Camino de Santiago Day Thirteen: Belorado to Ages

13 04 2018

Well with a new day comes new experiences and a new outlook. The skies have to release the rain to let the sun shine through. Today the dawn came early after hitting the super comfortable bed at 1am after a session of inputting expenses into a Google Drive spreadsheet via my iPhone, but I got that done and I awoke to find that there was a yellow glow coming up over the mountain. The winds had changed and blown away my despair. The sun was out and the fluffy cotton ball clouds filled the skies. The roads began drying and we headed on to the town to get some breakfast feeling well rested despite the short sleep but grateful for the comfy beds.

We stopped at a cute cafe La Huella del Camino, with a great backyard terrace that had a view of the cliff dwellings behind the town and they made me a huge jamon and cheese with a coffee for 3,20 Euro. I finished up yesterday’s blog in good time due to the strong Vodafone connectivity and was feeling totally spry and ready to attack the day. While Suzy was connecting with her friends online I set out for the restroom towards the front of the place. When I got there I tried locking the door but the mechanism seemed stuck. I tried a few more times but the place was quiet so I figured why bother and just shut the door. After my minor business I looked at my reflection in the mirror and proudly said to myself, “You got this!” I felt like I looked pretty good, not as puffy eyed as I’d expected. I lunged to open the door and it was locked. Completely locked shut. No give at all to the lock, no give to the handle. No way to open it. I looked at myself in the mirror and said to my reflection, “Really? Are you f-in kidding me?!” I took a deep breath and said a prayer. I took some toilet paper and made sure my hands and the lock were super dry. I approached the lock from the left, from the right. As I panicked, I reminded myself to breathe. I tried again and again, fumbling enough so perhaps someone might hear me? Of course my phone was on the table with Suzy. I began to envision my Camino, cut short by this being caught in the bathroom in Belorado, I mean the locksmith was probably not in the town and not awake yet. Was this my penance? I thought well at least I have the water faucet and a toilet. I once again tried not to resort to a panicked scream for help and took a left hip to the door and “POP!” There it popped open. The cafe hostess was just on her way to my rescue as I suppose this is a known problem. Suzy had no idea I’d been MIA so long. I was so verklempt I left my poles at the cafe until I was half way out of town and had to head back. Belorado clearly thought I should have spent more time in that quaint town… I loved it but I wouldn’t want to live there forever.

So our progress on what we knew was going to be a slow day was slowed somewhat but it was fine because the weather was awesome. It was a cool 40-44F with a light breeze and sunshine! Soon after starting I shed my silver lined puffy for just my magic Smartwool long sleeve shirt but that was a little too cool so then I brought our the other fluffy puffy (that I mostly have as a happy cozy item) because it breathes more. It was a perfect combo. We made the switch where we ran into the Americans living in Cairo from yesterday whom we met with Ali from the U.K. and enjoyed chatting with them.

We stopped again at a bar called El Cantina just to get my water filled and have a beer and coffee then on through a few more towns. In Villafranca Montes de Oca we came right up to the town where there was a convoy of 18 wheelers parked and the bell rang. So despite it seeming kind of dark from outside we decided to go in and eat. We got gambas a la plancha which were exactly what I wanted. A note that the experienced peregrinos know that the best food is where the truckers eat… our new pilgrim friend from Holland told us that’s his trick, he had rabbit for lunch.

We zipped out of there and up a huge hill, but before we did we had to navigate a block of crazy truck traffic on the narrow streets. Then the familiar up up up on a very steep narrow rocky path with water pouring down it. We hoped that was it but the next few miles continued on up on a somewhat steep but long ascent up the mountain.When we thought we were done we noticed more water streaming past us and kept going. Finally there was a slope down but to our dismay it appeared to then go directly back up. I tried to oretend that it must veer off and not go straight up but when we got to the base not only did it go back up to the same level of the ridge we’d just been on, but we were also presented with a tiny wooden bridge covered in stones and running water. It was like a joke.

When we finally hit the flat and the descent we were elated. For sure it would now be easy! There was a beautiful forest of small new trees. Soon though the scenery changed and our young forest merged into an older one that looked storm ravaged with lots of deadfall trees. Our easy walk quickly became a slog through deep mud banks of red clay squish squish squish, no doubt this was a raging mud river in this past week. Then it became difficult to navigate as we had to zigzag back and forth and make a tactical plan for crossing the rivulets of water flowing past us. Some mud lakes spanned the whole road and we opted to cross over some tree limbs that had been placed there as an aide.

