June 15, 2008 Hospitál de Órbigo to Rabanál del Camino

After Hospital de Orbigo there’s another long and quiet plain that stretches out and finally ends abruptly at the overlook into Astorga. This is the end of the Meseta, clearly, as behind Astorga are the Montañas de Leon. These mountains would be the terrain for the next two days of walking.

Although Astorga was visible ahead, it seemed to take forever to get into town. A long uphill walk finally led to the heart of town which is inhabited with two beautiful and very different buildings — the ornate Spanish Gothic cathedral and the fairy-tale-like Gaudi Bishop’s Palace. The cathedral was closed, offering no quiet and cool nave for rest. I stopped for a credential stamp at the albergue, then headed out of town, looking for an ATM. I realized the upcoming towns were quite small and may not include the chance to get cash, but try as I might I was unable to find an ATM in all of Astorga. I headed up to the hills with less than 5€ to my name.

The trail that met me was not quite wilderness walking, but the villages were quite small. I stopped for a drink at Murias and then climbed up to Rabanal, realizing I now didn’t have enough to stay at the albergue. I apologized to the hospitalero, who forgave me my lack of money, and I vowed to bring him 10€ sometime soon. Fortunately there was a small restaurant/hotel across the street that took a credit card, so I had a good night’s meal after a long day of walking.

One difficulty: I left my hiking poles at a cafe somewhere between Murias and Rabanal. I hadn’t been using them that much, so I decided to leave them for some pilgrim who’d need them.

That evening it was Vespers at the tiny monastery between the hotel and the albergue. The service was in many languages and there was great spiritual comfort in this tiny community of faith. I was thankful for food and a night’s sleep for this nearly penniless pilgrim.

June 14, 2008 León to Hospital de Órbigo

Finding the bronze scallop shells that mark the camino through the old city of Leon proved to be difficult the next morning. Or perhaps it was being bleary-eyed after too much celebration the night before. The shells are embedded in the pavement stones, but after the cathedral, only at wide intervals. I walked past St Isadore and was lost. I knew I needed to go toward the river, so I headed out the old city walls and finally found yellow arrows some blocks away in the newer part of town. I learned later that the actual way out of the old city is past the Parador and across the river on the pedestrian bridge.

After about 10 kilometers of suburbs the camino opens onto a vast plain. I chose the option along the road (rather than the rural option) in order to cover the 32 km more quickly to Hospital de Orbigo. Still, I was extraordinarily tired by the time I arrived at the Hospital bridge. Arriving at the albergue, I could barely walk on the round-rock pavers. After a little rest I went to the albergue’s back yard for laundry and fell into conversation with a fun group of French, German and Bulgarian pilgrims. We decided to cook dinner together, but when it was clear there was little good food to be found at the grocery store, we opted to go out to eat. The dinner was full of great conversation and these pilgrims became beloved friends.