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Time walked – 12.5 hours including a 3 hour stop in Astorga and three stops for feet

Total distance walked – 18.25 miles

Miles to date – 369.25 (Ray) and 359.45 (Wendy)

Weather – Cold start, upper 40’s to 68 degrees F in the afternoon sun

Terrain – rocky road, gravel path, pavement, some slopes

Ray and I did not sleep well in the albergue with ten other people in the room, because something or someone smelled terrible. Ray has a pet peeve that there seems to always be that one person who is cold and shuts the window. With so many bodies in one room, the room heats up pretty quickly. Sure enough, someone closed the window making it even hotter and increasing the stench. Then you have the pilgrims who walk thirty or fourth kilometers a day, so they have to get up at 5:00 a.m.

There were still a few people in their beds when Ray and I were ready to leave the albergue. We quietly packed our gear and were out the door just after 7:00 a.m. It was  cold morning, and I could see my breath. It seemed so long ago when I had been this cold, but it had only been a couple of weeks. We followed the yellow arrows out of town, but then found ourselves alone on a country road. Even though we are seeing fewer pilgrims on the trail, it makes us wonder if we went the wrong way if we can’t see anyone else. I couldn’t remember seeing any other options but the way we had gone, but we stopped to make sure. As I looked for a sign, a marker or an arrow, the beauty of the panorama took my breath away.

Confident that we were on the Camino trail, Ray and I continued to walk. There were fewer pilgrims on the trail since we began the journey, but more little surprises, for lack of a better term. Someone had put together an entertaining rest stop in the middle of no where that made Ray and I curious and happy at the same time.

Ray and I had found that not sleeping well immediately affected our physical walking condition. We were both dragging, trying to motivate each other, but our legs were not cooperating. We talked about how much harder it is to properly stretch and recover after walking all day when staying in an albergue. I noticed that my knees were sore, probably because of the cold as well, but we both recognized that our hip bones ached. After walking and getting warmed up, however, the aches seemed to go away.

If someone would have told me just three months ago that one day I would be excited about climbing hills and mountains, I would have thought they knew nothing about me. As we crested a hill in the shadows with the sun peaking over revealing the mountains in the distance, I genuinely smiled. I told Ray that I was happy and excited to be walking again for the first time in a couple of weeks. While my body was tired and achy, the blisters were healing with no new ones since León. Ray was relieved and glad for me to tell him that I was good again. He could tell by looking at me that my smile was not only on my face but coming from inside me.

We had planned to have coffee and breakfast in Astorga, the first city after Santibáñez, which was just under three hours walking with stopping to rest our feet. Ray and I were surprised to see a pop-up rest stop ahead of us, but we’re ready to put our feet up. We had our choice between a variety of fruit, snacks, tea, juice and coffee, all for donation, or donotivo. I was pretty sure there was no running water or electricity, but the guy running the place lived there as well. He said that he was there to provide peace and rest to the pilgrims. Ray fixed himself a coffee and I decided on a granola bar while Ray emptied all the coins from his pocket. Because the coins added extra weight to carry, we were always looking for a way to get rid of them.

The trail sloped up and down a few rolling hills, helping us to know that our walking was getting us somewhere. I had not realized how mentally hard it had been to endure the plains until we were back into the hills. Not only did I smile, I was becoming joyful to be walking the Camino de Santiago. The joy of covering some ground again led to determination. I had been worried about having to change our flights and now I started thinking about he possibility of making our schedule work.

Almost seven kilometers into our day, we peaked a hill where we could see the city of Astorga below. My legs and back were still stiff from the cold weather, so I was looking forward to stopping in Astorga for a break while the sun warmed up a little.

Before Ray and I entered a suburb of Astorga, we could see a maze of a ramp that crossed over a railroad track. My fear of heights was on alert, and Ray asked me what I thought of the ramp. The Camino had already provided me with a few challenges on bridges and the albergue in Pamplona with the plexiglass floor, but not as many fearful situations as I had imagined there would be. I told Ray that the ramp would not be pleasant, but I had realized that my increased confidence with all our walking was making my fear of heights not as bad. Hanging onto my hiking sticks had also helped the fear, and I learned that having Ray walk in front of me worked because I could watch him instead of looking down. There was one place at the top where we had to turn that I really didn’t like, but just like the rough spots on the Camino, I got through it and kept going.

The city of Astorga was beautiful with the massive Plaza Cathedral and the adjacent Gaudí Bishop’s Palace. Ray and I found a coffee shop across from the palace and set up shop to get some work done. Ray called a place in Santa Catalina to reserve a room for that night while I wrote on the blog. We learned that Astorga was known for their chocolate and had a chocolate museum, but it was closed on Mondays, so we set out to find a chocolate store. We ended up running into Lisa, who was also looking for chocolate, and chatted with her about all the fun she had at the festival. Our stop in Astorga was almost three hours before we headed back to the Camino.

The clouds in the blue sky were beautiful, but the trail had turned into a gravel path that followed the electrical grid. Fortunately, we could still see the mountains ahead that were motivating us with each step.

I had plenty of time to do some calculations in my head as we walked the flat trail. Occasionally, we came across a marker with the names of the villages ahead that helped me with my planning. The temperature was perfect for hiking, and our break in Astorga was like starting fresh for the day. When we saw the steeple of Santa Catalina, I told Ray that I was thinking of walking to Rabanal, another 11 kilometers, or almost seven miles. Ray liked to talk about walking all day and night, so I knew that he would be willing. He was concerned that I would not be able to make it, but when I explained that there would be one more stop between the two villages, he understood what I was thinking. It was a few more meters to Santa Catalina, so we had time to discuss our thoughts before having to decide.

