I’m not going to lie – I wasn’t looking forward to this day. Because of the Scouse Spouse’s accident in Estella one year earlier, we couldn’t be sure how often, how far or even if he could carry his pack due to the shoulder injury, so we had decided to prebook accommodation so we could take our time and also forward his pack if necessary. From Belorado there are normally two options: stop after 12 kms in Villafranca Montes de Oca or walk another 12 kms to San Juan de Ortega, through 12 kms of forest roads with no services whatsoever. 12 kms is too short, 24 is just right – but San Juan de Ortega has one albergue and one casa rural and there was no room left in the bookable inn. So we had to brace ourselves and prepare to go 6 km further, to Atapuerca.
It started well enough – cool and quiet and flat.
According to our guidebook we would have the added challenge of a steady uphill walk to Villafranca, where we giggled at the guidebook mention of a choice of two ‘dives’ to refresh ourselves in before a more dramatic climb. Yay. We chose the apparently lesser of two dives, had a good rest, loaded up with water for the 12 kms ahead and moved on refreshed.
I think this was taken at the top of that uphill, which was … challenging. Lovely to come into the woods and get some shade though. We did stop at a bench in the shade by the monument to victims of the Franco regime. There was also a coach parked up full of people on a highlights-of-the-camino tour of some sort. They made no attempt at contact.
The next highlight of the day was the Dip. I remembered it well, and just like last time we pondered if we could make pilgrims bring a stone from home and leave it in the Dip rather than on the Cruz de Ferro, there would soon be no need to walk up just to walk steeply down and then steeply back up again … It kept us chatting though so it was easily conquered.
Then into the woods on a mainly straight, wide, dusty, sun baked forest road. At one point we were surprised to hear booming music, and it turns out someone had created an oasis just when a tired pilgrim would need it the most. It had seating in the shade, hammocks, arty stuff and apparently some snacks and drinks, but we decided to just get to San Juan de Ortega and have a good rest there instead.
It was hot and it was sunny and we were getting tired, but the long straight woodsy walk was almost hypnotic – we just walked and walked in silence and it was oddly enjoyable (though not wildly interesting). I think we were on our way into the zone, an expression I would normally never use, but it is so apt on the camino. But what joy when we saw the bells of San Juan de Ortega! The one bar was full, inside and out, but we managed to get one seat under a parasol and my sun-loving husband let me have it. Then there was beer, and what bliss that was!
The problem we faced now was how to motivate ourselves to move on another 6 km. We decided to take baby steps and just get to Agés first of all, then maybe another pit stop there. 30 kms on a hot day is more than I can usually do but I was determined to get there. Off we went into the sun again.
The walk was still pleasant and beautiful. We took no chances water wise so made sure we were well hydrated and poured water on our hats, buffs and down our necks if it got too hot. Incredible how refreshing a few drops of water on the head or neck can be!
When we got to Agés I instantly regretted not staying there – it really has been developed since I walked past in 2012 (or I have forgotten). I have always wanted to see the archeological site at Atapuerca, I suppose that’s why I was drawn to staying there. At Agés the Scouse Spouse left his water bottle on the table as a reminder to fill it up for the last 2.5 km, and then promptly forgot to fill or even bring it. We didn’t notice until we were half way to Atapuerca … he turned around, and I carried on to make sure we didn’t lose our room.
I said I wouldn’t lie, and I won’t. I was very tired when I got there, and I was not very impressed with the room. When I checked in I was told that they had given someone else our nice room, thinking we wouldn’t get there, and we were left with the smallest room with the least inviting bathroom – but a refund of €20. I wasn’t in any mood to protest, so I got myself and my clothes clean and waited for my fellow wanderer. By the time we were ready to eat, we weren’t really hungry anymore so we went to a simple bar that served pizza nearby, and then straight to bed.
And you know what they say: Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite …