A peaceful and quiet morning was made even more perfect by the appearance of two captivating vistas within the first couple of hours. The first gem was a field of sunflowers still in bloom. Having seen many dead or dying sunflowers already, I paused to move amongst them and examine them more closely. We were almost of equal height! Then soon afterwards, I was gazing into the distance at the simple beauty of a small hermitage built into a rock. The humble structure touched my soul more powerfully than the grandest of churches, including the Compostela in Santiago, its impact being in its pure simplicity.
When I arrived at my destination, I saw that San Juan de Ortega was pretty much a one-horse town: an albergue, a church and a bar – that was it. While a couple of the Irish/Canadians headed for the bar to wait for other members of their group, I waited with the seven men from Friesland for the albergue, a former monastery, to open at 1 p.m. Once inside I saw that it wasn’t worth waiting for – the accommodation was really grim. The only positive I found was that males and females had separate showering facilities. At least I could shower in peace, I thought. I wouldn’t need to queue behind or among the seven men from Friesland. With that in mind, I went into the ladies bathroom where I was met by one of the seven men from Friesland stepping out of the shower. He obviously didn’t want to queue either! His unexpected appearance ruined the one and only thing about the albergue that gave me any feeling of comfort. I was annoyed with him, and to make sure he knew that, I pointed to the female symbol on the door. What could he do? Nothing! He just muttered something in Dutch and left. After my shower I sank into a deep sleep and when I awoke, I saw Jeanie and Elaine (the Canadians) in bunks next to me while the others (Heather, Eugene and Bob) had decided to walk on further.
In the afternoon I sat on a bench across the road from the albergue having my lunch and pretending to write in my journal while I observed Jeanie and Elaine in the bar. Although I could have walked over to join them, I resisted. My internal dialogue was preoccupied with thoughts of all the things I didn’t want to do at that hour of the day. I didn’t want to sit in a bar and drink alcohol at four in the afternoon, neither did I want any other kind of drink. This was a regular dilemma – what to do when there seemed to be nothing to do except sit in a bar. What I really wanted was some kind of relief from the monotony, but I didn’t want to sit in a bar to get it.
Later, at about six o’clock, I relented, and with a glass of red wine in my hand, I joined Jeanie and Elaine. They had booked a table for dinner and asked if I would like to join them. Initially I declined and later I relented about that too. Over dinner I got to know Elaine a little and discovered that she was not as aloof as I had thought. I knew Jeanie better; I had spent more time with her and knew she was a talker. They were work colleagues who had become friends, and along the way they had met Bob, also Canadian, as well as Heather and Eugene, who were both Irish and had begun the Camino travelling solo.
We were joined at our table by a lady from Australia who was staying nearby at a Casa Rural. She was doing the Camino in more comfort than us, which for her was important, but she realised it meant that the camaraderie that resulted from albergue living was something she missed out on. I completely understand why people choose to stay in hotels, but having had the albergue experience, I know something huge would have been missing without it.