Camino Postcard 25: Santibañez de Valdeiglesia to Astorga

Today was, I think, the first day on the Camino that we did no walking whatsoever. Ellena was unwell so the hospitalero in Santibañez kindly called a taxi to take us to Astorga.

While we waited for it to arrive, we said goodbye to Tony – he was heading on by foot. We didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last occasion that we saw him on the Camino.

Astorga was ten or so kilometres away – a morning’s walk on foot but less than an hour by car. Before we knew it, therefore, we were sitting in the seating area of a rather ornate hotel drinking coffee, looking up albergues on-line.

The Palacio Episcopal in Astorga

In the end, we decided to stay at a nearby cheap hotel – the Hostal Coruña on the av. de Ponferrada – nearby was important so that Ellena didn’t have to walk too far. We also wanted a little extra privacy.

We checked in and found our room. Ellena and Carolin settled down to rest. I went in search of food, and a cash machine. Surely there would be one in this town?

Off I went, enjoying the sight of the countryside and distant mountains until I turned left and found a church, which I decided to pop into. There, I found Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament exposed. That was a bit of a treat, so I knelt down and prayed before Him. I prayed for Ellena and, yes, a cash machine. Laugh when you have gone three days on the Camino without money and have had to rely on the kindness of people with not much more than you. I also gave some thanks because twice during this Camino when I had run out of money and not been able to find a cash machine, including at Santibañez, Tony had lent me some of his.

After saying my prayers, I left the church to resume my search. Along the way, I ran into Lillian. I told her about my quest and she offered to lend me some money as well. The miracle of the Camino: being so kind to people you barely know. Lillian and Tony were very kind indeed. Thanks to Tony in Santibañez, however, I didn’t need any more money at the moment, but I told Lillian I would let her know if no cash machine was forthcoming.

Off I went, and not long later – a cash machine! Two cash machines! Three! Hold on, there’s a fourth!! All within spitting distance of each another. Wow.

I withdrew as much money as the machine would let me then went in search of my second target: a supermarket. Today was a Sunday so many of the shops were closed; Lillian, however, had found one and gave me directions to it. As much by accident as by design – remember I am Malcolm the Bad Navigator – I found it and bought some supplies for the afternoon.

After returning to the hotel, it was my turn to rest for a while. Later, we watched The Fugitive in Spanish, and in the evening, I went to a local pizza restaurant to buy our tea.

The pizzas that we ate on the Camino were generally okay to good; I think there were only two or three had were really good. I’m sorry I didn’t write down where I ate them – another reason to do the Camino Francés again!

After finishing our food, we settled down for the evening. Rest was the order of the day; rest, and recuperation.

Camino Postcard 24: San Martin del Camino to Santibañez de Valdeiglesia

Today was a hot day and a short day – we were on the road for less than three hours. I can’t remember why we stopped so early but illness or the desire for a break are the most probable answers.

The highlight of today’s walk was a very long medieval bridge that took us from one end of Hospital De Órbigo to the other.

By the way, just in case you were thinking ‘That MJM, he’s a good chap’, I did intend to text message my family and say ‘I am in Hospital… de Orbigo.’. And not only once but on the two or so occasions that we came to a town with that name. I never did but that was only because I forgot (or God had mercy and clouded my memory).

Anyway, the long bridge was called the Puente de Órbigo. According to Brierley, it was built in the 1200s. Here it is:

I’m guessing that in the Middle Ages, the rio Órbigo stretched from where I stood to take this photograph to the buildings at the far end. Or maybe the field existed then and the bridge also functioned as a kind of grandstand for any tournaments happening there? Or maybe it was a working field and I’m completely wrong. The latter is most likely.

Anyway, at the other end of the bridge, immediately on the left, was a hotel called Don Suero de Quiñones; we stopped at its café-bar for a break. There was a plug in the wall next to our table, which was a great mercy as I needed to recharge my portable phone battery.

In Praise of Portable Phone Batteries
There are people who say that you shouldn’t take your ‘phone with you on the Camino. But if you do, and it is a smartphone, I thoroughly recommend taking a portable battery as well. It is extra weight but it is also piece of mind. I found that on the Camino my phone used up its battery with alacrity. That may have been because it was nearly two years old. Or because – unbeknownst to me apps were running in the background. Or because it was forever trying to find a signal in the countryside. Whatever the reason, the portable battery ensured that if I needed the phone for an emergency or, as happened, to plan the way ahead or find an albergue, the phone would be there for me.

We sat down in the Don Suero with Lillian, with whom we had been walking. When we got up again, I kept a look out for a cash machine – I still hadn’t found one. I didn’t have to wait long: a few seconds up the road, one magically appeared out of the mist, like the sword in the lake—

Okay, it was a hot day and there was no mist, but come on. I strode over to the cash machine like a knight about to fight a duel only to find that my adversary refused to fight me. Which is another way of saying that the cash machine had no money in it. Severely disappointed in the Spanish banking system, I withdrew with such dignity as I still had in me.

A statue and an Ellena in Villares de Órbigo

We kept moving. Possibly in Villares de Órbigo we bought pizza slices. I say we, I mean Ellena and Carolin. Ellena kindly bought me one and I happily and appreciatively nommed my way through it.

Minutes later, we were back in the countryside. Our path took us up a gentle incline. I remember feeling wary when we passed a motorbike rider who had stopped ahead of us to drink from a fountain. There was something about him I didn’t like. More likely, though, is that I had taken an irrational dislike to him and now feared him. Silly, really. We passed him without bother and went on our way. May God’s peace and protection from irrational idiots like me rest upon him.

We walked along a gravel path that had a golden hue under the bright blue sky. Presently, we rejoined the road, and began walking up a hill. It didn’t last long, however, and soon the path began to slope. Along the way, another motorbike rider stopped just ahead of us and disappeared into his house.

Funnily enough, I didn’t fear this man. And actually, I immediately fell in love with his motorbike. There is something about the kind of motorbikes where you sit back with your legs forward that – now I think about it – I find very attractive. Maybe it’s the rider’s posture which makes him look laid back and carefree; in short, cool? Or maybe it’s a mixture of the gleam of the sun on the bike’s muscular metal body, his sitting position, his leathers and sunglasses which give him an air of power, strength, nobility, purpose and sexiness?

Whatever the answer, I inevitably thought of Bon Jovi’s reference to steel horses in Wanted Dead or Alive. This also upped the bike’s, and it’s owner’s, cool rating.

Reluctantly, I left the bike behind and caught up with Ellena and Carolin. Not long later, we arrived in Santibañez. Our first choice albergue had not yet opened. Too disappointed to simply wait for it to do so, we went back down the road to another one that had a café. There, we drank beer in the sun. At some point, Tony arrived and joined us. As always, he brought new life to our group.

The albergue we stayed at was called the Albergue Camino Francés and was a pretty nice place. The café was on the ground floor, the dorms on the first – they were quite small without being too small. Ours had about six bunks and plenty of space in the centre of the room to walk about (not always the case). I think we had our own plugs, too (also not always the case).

Best of all, the albergue had its own knight.

Imagine riding your steel horse in that armour!