooking, being stirred a bit by an attendant. And the proprietor bustling about. “¿Venden arroz?” I asked, puzzled. As easy as rice is to cook, and as much of a staple as it is, why would anyone buy it? Bread, yes, I get that. But rice? Well, I had it all wrong, but the owner was more than willing to strut his stuff.  “A world-famous sausage maker,” he said. “That’s me!” When I asked if I could take a photo of the rice, he gestured for me to follow and sent me into two different rooms to see all the chorizo sausages hanging to dry. He showed me the sign on the side of the building with his web site, promised that if I ordered from the US, I could have fresh sausage from him within 24 hours. And please, would I spread the word because he had three children to support and, he added, gesturing to his wife who was by this time working to fill the second pan with more freshly prepared rice, “she’s pregnant again.” It was a really fun way to begin my engagement with this new day! What more would the Camino provide before the day was over?

Some lovely vistas, that’s what. At the beginning. And then, moving forward, we were up into the “mountains” again (high point 1,150 meters or almost 3,800 feet). We left vistas behind for a while, including those snow-covered mountains we’ve been seeing from time to time for days now, and we could enjoy being surrounded by trees: some oak and, to a greater extent, pine. We moved along at our own pace, spending a lot of time in silent marvel and far-reaching, good-fo-the-soul thoughts. Even though the path was wide, the surroundings reminded me of some of my treasured Indiana training hikes. Minus the creek crossings!

I think in another post I may have mentioned my new technique of recording some experiences and thoughts as I walk along, to help boost my memory of them as I reflect on the day and attempt to do a post about it. Both good and bad. It is easy enough for me to get the phone out, press the image of a microphone, and record line after line of text. I’ve just read some of those lines…. Ha! Very difficult to decipher. For every sentence that the recorder got correct, there are many phrases which require translation and interpretation. Still, they serve to jog the memory and even now, as I finish this post three days after the experience, the feelings do come back to me. Lumped together in non-sequential order, I’ll share a few of the details–both thoughts and experiences–of the day. More than you want or need to hear? Too “preachy”? No problem. This is meant to float my boat and may not be at all what keeps yours afloat.

Varied experiences and thoughts

  • A spoonful of sugar and some steamed milk sure helps this usually non-coffee drinker enjoy the occasional cappuccino. Especially when it is cool outside!
  • as we climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed–I think this was a 153-floor day–I was reminded that Lamaze breathing is good not only for the process of giving birth and for pedaling up steep hills; it’s a great distraction for “mountain climbing” as well
  • I have been taking absolutely way too many pictures of the exteriors of churches, but I just can’t resist. Especially the really old ones, the 12th-century ones. I love the plainness of their huge stones, the way they are visible for miles and miles, how they dominate the small villages. I love how I can sometimes look out over the countryside and see several villages off in different directions. I spotted one today built into the side of a mountain. It would have been a significant detour to check it out, and the day offered ample challenges, so I “let it go” (except for the photograph…)
  • Our “pilgrim-provided” lunch in front of the church in the hometown/birthplace of Santo Domingo was perfect in its simplicity. The table was directly in front of the church where the saint had been baptized one thousand years earlier. His birth home was across the “street” from the church. We were more or less in the “playground” of his childhood and also in the “work ground” of his adult life when assisting pilgrims was his life’s mission. Still trying to wrap my mind around how much “sacred traffic” passed through these small towns and this challenging terrain a thousand years ago….
  • I thought often today about how today’s pilgrims are a miniature United Nations. But truly united. On the same mission, even if for varying purposes. We all wish each other well. The Camino is a safe place in which to build friendships. The “buen caminos” with which we greet one another are so much more than “have a good days.” So much good will and good cheer. We have so little on our backs, but what we have is… for the one who needs it. Plastic bags, clothespins, knee braces, ibuprofens, blister patches, oranges, etc., are given to the one who needs them without (much) thought to what will happen if/when they might be sorely needed by the giver. “The Camino will provide.” Trust. Trust. More trust.
  • How basic our needs really are: shelter, food, drink, at least a few people who care about your well-being and treat you with affection. Yes, “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.”
  • I had a conversation with a French couple as I made my way today. My Spanish is coming back remarkably well and I don’t hesitate to speak it though medical terms and technological ones throw me off!), but the French I worked so hard to recuperate a couple of years ago is slow to come out. It is humbling to know that I am garbling verbs and verb tenses and otherwise sounding like an illiterate, but at the same time, it is rewarding to see that I am making myself understood and am managing to understand. (Easier still to carry on conversations with Brazilians, they using their Portuguese, me speaking Spanish, grinning as we see that we are communicating. But I digress again…). It was from the French couple, from Guy and Ann, that I learned about the tragedy of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. A loss for the whole world, but so much more personal for these folks. I have yet to see any news reports or to brush up on the news via anything online.
  • An oops that I’ve noticed. We did have a picnic lunch at the church where Santo Domingo was baptized…. but that was the day before, on the 15th, and probably described in the post for that day. And you probably have already noticed my mistake. Today’s picnic lunch, made from the bits and pieces of what other pilgrims had left in the kitchen, was enjoyed as we sat on my rain kilt up in the mountains, just on the side of the trail, Ginny with her knee elevated on my pack, pilgrims stopping to greet us and to accept–or not–some of the pilfered food we offered them.
  • Sign seen on someone’s daypack today, written in Spanish: Don’t dream your life, live your dreams. No sueñes tu vida; vive tus sueños. Doing just that right now!
  • Struck today with an awareness–brought on, no doubt, by the tedium of carrying the pack– that we all carry burdens. Some are more visible than others, some heavier, longer-lasting, more painful, some more fleeting, but carry them we do. What to do? Help one another as best we can, and notice and be grateful for those who lighten our load in any way.
  • The song “Let there be peace on earth” came to me often today. Do you know it? It includes the words: “…with every step I take, let this be my solemn vow,” the vow being to live in peace and harmony. I took lots of steps today. Have I brought any more peace and harmony and good will into the world? Hoping so.

