10.11.16- 11.11.16 Mazariffe to Astorga 31.2km; Astorga to Foncebadon 27.2km: 2 long walks!
In Mazariffe, over half way now along the Camino Frances, I met a group of sympathetic French speaking women and gave some Shiatsu for suffering feet. We shared an enjoyable meal with only a little disagreement between the sexes!
In a room full of bunks, in the middle of the night, if you are sharing with 15 others, ‘Any shifting to ease your limbs, the rustle of your sleeping bag assume (sic) enormous proportions’ (p. 61), and you inevitably wake someone up in the bunk above. Or was it them who woke you? Anyway, the pilgrim’s day often ends very early with everyone in their bunks by 9pm, and starts before the daylight, so by 7am we will have had a good, long rest.
It was another bright and beautiful morning as I walked out of town on the Calle Camino. Colder today, I had my hat and gloves on with cotton trousers over my shorts for the first couple of hours. After all, it was the second week of November!
I appreciated a feat of engineering as I passed through Hospital de Órbigo, where the Orbigo Bridge has an alternative name – El Paso Honroso, the Bridge of Honour. It is apparently where a chivalric battle for love freed the Léonese knight, Suero de Quiñones in 1434.
The walking was calm through golden crop fields, and along straight, rural roads where I was stopped, most unusually, by a noisy flock of sheep blocking the path on their way to pasture.
I found myself silent at times, companionable at others (‘For solitude can be shared, like bread and daylight.’ p. 54). It depended on the people I walked with and who passed by, the jolly Buen Camino’s (have a good walk!) reminding me that I am part of a movement of pilgrims, in the ancient medieval tradition, moving always westwards with the sun at my left shoulder.
‘ Thoreau walked (towards the West, but one always heads westward when walking properly) not to find himself, but always to be in a position to reinvent himself’. p. 102.
I spent a great deal of time, as I wended my way, thinking about my past and my habits, and debating with others about life in general. Side-by-side, as we fell into step, intimate conversations and confidences seemed to flow – something about the distances and the rhythm seemed to invite this.
The intense spiritual nature of the walk is reinforced by the many memorials, often found at the top of steep hills. People have walked to remember loved ones, to be healed, or to say goodbye to life, knowing they do not have long, so you will continually see women and men with a remembrance stone in their hand ready to add to the pile, or place mindfully at the foot of a cross.
It is not unusual for there to be an arduous climb at the end of a day, and the entry into Astorga was no exception. It find it a challenge when I am tired, but there is usually a sense of arriving ‘with victorious energy’ (p. 123), a reviving bubble of excitement in my tummy to make up for it.
‘And when evening comes, one hardly needs to think: just breathe, close your eyes and feel on your body the layers of landscape dissolving and recomposing…The colour of the sky, the flash of the leaves, the outlines of the jumbled hills.’ p. 97.
That night I stayed in the usual municipal dormitory, surrounded by snorers and, indeed, adding to the cacophony myself. I found that lying in such close proximity to others was reassuring rather than disturbing.
In the mornings we often rose in silence, packing up our rucksacks, and padding back and forth to the loo with only the bathroom light in one corner to see by.
It was not until breakfast that the noise began, as people tended to jostle for the use of the pans to heat water for drinks; and laugh at the strange things others were eating at that time of the morning: left-over pasta from the night before so it didn’t have to be carried; lots of sugar for avoiding muscle cramps; and the magnificent meals of noodles, meat and veg which the many Korean walkers always took a great deal of time and trouble to prepare at that early hour.
I find I am once again photographing glorious monuments in the early morning light, although I notice that my phone camera struggles to focus properly.
It was to be a stunning day of mixed terrain: roads cutting between countryside,
the mountains getting closer,
and surprising gems such as a flight of steps leading to an annotated map of the Camino and the towns and villages it passes through.
But then our luck ran out. Well it had to some time I guess. We descended steep highways and the rain came on, and so we arrived in Foncebadon, thoroughly wet through and with feet squelching. There was a shop displaying good-looking food as I entered town, and later I was glad to have bought tortilla slices, wine, and other deliciousnesses for my tea, because the albergue was still a long way away, and once arrived and de-booted I definitely did not want to go out again.
We were amongst the first to arrive, and the hostel was freezing, with a very unusual lay-out: there was a wood burning stove in the centre, surrounded by three wide, deep, slate steps. Two stairways at the end led, right and left, to a mezzanine floor with bunks and mattresses. The hospitalier was an example of the most helpful we came across. He sourced newspapers to pack the wet footwear, went next door for multiple bottles of wine (not all for me!), and above all, he lit the fire. The steam began to rise, and it would have been a good idea to wait to have a shower because, eventually, so did the heat, up into the sleeping area. By the time we had our supper, the place was cosy, and faces were ruddy.
All along the way the personal stories I heard were amazing, and Inger was no exception: a Norwegian woman, she started her mega cycle from home in August, panniers bulging with an extra wheeled section attached to the back of her bike. She had already covered more than 3,500 km, and when she finished this Camino she was heading to Portugal. She told me all about her grandson, and then explained that she had broken down and needed a part. By the end of the evening a plan was in place: to save her a fruitless journey, a kind Italian man would message her on arrival the next day in the main town, to let her know if the shop had the bit she needed. It was successful – she passed us a few days later!
All quotes taken from A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros.
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