Camino de Santiago: Day 19, Astorga, Spain
Distance from Villar De Mazarife to Astorga, Spain 34.2 kilometers
In spite of what we are force fed by ratings hungry media, and told by others that wish to control us through fear and demonization of people that are different than us, the world it a pretty great place and most people in it are caring and decent. You just have to be open enough to see it and not so cynical that you deny what is before your eyes. The goodness in people has been confirmed to me by people in places all over the world and again today during a long day on the Camino de Santiago.
We began the day in Villar De Mazarife under cloudy skies and a brisk wind. It wasn’t too cold and after walking for half an hour the sun came out and we were able to take off a few layers of clothing. The land here was as flat as a pool table but, over dried fields of last year crops, we could see mountains; the end of the Meseta. After about 10 kilometers we stopped in Villavante for breakfast and a café con leche.
Just outside of Hospital de Orbigo we rejoined our old companion, highway N-120, but luckily the reunion was short lived and before we crossed the medieval bridge we said goodbye again. Hospital de Orbigo was a pleasant town, crossed with cobblestone streets and plenty of cafés and restaurants but, other than stopping at the ATM we didn’t linger long.
As we approached the next village, Villares de Órbigo, the land was starting to change again. There were more trees, the fields held more wildflowers than crops and the landscape became more undulating. We entered town trough a copse of trees and sat ourselves at a small plastic table in the sun outside of a restaurant filled with pilgrim’s and locals. We lingered over a plate of sardines, olives and onions and talked with our fellow pilgrims about their journey. Everyone has a different reason for waking the Camino de Santiago, but everyone seems well grounded, tranquil and, despite the effort required, enthusiastic about the experience.
Just beyond the village of Santibañez we encountered mile after mile of road construction. It felt like we were constantly climbing up hills and the heavy equipment used to scrape the land had made it uneven and rutted. Difficult walking. Many of the signs used to direct walkers along the Camino de Santiago had been destroyed by the contractors with nothing to give clear direction. At one point we felt that, for the first time, we may have made a wrong turn and walked off the trail.
After a bit of searching we saw that someone had volunteered their time to construct direction arrows out of rocks gathered from the roadside. I can’t imagine how many people this, one small act of kindness, has helped.
Just about the time we felt we could climb no more, we topped a hill and saw “Esencia en la Presencia”, a refreshment stand in the middle-of-nowhere, giving away carrot cake, fresh fruit, homemade bread and jams, fruit juices and almost anything else a hungry traveler would need. It was run by David, a Frenchman who had started giving away food to pilgrims at this spot five years ago; and Suzy, an Aussie who met David while she was walking here along “The Way” about a year ago, and as yet never made it to Santiago de Compostela.
I asked Suzy why they do this and she said, “Our needs are very simple so we want for nothing. We enjoy meeting people and here the world comes to us.”
After eating a hard boiled egg and a few slices of carrot cake, I put a few euros into David and Suzy’s tip jar and we began walking again.
It wasn’t much further to Astorga, but we were worn out and our feet were beginning to hurt again. We looked into the first albergue in town, but it was bursting at the seams with people. We walked a little further to the next albergue, but it too was full. We spotted a hotel near the cathedral and they had rooms, but they were very expensive and over our budget. We explained to the desk clerk we only wanted a simple room for the night and asked for suggestions, but he said “lo siento mucho” and shrugged his shoulders.
The hotel clerk glanced around, escorted us to the front door, pointed, and quietly whispered in broken English, “Walk three streets this way, turn left and push the buzzer. There is no sign. This is a convent for Catholic nuns and they will have a room for you.” We followed his instructions and were given a private, simple, but very clean and comfortable room, in the convent, for €20 euros for the night. We were so grateful we didn’t have to walk to the next town for the hope of a place to stay.
This was only one day, but most days are good if we take the time to notice. There is still much kindness and many good people left in the world. Many people I know, good people, especially from my home country, are losing sight of their own goodness and turning against people in need or just not caring anymore. There is no denying that there is “evil” in the world, but evil wins when we build walls and turn against each other because our fear overrides our humanity.