Agés

after quickly passing through the tiny town of San Juan de Ortega we came to the slightly-less-tiny town of Agés — sporting nearly twice as man residents (a whopping 60 people!) and five times the lodging options (um, five — all albergues). we spent the last kilometer or two lagging behind a somewhat clique-y group of mostly French peregrinos and when we saw them heading into one of the private albergues on the main street we headed one door beyond and ended up in the municipal albergue. a middle-aged man and his wife ran the place and had pressed their teenage son into service behind the bar and in the dining room.

this albergue was the third we stayed in and the first run by a “municipality” — the church administered the first in Roncesvalles and the one in Zubiri was private. at the one in Agés, some 36 bunks occupied space above bar and dining room and, as usually occurred in the albergues, we had to leave our dusty boots at the door to minimize the amount of dirt we might track upstairs.

one perk to staying in albergues: our fee often included a menu de peregrino and, sometimes, an adequate breakfast. once we got our showers in and had our catchup naps we headed down to the bar for a beer and to wait until all the peregrinos filtered in for the day, the dinner count firmed up, and the patrons began serving dinner. after a brief, distracting stint inside where we caught our first glimpse of a telenovela centered around a military family and set in 1957. attention for that withered quickly and we headed outside to keep company with town dogs, wasps, and other peregrinos.

sitting outside, it became increasingly clear that the books downloaded on the Kindle went much faster than my somewhat hefty paperback (Wizard’s First Rule). my tendency to “dawdle” and write about the day in my journal certainly didn’t help my reading speed, either. but then, if I hadn’t done that, how could I look back and jog my memory about the day-to-day trivialities to share with all of you?

San Juan de Ortega

as I referenced in my last post, Domingo de la Calzada had a disciple named San Juan de Ortega (known to us English speakers as John the Hermit). born near Burgos in the late 11th century, he helped construct bridges in Logroño, Santo Domingo and Nájera. when Domingo died, Juan went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and nearly died in a shipwreck on his return. his prayers to San Nicolas to save him from death apparently answered, Juan devoted himself to improving the Camino between Villafranca Montes de Oca and Burgos.

Church in San Juan de Ortega

he erected a monastery about 50 kilometers west of the one Domingo established and attracted the patronage of Alfonso VII of Castilla. the King supported the monastery with tax money from around Villafranca and visited several times, going so far as to choose Juan as his personal confessor. following in that vein, Pope Innocent II offered his personal protection which proved useful for some 25 years before Juan’s death.

despite the royal patronage, the monastery and hospice struggled through the Middle Ages following Juan’s death. he’s buried in the church and serves as the patron saint of hospice-keepers, children and barren mothers (this line in my book made me wonder: are they already mothers who have become barren, or are they women who wish to be come pregnant and thus not yet technically mothers?).  among those who received his aid was Isabel (I) la Catolica, Castillian queen of the 15th century who conceived following two separate visits to the San Juan’s tomb. the church is built in such a way so that the rays of the setting sun on each equinox fall on the statue of the Virgin Mary, which some see as bolstering his fertility-aid claims. by 1756, some 114 miracles were granted according to monastery records. no mention of how many have been granted since then … 

Villafranca Montes de Oca

while our guidebook recommended we stop over in San Juan de Ortega, the reality of the situation (in which there are some 58 beds in the only albergue in town, all of which were taken by noon) prompted us to merely pause, refill our water and push on to Agés. we weren’t alone in stopping in at the only bar in town, though; in addition to many peregrinos there was a group of Spanish troops stopping for lunch. first and only people we saw in military uniform while in Spain which, it turned out, wasn’t terribly surprising as there’s a military training installation in the hills between Agés and Burgos.

menu del peregrino

house wine in at the municipal albergue in Ages

as I wager many of you know, Spain is known for their late dining habits. restaurants routinely do not open for dinner until 9:00 p.m. or later, which proves monumentally inconvenient for peregrinos who start hiking by 7:00 a.m. each day and hope to be asleep, or at least in bed, by 9:00 p.m. to adjust for this, along the Camino many, if not all, restaurants offer a fixed menu del peregrino that gets served around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. for about 10 euro, you get a starter, an entree, dessert, bread, water, and wine.


our first experience with the menu del peregrino was in Roncesvalles; the upscale hotel next to the albergue advertised theirs well and had us walking through the door to reserve seats before we knew how big town might be. the advertised start of the meal was 7:00 p.m. but when we showed up at 7:02, or so, nearly all the  50 or so seats were filled — fellow peregrinos as hungry as we were anxious to get a jump on the meal. this particular meal was served family style on long tables, which fostered a communal feel that resulted in my receiving about six left-over dessert yogurts at the end of the meal. the main course was fish and when word made it down the table that I don’t eat fish, people passed the yogurt served as dessert that they either didn’t care for or didn’t have room to eat. I managed to eat about four before tapping out; it was the best yogurt I ate the entire time we were in Spain.


my favorite meal — at the Hotel Dona Mayor in Fromista

while occasionally we had family-style peregrino meals (usually at private hostels that also had menus or restaurants), usually we had a table to ourselves. the menu options were always fixed to three or four options per course and were never veg-friendly; even the uninspired iceberg lettuce salads came with hard boiled eggs and tuna. even thinking about it now exasperates me (and re-inspires me for the CSA salad I’m eating for tomorrow’s lunch). once I figured out how to manipulate the menu, I managed fine by ordering two veg-friendlier first courses — often soup and pasta with tomato sauce. after a while, the pork or beef stock they used to make the soup got frustrating, but it for a time it served as a welcome alternative to terrible salads. on one memorable occasion, I ordered pasta with tomato sauce without meat and, as often happened, it came out with ham and chicken in the sauce anyway; our server/owner of the establishment was aghast and swept the plate away before I could take another bite to make a plate without meat. I’m never one to make a fuss about meals not coming out as expected and would have eaten around the ham and chicken, but after two weeks it was nice to have someone look after my dietary preferences.