Saturday, September 3, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 20--Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

Day 20 walking the Camino! Was I an old pro by this point? No, but I definitely felt old. Especially after the 31 kilometer mistake of the day before. Anyway, I woke up on day 20 ready to go!

I left the beautiful little town of Astorga and passed all the buildings I arrived to town too late to see (which I won't lie--I was kind of relieved that I didn't have to muster up the energy to see them!). 

First was the Palácio Episcopal designed by Gaudi

And then there was the Catedral de Santa María de Astorga. It wasn't Leon or Burgos, but it impressed me nonetheless. 

I knew that I must have left the albergue earlier than normal because I ran into my retired Sevillan friends before even leaving Astorga (they generally left so much earlier than me so I normally wouldn't catch them until after lunch). I was content to take the day slow, so we walked together for a while until they wanted to stop for piquislabi, which is a very Andalusian way to say snacks. We sat on the benches built into an old church in a tiny little town and pulled out our goods. Juanma tried to force tocino on me for the hundredth time (no, thank you!) and Maica brought out the extra-extra dark chocolate typical of the region (yes, please!).

Then, as if I needed a reason to like these people even more, Maica got curious and before I could even catch up to what she was saying she had Juanma come over and give her a boost so she could look inside the church. The whole thing was pretty hilarious.

After chatting with a local grandpa and trying to force chocolate on a little girl we were off again. 

 And finally, finally, we were getting out of the Meseta! 

In one of the other lovely moments of the day we happened upon this little guy and his momma. Maica shepherded him off the road, then, worried that they would wonder back into the street, Maica directed Juanma to give the dogs something to eat

And what did these dogs get? Fancy smoked meat is what! Maica ripped off some pieces of it with her teeth and thew it over away from the road. 
(And, she'll probably kill me but I love this picture!)

Such a cute little guy!

We made it to Rabanal in a good 20 kilometers. I had wanted to stay at the Albergue Gaucelmo because it was run by British volunteers from the Confraternity of Saint James. We all decided to stay there, and, let me tell you, it was a great decision. It was one of the coziest hostels of the whole Camino.

Upon arrival we were greeted by an adorably worrying English couple. They truly made you feel like you were staying in their home. (The husband also reminded us of Collin Firth--he spoke exactly the same way.) The place was spotless, and, even better, they were very serious about keeping out bedbugs. To top it off, they gave all of us a set of paper sheets. They might remind you of a doctor's office, but to us they felt like Egyptian cotton.

We dropped off our bags and went for a Spanish lunch. The small towns had the very best menus and we ate very well in Rabanal. So good in fact that after our flan Maica was talked into dancing to the Galician music playing. A Bavarian couple in the corner got in on the action as well.

We got back, did laundry, and had a look around the hostel grounds.

Wood pile for the wood-burning stove that heated the place

And the nice, manicured lawn (would you expect anything less from a British hostel?). Several of us were out relaxing in the sun when we got a call for...(wait for it)...

Tea time!

Ah, it was delicious! They had English Breakfast and Earl Grey brewed up for us, with biscuits (cookies) and everything. We were all English speakers (except for my Spanish friends I dragged along! ...but Spaniards don't do tea time) so it was a nice break from wracking my brain to halfway understand Spanish or French or Italian, etc. like normal. 

I also met some fantastic pilgrims. The Bavarian couple from lunch, Karl and Linda, were there and sitting next to me around the table was Denise, a Tazmanian walking the Camino with her husband Mark. Her expressions as she told stories were hilarious. Happily, I would keep running into these pilgrims for the rest of my Camino.

Another reason I wanted to stay in Rabanal was the monks. My guidebook said, 

The building beside Albergue Gaucelmo is inhabited by Bavarian Benedictine monks who established a monastery here in 2001. Following a series of disagreements with the local people, they were run out of town in August 2009 however they have now returned. The monks come from the St Ottilien Abbey in Bavaria, which has also been in the news recently... On some evenings there are Vespers with Gregorian chant in the evening in the small church opposite Albergue Gaucelmo.

Sounds intriguing, no? So of course we made it to the tiny chapel to hear these Gregorian chants. I had a lovely experience with nuns in Leon (I forgot to mention that in the Leon post, didn't I?) so I wanted to make it to this.

The little service was mostly in English, with a little German. As I attempted to translate into Spanish for my friends they threw out some Castellano. Some fellow pilgrims got to read a few Bible passages and there was a small sermon-type charge. But do you know what I remember most? The singing of course. Because...

It was bad. I mean...I was really tired and all, but I was having to stifle my giggles. (Real mature, Lauren. I know.) There were only a handful of monks, and God bless them, they were not musically gifted.

We had the opportunity to go back for another short service that evening...but we passed. 

Instead I had a bowl of lentils, had a long chat with a young German (Austrian?) pilgrim at the dinner table, and then watched the sun go down. 

A beautiful day from start to finish. 

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