Astorga to Rabanal ~ Camino Day #1

The rain falls gently in a slow drizzle. This isn’t so bad and the March temps in the mid 40 degree F are mild by Minnesota standards since it isn’t snowing, there is very little wind and our constant movement means we aren’t shivering. We don’t stop for long, though, for then the chill begins.  We slowly climb in elevation from Astorga to Rabanal. With this stage we enter a  transitional area between the plains and the area of El Bierzo, with its reddish earth covered with trees and heather.

Spain-1030327dmvWe are still in the province of Leon during this leg of the hike and the tree lined streets of Murias de Rechivaldo are quiet except for the click, click, click, click from the walking sticks of the occasional Pilgrim passing through.

We had the opportunity to walk, for a while, with a group of Spanish doctors  that were walking around 30 kilometers per day for 8 days.  They walk different sections of the Camino de Santiago – French Way each year with the ultimate goal of eventually completing all of it.

Spain-1030429dmvHand painted, yellow arrows help guide us down the right path.  I’m glad some joker didn’t decide to play tricks on us and point us the wrong way.  (Note to self ~ carry a detailed map next time.)

Spain-1030399dmvRabanal del Camino  continues a centuries old tradition of caring for the pilgrims before they take the steep path up and over Monte Hago (Mount Rabanal).
Aymeric Picaud was a 12th century scholar, monk and pilgrim who wrote the first travel guidebook for the Way of St. James. This was the IXth stage of Aymeric Picaud’s classic itinerary and the Knights Templar are thought to have had a presence here as early as the 12th century ensuring the safe passage of pilgrims over this remote terrain – the Church of Santa Maria (steeple is visible in the above photo)  was possibly built by them.

After 21 kilometers and a day of walking in the rain while carrying backpacks that weigh around 16-18 pounds, we are relieved to arrive at our destination.  We are hoping to find an Albergue with a nice bed and shower.  Many hostels and albergues are closed this time of year so you take what you can get.  We see a promising view ahead…

Spain-1030390dmvAt this point we are just happy to be inside a dry building.  Our standards of what we consider luxury seem to be adjusting.  Hmmm…

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Our house mother, Isabella, stamps our Pilgrim Passports and checks us in.  We need two Pilgrim stamps per day and they can be obtained at a cafe, bar, restaurant, albergue, hotel or hostel. We each pay 5 Euro for the night and settle into our home away from home called the Albergue del Pilar.

Spain-1030341dmvOur sleeping quarters include one room with 32 beds (29 of them filled this night).  The room was approximately 20 feet by 40 feet with two long rows of bunk beds leaving a narrow aisle in the middle.  A mixture of ages and genders will all sleep together in this cozy room including a father/son from Korea, a group of bicyclists from southern Spain (Malaga), a young man in his 20’s originally from Iowa but lives in New York now, a young couple from Poland and India along with our group of lovelies. (AKA ~ Randy and the Hot Cross Buns).  I told you we were friendly!!

We put our wet clothing on the heaters available, take showers, and look forward to finding beverages and food to medicate and fuel our sore and tired bodies. Little did we know that we would soon meet Spain’s most eligible bachelor.  To be continued…

Day of Reckoning…

To quote Alanis Morissette:

You live, you learn

You love, you learn

You cry, you learn

You lose, you learn

…and I’d like to add ~ You walk, you learn
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Hard to believe after so many months of planning (Especially for my sister, the wizard of travel)  and dreaming about this adventure called the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) that it is finally here.  Are we nuts?  Can we actually do this?  Who are we kidding? Too late now so we must at least attempt this feat.

The main question I am asked when explaining the fact that we are walking on a pilgrimage in northern Spain is “Why would you want to do that?  Besides that, you aren’t even Catholic!”   I answer, “Because it’s there and I can.”  What better way to get up close and personal with history and a culture than walk through the small towns, large cities and the countryside.  We all have our own reasons for attempting any particular challenge.  The bonus of the Camino de Santiago is that it is a pathway with walkers from many reaches of the earth.  So, we not only walk with the Spaniards;  we walk with the world. For my husband, Randy, the experience provides people from around the world to greet and share experiences even with the added challenge of the language barrier.  If he ever becomes a Walmart greeter, he will be the best EVER!

So on the night before our departure it’s Buen Camino!

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Our starting point is Astorga, Spain which was the main city in northwest Spain during the Roman Empire.  This is extra credit since we only needed to start in Sarria to be legit and get our Pilgrim diploma signed and stamped.  I would say that we are over achievers except for the fact that we met others on the path that had started in France, so I guess not.

No hot water in the hotel so we were treated to a complimentary breakfast of tostadas (toast)  jam, coffee and juice.  Yay, for cold water!!  Free hot coffee made up for it.

So, here we go…ready or not!!

Spain-1030317dmvFollow the seashells, follow the yellow arrows, follow the path markers…  We learn to be trusting of those who have gone before us.

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Along the route we often find little monuments marking the path.  This one lists the towns from Astorga but this energetic team had its aim today on Rabanal which is beyond El Ganso.

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We often find embellishments added to markers.  Some wish to share inspiration while others merely mark the fact that they were here.

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It didn’t take long to pull out the Sherpas since it was drizzling and continued to do so most of the day.  What is a Sherpa, you ask?  A handy rain poncho with a light blanket lining for extra warmth and durability.  Bonus feature is that they were $2 with a rebate at Menards!!  Almost didn’t bring them due to weight but they were well worth it.  Glad I packed plastic bags for everything, especially my camera.  Dry items weigh a lot less than wet ones.

Spain-1030333dmvAbove we find the ghostly village of El Ganso.  I’m guessing it becomes a stopping point in the summer when more of the albergues (hostels) and cafes are open.  I wish I had noticed the huge bird nest on the steeple to zoom in for a shot. Rain clouds are looming ahead of us and we will find ourselves thankful for rain gear.

We each bring our own story to the Camino along with our individual strengths and, as the path wears us down, our weaknesses are unveiled.  For now we just put one foot in front of the other and drink in the sights until the rain starts to fall.  This is day one as we begin this journey…