I met Patricia just after breakfast (sorry, I don’t have a photograph of her even though we met and walked several times!). She had not slept well. During the night a group had arrived. I refrain from calling them pilgrims as they were apparently loud and boisterous even at 1am – not pilgrim behaviour. When Patricia asked them to keep the noise down, they just told her to put in her ear-plugs! The group had managed to wake several tired and angry pilgrims that night.
At the end of the town the Way crossed a large plateau before climbing to a small village. I stopped there for coffee with others. The morning was sunny and fresh and ideal for walking. Continuing on there was another small village before passing through some wonderful land of grasses and small trees. There was a large lake amongst the trees to the right of the Camino. There I saw Patricia sitting silently by the lake. I thought it best not to disturb her.
The blister I had the previous day was behaving well. The night before when I arrived in Hospital de Orbigo, the man in the Albergue San Miguel had kindly offered to clean and dress the blister. He had done a good job and the dressing was holding up well. Others had similarly benefited from his paramedical skills. I had been lucky with blisters but it appears that no matter how comfortable your boots are, blisters can happen at any stage of this enormous walk.
It was good to be on the real Camino again – away from civilisation, in the country, in nature, gentle wind and sun. At the top of the rise was an unusual modern homage to pilgrims. A statue of a pilgrim was amongst the bushes. Everyone stopped to take a photograph. It was an amusing sight.
On the side of the Way were groups of rocks. Sometimes they were just piles, sometimes they had been arranged into letters or shapes by passing walkers. There were many stones formed into heart shapes. The heart is omnipresent on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
At the next summit across a wide plain was a small barn with a stall. A young man there was offering free fruit and drinks to passing pilgrims. We talked for a while. He wanted no payment for what he provided. He had completed the Camion twice and had also walked from other parts of Spain to Santiago. He was currently on the twelfth day of a twenty one day self imposed fruit only diet. He lived in the collapsing barn with two dogs that belonged to a local shepherd. Soon the Crucero de Santo Toribio appeared with wonderful views of Astorga in the distance. A long descent followed and within an hour I was approaching the old Roman walls of Astorga town. There were plenty of attractions and historic buildings as well as a helpful tourist office. The Bishop’s Palace, built by Antonio Gaudi, is not to be missed! There were many more pilgrims here and later I found out that it was where the Camino Frances meets the Via de la Plata (Camino Mozarabe).
Just as I was leaving town there was a small cafe where I saw Alain. I had met him a few times before and joined him for a lunch of tortilla sandwich. Alain was from Switzerland and had set off from Lausanne. He wore a distinctive black hat decorated with wild flowers. Every day he would pick new flowers to adorn the hat. Soon Simon turned up, chatted for a short time, then headed off. He returned to our cafe half an hour later saying he had become lost and ended up in the wrong village!
What followed after Astorga was a magnificent wide valley rising slowly towards the mountains. Alain and I walked together and we agreed how much the scenery looked like the African savannah. It was a truly spell-binding landscape with several villages along the way. I was struck how the villages were so clean with so many cafes and accommodations. It appears that there had been a lot of rural tourism funding pumped into the area which was otherwise devoid of employment. It catered well for the sudden increase in the number of walkers, many of who commence their trek to Santiago in Astorga.
I kept walking. Alain wanted to stop at the next village but my heart was set on reaching Rabanal del Camino, the end of the ninth stage of the Codex. We parted ways and at El Ganso I saw Simone and Jasmin again at the small basic albergue. They had decided to stop there for the night as Simone was tired. It was getting late but I was compelled to continue the final eight kilometres to Rabanal. The valley spread out to the south and it reminded me of Scotland. The hills were bare with a few patches of snow still clinging to the sheltered recesses. Pine woodlands offered fragrant memories. The wind was increasing in intensity as I arrived in Rabanal del Camino. I purchased some fresh fruit and vegetables at a small shop there then checked into the municipal albergue. I cooked then ate heartily in the garden shelter as the night fell, the wind blew and the rain started. I had a great feeling of simple contentment as I retired for the night away of the approaching storm.
TIP: Many of the albergues have trained staff experienced at dealing with blisters and other ailments. This walk can be difficult at times and their service is invaluable and comforting on such a long walk. Thank You! Please thank them too!