Belorado-St. Juan de Ortega Day 11

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After a good nights sleep, we woke up early as usual and began our routine of packing our things and and layering as warm as we could for the first part of the day, which was always the coldest.  At this point during the journey, I had developed a system: 1) Spend the morning hike without music and spend my time waking up and listening to the things around me, 2) Spend the second half of the hike listening to music as a sort of reward and also because I usually spent this time hiking by myself.

The first half of this day definitely was not the easiest. The first 12 km was walking into a headwind just like we had the past several days.  It was hard to keep my hands warm because of the headwind and how early we would start hiking in the morning. The next 12 km were all uphill, but at least we were in the woods so the wind was gone.

The last week had really put me in a funk since I was having a hard to recuperating from the food poisoning. Slowly but surely, my friends and random acquaintances began lifting my spirits. It was always the most random conversations that meant the most. There’s just something about being able to talk to a random stranger and find so much in common to talk about because you’re both hiking the same trail and are having several of the same experiences.  At the same time though, we would be hiking the trail for completely different reasons.

St. Juan de Ortega wasn’t much of a town, but the cathedral there was, for lack of a better word, beautiful.  Even for those of you who end up hiking the Camino that aren’t religious, I highly recommend visiting this cathedral.  More about the cathedral later though.  There was only 1 albergue and 1 hotel in the town.  As usual, we opted for the albergue which was only 5 euros.  We checked in, got our passports stamped, and went to check out our rooms for the night and settle in.  I took one look in the sleeping area and bathrooms, and thought it looked like something out of a horror film. The room was filled with rickety beds, stone walls, no heat, and the bathrooms were filthy. I figured I’d just have to suck it up for one night till we got to Burgos and found a decent place to stay.  With thoughts of my nightmarish sleeping quarters for the night, we proceeded to go to the pub next door for an after hike refreshment.  This pub was also our only choice for drinks, dinner, or breakfast the next morning.  While relaxing in the pub, I ran into an American I’d hiked with earlier in the trip named Solomon. He apparently had seen the albergue as well and was open to sharing a room with someone for the night in the nearby hotel.  After considering his offer for all of about 30 seconds, I jumped at the offer. I spent 25 Euros (my half) on the room, took a loss on my 5 euros at the albergue  I’d already payed for (no such thing as a refund for the most part with albergues), and proceeded to move my things in.  I felt kind of guilty leaving behind my other companions I’d been hiking with, but none of them sounded interested in spending a little more money on a hotel room, and I wanted to have a decent bathroom with at least a slightly better chance of not catching a foot fungus or bed bugs which would follow me for the rest of the journey I’m sure.  I stopped feeling guilty once I laid on the bed, took a shower (without my shower sandals, which shows how clean the place was), and took a nap in my little climate controlled paradise.  Because I knew the bathroom situation in the albergue, I offered my clean shower to my friends to use.  Dom showed up after a bit and took full advantage of the offer.  It can go a long way towards lifting your spirits to be able to actually use a clean cotton towel to dry yourself after using the equivalent of a sham-wow to dry yourself off for the past week and a half.

I spent the very last of my money that night on dinner at the pub knowing that the next town we went to would have an ATM. My friends and I had already become accustomed to buying rounds of beer and wine for each other and paid for meals when the other was short, so I knew I wouldn’t have to worry if I came into money shortages.  This was a consistent characteristic of pilgrims that I found throughout the month I hiked on the Camino.  Everyone had a very generous heart and was more than willing to help each other out even if they had never met the person.  It was refreshing to observe this much kindness to strangers firsthand.

After settling in, grabbing a bite with some fellow pilgrims, and reading and writing for a bit, I decided to go to my first pilgrim’s mass. The cathedral is the centerpiece of this little town, and for good reason.  My good friend Dom (whom I’d hiked with since day one) was a priest and spoke fluent Spanish, so he was asked to partake in performing the pilgrim’s mass that evening.  This was my 1st Catholic mass I had ever attended and it was by a priest I met day one on the Camino de Santiago; how perfect.  My friend Caroline, a devoted catholic, sat next to me during the service and whispered explanations of everything of what was going on. I don’t understand Spanish, but I made sure to stand when everyone else stood, said amen when everyone else did, and sat down when everyone else sat down.  I didn’t partake in receiving communion, instead I received the Pilgrims blessing from Dom.  Afterwards, Dom was allowed to show us the ruins on the other side of the church and the plans to add to the cathedral a large state of the art albergue. The new addition was being built to encourage others to go on the camino and to educate people about “The Way.” Based on their current construction schedule, it will most likely take about 5 years for the completion. I hope to come back there and see the progress one day. They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them because the last time I saw that place, there were several large trees growing in the courtyard.

Destination: St Juan de Ortega

Distance: 24.3 km

Accommodation: La Henera-The hotel was a little pricy for the few amenities available, but it was also the only hotel around for several kilometers. There was no wifi, but the beds, hot water, real towels, and complimentary breakfast made up for the rest of the cost.

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