Blustery Days

October 13-15, 2019

Sunday morning, huge darkly grey clouds gave excitement to our skyscape while a cold wind brought shivers and runny noses.

We were glad to reach Astorga, a crossroad of cultures since before Roman times. Our path led us past an archeological dig of a private Roman house complete with thermal baths. According to the explanatory signs, the reception room, with a mosaic of a bear and birds, tells a myth of Orpheus.

We also took an audio tour of the Astorga Cathedral.

Treasures from across the centuries were described in our ear as our eyes became dazzled. One treasure that most fascinated me was a giant book of ancient music. My imagination went into overdrive, picturing a monk bent over each page, painstakingly drawing beauty into the parchment.

This is a land of oak trees and pines, slowly rising altitude, and small birds such as chickadees and warblers. A sign informed us that crossbills were also a bird species sometimes spotted here.

The small town of Santa Catalina de Somoza brought an end to our windy walk on Sunday.

What a delight, stepping out of the wind, into the courtyard of the Hotel Rural Via Avis, a 500 year old house.

Breakfast in this ancient house was a treat – quite a change from our usual simple picnics.

The delicious food and warmth of our surroundings stayed with us as we set off into a blustery Monday.

The day passed quickly as we walked through beautiful scenery. Looming clouds kept promising rain, but hesitating, just tossing a few spattering drops our way. Finally, that afternoon, as we looked out the second story window of our hostel, rain suddenly POURED from the sky, accompanied by thunder and wildly gusting wind! I was deeply grateful to be in shelter for that short tempest.

Tuesday dawned with fresh snow on the nearby mountains!

We happily climbed towards the clouds, conscious of ice-cooled breezes urging us to pick up our pace.

The Cruz de Fierro, a well known landmark, greeted us at the highest point of today’s climb. This pole, topped with an iron cross, has marked the pass since before Roman times. For hundreds of years, pilgrims have carried a stone from their homeland and put it at the foot of this cross, leaving their metaphorical burdens with the stone.

I left a sea worn rock trapped inside a shell from the Pacific Ocean as my contribution.

We stayed at the higher altitude, enjoying scenery while keeping warmly wrapped against the icy breeze.

Clouds, however, kept getting lower, until the tops of the grasses scraped bits of fog from the sky.

I admit to being relieved when the path began losing altitude, bringing us safely to La Rosa del Agua in the small town of El Acebo de San Miguel, where we were welcomed warmly by the owner and his staff. (Hot tea and coffee were offered before we had even checked in! Now that’s hospitality to a high degree.)

Conversations from the Edge

October 10-12, 2019

For three days we have walked along the edge of a vast highland, a dry plateau situated between the Río Esla and the Río Órbigo. Barely marked by shallow waterways which mostly go dry each summer, for hundreds of years the major crops were dry wheat and barley. When people began tapping the underground aquifers at the base of the mountains edging this area, agriculture branched out into corn, potatoes, garlic, and sugar beets. It’s been fascinating, walking through this flat, expansive landscape.

Much of the time our path has paralleled the freeway, the N-120, and we have shared our pilgrimage with pilgrim pedestrians on our gravel paths, plus whizzing autos and trucks a stone’s throw away.

Perhaps the modern traffic made me more aware of the natural beauty we passed. I couldn’t resist sharing a mosaic of fruit, nuts, and flowers.

We also met some helpful and friendly locals. One afternoon, after checking in to our hostel, we set out to find a grocery store, our stomachs, having missed lunch, growling vociferously.

We passed a bar/cafe with many tables set up in the edge of the street. Two tables were filled with men amicably playing cards, obviously old friends from the neighborhood. A sense of happiness and purpose surrounded the groups.

We followed winding streets, jigging around rows of houses, fenced gardens, plazas. At one point we found ourselves on a narrow path between two vegetable gardens. Suddenly, a little old lady appeared!

“Buenas tardes,” I quavered.

Jay, with great presence of mind, smiled at the woman and asked, “Supermercado?”

“Ah, si!” She beamed, and a string of directions spilled out. I caught the word, “derecha”, and Jay heard “abierto”. We smiled gratefully and set off in the direction she pointed, hoping for the best.

The grocery store was so large, we decided to search for sunscreen in addition to our food. After several futile passes up and down the aisle, I thought of Google Translate. A good friend in Canada had suggested that it could be useful, and my son had set up my phone so that the app worked without wifi.

With grateful thoughts to my friend and our son, I approached a busy stock boy with the words, “protector solar” on my phone. The boy nodded, smiled, and walked down the same aisle I’d been prowling, but he couldn’t find any sunscreen either! He asked for my phone and typed in, “termina verano se quita”. I didn’t really need Google to translate that phrase. With the end of summer, the store no longer carried sunscreen!

After those two successful conversations, we took our dinner to a park bench on the bank of the Río Órbigo. Beautifully quiet, with shady trees above and gurgling water at our feet, I relaxed, enjoying the moment.

As I looked at the river, its famous bridge of 20 arches just a couple blocks away, I realized, with the crossing of the Río Órbigo, we were leaving the flat highlands behind. “Hey! Maybe we’ll climb hills tomorrow!”

Our walk did include rolling hills the next day as we left the edge of the plateau and began slowly climbing. The expanse of sky remained immense, surrounding me with joyous blue and gold.

In the town of Santibañez de Valdeiglesias, an open door of the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, built in 1987, beckoned. Enchanted with beams of colored light from modern stained glass windows, I paused to enjoy another moment of beauty.

The edge of the town of San Justo de la Vega brought one more successful conversation. I had been intrigued with an unknown tree type planted in a row along the Camino here. It looked a bit like a chestnut, but the prickly round pods yielded tiny seeds.

“Surely too small to be chestnuts,” I mused.

“You could ask a local,” Jay suggested.

I turned a panic-stricken face towards him. “How?”

“Look, I bet that man knows.” Jay pointed towards an older gentleman carrying a camera. “I’ll coach you.”

Armed with Jay’s Spanish, and conscious of his supporting presence at my back, I timidly approached. “Perdón, senor,” I held out a shaking hand. “Que es esto?”

The man looked startled to be approached by a stranger clad in a bright pink top and black shorts. Then he smiled and took the prickly seed pod from me.

An intense look brought another smile and an answer. “Es una castaña, una castaña muy pequeña!”

“Oh!” I exclaimed in delight. (Oh wow, I had understood him! A chestnut after all!) “Muchas gracias!”

We smiled in mutual appreciation of the wonders of nature, and Jay and I continued.

The end of our walk this day brought laughter as I posed with a pilgrim statue. There is so very much to learn, experience, and enjoy on this ancient walk!