Not only is this type of walking tedious it seemed to go on forever. It’s also extremely hard on your ankles calves and feet as your at balance is crucial. The forest began to take on an ominous sinister tone. I suddenly realized how glad I was to have a walking companion because after at least two hours of this type of walking we had not seen a soul. They must have done some logging on this road though since there were deep tire tracks in the mud. I though maybe locals enjoy four wheeling out here and the theme from Deliverance popped into my head. I certainly wouldn’t want to be walking here in a storm. We started envisioning horror film scenarios and found later that many others had shared a similar feeling of heaviness about this stretch of forest, straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Our feet ached and we knew we still had a full hour to the next town San Juan de Ortega, so we put out the proverbial carrot, suggesting that when we a got there we would stop for a quick beer before the additional 45 minute walk to Ages… we opted to stay there as we had heard mixed reviews about San Juan. Just when I felt I could barely move my feet one more step, I noticed them up ahead. “Pilgrims! There’s pilgrims up there!” And then we saw a car and lo and behold the evil forest quickly morphed into an enchanted forest replete with happy totem poles lots of pods of tables and stools made of stumps… the Oasis it was called. We made it there just as the French couple were leaving and the woman running the stop was about to drive off, but she waited until we grabbed a beer and a wine and an orange before departing to get her own lunch. The spot was donativo meaning you give what you think it appropriate. We so enjoyed taking a load off and another pilgrim Fonz came by to chat. We’d seen him at the bar where we’d had lunch, he’d had the rabbit.

He zoomed onward inspiring us to get a move on and we continued the trudge through what was now a more serene forest. I won’t lie it was still a huge effort to keep going. When we finally reached the town we were greeted by some donkeys and saw Eppie and Jack the US expats living in Cairo as we walked through and a small gathering of pilgrims at a picnic table. Not much there so we were glad we took our rest when we did.

On and on through a small forest where we sang hippie songs (think Jefferson Airplane) and caught up with the French couple. Then a few very scary cattle guards with openings almost wide as my foot and a deep drop… so deep my pole couldn’t reach the bottom. On and on and on and on. My spirits were lifted when I heard the call of a cuckoo and the melodious low jangling of cowbells. The cuckoo didn’t sign a release we said as it quieted as soon as I tried to record it.

Above the rise the herd appeared, gently grazing along the green hillside with a backdrop of snow covered mountains behind them. One mother was licking her baby calf’s face and the whole scene was so soothing. It gave me strength to make the descent into the adorable village of Ages where our Albergue Pajar de Ages sat close to the entrance to the town. We were welcomed into the toasty room, a very cozy place and were lucky to get two lower bunks. Just before dinner which was to be served at 6:30 I left the Albergue to get a bit of air and I had about 1% battery left in my phone. I opened it for a second and Facebook opened up automatically. I looked and was shocked to see from my friend Kimberly’s fed that a friend of mine, David S. a fellow wine judge had died suddenly. I exclaimed out loud “oh no!” And immediately one bell tolled in Ages. I’ll take it as a sign.

Dinner was served early which was welcome, first piping hot bowls of vegetarian pumpkin soup and then a welcome unique take on the pilgrim meal, clearly what they’re famous for…a hearty perfectly executed paella. We also had a great salad with chopped almonds and pitchers of wine. We even compared our “pilgrim tans”, my hands are totally showing where my pole straps cover them. If you’re a hand model you may want to add sunscreen on your hands!

The group was fun, 12 pilgrims in our room and we met Sarah from the U.K. Later on Suzy was begged to grab the guitar and Ali whom we’ve met many times joined us and played Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. It became a sing along and there was a pilgrim family “breaking up” two core members leaving by bus to skip onto Lyon due to time constraints. They showed us their friend’s terrible feet and new pinky toe growing from her toe lol and three of us realized we all had a pinky toe blister and became the Pinky Toe Camino Blister Gang. My pinky toe was once again swollen but didn’t hurt too bad.

We all sang Blowing in the Wind together and created on the spot new pilgrim verses, each of us adding something…and after one more acapella rendition of Hallelujah it was off to bed… I almost crept into the wrong room, but luckily Suzy caught me.

It was a very difficult but good day. 18 miles and 40 floors.

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