We left off yesterday with no pictures. The pictures are now here but this blog will not get uploaded until tomorrow. Despite being under 26 Kms from Burgos, we have no wifi at our hotel. In fact there is only one place to eat other than at the monastery run Albergue where they only serve garlic soup. The guide book describes the Albergue as Spartan and drafty. The temperature hovers between 6 and 12 Celsius and this is the last day of May. No rain just cold.
We walked around 25 Kms today through some of the remotest and wildest Spanish land we have encountered. This wilderness setting is perfect for our story today. But we return to Santo Domingo de Calzada, the Saint buried next to the chicken coop, who was a mentor for San Juan de Ortega our guy for today. San Juan decided to serve God after being saved from drowning while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by San Nicolas de Barri. Not sure how this happened but it is not immediately relevant to our story. So Juan became an Augustinian monk and founded a monastery in this town named for him in 1050.
Juan, taking a cue from Domingo, decided to make the dangerous wilderness road over the Montes de Oca safe for pilgrims. The name means the hills of the wild geese but is was mostly known for nasty animals and nastier bandits. He dedicated his life to clearing a safe passage and building facilities for pilgrims to his village of Ortega which means nettles. You know, the kind that sting so when you want to eat them you need to pick them with a plastic Baggie over your hand. I have been waiting for a chance to give that advice since France.
So Saint Juan de Ortega is buried in this remote village in a church all out of proportion for the few residents of this village today. We got here by climbing some 1500 feet to this high ridge covered with pine and oak trees. We passed through a number of small villages that owe their existence to Juan who convinced the big guys to support his efforts. We had a nice pastry, Limon and cafe Americain in Villafranca de Montes de Oca around 11. There are a number of these “village of the French” along the Camino they are so named because of the early French settlers who were induced to settle in these remote areas.
Today the formerly wild track is a hundred feet wide due to a plantation forest and the need to service the electric generating windmills in these mountains. Of course, we know why the windmills work so well. Hard to believe that my former UCLA Professor Walter Starkie got lost on this trail in the 1950s. Not much chance today with a steady stream of pilgrims to follow unless the first one missed a sign. Ran into the French girls along the way. They asked if we had seen Jacque. Have not seen him for a couple of days. The Irish couple is real tired. The Nashville couple were moving on since this town was too small for them.
We passed by a number of hermit caves on the ridges overlooking the Camino. The remoteness of the region is good for those guys. For us it meant that we needed to keep walking. Not too big of an issue as long as we keep within our limits and comfort zone. Did see quite a few pilgrims pushing too hard.
Saint Juan also seemed to be able to restore fertility in women. Not at all sure how this happened out in the wilds but there seemed to be quite a following. Perhaps it is because when they opened his tomb to transfer the remains to the Gothic tomb, a swarm of white bees flew out. The somewhat surprised tomb openers determined that the bees were the unborn children of infertile women. Queen Isabella of Columbus fame visited the monastery and shortly thereafter conceived. She helped expand this place and explain its grand nature. The Gothic enclosure with the sleeping saint is still not used by the saint. He lies in a simple stone sarcophagus in a small chapel, more fitting for a practical guy orerhaps to keep the bees happy. Also a statue of his mentor, Santa Domingo, with his chickens adorns another chapel.
The town is setting up,for a festival celebrating Saint Juan. The music will start around 10pm hopefully it won’t be any louder than the drum and bugle corps that performed two nights ago in Santo Domingo.