I didn’t get far in Astorga before I stopped for my cafe con leche, orange juice and potato tortilla for 6€, which was highway robbery. It was a cold 38°F, so I was bundled in gloves, a hat and three layers. I stopped at cafés more for warmth than for food or drink. I wanted to linger inside and stay warm indefinitely. However, the Camino called, so I continued on.
I passed the medieval hermitage Ecce Homo, a remnant of a former pilgrim hospice, and continued on a dedicated pilgrim path parallel to the road. I crossed the río Jerga and then took a grass track to Murias de Rechivaldo, a typical Maragato village. The Maragatos are part of a group of about 4,000 who are believed to be the last Moorish people in Spain. They are descended from the Berbers of North Africa, who in the early 8th century were part of the first Moorish incursions into the Iberian peninsula.
Astorga to Autopista flyover to Murias de Rechivaldo (5.1 km)
In Murias de Rechivaldo, I stopped for some orange juice and then continued another 4.3 km on a steeply rising path to Santa Catalina de Somoza. We were leaving the flat plain of Castilla y León behind, and in front of us, the mountain range of Montes de León rose on the horizon.
Murias de Rechivaldo to Cruce (2.3 km)
I picked up the pilgrim track running alongside the old asphalt road to enter Santa Catalina de Somoza. In Santa Catalina, I stopped at a El Caminante, a café with a charming courtyard, to charge my phone and have another cafe con leche.
Santa Catalina is another typical village in the region. Its population in now 50, but it once supported a pilgrim hospital. The parish church houses a relic of San Blas, after whom the church and albergue are named. San Blas, the patron saint of wool combers, was martyred by being beaten, attacked with iron combs, and beheaded.
Cruce to Santa Catalina de Somoza (2.0 km)
The terrain began to change to rolling hills of farmland dotted with trees. We were now into Galicia. The path today was alongside a road but not a busy one and the scenery was more varied and dramatic. The clouds made it especially pretty.
Santa Catalina de Somoza to El Ganso (4.3 km)
The little village of El Ganso was crumbling, partially in ruins, making it charming and picturesque. It is the first of several semi-abandoned Maragato villages in the mountains. In the 12th-century it had a monastery and a pilgrim hospital. The parish church dedicated to St. James had a statue of Santiago Peregrino.
El Ganso had a funky Cowboy Bar, but the highlight of the town was a tiny supermarket where I got toast with chopped tomato spread and sliced avocado drizzled with olive oil. It was refreshing and prepared me for the climb to Rabanal del Camino.
The weather was cool and sunny all day. It was such a nice change from the Meseta.
On the way out of El Ganso, I had a brief conversation with Ellen from Germany. She was a fashion designer who had her own company; the company apparently had run into some troubles. She also had just ended a 17-year relationship with her boyfriend. She was walking to try to figure out some of these issues. As soon as a handsome young man walked past, she hightailed it after him.
El Ganso to Puente de Pañote (4.1 km)
I crossed a modest bridge over arroyo Rabanal de Viego. It was a steeper ascent into Rabanal del Camino through mixed native woodland, holm oak (encina), oak (roble), and pine (pino), along the Via Crucis with handmade pilgrim crosses woven into the fence alongside the path. The crosses in the fence, fashioned from twigs and sticks, showed me how many people of faith walk the Camino.
Puente de Pañote to Rabanal del Camino (2.8 km)
I treated myself to a hotel in Rabanal del Camino, La Candela, for 35€; as it turned out it was quite some distance BEFORE the town of Rabanal del Camino. After settling in, showering and doing laundry, I went into the town to explore.
Rabanal del Camino has a centuries-old tradition of caring for pilgrims before they make the steep climb up and over Monte Irago. It is thought the Knights Templar ensured the safe passage of pilgrims as early as the 12th century and built the parish Church of Santa María. Today a Bavarian order of monks resides in a building on the square and the now-restored church has a Gregorian chant with Vespers daily at 7:00 p.m. and Compline at 9:30 p.m. The Benedictine missionary monks of the monastery of San Salvador del Monte Irago, established here in 2001, offer a pilgrim blessing.
In the center of town, I found the 12th century Romanesque parish church, Iglesia de la Santa María, run by the London-based Confraternity of St. James. It had a small library, a courtyard and orchard area where camping was allowed.
At the far end of town, I ran into Darina, who was sitting in the sun writing in her journal, but she didn’t seem interested in having dinner. She told me about Vespers in the church, so I went to the Monastery gift shop to confirm the time. As I bumbled about trying to cobble together a sentence in Spanish, the monk said in perfect English, “I think you speak fluent English!” This was a kind way of saying my Spanish sucked! He asked if I would do a reading in English at Vespers and I agreed to be there at 6:50 for the 7:00 service.
Across the street from the Monastery, in a cozy restaurant, I had dinner with 38-year-old David from Holland, who had three young kids, and Dee from Taiwan, who was not married and worked with e-bikes in China and Holland.
I enjoyed green beans, a vegetable and bean soup, and limon y cerzeza, as well as a glass of wine. I also ate cheesecake for dessert.
In the Monastery, I sat in the choir, waiting nervously, and listened to the monks chanting Vespers. When it was time, I did the reading, making sure to look up at the audience.
Afterwards, Darina came up and wondered how I’d ended up reading. She said, “At least you looked at the audience unlike that German guy.” (He was actually the Swiss guy Rainier I’d met in Castrojeriz; he read in German). She told me she bought some shell earrings for 5€ from the gift shop, so I did the same.
I found some stones with some poetic words of wisdom.
After the Vespers service, I made my way back to my hotel.
On the way back to my hotel, I passed the Green Garden camping area. It would be my last night to enjoy a private room for a while.
*Day 34: Sunday, October 7, 2018*
*Astorga to Rabanal del Camino (20.6 km, or 12.8 miles)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.
This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk.