Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 22nd, Day 21: Villangos de Paramo to Astorga ‘A Day of Offerings’

Hopital de Orbigo

We wake before sunrise and I feel like I need some solo walking time this morning. Tammy sets out ahead of me, and we plan to meet up in the next town for a coffee. The morning air is cool, and I watch the sun rise over cornfields to my left.

We stop for a coffee in San Martin del Camino and continue on to Hopital de Orbigo. By the time we stop in Hopital, it’s late morning. The town is bright and colorful, and an old Roman bridge marks the entryway into town. A man is fly fishing in the river below, but other than that, not many other people are to be found.

Fly fishing under the Roman bridge.

We cross the long bridge and stop into a church on the other side…everything is so sleepy. But when we come to the next village, three kilometers away, we find out why. A huge street festival is taking place, and everyone is here. Sweets, cakes, clothes and crafts are being sold, and we are elbow to elbow with others in the street.

Market-goers in Hopital.

We find a bar to duck into for some lunch, and it’s packed! We grab two seats at a communal table and are welcomed with smiles by the Spanish families here. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but there’s a sort of immunity that comes with being a pilgrim, a sort of unspoken respect. We are held in a much higher regard than a tourist passing through these Spanish towns, villages and cities.

Galician cake.
The dusty path from Hopital to Villares de Orbigo.

I have not traveled extensively in Spain, so I don’t know if this is common, but I feel like people continue to go above and beyond with regards to the help and assistance they offer pilgrims, as well as the warm welcome they consistently extend. It’s as if pilgrims are still held in a holy regard.

We sit for a while in the bar, soaking in the Sunday festivities, watching family and friends congregate, people coming and going, kissing hello and goodbye, cheersing their beers and vino tintos and sharing tapas. We head out of town, and stop to buy some Galician cake from a local vendor.

Before we even reach the outskirts of town, we are stopped by a man, Gumersindo, standing at the entryway to his home. He asks us to come in for a snack he has prepared for pilgrims passing by. Despite being full, we graciously accept, and are treated to a small glass of beer and an empanada. Nothing is asked for, or expected in return.

Gumersindo’s empanadas.

We thank him and continue on, and not even ten paces later, two Spanish couples approach us, and hand us a bag of mixed nuts. They ask if we love their country. The answer: an affirmative yes!

Gumersindo

We begin the hot afternoon walk out of town. The land around us is parched but the sky is a shade of blue I don’t think exists anywhere else.

The afternoon walk of 14 kilometers seems to drag on. We pass through a small village, Santibanez de Valdeiglesia, and then have a solid stretch of 12 km to cover. On the outskirts of Astorga, we meet a man who has set up a roadside stall for pilgrims, offering water, lemonade, fruit…even peanut butter. We take a short rest, and find strength to push through the next two to three kilometers. Finally we reach a peak and can see Astorga spread out below us. The last stretch is painful. We have to cross a railroad track, which consists of climbing two flights of stairs, and then it’s a steep zig-zagged road into Astorga.

No pedicure can fix these feet.

We sit on a bench outside the municipal albergue, and I remove my boots and check out the condition of my feet. They are not pretty! My body, legs and feet are tired and heavy. It feels like a struggle to cross town, simply to find the private albergue, but we manage, and find two beds in the attic of the albergue.

Astorga.

After a shower, we set out to explore some of Astorga. It’s Sunday, so the city is quiet and mostly closed. As we make our way into the town square for dinner, we finally run into Ramon, who we haven’t seen in days. It’s a sweet reunion, but short, as he is heading to dinner with other pilgrims.

Tammy and I find a restaurant on the square, sit at an outside table and order our nightly pilgrim dinner, complete with a bottle of wine. We sit for hours, watching the world go by, and for some reason, I feel a sense of relief arriving in Astorga. Maybe I know in the back of my mind that I will use tomorrow as a rest day. Maybe it’s knowing we have survived the Meseta, or that we are three weeks in now, with less than two weeks to go until our arrival in Santiago, but I don’t want to think about that part right now.

We sit well into the evening, unaware that most pilgrims are wrapped up in their sleep sheets, preparing for tomorrow’s walk, even more unaware that we have completely missed the curfew.

We leisurely make our way back to the albergue and we’re met with deadbolted doors. It’s 10:30 and the street is empty. Fortunately, for us, a Swiss man in his skivvies hears us trying to get in and comes to our rescue.

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