About 45km between the two beautiful cities and we decided to do it over 2 days. The midway point is San Martin Del Camino, a little town with albergues aplenty for the weary.
About 7 or 8k out of Leon, we hit Valverde de la Virgen with a run down church whose steeple has been taken over by storks and their nests. It’s a common sight across Spain…the birds love the high perch and don’t seem to mind the bells going off every 15 minutes! A little further down the road we pass the Bascilica of the Virgin of the Camino, a beautiful modern church with the most impressive facade!
The walk is along the highway, which is busy! After a point it’s annoying and we may as well be walking on Bellary Road in Bangalore!! Just as our annoyance levels were rising we see our Canadian Indian friends Reshma and Aashif, in a cafe on the roadside. We get in and chat for a while. Reshma introduces us to the owner of the cafe Maria, who is delighted to have so many Indians at her place. She’s thrilled when Resh points out that we’re actually from India. She then wants to give me a hug! I’m sweaty at this point and not sure she should be hugging me, but she doesn’t care and gives me the tightest warmest longest hug ever, followed by two firm kisses on the cheek! She is a follower of Amma and of a lot of Indian spirituality practices! Her warmth and love really took all the negativity about the highway out of me!!! A tight hug can do wonders!!
Emily from Seoul was also at the cafe! We’ve been seeing her on the way, at masses in the evening at churches, but had never spoken! She had some pictures of us that she’d taken and wanted to share. We exchanged email addresses.
10km later we stop for some respite along the highway again and share a table with Resh and Ash again. As the conversation flows, about their wanderlust that’s taken them to every corner of the world, to their families and growing up, we’re amazed to hear that their parents lived in Tanzania and Zambia. John and his family were there too around the same time. So John and Resh and Ash had a great time recollecting their past. After a beer too many, we set off again to reach San Martin del Camino, in the blazing sun and vehicle fumes.
The Albergue we stayed at was small and given that the town was tiny, we opted to eat the pilgrim dinner at the albergue, cooked by the family. That was a great decision as we met wonderful people that evening, had a tasty meal and lots of interesting wine and liqueurs. At our table were Andre and Evelyn from France, wonderful young Ying from HK and amazing Chris from Munich who is great fun, a genuinely wonderful person and someone we’ll always stay in touch with. After dinner we were joined by Shane from Canada and Kelly from New Zealand, who brought over a great whisky liqueur from their table. The night was long, but the camaraderie was wonderful!
The next morning we set out for Astorga. About 8km down the road we reach Hosptial de Orbigo which has the longest medieval bridge on the Camino Frances. It’s 300 feet long and it’s easy to imagine the knights galloping down the bridge! It’s an amazing feat of engineering, too, for the medieval times.
It is believed that the Romans built a bridge that was part of the Via Aquitania that connected Asturica (Astorga) with Tarraco (Tarragona) and served to transport the gold from Las Medulas through Hispania. It was in the Middle Ages (XIII century), when the bridge was constructed and was rebuilt several times over the years. They say that in January 1434 M. Suero de Quiñones requested permission from King Juan II to hold a tournament. In love with Ms. Leonor de Tovar, M. Suero agonized his love fasting and holding on his neck a heavy ring every Thursday. To win the admiration of the lady he challenged all the knights who dared to come and fight on the bridge Orbigo, promising to prune up to 300 lances. The tournament was held in July lasting 30 days and 166 spears were pruned. A year later M. Suero married Ms. Leonor and 24 years later one of the knights defeated in the joust ends the life of M. Suero. (Source- tourism castilleyLeon)
Past the bridge, we reach Estabanez de calzada where we pass a home with its yard open to everyone. There’s a gentleman, probably in his 70s who sees us pass and calls us in. He tells us a Sikh couple had passed a little earlier and is happy to see more Indians. He walks to his cherry tree in the back and picks a good number of cherries, goes into a room, comes back with them washed, in a bowl, and a banana cut in half, for us to eat. He stamps our Camino credentials, shows us souvenirs on his walls and wishes us well! Such affection! We were overwhelmed!
We continue our walk through hilly areas. It’s pretty and the weather is nice! As you reach the top before the descent to Astorga you come across the bounty of Tomas who has a table laid out, under canopies, with hammocks and beds to rest on. There are fruits and nuts aplenty, cheese, oranges and a juicer, the sweetest watermelon. Pilgrims stop to rest their aching feet. The boho space is welcoming! Tomas is a meditator and has visited India and is happy to see us! He wants to know more about South India as he hasn’t been there. Refreshed after our rest here, we head down the path.
The first sight of Astorga from a distance is breath taking. It’s set on a hill with Roman walls. As we walk down we see a merry musician who sings a special song for us!
With that melody in our heads we climb up Astorga. The streets of the old town are narrow and cobbled. It’s the weekend and the cafés are overflowing with townsfolk and tourists and peregrinos. We find our hotel for the night and love it! It’s an ancient house and has been in the hotel owner’s family for the last 300 years. The rooms are built around a central courtyard. The furniture is lovely and so are the paintings! Wish we had more time to spend here!!
After our afternoon routine we head to the cathedral, the Episcopal Palace built by Gaudi and the town square to see them up close. We end the day with a visit to the local sweet shop to pick up the Astorga specialty – a puff pastry called mantecada de Astorga. It’s delicious and we have way too many!!!