DAY TWENTY EIGHT: 5 November 2012 from Astorga to Rabinal Del Camino
Generally I am ambivalent about where to stay. There is not much to choose between albergues when you are paying as little as 5 euros a night but I was being called by Albergue Javier at the far end of town. I am not disappointed; a simple conversion of an historic building, the spacious communal dorm is cosy under a wooden beamed ceiling and the shower and toilets are artfully dovetailed into a building that unlikely was designed with plumbing in mind. The reception area and kitchen warmed by a huge wood burning stove. Any place with an open fire gets an 5 star rating in my book. Delighted to reconnect with Nick Milton my travel companion from Mansilla de Mulas into Leon and his sidekick Hector Ripoll Parrales we head off to gather dinner companions. A solitary day of walking turns into a joining of tables and a grand family repast. Nick, a chef, had been keen to cook and he assured me he revelled in creating feasts for hungry pilgrims but unfortunately this being a Sunday there was a dearth of supplies. Although I didnt get to savour his cooking, it was obvious that he attracted a loyal following, like bees to a honey pot.
Walkers hang with walkers, cyclists with cyclists and although we shared the same accommodation there was little bonding to be had across the divide. For the most part I hardly noticed the cyclists though there were certainly a good sprinkling of these neoprene clad cabelleros on the road. Not long after leaving Burgos I had a brief fantasy encounter with a horseman, perhaps it was a vestige of this that drew me to the cyclist with dreads down to his bottom. He had passed me on the road, just a momentary occurence on the long stretch of lonely day. There is a brief swooning feeling. He is checked into Albergue Javier, just two beds down in the same dorm. Up close I think he is still cute but there is something about the cold practicalities of hostel life; as he ties up his hair for the night I wonder what it must be like to share a bed with that much hair? In the morning I notice his ipod winking at me from the matted nest and the palaver of the operation to find it and then extract it. Sigh. A little too high maintenance for me.
I choose to spend Monday morning perusing Astorga which I find enchanting. I recall my fondness for Pamplona, it feels alive, thriving, modern but equally mystical and historic. There are many layers to this town, the most obvious one is a reputation for wonderful dark chocolate and a Museo del Chocolate which unfortunately, like the majority of museums and national monuments in Spain is closed on a Monday. The town is deeply linked with the Maragatos, a mysterious tribe of people with obscure origins perhaps from the Berber of Moorish invasions in the 8th Century or the Barbarian Visigoths from Germany. It is marks the confluence of three major routes; the Francais, Via de La Plata from the south and the Via Acquitania or Calzada Romana and the royal drove roads, Canadas Reales, for the nomadic grazing known as transhumance. Astorga still hosts a festival of transhumance when sheep are driven through the streets, a contrast to the architectural sophistication of Baroque facades, Roman churches with modern glass covered foundations, handsomely perserved fortified walls, and the majestic Gothic Catherdal. The Palacio Episcopal, in this photo, and which now houses the still-to-be-visited Museo de Los Caminos is the piece de resitance. It was designed by Gaudi, a neo-Gothic turreted exuberance of carefully executed lines and angles quite different to his famous legacy in Barcelona. It reminds me that when true masters master their craft they can break the rules. And if architecture isnt the master of straight lines I dont know what is.
Astorga is definitely on my list of places to return to. As I head out of town into a bright and sunny afternoon and start the slow but determined ascent into the mountains I am culturally sated and stocked with chocolate. The warmth of the sun and the cool touch of the breeze and added bonus.