Day 11 – Belorado to San Juan de Ortega


We get up pretty early at Belorado (I’m out of bed and brushing my teeth at 6:10). The hostel was closed for breakfast so we walked into Belorado and had coffee with a bunch of Guardia Civil. I was limping almost from the get go, never having quite recovered from my misstep on the mountain a week ago, and Dorcinda suggests taking a bus to Burgos, as Maddy and Jeff had planned. I am loathe to give up on the day and the integrity of the walking tour so early in the morning. We press on.

We try to get coffee in the next town and nothing is open. A pack of peckish pilgrims, unfamiliar to us, British and younger, mostly, follow us in our fruitless search. We press on, and meet Maddy and Jeff, who have changed their plans to take the bus from Ages, saving only a day, because they heard that San Juan de Ortega’s albergue, in an old monastery, is very nice. They walk with Dorcinda a while, after she fell behind due to a bathroom break in the bushes. She actually fell into a puddle and has changed her shoes

When they catch up to me, Jeff and Maddy pause to adjust packs or something and we split up. On a hilly stretch, a car drives slowly in the opposite direction of pilgrims, telling them, in English and Spanish, about a new hotel and restaurant in the town up ahead. He worked in Kenucky, near the Tennessee border, and his English is pretty good.

We stop just below the hill that leads up to San Juan de Ortega, where the driver recommended. We get coffee (our second) and sandwiches, which are much larger than we’re used to, so we save half for later.

Today, I’ve seen a few pilgrims with pilfered sunflowers on their packs. The pilgrim tax, just like the grapes we snatched in Rioja. There are a lot of unfamiliar pilgrims on the road, and they seem jockier, younger, less friendly, with fewer “hola”s and “buen camino”s than we’re used to. One guy with a short dark beard and sunglasses walks in the opposite direction, and we smile and say hi, like normal. He doesn’t acknowledge us, doesn’t change his frowning expression, and barely even moves to get out of our way (both of us are walking towards the center of the road). We laugh as soon as he passes, probably before he’s out of earshot.

He puts the grim in pilgrim, I say. He puts the douche in pilgrimdouche, Dorcinda says.

Later, we hear stories about the same man from Steve and Brenda, and from Jeff and Maddy. When he passed Maddy and Jeff he refused to acknowledge their greetings, and after passing them, shouts “Joyeux Noel!” – Merry Christmas, in French. When he encountered Brenda and Steve, he also ignores them, and shouts some gibberish after passing. He’s devolving, the Madman from the Meseta.  (Later we hear that Alice and her mom ran across the same man, at an earlier, more civilized stage. He told them “a true pilgrim walks home” when they commented on his direction).

We pass the Romanian from the day before, in Santo Domingo de Calzada, but he’s pressing ahead and doesn’t seem interested in talking. He’s on a 33km day.

There’s a monument to 300 people executed here, I think for supporting the old democracy against the facsist rebellion that ultimately won the civil war.

We stop at an “Oasis” of the Camino, with hammocks, donativo refreshments, and music – Elvis, when we arrive. Aint Nothing but a Hound Dog. Return to Sender. A hippyish woman doles out refreshments (we get a cup of lemonade and a slice of watermelon) from her van (Also the source of the music) and has her young daughter hand out stamps to the pilgrims. There’s a pole with signs and distances – 5000 km to USA, New Hampshire, which I think is bogus, but actually turns out to be pretty close. Its a nice break in a long 12km stretch that’s almost all uphill between the last town and out destination.

At San Juan, there’s just one bar. There are a lot of people we recognize – Steve, Jeff, Maddy, Brenda, Alice & her mom, the Romanian (whose name is Christian). We get the last two lower bunks, and Dorcinda talks for a moment to an old couple from Colorado.

The guy seems like a blowhard so I avoid joining the conversation, but hear Dorcinda explaining what nettles are – Ortega means nettles, so the town is St John of the Nettles. Jeff and Maddy show us some stretches or leg elevation exercises, and Jeff grabs his buttocks  while propping his legs up on the bunk above. He tells me not to be shocked, and I say hey, you do you, walk your own camino.

At dinner, we sit with Steve and Brenda and Maddy and Jeff, and notice Alice, alone in a sea of older folks hand picked by her mother to pack the table before Alice arrived. Dinner is horrible, among the worst we’ve had, with ketchcup rice, gross garlic soup, and chicken?

Everyone is pooped so we go to sleep early.

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