TREKKING — DAY 11

Belorado to San Juan de Ortega and then to Ages — 17.5 miles

It was a blustery day with a strong headwind and pitch dark.  This was what I walked into as the hotel door slammed shut and locked behind me.  Dick had stayed in the room and we had said good-bye there.  Our hotel was in the center of town and not on the Camino path.  Last night, the receptionist had given me directions to get to the Camino but it was 5:30 in the morning and I could hardly see anything in front of me.  And to make matters worse, I was all alone.  I had my headlamp in my hand, trying to light the way and see if I could make out any arrows or Camino markers.  I walked on and on, crossing the street a few times to see if I could see any markers on the other side, but there was nothing.  I was a little afraid this morning, mainly because it was so dark and I was alone.  I turned my cell phone light on, too, just to give a little more light.  There was a path going off to the left, but no Camino marker.  I walked on and heard water rushing in the river.  This had to be it.  This had to be where I could get on the Camino path.  I stood there, afraid to proceed into the woods when out of nowhere 4 French women came up behind me.  We all shinned our lights around and there it was, that familiar Camino clamshell marker.

I was so relieved to be on the right path and so relieved there were 4 other women there, too.  I followed them into the woods and they walked very slowly.  I decided I would walk slowly, too but that only lasted a minute.  They stopped to shine their light on something so I quickly passed them and was on my way.  I wasn’t quite as afraid now but a few things did spook me.  OMG, is that a snake on the path?  O.K. no, it’s just a branch.  And what’s that thing running around in the middle of the path ahead of me?  Is it a rabbit or some animal that’s going to attack me?  Maybe it was a rabbit because it eventually ran off into the woods.  I kept my headlamp on for the next 45 minutes until it started to lighten up just enough to see in front of me.

Well, you all know that I didn’t like walking at all yesterday.  It wasn’t fun, not one little bit, and today was supposed to be worse.  The author of one Camino article said that today’s walk was her least favorite of all on the entire Camino.  Most of the terrain would be uphill and there was a big mountain to go over.  I was dreading it and was sure it would be an awful day.  Last night in texting with Joanne Joseph she asked me if I was having fun yet, and my immediate answer was “NO!”  It was an adventure, it was different, it was a challenge.  It was a lot of other  adjectives — but fun?  Not so much.  The fun part only started when I would meet Dick at the end of walking and we could share a meal, explore a village and tell stories of the day.  I really needed to get a better attitude about this whole thing.

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There wasn’t one other Pilgrim on the trail for the next 4 miles.  The wind started to increase and it was quite strong and gusty.  The air was a little cool, I had a light jacket on and I thought about putting my wind breaker on if it got any colder.

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The trail went up, down and flat as I passed through several little villages that again, all seemed like ghost towns.

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As I continued walking I had to cross the highway several times to get to the path on the other side.

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This was one of the water sources where Pilgrims could refill their water bottles.  This one said it was treated water so it should have been fine to drink, but because of stomach problems I now just used bottled water.  The headwind became much worse and I was walking against it but because I’d been through much worse than this on day one, it didn’t seem to bother me.

Finally after 7 miles of walking I came to a little village that had a bar (cafe) that was open.  I vowed I would take it easy today and give myself some breaks because I thought it would be an awful day.  There were some women trekkers sitting outside the cafe complaining about how expensive everything was and the lack of ATM machines on the Camino.    I decided I didn’t need to listen to their negative attitudes so I went inside (where all the men were) and ordered a cafe con leche.  Boy, was it ever good.  I had taken my backpack off and decided I really needed to enjoy this break.  And I did.

My attitude seemed to be changing a bit, I had actually enjoyed the walk so far.  The scenery was so varied and changed constantly.  Also, it wasn’t so hot — my shirt wasn’t even wet yet — and I think I was actually enjoying myself.  Was this me, with these positive thoughts in my head?  I left the bar and started what was to be the worst part of today’s walk.  But it was so pretty!

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The path continued uphill for the next two miles and I had to stop and catch my breath a few times but really I think my stamina had improved because it didn’t bother me as much.  It was pretty steep uphill at times and then steep downhill and then the same thing over again.

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Finally it leveled off for a while and I was in awe of how great a walk this was.  Isn’t the path below just beautiful?

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I was loving this walk.  I ate my 2 day old quarter of a cheese sandwich and felt like I had energy to spare.

After more uphill I finally reached the summit of the mountain and the wind was pretty fierce up there.  I was glad when the terrain went downhill a little and then flattened out.  At that point the winds weren’t bad at all.

For the next 4 miles the terrain was flat with not much shade but the walking was easy.  There were Camino signs every so often but someone had taken black spray paint and obliterated them.  How sad.

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But then I noticed that Camino Pilgrims had put their own sign in the middle of the road, and that made me smile.

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After 15 miles I was finally in San Juan.  This was a tiny little village where we knew we did not want to stay.  All the write-ups said the Bar and Hotel were owned by the same family and the food was awful.  And there was no WiFi.  This was the only choice in the whole village.  I was to meet Dick here and then someone from the hotel we had booked, which was off the Camino, was to come pick us up and drive us to the hotel.  While I was waiting for Dick to arrive in a taxi I went in the church, which was under construction.

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Then I waited at the little Bar where the rest of the Pilgrims were.

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Dick finally arrived and called the hotel that was to come pick us up.  While we were waiting I decided I actually felt great.  I didn’t want to ride in a car to the hotel.  I knew the name of the hotel was Sierra de Atapuerca and I knew it was only another 4 miles to Atapuerca and after walking 15 miles I felt like walking some more.  So I abruptly got up and said to Dick, “I’m walking to Atapuerca.  I’ll see you at the hotel.”  And off I went.

Well ….. I was about a mile down the road when I got a call from Dick.  He told me I was going the wrong way.  I said, “No, I’m not, I’m on the Camino headed for Atapuerca and I’m walking with other Pilgrims so I know I’m going the right way.”  Then he put the guy from the hotel on the phone and he told me that the hotel wasn’t in Atapuerca at all, it was in a completely different town.  I told him the next town I would come to was Ages and asked if he could drive there and pick me up and take me to the hotel.  He was so nice and agreed to do that.  Finally after 2.5 more miles I arrived in Ages and sat at a little Bar to wait for Dick and the driver.

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This was a great day and I could have kept walking for a whole lot more miles.  But I got picked up and taken to a hotel on the highway in the middle of nowhere.

By the time we arrived I was starved, so Dick and I checked into our room and then went to the dining room to eat.  Dick said he didn’t want anything but I ordered the Pilgrim 3 course meal.  It started with pasta with tomato sauce and chorizo.  Then for the main course I ordered pork cheeks and french fries.  It all tasted out of this world.  I encouraged Dick to eat it with me and he ended up eating half of it and loving every bite.  The food was great and for the first time in a long time Dick’s stomach felt fine afterwards.  With my better attitude and Dick’s better appetite I think we’re at a turning point on the Camino.