Fat, unfit and fifty on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino francés

Out of el Paramo and up the Montes de Leon

Wednesday June 1 - Friday June 3 2005

Hospital de Orbigo - Astorga - Rabanal del Camino - Cruz de Ferro

written from Villafranca del Bierzo

Did everyone receive part 6 from Leon? My brother didn´t and there doesn´t seem to be a copy to myself at tesco.net unless A. has just downloaded that one and not any of the others. If there is someone out there with a copy could they forward a copy back to me (preferably to both email addresses) and could Lisa forward parts 1 and 2 if you still have a copy to Kathy, who missed out on these.

I´m onto the final count down - less than 200 km to go - it should be about 180 k but as I´ve said before all the distances vary by several kms in the guides, on the road etc. I´m now at Villafranca del Bierzo (not to be confused with VF Montes de Oca on the opposite side of Castile).

Thanks to everyone for their emails, especially Alexander to know he´s still alive. Mel has been doing research on saints and pigs and it seems the statue I saw was probably St Antoine connected with St Anthony´s fire (ergotism) and pilgrims as there has been some mention of him somewhere along the Camino - so he seems to have the right connections

Wednesday June 1 - Thursday June 2 Hospital de Orbigo - Astorga

Anyway back to where I last left off, which I think was Puente/Hospital de Orbigo. That day was across the last of the Paramo marshland and then over some low hills to Astorga through a mixture of matorral (low scrub, small trees, broom) interspersed with cereals. I was chatted up yet again by a wizened walnut who tried his luck asking for a kiss, but I rushed off along the Camino and left him to head back to his village along the other track. It had got quite hot by late morning and feet were beginning to feel very tired as I headed down the hill to Astorga. The descents always seem to be very steep and part way down I was accosted by another little man trying to sell me a stick. As it seemed a useful item at this point I took his least elaborate in exchange for the price of bottle of wine, which I decided was 1.60€, as I don´t think he´d appreciate anything more expensive.

As I looked back up the hill I realised he must have been a Hobbit as I could see the entrance to his hobbit house in the hillside. If I´d realised I might have been trying to persuade him to let me see inside his Hobbit house, but probably just as well aI didn´t realise as he´d probably have wanted payment in kisses. Unfortunately I left my Hobbit stick from the last Hobbit house in the Paramo at an albergue a few days later - I just wasn´t used to remembering it!

(As I discovered on a later trip out to Spain that these structures were in fact bodegas - but that has left me wondering why he was charging the price of a bottle of wine, or was he trying to sell me some wine as well! One of the probelms of trying to understand a strong regional accent.)

Astorga Gaudi's Diocesan Palace and the Cathedral

Sello Astorga
I spent that night in Astorga at an albergue by the cathedral. It was aq large pleasant building with a spaciaous courtyard and plenty of showers and toilets. The ratio of pilgrims to showers etc. can be quite important, especially in the morning when every one is leaving at once. This was another albergue where they had a variety of classical music and I think the local folk music playing. Astorga is the capital of the area of Leon known as el Maragato and was the major Roman city of the area. As it's on a low hill I wouldn¨t be surprised if it doesn't have earlier antecedents as well. Having visited Astorga before I didn´t do much in the way of sight seeing, other than viewing the exterior of the Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace (now the Diocesan Museum as the Bishop thought it was too weird to live in!) designed by Gaudi - I think it´s one of Gaudi´s more restrained buildings.

I seem to recall we had a completely snore-free night in spite of the large dormitory, or maybe I was just exhausted afted H.de Orbigo, where I finally dragged myself out onto the patio to cool down and get away from the thunderous snores - so not much sleep that night. Probably one of the reasons I felt pretty exhausted during the last few kms into Astorga in the heat.

Thursday June 2 - Friday June 3 Astorga - Rabanal del Camino - Cruz de Ferro

From Astorga the Camino goes over the Montes de Leon reaching a height of 1500 m at the pass at the top, so I was hoping it might be a bit cooler on this stretch and was not disappointed. In fact these two days crossiang the mountains has been the highlight. Once out of Astorga and the river valley the Camino slowly and gently starts to rise through matorral with huge broom bushes lining the path and giving off a heavenly scent - never realised how wonderful it smelt before. We passed through a number of little villages with stone houses, a church and variable number of bars. I stopped for breakfast at the second one which had a really nice bar, albergue and hostal in one, which it would have been very tempting to stop at if I hadn´t walked a mere 8 km. I headed on with no particular village in sight for the night. As it got hotter, in spite of the breeze, I was beginning think I would stop at El Ganso however basic its Albergue.

However God had very wisely ensured it was closed to force me to walk to Rabanal del Camino. Apart from being a pretty village of stone houses with an ermita and two churches, three albergues and several bars, there was also an active monastery here. I headed for the Albergue run by the English Confraternity of St James. This was the best albergue of the Camino for me - the hospitaleros (both English on this occasion) were really pleasant, kind and helpful, the lady suggested I soak my feet in salt and vinegar solution which helps soreness and tiredness and while I was there with my feet in a bowl of water, the man came round offering cups of tea. Having decided to abandone all my tea making equipment at Villasecino, this was a really welcome surprise.

Sello Rabanal del Camino

Sello Foncebadon
I then discovered that the monks next door sung Vespers, Compline and Lauds to Gregorian Chant in the little church opposite the albergue. So I went to the two evening services (having supper in the interval so to speak) and also stayed to go to the morning service, though it meant I didn´t leave till 8.40 (my latest start so far - no not quite I've just remembered I didn't set out till 9 or 9.30 at Artieda and Ruesta). The services were sublime, sung on this occasion by just two monks. At the first evening service they also get pilgrims to read the lesson in Spanish, English, French and German and I ended up being volunteered by our hospitalero for the English reading, having shown such an interest in the services. The Gregorian chant creates an incredible feeling of peace - impossible to appreciate unless you are there.

I´m sure I´ll be back in the car to the services on other occasions.

The next day the walk over the top of the mountain was like walking through the most perfect rock garden full of purple and pink heather and ling, small cream flowered broom and a yellow broom (or similar plant) growing very close to the ground, pink and mauve pin cushion like flowers, yellow flowers similar to buttercups in form but with deep purple centres and sometimes really orange stamen/anthers. In places the bare shale rock came through the thin soil, especially as one got higher. It also got quite windy and cool when I reached Foncebadon, a largely abandoned village close to the mountain top, though they were putting in new water and sewage and trying to revive the village.

From there it was 2 km to the highest point at 1500 m where the Cruz de Ferro stands surrounded by a huge cairn of stones. Pilgrims either throw on another stone or leave some personal object, the symbolism apparently being leaving all ones troubles with God (or something like that).

I will leave you at the Iron cross as I want to go to mass at Villafranca which is about to start in 5 mins.

Hope I find somewhere to continue again soon as I head towards Galicia tomorrow before I forget the intervening days.

Cruz de Ferro

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