Hospital de Orbigo to Villares de Orbigo, June 2
I had heard about a marvellous albergue just outside of Hospital. Like eating greens every chance that you get, one must take advantage of stellar recommendations. So today, my spirit quest was going to take me a total of 3-kilometres. O happy day, in the tiny Villares de Orbigo I discovered the delightful little home of Pablo and Belén. They do not open until noon so I availed myself of the pleasures of the only cafe in town, enjoying a late breakfast of cafe con leche and tortilla. Typically these cafes attract peregrinos like flies especially if they have wi-fi connections that are few and far between.
When the albergue opened, I found myself alone in a single room with shuttered French windows. Happily, that development did not change and I was able to get the first full sleep since Madrid. That afternoon, i pulled out my origami paper and taught Pablo and Belén how to make kissy fish. There would be only four guests that evening and we all sat down to a fabulous dinner cooked by our hosts of soup, beef barley stew, bread and wine. Very relaxed, easy day of goofing off.
Villares de Orbigo to Astorga, June 3
The closer I get to Santiago the more kindness falls like small rain down can rain. My albergue hosts last night refused payment from me as thank you for a little origami.
Perfect weather articulated today’s walk to Astorga, the European birthplace of chocolate. It was uphill for 10-kilometers mostly walking through wheat fields, grasslands and gentle valleys.
It is June 3rd, well into the Spanish spring and my selfie was taken at about 10:30 am by some French cyclists. Notice I am wearing long pants, shoes, with a padded vest and overcoat wrapped around my waste. Yes, unbelievably, it is still cold in the mornings. My 10 KG knapsack is behind me with a 0.7 KG orange tent strapped to it. Red corded earbuds dangle bedside the satchel of 2.5 KG of origami paper. I am wearing a Tilley hat with a yellow arrow in case I get lost.
When nearly worn out, having passed no amenities, a mirage appears with a food cart, fruits, nuts, beverages, figs literally in the middle of nowhere with the exhortation that it was free, help yourself, you are home now. Milagro. The young vendor had been doing this for 4-years for only donations. Of course I put a couple of euros in the pot and wetfolded him a Giang Dinh origami angel. When I gave it to him, he laughed, ripped off his shirt to show me the enormous tattoo of an angel spread across his back. From there, it was a couple more hours of hard going on my feet, as the route had many inclines and declines while walking over large, uneven stones.
As I am approaching Astorga, I pass la Cruceiro de Santo Toribio, a large stone cross commemorating a 5th Century bishop. The view to the northwest is magnificent, looking down over a wide fertile valley to the Astorga Cathedral with its twin towers in the distance. A local viejo of 80+ years is slowly climbing the hill as I am descending. I greet him and he stops to ask where I am going. I replied, Astorga tonight, Santiago soon. Then he smiles, blesses me and wishes me buon Camino.
The advance toward Astorga was brilliant as the Cathedral towers continually serve as a beacon. The last mile or so though was walking up hot asphalt. I passed the Iglesia San Francisco as it was undergoing archeological digging and I could see levels of Roman mosaics newly exposed. I was nearly spent as I finally reached the municipal albergue at the Plaza San Francisco. I got lucky and was assigned a room with only four beds. There would be 150 peregrinos staying there tonight.
I had the day to explore Astorga and shop for groceries. Had an enjoyable afternoon in the Plaza Catedral basking in the shadows of two magnificent buildings, the Astorga Cathedral and Gaudi’s Bishop’s Palace. Met an American and his Peruvian girlfriend as we shared lunch and a bottle of wine on a plaza bench. It’s a glorious little town of 12,000 people.
I took a grocery-bought dinner of serrano ham, cheese, bread, wine and strawberries on a bench in the Plaza San Francisco as sunset gathered. What an exhilarating day!
Astorga to Murias de Rechivaldo, June 4
Went for churros and coffee at the Plaza San Francisco deciding to stay the morning and tour the Bishop’s Castle. The next big stop would be Rabanal and I knew I was not going to make an uphill climb of 21.5 kilometres today. The palace was closed yesterday so I would tour it this morning and make a short journey this afternoon to Murias de Rechivaldo.
This masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi was meant to be an Episcopal Palace, but the bishop, who had ordered it, died before the building was completed. Outside it looks like a fairy tale castle, a typical Gaudi work, but inside it has been adapted to a Bishop’s Palace with a beautiful chapel and a Museo de los Caminos. Gaudí decided to use Catalonian workers and bricklayers to make sure that during the periods when he was in Barcelona, his ideas would be interpreted correctly. Its four floors are full of art and sculpture, archaeological relics, gold and silver ornaments, coins and church accessories.
This Modernist interpretation (1889) of a medieval palace is constructed from local materials: granite from Monte Arenas, brick from Jimenez de Jamuz and slate from Galicia.
In the chapel, the building’s finest setting, are sculptures, frescoes, stained glass and azulejos by French and Spanish artists who were Gaudi’s contemporaries. The chapel is breathtakingly beautiful, every detail wrought with craftsmanship from floor to the ceiling. And the archeological artifacts, including sepulchres from Roman times, were approachable, their energy palpable.
I also separately met two pereginos with whom I would reconnect with later on down the line. Marguerite was a theatre director from the mid West and Jing Jing was from South Korea. Both of them were as open-mouthed as I walking through the palace.
I left Astorga midday when the sun was at its zenith but not before making a hurried trip to the carniceria for jamon serrano. The pavement was hot but I was only going 5.5 km to the municipal albergue of a little village called Murias de Rechivaldo. The small albergue was run by a voluble German and happily only had a dozen single beds. Looking for internet, I crossed the highway and found a hostel with restaurant. Happily, I stayed for dinner and met an 80-year old peregrino for whom this Camino was his twelfth in a row.
Murias de Rechivaldo to Rabanal, June 5
I loaded up with a packed lunch of deli goods and set off for Rabanal at about 6:20 am after a quick breakfast of pain chocolat and cafe con leche at the only eatery open. It was a little bar down from the albergue owned by an Italian woman who loved starting the day with opera. It was a beautiful sunrise and the send off with Pavarotti blowing me out the door was brilliant. Four or five of us set out on the road that morning.
The main village street morphed into a trail that I started walking with Dan while sharing life stories with him. Although retired, he is a practicing psychologist who after hearing my pedigree of childhood abuse, posited whether I had had my post traumatic stress syndrome treated, a concept that not only startled me, but eventually brought me to embracing a modicum of compassion for myself. Yet another gift from the Camino. I allowed Dan to go ahead and caught up with him later at a bizarre cowboy bar on the way into Santa Catalina, a Maragato village of 50-people. Serendipity also allowed me to meet up again with Bobbie whom I last saw at la Virgen del Camino. We all had cokes – the beverage of choice – and singularly set upon our way. The sun was getting hot and it was as uphill climb of 250-metres to Rabanal. It only represented a 15-kilometre walk, but I was challenged by it as the footpath became quite rocky and uneven. As well, I was sharing a very narrow uphill path with cyclists who needed to burrow forward. Twice, concerned fellow travellers cautioned me not to exert myself so much, as I was breathless easily from the climb and weight of my knapsack. I pay for walking with fruit. It’s heavy. So I sat down, ate lunch and lightened my load. It was an arduous path walking over mountain as I could see Rabanal in the distance, but it always seemed so far away. When I arrived, I flopped down at the first bar in town and grabbed an albergue bunk bed next door.
After a little siesta, I climbed the hill into the centre of town. Rabanal only has 35-full-time residents with several albergues and hostels. As I was reconnoitering the village, I arrived at the Albergue Gaucelmo that occupies a tiny square with the Iglesia de la Santa Maria, a Benedictine monastery continuing the centuries old tradition of caring for pilgrims climbing Monte Irago. The Knights Templar were thought to have a presence there in the 12th Century ensuring safe passage for pilgrims over the mountainous terrain – and the Santa Maria Church was built by them. Today, the monks of San Salvador del Monte have restored the square and the church; now one can hear the sound of Gregorian chants and Vespers every evening with a Pilgrim blessing offered by the Benedictine monks.
I met up with Bobbie and Dan at Vespers which was the first time I had entertained Catholic religious services in 40-years. The chapel is in a 600-year old edifice and carries the Gregorian liturgy very well. The blessing was very moving as the priest used five languages in which to convey his grace to the assembly of 20-peregrinos.
Although I had committed myself to an albergue down the hill, Bobbie encouraged me to inquire about staying at the monastery. I then asked the Abbot for permission to stay the next day and was told I would be welcome but the minimum stay was 2-days.
I stayed with them for a week.