Day 14: The Bed of Birds

A chilly sunny morning greeted us awe left the town of Belorado. The remains of an ancient castle bid us farewell, giant vultures’ nests sitting on top. They were bigger than most New York aparyments. Kat woke up with sweat and chills throughout the night, but a dose of Emergen-C, and she was off.


As we have our own rhythms on the Camino, B went up ahead and met up with Javi, a marine biologist from the Andulcia region preparing for a career as a professor, and Gonzalo, an architecture student in his last year joined. With limited English, the two Spanairds were extremely patient with B, and they spent a few hours talking about the increased immigration of people from Africa and South America, the geographical features of North Carolina, and the state of fish becoming extinct in the rivers of Spain. B recommended Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish. She even told them about the vultures’ nest, calling them the beds of birds, as she had no clue how to say nest. Amazing how on the Camino, we can understand each other.

At the midpoint, we stopped for a quick breakfast refreshment, and Gonzalo stayed behind. Paul and Ignacio, two brothers whom we have been seeing since Pamplona joined, and off B went up, up, up over the Montanas de Orca with her new companions.


Paul studies medicine at the university in Barcelona, and his younger is joining him in September. They are to Burgos. Keeping pace with two 6-footers, the four continued to climb. We passed a group comprised of a Belgian, a Frenchwoman, and a Hungarian, whom B introduced to the larger group of friendly Hungarians. A mix of French and English, B learned that the Hungarian also started in St. Jean. A man on a horse passed. A horse, of course.



Meanwhile, Kat and Z had made their way to Villafranca at the 12km point, stopping to look for a pharmacy (Kat needed more vit C) and a grocery store. This town seemed to be populated with 70+ year olds who were all very friendly. Two elderly men joined them as they sat to have a snack and drink some water. The coffee bar owner kept calling out to his mutt of a cat that looked like it had seen a few wars in it’s lifetime while the one with piercing blue eyes and a straw hat asked where they were from, he said to Kat, oh you must be the American (making Z the Irish one by default) Nice, Kat!

Taking in the church tower between the mountains, Z pointed out how beautiful the scenery was. The local shrugged, saying “yeah, it’s just like any other tower.” He asked Kat and Z if they had found any handsome men yet on the Camino, and assured them that being as beautiful as they were they would definitely find one along the way “Romance on the Camino happens quickly.” Who knows? Perhaps there will be wedding bells as well as a mass to attend at the cathedral in Santiago. The charming locals bade them well, “Buen Camino, guapas!” and off they went.


Further ahead, B had entered San Juan de Ortega to see old friends, the Italian, the Spanish dad and daughter on their way to Burgos, and Louis, the math high school teacher from Seattle. We hung out for a bit in the 26-person, 2-street town of St. Jean until the one albergue opened. Sebastian and Carolina came by, passing a message from Kat that she and Z were taking it slowly after Kat was re-energized by her cortado but was starting to have difficulty with her left foot. Carolina had twisted her foot, and with one more day to go, the two weighed their options. They sat with B, having lunch for awhile.


Sweet Carolina offered B money for lunch, as she only had 4€ left, having forgotten to go to the bank. B was getting more and more worried, but there was no form of communication other than word of mouth. The Portuguese man and his Slovakian companion passed, letting B know that Kat and Z were behind them.

When Kat an Z emerged from the corner, B could not be more excited to see them. For 5€, we took our belongings to the Santurio de San Juan, the only albergue, an old monastery next to the church. Though there are countless bunks, the airy, large rooms seemed open and roomy, surrounding an open courtyard where we hung our laundry.


The only bar in town offered some of the best toasted bocadillos so far for 3,50€, tortilla de queso and jamon serrano on sublime bread. Ice cream followed, of course.


A couple took advantage of the charming room and made out a bit…B knew who it was and knew the the young woman had arrived solo, so this was clear evidence that what the local said is true, romance moves fast, even though the kilometers don’t seem to on the Camino.


In the sleepy afternoon, in the only town square, groups of pilgrim families chatted, waiting for mass at six: the Spaniards, the Hungarians, the Italians, sometimes mixing, sometimes letting the mind rest and talk without translating.


The bells announced mass, and most of the pilgrims went to hear the service in Spanish at the church of the tomb of San Juan de Ortega, sharing hugs and kisses with our neighbors. The priest then led the pilgrim’s blessing, ending with a chorus blessing of Santa Maria to protect all walkers. Won’t turn away a blessing like that.

After mass, we refreshed ourselves with ice tea with Sebastian and Carolina, who are from Argentina. A mix of Italian, Spanish, and English, Kat shared about her digital strategy work, Z lectured about wearing sunglasses to avoid muscular degeneration, and B about her previous work on Machiavelli. Carolina has her doctorate in Classical Philosophy, and Sebastian is a research investigator on the end of nationalism and democratic movements such as the Basque.

We returned to the small bar for a wonderful dinner of tuna empanadas, murcillas de Burgos (a local delicacy: a sausage made up of rice spices and pig’s blood), and cheese omelets. A sweet surprise was that Sebastian and Carolina paid for our meals. We are going to miss them when they depart for Barcelona tomorrow.


For B, Kat, and Z, the use of English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, and Farsi have all come handy in one form or another. At the end of the day, though, sharing the pains of the feet, desire for ice cream, and ecstasy of a hot shower need little translation.


Regardless of whatever faith or country, love, romance, friendship all speak the same language.
“San Juan de Ortega accompany you along the way and apart from you all opposition and danger.”