Granon and San Juan de Ortega
Another stunning sunrise for another day of walking, along the route we met a pair of Australian friends walking a section of the trail. We walked with them for a time while we shared our life stories (just typical Camino idle chatter). It was more of the same along the trail, more uphill and downhill, vineyards, rocks and dusty paths. Lines of pilgrims laid out before us at every rise, like lines of ants on a sunburnt landscape. Empty fields kept us company along the way, with the odd tractor slowly ploughing. The end destination for the day was Santo Domingo de la Calzada, but we decided to push on a little further and made it to Granon, a small village dominated by a large church at its heart.
Up the steep bank into town we were welcomed by a food truck selling cold beer and freshly squeezed orange juice. (Another thing we fell in love with in Spain.) We had been told that Granon didn’t have many places to stay, but did have a donativo municipal. Winding our way though the cobbled streets we came to a huge stone church, inside up a winding stone staircase we found an almost empty, quaintly furnished albergue with no hospitileros in sight. We signed ourselves in, put some cash in the donation box and followed the instructions of fellow pilgrims up another set of stairs, to pick a mat laid out on the floor to sleep on. This was the first albergue we had come across without actual beds and disastrously no pillows either.
Back in town we met up with a fellow pilgrim for a beer, actually low and behold Royce found a Guinness! With a proper heading machine! The man we sat down with was an older gentleman gnarled from Western Australia, ex military and so many incredible stories. We stayed on chatting to him as pilgrims slowly made there way one by one under the grueling afternoon sun to find the municipal.
Albergue de peregrinos San Juan Bautista is the only albergue in all the Camino trail without a stamp. It operates solely on donations from fellow pilgrims so all the donations from the previous nights pilgrims went toward our dinner and so on. The albergue has two rules under the church roof.
- Nobody gets turned away
- Everyone gets a meal
The night of Saturday the 5th of October there were over fifty pilgrims that knocked on the door of San Juan Bautista, and not one was turned away. As a collective group we all pitched in and helped prepare, cook and eat the communal meal of tuna and egg salad. (Or a tuna-free vegetarian option.) Large slices of baked potato, bread and of course Rioja wine. Along with baked apples for dessert. People crammed into the tiny kitchen area, a singalong erupted to keep others occupied, while groups of people chopped, set plates and poured wine. Music from a cacophony of piano, ukulele, guitar and many a voice created a memorable chorus, keeping spirits high as we drank and ate and then collectively cleaned up.
The night hosted by the hosipiteleros was first a peregrino prayer, a pre-feed rap and then later a reflection time. A time for people to appreciate how far they had come already on there journey and why they were there. A time to be grateful and to understand how little we need in life to make you feel happy and content. Our night in Granon was for me a highlight, it showed the kindness and willingness of people to help others. There was so many people wanting to help with dinner we didn’t have enough jobs!
The next morning we set our sights for .. Well we didn’t really have a destination in mind. Sunday’s in Spain are, well.. The day of rest. Not many, (if any) shops are open and people stay in out of the heat, or spend it with family. We decided as nothing would be open that we would just get walking. We arrived in Villafranca Montes de Oca for lunch, enjoyed an ice cold sangria and some time without shoes or socks to air our weary feet. The next town of San Jaun de Ortega was 12kms away, but it was only lunch time. I mean my feet hurt, my knee ached, and I had a blister comeing up on my heel.. But it was only lunch time.. It was only 12 kms.. Did I mention I’m a sucker for punishment.
Up the hill and out of Villafranca into blessed be, the shade! In jandals (flip-flops) because it was hot and our feet hurt. Puffing slightly at the steep climb we crested the hill and were rewarded, (like the two pilgrims sitting on a rock at the forests edge) with a spectacular view of the valley laid out before us. Briefly we stopped to chat with our fellow pilgrims; a German lady and an Israeli Texan of all things. Shoes back on we carried on our afternoon walk in the shade.
On we walked past tree after tree, stone after stone. The forest seemed never ending, the track just kept going, and by 4pm in the afternoon with 5 kilometers left to go I had had enough! Enough of the bluddy track, and the trees, and the heat! Where was this blasted town! I pulled out our reserve snacks. Oreo’s. Hidden away in my bag, on we trudged, because moaning about how long this five kilometers was taking wouldn’t get us there any faster. My only consolidation was knowing that there were still pilgrims behind us.
Finally after an age of walking we reached the edge of the dammed pine forest, back into open fields. We were met by some cows wandering along the road, casually munching as they went, not a fence in sight. And after yet another kilometer our town came into sight! 🙏Our day was finally at an end. 37 kms of walking and we had made it to San Juan de Ortega! We sat down for a well earned pilgrim meal and wine before retiring to bed.
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