Belorado’s weather forecast looked bleak for today’s 24 kilometer walk to San Juan de Ortega. Sure enough, we stepped out of Casa Waslala Pension and dark clouds towered over us. We were freezing as we wrapped ourselves up in our warmest clothes, which actually weren’t too warm. This was the first time on the Camino we found ourselves unprepared for the cold weather. We both wished we had those Patagonia fleeces we sent back to the U.S. months ago while we were in the heat of Asia.
With the cold and strong winds, we decided to make today’s walk a fast one. We breezed past the first few villages; Tosantos (4.8km), Villambista (1.9km), and Espinosa del Camino (1.6km). Our stomachs were growling for breakfast, however nothing seemed to be open in any of the villages. We pushed on another 4 km to Villafranca de Montes de Oca, the last village before the 12 km steep trek through Los Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega. Here we found a local bar, El Pajaro, where we took a short break……. while warming up with hot tea and tortilla sandwiches. All the other pilgrims had the same idea as the bar was packed with pilgrims getting ready for the long trek ahead.
Shortly thereafter, we started the ascent through the village onto a steep dirt path entering Los Montes de Oca forest. We were still moving at a fast pace and past by several pilgrims struggling to make it to the first peak. There were astonishing views of Villafranca and the surrounding countryside with dark clouds still hovering above. With the 12 km left we were hoping the rain would delay. At the top of the mountains lies a monument called “Monte de la Pedraja” dating back to 1936. It is a tribute to the 300 victims who were assassinated nearby for their political beliefs during the first few months of the Spanish Civil War. The killings were orchestrated by the brutal dictator Francisco Franco.
With San Juan de Ortega only 7 km away, we began a steep descent, crossing a small river and then yet another steep climb until we reached the Alto de la Pedraja pine forest. The walk through the forest was mostly flat, but had an erie feeling about it. I turned to Brett and expressed that I could imagine pilgrims passing through these forests and bandits hiding behind the trees waiting for the right moment to attack. I found later, that I was instinctively correct. The forest used to be regarded as the most dangerous stretch of the Camino. Along with all the other challenges of the Camino, I just cannot fathom how it must have been for medieval pilgrims to also worry about being attacked and robbed or worse.
Further up the path, I spotted Katherine and Emily. I quickly caught up to them and discovered Emily was suffering from ankle pain. They had left at 6:20 this morning, while we left at 8:30 and still met up with them along the Camino. I gave Emily some Ibuprofen cream to rub on her ankle and it seemed to help her. Brett passed by us trekking to the end, while I stayed at a slower pace with the ladies until we reached the village.
San Juan de Ortega is much smaller than we thought. It consists only of a church, small monestary, one albergue, one bar, and one casa rural. Everything is run by the same family, so when we went to check into La Henera Casa Rural, there was a sign posted to check-in at the bar. With the shortage of accommodation, many pilgrims carried on 4 km further to the next larger village called “Ages”. We could have went on further, but we had already made reservations for the night.
Food, internet and shops were lacking in the village. We ate lunch with Katherine and Emily at the bar. It had such a limited food supply, we were lucky to get an egg omellette and bread. Forget about Internet… the only source of Internet in the village is a small shack opened for a few hours in the afternoon. There you can find coin operated computers from the 1990’s. The stall was like a video game booth. We decided to take it as a blessing to relax and returned to our Casa Rural. The pouring rain came shortly thereafter and it felt like we were shacked up in the mountains on a winter snowy day.
I was able to squeeze in a short visit to the San Juan de Ortega 12th century Romanesque Church. The church and monastery were built by San Juan de Ortega along with his friend Santo Domingo de la Calzada to help pilgrims follow the Way to Santiago. The tomb and remains of San Juan are found inside the church with a dedicated shrine to the founder of the village. Pilgrims are still welcomed to stay the night in the monastery. Our friends stayed the night but weren’t too impressed with the “Spartan-like” facilities that were provided for pilgrims.
As the rain continued to downpour, the bar brought over dinner for the guests at La Henera. While at dinner we encountered the Canadian couple, Mr. & Mrs. Fabbi from Vancouver. We had briefly met the following day in Belorado. They are both in their sixties and now that their daughters are in college they decided to do the Camino. Mr. Fabbi is also keeping a daily diary at the Fabbi Camino Blog. We talked about sharing a taxi together in the morning if the rain persisted.
The assigned dinner seating led us to sit with two Spanish women who have been doing the Camino in week intervals over the past few years. I talked in Spanish to them, translating for Brett, while he chimed in several times in Spanish. He is learning quite a lot of Spanish and communicating really well for only being in Spain for two weeks. Later into the conversation we were explaining Brett’s knee tendonitis, and one of the Spanish women offered to do Reiki on him. Within the hour we were in the communal hotel salon with her transferring her energy to Brett’s knee. She was so nice and reminded us of Brett’s Aunt Judy, who also has the same vivacious energy.
We scurried off to bed for the night, bundled up in all our clothes and blankets. Heaters existed in the rooms but apparently aren’t turned on in September because “it is still summer!”, really? I was already suffering from a nasty cold from the turn in weather and hoped the warm weather would soon return to our Camino. Tomorrow’s trek to Burgos is 28 km from San Juan de Ortega. We laid in bed pondering about whether we should take a taxi to the city. The weather and my sickness were working against us but we didn’t want to give in and take a taxi, missing part of the Camino.
See our Photo Album:
El Camino: Day 12 (Beldorado to San Juan de Ortega)