Day 11: Belorado – San Juan de Ortega

24km

Walking through Spanish villages anytime before 10, is like walking through ghost towns.  Turns out the Spanish economy isn’t the only thing sluggish here; the villages are too.

In Belorado, though, I discovered that if you leave villages of a certain size early enough you can catch last call in the clubs.  At 5:30 am there might not have been a cafe con leche to be found, but a cerveza at Sam Houston’s? indeed.

After several days racking up the kilometers, I decided today would be a light day.  My guidebook – a mimeographed number that I had to have exported to Naples from the UK Confraternity of Saint James – told me that the “the next stretch of the camino consists largely of a waymarked forest path that passes a monument to a group of local people executed during the Spanish Civil War.  Gothic chapel of Santiago (locked) in rural setting by the Rio Roblegardo.”  Also, the monastery in San Juan de Ortega had “Hot showers” and that “the tradition of serving garlic soup started by Don Jose Maria has been continued by the new management.”

a walk through the forest. . . gothic chapel. . . hot shower. . . garlic soup. . . nice.

While the walk through the forest was indeed nice there was no gothic chapel (or memorial for that matter) to be found.  Also some really fast walkers who somehow managed to set a not very leisurely pace for the rest of us.  Consequently, a throng arrived in San Juan de Ortega well before opening time and enticed by the thought of garlic soup I decided to add my rucksack to the long line that was forming rather than keep walking.

I napped in the grass, enjoyed the craic with the Irish and the cool, quiet of the church until it was time to join my rucksack in the queue, get my compostela stamped, and my bed assignment.  This albergue had a good 100 beds spread generously through several large halls.  Whereas many albergues cram a dozen or so twin bunkbeds into small rooms – effectively making a handful of double bunkbeds – we’d have plenty of room to stretch out here.

Being relatively early in the line, I didn’t want to lose my place in the shower line.  So, before unrolling sleeping bag or checking the snoring potential of neighbors, I gathered my toiletries and headed to the banos where I a line was already starting to form. . .

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this 100 bed facility had exactly two showers for men and further those two shower stalls were actually little more than hoses with a drain in the floor.  Hot showers? check.

Rather than losing all sense of decorum and resort to standing in a long line filled with smelly pilgrims in various states of dress for the opportunity to hose myself off, I made use of my moist towlettes, and went in search of that garlic soup.

I recruited a father/daughter pairing of the Manhattan Jewish variety whose Spanglish skills were slightly more advanced than mine to help inquire at the bar as to when this garlic soup would be making an appearance. . . no sightings in the last five years. . . oops.

When my name finally got called up for dinner – they had a very complicated system which involved seating people at tables based on language skills – I was seated with some loquacious Italians, served a big plate of crispy blood sausage, and gifted with a bottle of wine from the jews, so all was not for naught.

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