Stage 11. Friday, May 31. Belerado to San Juan de Ortega. Hugs as I head out the way & she prepares to journey back to USA. I know the morning ahead will present a steep incline of 1,100 km and warm temperatures. Early in the climb a young USA man gives the ritual “buen camino” that we all salute dozens of times daily as he passes me briskly with his 6’3” (at least)frame, striding about double or triple for every one of my steps. He makes brief, genuinely cordial conversation heading up the hill, and slows a bit as our dialogue weaves its way upward. Jack slowed his pace to walk the entire day with me: he surely would have / could have arrived more than an hour before me. We wandered through our life’s questions large & small, new & old, to Alto Mojapan & Alto Pedraja and our meandering conversation led us all the way to the door of the only albergue in San Juan de Ortega, ( population 20!) a monastery with large bunk rooms. We landed bottom bunks by the coveted window. Before diving into hand washing laundry and finding the showers, Jack generously invited me to join he & his Camino friends for pizza later. So kind hearted. While waiting for laundry to dry and for the pizza hour to open, I found ice tea and a man accompanying the teens on the school trip I’d been keeping step with for past few days. While he finished his coffee, he told me all about his school and how the youth in 2nd year high school have a lighter academic load to pursue arts, travel, and “food for the spirit” - I will be learning more about that. Went back to check laundry and heard what I believed was an amplified recording booming from the church, only to step inside and witness a pilgrims choir rehearsing. Sonic spiritualism. Visceral awakening. ... alas, eventually the rehearsal ended. Oh yeah, laundry & then Mass. Priest invited me to do the reading in English. Several pilgrims read in a mosaic of languages. Finally, time for pizza. Jack introduced me to Tim/USA, Sara/Portugal-now in Germany, Kristi/USA, & Trina/Australian most of whom I would reconnect with here and there in coming days. I could not keep up with the beer drinking but kept even pace with the laughter. Hit my bottom bunk with fresh air window.
(Stage 10). Thursday, May 30. Walking out of Santo Domingo de Calzada into Belerado. About 22.5 km/14 mile walk, but for us it was almost 18 miles because when we stopped in a cafe in one of the little villages along the way for a delectable lemonade, we absentmindedly left our walking sticks there. (stupid human/pilgrim trick of pick-up-sticks). We did not realize it until we arrived in the next village, and we walked all the way back - and forth again! We mostly laughed about it, although it would have been easy to cry. Hot day, too. It really warmed up after the early morning chill, captured in the pic of pilgrims trekking uphill to Granon a favorite cafe stop on The Way. Stayed in a lovely room in Belerado and found a delectable pilgrim’ meal of fresh fish in an open air albergue dining patio just off the central piazza. Families with toddlers, teens with Coca Cola and many abuelos gathered around the central fountain in front of the church - as in every village through which we pass. The sun shone warm and bright late into evening (always good for drying laundry on the veranda). It is my last day to share El Camino with my dear walking companera who launched me on this journey. She heads back toward USA tomorrow, May 31, as I move along the trail. I will miss her constant caring camaraderie, her buoyant humor, her insightful encouragement (and keen travel advice!) Forever friends❤️
Posting )Stage 9)a week later...Wednesday, May 29. Azofra into Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I walked alone most of morning, and then met up with Heidi - a fellow USA pilgrim - with whom we had connected on our very first night on the Camino back in Orisson part way up the Pyrenees. Our paths have intersected often since that first day, but on this day we each found ourselves walking solo, and enjoyed each other’s company and conversation as we descended the hill into Santo Domingo. Since we were staying at different alburgues we said casual goodbyes with the confidence that we will likely intersect daily on the long journey. Since I arrived in the city so early, I reconnected with Debbie, and lunch was long and relaxing. Santo Domingo’s Cathedral and adjoining museum lifted my spirits. I will make no effort to explain or express the overwhelming and inspiring architectural and sculptural inspiration. Hungry again - despite the long lunch, and seeing that our alburgue had a lovely kitchen, we shopped for some simple dinner supplies. We intersected with the young couple from Japan of whom we’ve grown very fond, and agreed to share the cooking and the meal together. When we arrived to The alburgue kitchen with armloads of groceries, it was apparent that every other pilgrim in the city had the same good idea. The noisy kitchen bustle and search for pots, pans, dishes and spices was a cacophony of clatter akin to a Bode family holiday dinner with dozens of us jockeying the stove top, the cutting boards and sharing ingredients with friends, strangers who have all become “Camino Family.” The meal and the company was a panoply of taste, language and human connection. Our bunk room held 5 beds/10 people, which were filled by the two of us - and 8 men - all loud snorers of various tonal contributions to a chaotic symphony- not quite Nikolai Roslavets - Komsomoliya. ... I would have preferred John Cage 4’33. But we laughed ourselves to sleep to add to the snoring concert.The morning arrived quickly. We took one last glimpse of the cathedral bell tower our our bunk room window and headed out of Santo Domingo toward Belerado.
(Stage 8)Tuesday, May 28. Navarrete through Najera to stay in Azofra. ...posting a week later.
I walked this stretch solo, as my companera made her way to Santo Domingo. The sweet village of Azofra (approx 250 people) embraces pilgrims with a large municipal alburgue, a tiny convent and plenty of water streaming from fountains - as each village provides - for pilgrims to wash their feet and cool off. They post ample signage about which fountains are potable for refilling water bottles. I was in a 5-bed (ice cold) alburgue room, and two of my roommates were a couple from Denmark I’d met days earlier. We accompanied each other at the pilgrims dinner, which thankfully started with hot soup to warm our chilled selves. Another pilgrim - from Austria joined our table and we lingered through the evening learning about one another’s Camino. The couple announced that it was their 31st wedding anniversary, so I gave them one of Ryan’s Remember Love stickers.
Yesterday on June 3rd, I completed stage 14, but I’ve had tech difficulty I posting blog. I’ll try catching up here with Stages 7, 8, 9...
(Stage 7) Monday, May 27. Viana through Logroño to stay in Navarrete. Best tapas so far in Navarette - at a little bar in the shade of the church. In our alburgue bunk room, we met two women from Germany who have been taking their holidays/vacations to walk together in various countries on multiple paths for 13 years. Wow. I’ve only been walking 10 days. One does not need to be religious- and certainly not specifically affiliated with Catholicism to be moved by the dramatic tableaux in each church. Most pilgrims of all religious & non-religious beliefs visit the churches for their own reasons that the Camino provides. The church in this village brought me to tears. Each church I visit offers yet another avenue of wonder.