Day 13: Viloria de Rioja – San Juan de Ortega

As predicted, we had a vegetarian dinner last night at Refuge Acacio & Orietta in Viloria de Rioja.
Acacio and Orietta (a married couple) has a very interesting and deep connection with the Camino. Acacio is originally from Brazil, Orietta from Italy. They basically met on the Camino. If you ask Acacio how long he’s lived in Spain, he answers, “I don’t live in Spain, I live on the Camino!”
Besides having walked almost all of the Camino-routes, they have also worked as volunteer hospitalero’s (the people who manage/run albergue’s) for seven years, before they decided the open their own albergue 13 years ago.

They had no money, though (they still don’t look as though they care about money), other than about $50 in savings.
Acacio, however, somehow (I don’t know how) knows Paulo Coelho, and he approached him for assistance. 
Coelho helped them to buy their property, and has since been a ‘partner’ in the business. They run their albergue on a donativo basis – there are no set prices, you pay what you can afford. For accommodation they do give a guideline of between €8 and €10, but what you pay for meals is all up to you.
They sell softdrinks and beer, but charges only €1, whatever you buy.

The whole philosophy behind ‘donativo’ on the Camino revolves around the premise that you actually get everything for free, but then make a donation to enable them to offer the same to the following pilgrim. It’s a huge part of the pilgrimage experience – which I think you’ll lose out on if you only stay in hotels.

Acacio and Orietta only have 14 beds in their albergue, and they are actually quite picky – a group of youngsters came around looking for accommodation yesterday, but were turned away by Acacia, saying that the albergue was full – when indeed, at the time, there were available beds.
All beds are in one room, serviced by a bathroom with two showers, and three toilets. They also have seperate basins for doing your laundry by hand (though I paid to have mine done in the machine).

Last night’s dinner consisted of a brocolli soup as starter, bean stew as mains, and then yoghurt as dessert. At most albergue’s you can expect to be given joghurt for dessert (or a cold version of rice pudding).

After dinner, seeing that we were only five guests (and Acacio and Orietta), we talked about our different reasons for doing the Camino.
There were two German guys (not related), a lady from Colombia, a lady from Austria, and myself. While we all had different reasons for our journey, what struck me was that all were deeply personal, emotional, and often painful.
The Austrian lady remarked that she had once before walked the Camino but, considering her state of mind at the time, she did not like it, and thus she came back to ‘make peace with the Camino’. 

Acacio and Orietta are two very wise people. Discussing my own situation and reasons for walking the Camino, he made the following statement, that really touched me:

“You do not need to figure out everything about your life right now. Just focus on the next step, the one you are taking right now, and right now, and right now.

The next step is always obvious. You will know what it is, and you will already have all the tools you need. It’s not the next step if you don’t know what it is.”

This touched me very deeply, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget these wise words from Acacio (a stranger from Viloria de Rioja who opened his house to me).

Another gem that came from Orietta was that, “worrying was like praying for what you don’t want”. 
How true is that!


I left Viloria de Rioja at 07:00 this morning, as I had my longest day on the Camino ahead of me. A full 36km.

After the heatwave of the previous 10 days, I started off in a very cool 10 degrees. The walking, however, warms you up quickly.
About 7km down the way, at Belorado, I stopped for coffee and an orange juice.
While ordering I heard a familiar accent, and asked the couple at a nearby table where they were from. Finally, the first South Africans I’ve encountered on the trip: Derek and Deborah from Pretoria.

Two of the pilgrims who stayed over in Viloria with me last night joined me. At some point I mentioned that I had a very good night’s sleep, when the one (the Austrian lady) answered: we know!
Turns out, I really snored very badly last night. 
If you weren’t so kind last night, she said, I would have murdered you. We had a great laugh!

I left them behind and walked on. On the edge of town I saw the sign of a factory that, if you’re Afrikaans, looks like it manufactures something very interesting (see photo). Turns out, in Spanish, that is the word for leather, or hide, or skin.

At the next village, Vilambistia, I stopped at the public fountain to fill up with water and rest my feet. Derek and Deborah were there too, and we started chatting. Turns out, Derek is the cousin of the guy who has the shop next to mine in Parys. Small world. 
They plan to do the same route as me and, though they do shorter daily stages, chances are I’ll see them again on the way.

I reached Vilafranca shortly before noon, picked up some snacks at a supermarket, and then had a sandwich and beer at a local bar. I also had to top up with water, as we were warned that, between there and San Juan de Ortega (where I sleep tonight), there are no facilities – and it’s a stretch of about 13km’s.

After my lunch I set off. The whole morning I’d been walking mostly through wheat and sunflower fields.
One leaves Vilafranca climbing quite a steep hill, and expect more of the same fields, when all of a sudden you find yourself in a rainforest – shady, cool and absolutely beautiful.

For the rest of the way, until San Juan de Ortega, I followed either paths through the forest, or through pine plantations – I only stopped briefly to buy biscuits at a donativo stall.
As I was walking I could see a little village ahead, but had no idea that I had already reached San Juan – the 13km’s from Vilafranca just felt like nothing. I really felt good when I arrived.

I stopped at a bar, had a sandwich and beer, and then checked in at the albergue. Having had a shower and done my laundry, I’ll try and stay up until dinner (19:00), and then have an early night.

While the cooler weather today undoubtedly helped, I honestly believe that Acacio’s advice to just focus on ‘the next step’, made a huge difference in both my physical and mental performance today. It’s just so true: you already have what you need for the next step! If you don’t have the tools for something, then it’s NOT the next step!

Another little wisdom Orietta shared last night (that I found to be so true and meaningful), was, “….a true friend is not someone who is there for you when times are tough. The true friend is right there for you when things are amazing!”

I found this to be another profound truth, and particular meaningful for me in my current situation. I’m truly blessed and thankful for my friends who’s been with me in the amazing times, who’s been laughing with me, and still laughs with me.
It must be terrible having ‘great’ friends who have never been there in good times!


Buen Camino!

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