Friday, May 21, 2010

San Juan de Ortega - an equinox wonder

Another day, another 22.8km ahead of me. Being the last to leave, again, I searched the small town for a pharmacy. I found a cloister built into the "El Dorado" rock - pretty cool - , a ´Schlecker´(!!!- Schlecker is a german chemist chain), and a pharmacy which was about to open ... in an hour´s time. Knowing that Villafranca (12.2km away) was the next place with a pharmacy I decided to chance it. 12.2km, poppycock! I do that in my sleep! On my way out I bumped into a couple with a 19 month old kid, who´d spent the night in the same place and slowly do the Camino with a pretty hard core stroller. It´s the 3rd time they´re doing it, and they´re too telling me it´s way, WAY fuller than the other years. Ah well, it´s my first time, and when it gets too hectic I just imagine how full it must´ve been during its high time in the middle ages. I meet less people on the road anyway since I don´t run with the masses. A little bit on was a supermarket and since they had shared they baby´s muesli with me this morning I decided to buy them a new pack, and a bit of stuff for the way for myself. Then I tried to catch up with them, as I imagined they´d overtaken me while I was shopping, but when they were nowhere in sight it became pretty clear that they were still behind me. So at a petrol station I made the attendant swear a solemn oath that she´d hand over the bag of muesli to the niƱo as soon as they would come into sight. The walk was not to bad, the sun was shining, the Camino not as flat and also far from the road. Mainly fields everywhere and no shadow, but despite the last day´s hardship the going was surprisingly good and I hummed songs or got lost in thoughts. Arriving in Villafranca 4 hours later though was abit of a disappointment. The pharmacy was a little room with nothing but a few shelves and a very unfriendly woman - and nothing for poor, sore feet. Along the Camino? Is this woman against making money? I had expected a bigger place of a town, and since I had already past the one bar I gritted my teeth and decided to just start the long stretch of 12.6km with no interruption, village or well. But then on the way out of this bland place (the church was closed too, of course) I came across a (couple of stars) castle hotel - with an albergue and bar sign. Well, why not chance my luck, so I strolled dusty and not at all royally looking into the big entrance hall and met a woman who quickly served me a bocadillo (a big sandwich for all you non-spanish speakers) with a yummi tortilla inside and a lemonade, happy days! While I ate some other pilgrims found the place, amongst them the couple with the baby, who´d actually gotten the muesli from the petrol station´s attendant! There you go, things just happen on the Camino. After over an hour and with refreshed feet I headed on, uphill this time and into a big forest full of low growing trees, called the "Goose Forest". My taget for the day, St. Juan de Oretga, lies 1.000m high up and I had to climb 1.160m first, sigh, ...good thing I have my Ventolin. Since it was a forest it wasn´t too hot, a nice wind blew too, but then the path widened into a wide, straight stretch, made to prevent forest fires from spreading. From then on it was tough. Still uphill, hot and you couldn´t see the end of the road. I don´t know, I guess it´s a psychological thing: when the road winds you never know what´s around the corner and every sight is new. With long straight stretches you just now that the end is nowhere in sight, and that´s not good , well, for my psyche anyway. Have I mentioned before that things just sneak up on you on the way? Whoops, suddenly there´s a guy with a big dog in a veterinary´s collar behind you, whoa, there´s a flock of cyclist almost running you over, oops, there´s the lone ranger creeping up on you. So I got into the habit of every so often turning around and checking the path behind me, and in the distance I saw someone. Some time later that someone was much closer, it was a guy with an insane speed on him. A little bit later again he was about to overtake me. Since most people greet everyone else on the way with either an ¡Hola! or ¡Buen Camino! or ¡Ultreja! if they´re not total pricks (who do exist, believe you me..), I hollered my ¡Hola! and we got talking, in english. It was pretty obvious the guy was german, so we changed over into german. Then I felt suddenly very at home, language wise. That guys accent was so very familiar. Before he could dash off I said:"hey, hope you don´t mind, are you by any chance from Hessen (Hessia, a german county, the one I grew up in actually)?" Yep, that he was. "Where from?" "From the Westerwald." WHAT??! That´s more or less where I´m from! Here in the middle of nowhere, with no soul anywhere to be sen, on an neverending stretch of road, I bump into someone from the Westerwald (the western forests, very LotR, hehehe..), from near Montabaur to be precise (I´m sure all of my family will appreciate this bit of information). I told him I was from Herborn and the forest echoed with our laughter. If we´d tried to meet here we wouldn´t have succeeded! What a chance meeting. We walked a good bit together, but eventually I had to slow down again and he needed to find his fast pace agin - he´d already walked over 30km that day! Pity, now I was again alone onthat wide, straight, endless stretch through the forest, and my legs and feet started to complain again. But eventually in the end I made to St. Juan. Now this place is famous for its old priest, who does a very quick mass and then invites all the pilgrims to his garlic soup. Apparently he died recently, so I wasn´t quite sure what to expect, but as soon as I´d arrived in the old monastery building, about 6.10pm, I was told to hurry up, as the communal garlic soup was about to be served in 20 minutes! Delicious it was! I had still bread in my backpack which I tried to share with my fellow pilgrims and with it scraped the last out of my (2nd) bowl. The place was pure magic! Gregorian music was played in the old courtyard, where we all hung up our washing, and the resto f the ancient place. I ventured off to the church to see St. Juan de Ortega´s grave and mausoleum - and "The miracle of the light". Now, St. Juan spent his life to care for pilgrims and opened a cloister in the 12th century. He is buried here, and here is where you´ll find an architectonic masterpiece of the middle ages: twice every year, at the Equinox on the 21st of march and the 22nd of September at 5pm the sun creeps in through a small window and lights up a scene at the top of a column (I believe you call it a Capitel?), where there is a beautiful row of carvings: first the light shines on the annunciation, then it creeps over to Mary holding her hands on her belly, then to the Nativity scene. The whole thing takes about 10min and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Yeeees, I can hear you yell, the people in Newgrange have done it way before the 12th century, and of course you´re right. Newgrange is an incredible Wonder of the world. But this here is unique in the world of medieval architecture, so it deserves a special, little place in history. It was only discovered in1974, mind you! Had been forgotten since then. Despite my always sore feet and stoney calfs I´m so glad I´ve made it to here. This is one special place. I feel like going to bed a bit earlier tonight, still a bit wrecked from yesterday´s torture, and my feet are thumping. Falling assleep with gregorian songs, nice.......... :)

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