There were two albergues as we entered Santa Catalina, both with bar restaurants. Their were a few pilgrims gathered at the first albergue, but it was the second one that Ray had called. We had decided to stop and drink a cola before making our final decision to go on to Rabanal. There were two men inside the bar, and the owner was stepping out to smoke a cigarette. Ray ordered his cola and I used the restroom. We did not have to discuss moving on for very long as we did not feel as though this was the right place to stay.

As we were leaving the village, Ray and I stopped to check out a display of pilgrim shells, jewelry, and other various items. The display was hanging on the front door of a home, and a woman appeared to help Ray with his purchase. Since he did not attach a customary shell to his backpack, we thought he should wear one of the shell necklaces hanging from the door. Ray handed the woman three Euros in coins, and we left Santa Catalina de Somoza.

Four kilometers later, we approached the hamlet of El Ganso. Ray insisted that I take his picture next to the sign because it was his favorite name of any of the villages to this point. It was after four in the afternoon, and we needed to stop for a foot rest and decide if we could go further.

El Ganso was a dilapidated village with only a handful of residents, but we could see some pilgrim activity ahead of us. Ray had heard about The Cowboy Bar from someone and wanted to check it out. The pilgrims we had heard were in the albergue next to the bar. The bar was empty except for the owner who was watching TV. I started removing my shoes and socks while Ray went forward to order a cola and see if there was a menu. Before the Camino I would have never thought of removing my shoes or socks inside a business, but on the Camino it is actually a common thing to do.

I needed to add some petroleum jelly to a few of the rough spots to reduce the friction, but other than that, I felt like I could go all the way to Rabanal. If we continued on, it meant that we would have walked 18 miles for the day and would not arrive at our destination until 7:30 p.m. It would also mean that we gained back an entire rest day in León.

The thought of regaining a day was more appealing than the time it would take to finish for the day. Ray agreed and purchased a snack for us to share. It looked like a sandwich on toast to me, as he cut it into four equal bites. He offered a bite to me so that I wouldn’t have to touch it as I doctored my feet and changed to my sandals. The sandwich was some kind of tuna and tomato sauce mixture that we would have never eaten at home, but in the Camino it hit the spot. Ray teased me that I would have to figure out what it was and make it to remind us of our long walk.

Once we left El Ganso, we had two choices; to walk all the way to Rabanal or turn back to El Ganso. Because it stayed light out at this time of year until after 9 p.m., we did not see a reason to turn back. The trail was relatively flat and next to a highway most of the way, although parts were rocky and rough. My new shoes had been working well, but Ray and I both thought changing to our sandals was helpful at the end of the day when our feet were swollen.

The Camino turned more rocky and more rough as we climbed a small hill. I wondered if I should change back to my trail runners since I could feel the rocks through the thinner soles of the sandals. As we reached the top, however, the trail turned into a single-lane, dirt path that was much easier on our feet.

The original Camino de Santiago was a pilgrimage that started in the Middle Ages for purely religious reasons. Pilgrims traveled on foot carrying all their worldly goods to the burial place of St. James. Ray and I were disillusioned by how little the modern Camino would recognize its religious roots. Most of the pilgrims we encountered were more interested in the physical challenge or the festive experience rather than the spiritual. Ray and I had found that planning the logistics of each day took more time than we had anticipated, consuming most of the time we thought we would have for reflection and solitude.

After our longest day of walking, the Camino trail was bordered by a long wire fence. The length of the fence was adorned with sticks formed into the shape of a cross. Hundreds and hundreds of crosses had been placed in the fence. My heart was warmed to see the effort pilgrims took to decorate the way. Obviously true pilgrims were an active part of the modern Camino.

Ray and I entered Rabanal del Camino just after 7:00 p.m. without a reservation. Yung Mi had just stayed at an albergue in the village, but I could not remember the name. Claudia was at a monastery and had messaged that she would be in a church service between 7 and 8 p.m., but we could not find it. I recognized the name of a hostel, so Ray and I went inside. I loved the inner courtyard immediately, but could not find anyone there. A note on the desk said that there were rooms available but they were working in a nearby restaurant. My feet were beat, so I waited while Ray went to the restaurant to see about getting us a room. He was gone for a long time because the server was trying to seat him for dinner, creating quite a bit of confusion. Eventually he found out that there were no available rooms and they were too busy at the restaurant to send someone to remove the note.

We went back out to look for Claudia, but wound up at the end of town in front of the only hotel. I had read that the hotel was rather pricey, but decided I could justify the cost since we had gained a full night from our journey. The hotel was very nice with a full restaurant. The owner was serving in the restaurant, but indicated that he would be with us right away. Thankfully he had rooms available, and the price was €1 cheaper than the place where we had just been. He checked us in and gave us the key to our room on the second floor, which meant two flights of stairs up. Ray and I could barely move our legs to get up the stairs to our room. I grabbed the wooden banister to steady myself with my backpack seeming heavier than ever before. We made it to our room, and Ray thought we should eat dinner before showers since we might not be able to move for much longer. Down the stairs we went to the restaurant for one of the best meals of the Camino.

Ray and I climbed the stairs for the last time before going to bed. We were confident that we could make it up the stairs after dinner and without the added pack weight. The real question was what we could do the following day after having walked over eighteen miles.


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