San Juan de Ortega

The monastery for pilgrims is, basically, the town. That and the bar adjacent to it to meet the pilgrim’s needs. A few quick observations for my personal recollection, and then something major I want to get to. The quick ones:

  • It was so cold there! Inside the thick walls of the old building. The heat which we were told was programmed to come on at a set time never came on.
  • Lovely out in the courtyard in front of the albergue. The sun shone on those walls and so, while it was still up a bit in the sky, it warmed the stone in front of which we sat, dried some of our clothes, helped us relax.
  • Another top bunk. A challenge to remember where the ladder was. Plugs weren’t right there by the beds.
  • Why was everyone afraid to turn the lights on, both in the evening and in the morning? I like it better when the hospitaleros are in charge of lights instead of the pilgrims….
  • Nice hot water in the showers
  • The most generous (in quantity) pilgrim meals yet. I consumed everything! Cheapest “3-course meal” yet at 9 euros. Four courses, actually: soup, salad, meat, potatoes, pasta, then yogurt or fruit. No wine.
  • The bar was willing to give me ice if I brought the plastic bag for it.

But on to the most significant thing about the visit to San Juan de Ortega: the pilgrim’s mass. For once the mass was strictly FOR the pilgrims. I’m sure townsfolk would have been invited had there been any. It was just us. 6:30 pm. Much better than 8:00, right? The priest was the most warm and welcoming one I have encountered thus far. “Hospitality” just dripped from him as if he were a direct descendant of St. Benedict. A wide, compassionate smile. No hurry, as if he had all the time in the world. He spoke only Spanish, and at a pace which allowed any non-native with a moderate command of the language the chance to understand. Each pew had several notebooks with the entire liturgy–the priest’s part, the congregation’s part, given in six parallel columns: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and German. Before mass started, the priest found volunteers to proclaim the first reading (in French, if I’m remembering correctly) and the prayers of the faithful (in German). All were encouraged to follow along in their own language and to utter responses in their own language. And the two readings were chosen as ones that would be meaningful to pilgrims, most especially the Gospel reading (of the Prodigal Son). The priest’s homily based on the Gospel and spoken with such kindness was perfect in delivery and spot-on in content. This priest was a real shepherd. Many stayed behind to express their appreciation of the celebration. And we were at the dinner table shortly after 7:00. Very special.

That about wraps up Tuesday, April 16. I’ve yet to catch you up on “the road to Burgos,” Wednesday’s trek. It’ll come, along with some photos. I’ve posted (Instagram and Facebook) lots of photos of the 16th. Maybe you’ve seen them.

For now: signing off from Burgos. Not sure when I’ll be able to “publish” this. Perhaps now if I turn on data; perhaps in the morning.