September 23, 2002

9/23/02 San Juan de Oretega

26 km

With such a small place, I was surprised when everyone seemed to sleep late. I didn't leave till 7:40am and I was one of the first to head out the door. Nicolas runs a beautiful place, complete with breakfast.

Some say it is because we're higher in elevation, but I think we're colder here because winter is approaching. This morning was the first time I could see my breath as I walked. We continued our Camino through rolling hills of cultivated farmland, but you could feel we were going up.

At our highest point, we walked along a firebreak in thick forest. Rain always seemed to be threatening but even with raingear on, it never materialised. As my feet continued to protest the mileage, the Camino finally descended to the Monasterio de San Juan de Ortego. With the temperature falling, I'm very glad I carried all this cold weather clothing since the beginning, including the sleeping bag. Looks like it will be a very chilly night because the refugio doesn't have heat.

Bixen [España]

Chris [Brazil] & Jessie [Australia]

Leif [Denmark]

Carmin & Mila [España]

Isaac [España]

We're in a one-bar-town, so you'd think that after at least six months of constant pilgrim traffic, the guy that ran the bar would have been driven crazy. But no (or maybe yes depending on your point of view), even with mobs of pilgrims asking for menus and his trying to find somewhere for everyone to sit, he was happy, almost playful with all the customers. Even the one's who didn't speak Spanish. And the food was good and cheap too.

But before we sat down for dinner, one of the bartenders told us we should go to the church. Every year, on the spring and fall equinox, the setting sun will flash light on a particular pillar carved with the story of the Virgin Mary's Ascension. He said that yesterday was the equinox but it might still be possible to see it tonight. So off we went.

Because the church only uses natural light (except during service), it was hard to find the right pillar in the darkness. The other thing working against us was the sky was covered with clouds. As people began to congregate around the pillar, occasionally some light would illuminate the pillar enough to appreciate the fine detail of the carving.

Then it seemed as if the cloud cover shut off the lights. 5, 10, 15 minutes went by with no sunlight, so people began to give up and leave. But not me! I kept my neck craned up so I wouldn't miss it, even if it was only a second. Wow, it was as if someone hit the spotlight, at the exact center of the carving of the Virgin Mary. Amazing, simply dazzling. The rest of the church lay in darkness as this particular piece was illuminated. Words simply cannot describe.

Let there be LIGHT!