Monday 9 April – Villafranca Montes de Oca to Orbaneja – 26.7 kms
Today has been an amazing day in so many ways. We had a good night’s sleep in our private room in the San Anton Abad Hotel/Albergue. We were awake at 6am & on the track by 7am – ready for the climb over Alto Mojapan and Alto Pedraja (1100 metres). It was a steep climb in pitch black with headlight on. We were overtaken quite early. As we climbed the German lass, Jenny (with the black pilgrim hat) caught up to us so we chatted. As we ascended it started to rain so we put our ponchos on. Amazingly it was soon snowing – there we were climbing with the snowflakes swirling around us.
I was really pleased that we both handled the climb very well. The conditions deteriorated and we had to pick our path as this was a logging track – lots of mud to try and avoid. We were cold, our gloves and forearms were wet, when we arrived at San Juan de Ortega. Here we found a bar, grabbed a table and ordered coffee, bananas and cake. Our Danish friend, Morton, arrived and joined us so we discussed our plans for the rest of the day. Our plan had been to stay at the historic village of Atapuerca. (Atapuerca, site of several limestone caves near Burgos in northern Spain, known for the abundant human (genus Homo) remains discovered there beginning in 1976.)
We left before most of the group and pushed on but by now it was snowing quite heavily. We picked our way along the track which was gently descending into Atapuerca and arrived there at 12noon. We found the albergue where we planned to stay but it was not open – not until 1pm. Although the cleaner was present she would not let us in and we were left trying to shelter under a pine tree. We decided it was best to push on.We would have liked to have seen the museum but the conditions were such that we probably would not have moved from our albergue.
From here we headed off the road and onto a rough dirt track and we were climbing. We could hear gunfire in the distance – maybe some sort of army facility. The weather was deteriorating and the snow was getting heavier. Worst of all the track we were walking on was getting narrower. I was quite concerned that it could snow over and we could have a real problem finding our way.
We had been following a pilgrim and I had said to Lucy that we must keep up with him as he seemed to know his way. We reached a memorial where he had stopped to pray so we stopped to talk to him. I expressed my concerns but he told us not to worry – he was an experienced pilgrim walker and he would walk with us and show us the way. His name was Sam and he was an Italian architect from New York City. He was our Camino angel!
The track really did get very nearly indistinguishable but Sam led on checking constantly that Lucy and I were OK. We reached a fork in the road and Sam said he knew this… “We must take the left folk as it is a much safer track.”
We arrived at the village of Cardenuela Riopico where we stopped at the bar and Sam shouted us a coffee, bananas and chocolate. (Sam told us that he planned his year around walking the Camino. He apologised to us as he said he had prayed for it to snow on the Camino as he had never walked it in the snow.) He was a great guy and we were most thankful he looked after us.
He left us as it was his goal to make it to Burgos a further 16kms on but I said to Lucy we should find an albergue and rest. We found the local municipal albergue (in the next village, Orbaneja) where we got a bed for the night. It had a welcoming bar with a friendly hospitalero. We settled in next to an oil heater enjoying a beer and recovering. It had been a day to remember for many reasons. The day when we were looked after by a Camino angel – Sam, the Italian architect from New York City!