A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

El Dorado In Belorado

On 25 November I limped round Santo Domingo and explored the town. But most of the time I tried to rest my knee in my hotel room. I took a very long bath. I wasn't used to having nothing to do. The next morning my knee felt so much better. I thought that - if I took it slowly - I could walk the next 24 km to the albergue at Belorado. And this I did, passing the house in the photo on the way.

Between the villages of Granon and Redecilla you see a monstrously ugly sign stating that you are crossing from La Rioja into Castilla y Leon, the largest region in Spain. Approximately half your time on the Camino is spent walking through this vast region and 3 of its 9 provinces: Burgos, Palencia and Leon.

It was a relief to reach Belorado. Much of the afternoon's route had been dangerously close to the N-120 yet again. I liked the place. It was wonderfully scruffy and ordinary. It was typical of many villages and small towns in northern Spain. It certainly had no desire to tart itself up for the tourists. Thank God. Not that it got many tourists anyway. Only pilgrims.

The albergue was small and friendly. The hospitalero in charge was called Juan Antonio. I found my Spanish pilgrim friends Fernando and Tere already there. There was much hugging, kissing and general embracing. In Belorado's delightful main square I met another pilgrim, Irene from Slovenia, in front of the Church of Santa Maria which was temporarily closed for repairs. She was petite with a mass of dark curly hair, and was incredibly slim and fit. I showed her the way to the hostel.

Fernando and Tere went shopping for tapas which we all shared - cheese, chorizo, olives, crisps... and 2 bottles of Rioja. Fernando cut up the cheese and the chorizo with his big boy scout knife. Later Juan Antonio, a former chef, cooked the evening meal which was served at 8pm on a big wooden table in the kitchen - soup (which had been simmering all afternoon) followed by tuna omelettes. Payment was by donation only - whatever you could afford. Earlier Juan had summoned us into the back garden and proudly shown us his "tame" wild rabbits which he fed every day. I joked with Irene that we'd almost certainly be eating rabbit stew that night. A joke which did not go down terribly well - I discovered later she was vegetarian!

Juan Antonio was a larger-than-life character. He'd walked the Camino, or variations of it, 12 times. Now he'd put on a little weight and catered for the pilgrims. The lifestyle seemed to suit him. When the others had gone from the kitchen, Juan took me to one side. He wedged a log into the wood burning stove and selected another piece of New Age music for the CD player. "Here, take this," he said, and thrust a cockleshell lapel pin, emblazoned with the red cross of Saint James, into my hand. "Don't tell the others," he winked. "This is my special gift for you."

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