DAY TWENTY SEVEN: 4 November 2012 from Villar de Mazarife to Astorga
Villar de Mazarife is a tiny village, clotted with albergues, all of which seemed to be open al beit ghostly quiet. I was tempted to crash at Casa de Jesus but it was a little too like the scrubby tomb than the cosy cottage so despite my loathing of modern bungalows I chose Antonio de Padua with its vast dorm and dishevelled hospitalero Carlos. Once across the threshold a delightful experience opened up. I was the first guest of the night; the shower room was spotless with piping hot water, Carlos offered me a small room, cosy & heated, and with an efficiency that belied his appearance scooped up my sweaty laundry and headed off into his kitchen domain. It wasnt long before my Dutch companion, Co (Jacob), who had been tagging me since Belorado showed up. It turned out that Carlos was cook & gardener extrordinaire. He was highly offended that we might go out to eat. He offered us a choice of main courses including vegetarian paella; when we asked if there was a possibilty of some seafood he disappeared into the village to rustle up some prawns. A table for two with wine (of course) was set up in front of the wood stove for us. A little later we are joined by Genevieve who misses dinner but adds plenty of cheer to our little gathering. This had to be one of the best pilgrim meals I received on this journey. Cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, pears all from the garden and it was obvious that Carlos, showing us the intricities of making paella, loved cooking, loved his kitchen. In the Summer he is the chef in residence catering for up to 70 pilgrims in two sittings. In the Autumn and over the Winter he becomes Jack of All Trades and I suspect revels in the quiet of his own little world serving a trickling of pilgrims. When Carlos he opens up he is voluble and garrulous in a rushed thick flowing Catalan. I pick my way through his story, the story of the albergue built in honor of the brother of the owner Pepe Giner, a physiotherapist from Alicante, whose brother died doing the way. Carlos met Pepe 12 yrs before and revered him as his spiritual advisor. In return he served at the albergue. There is something nourishing about connecting with people who live on the Camino, it makes it a less transient experience.
Carlos enthusiastically sold us the idea of chocolate & churros for breakfast but he over slept and woke to find 3 ravenous pilgrims knocking at this door. The end result a very leisurely leaving and we are packed off with apples from the orchard. It is now Winter on the Camino and we are just ahead of hostels closing for the season. It is Sunday and not much business to be had on a holy day selling sustenance to the paltry few pilgrims on the road. At least on this part of the Camino. It is obvious that there are sections of the Way that are more popular than others and as a result an ebb and flow of busyness that at times caught me unawares. Co, Genevieve & I settled into our own rhythm and soon are out of sight of each other. I am on a solitary slope to Hospital De Orbigo which is entered over a stunning medieval bridge; one of the longest and best perserved in Spain, it is a colossus straddling the shallow and rather unprepossing rio obrigo. Hospital sputters with scattered Sunday activity. I hear later that Albergue Verde was a hostel not to be missed but I was not ready to stop and I head up into the gentle folds of faraway foothills. Silent, earthy farmland, somnolent, the razor’s edge of sinister, then out of nowhere a crumbling ruin, a makeshift shelter and donativo stall with a listless trio lolling like permanent fixtures in the scene. I feel I have stumbled across a furtive gathering, surprised a secret conversation. I hear from other pilgrims of the great welcome they received here at Casa de los Dioses run by David, from Barcelona who has been living here in service to pilgrims for the past 3/4 years. He offers free food and massage, a snooze in a hammock. I guess the unfamilarity of David’s choices triggered my wariness at some sub conscious level and I am tense and uneasy until I arrive at the Cruceiro de Santo Toribio overlooking my destination for the night. The cross was erected in honour of the 5th Century Bishop Toribio who supposedly died here after being exiled from the town for some reason lost to history. There is an amazing panoramic view from here, to my left El Teleno, a mountain sacred to the Roman god Mars and in the distance the Montes de Leon to be climbed in the days ahead but right now I am heading for Albergue St Javier a historic conversion in this distinctive, alluring, thriving town with deep roots of ancient story.