Camino de Santiago: Day 20, Rabanal de Camino, Spain
Distance from Astorga to Rabanal de Camino, Spain 21.1 kilometers
Our room in the nunnery was basic; two twin beds, a tiny bathroom, empty bookshelves on one wall and a crucifix on the opposite. The radiator had not been turned on overnight so it was quite cold in the morning. No matter. It was a great place to sleep, especially considering that there were few practical alternatives in town.
We woke early and began walking, ever westward, past the cathedral then out of town through the suburbs of Astorga. It was a beautiful day. Cool, but sunny, and the wind that had been so persistent on previous days was gone. We only planned to go a little over 20 kilometers for the day, so we took our time and just watched the scenery. There is a certain luxury in seeing new places on foot, without having to rush, and we planned to take full advantage.
It was Sunday morning and soon we came upon a little chapel that was packed with fellow “pilgrims” walking “The St. James Way”. This was a good reminder that, for many people, this is as much a religious pilgrimage as it is a cultural trek across Spain.
There is a difference in leaving a city, even a small one such as Astorga, and leaving the countryside villages. Cities slowly diminish and dwindle away while the limits of villages start and end abruptly. We had hardly noticed that we left Astorga when we found ourselves entering Murias de Rechivalo. Here there is an 18th century church, an old abandoned flour mill and not much else other than a restaurant with tables in the sun serving breakfast to pilgrims. We stopped and had cups of café on leche and a Spanish “tortilla”; basically a frittata filled with potatoes, sometimes with cheese, sometimes with ham.
When we started walking again it was warm enough to take off and pack away my jacket. The trail was flat, well groomed and it made for a pleasant walk. There were no roads nearby and all we could hear were the sounds of birds, occasional cow bells and the sounds of our own feet crunching on the gravel of the trail. The snow on the peaks of the Montes de Léon was coming clearer into view as we spotted the Church of Santa María, with stork’s nests on the bell tower, in Santa Catalina de Somoza. There was yet another attractive looking restaurant in the shadow of the church and we spotted some other pilgrims we had met from a few days before. How could we resist stopping for another coffee?
As we left town we could see much evidence that at one time Santa Catalina de Somoza had once been a much larger place in the form of the rock walls of houses long since abandoned. It was easy to see we were now walking in old Roman roads because, for kilometer after kilometer, they would continue with out bend.
We walked without stopping through the weird little village of El Ganso, with the only activity being at a bar called “Cowboy Meson” that played loud western music on the inside, while a guy playing “Dueling Banjos”, solo, played on a banjo outside. I would have loved to have gotten a photo, but there was a sign, in English, “No Photo of Me or My Work”.
As we continued, the trail started to get narrower and more rocky before it began climbing through a forest to our destination for the night Rabanal de Camino. In a clearing at the edge of the wood we came across a guy dressed as a medieval knight standing by a carved wooden armchair with a falcon. We never really figured out why he was there, but he anyway allowed us take his photo. When we were out of earshot, Sarah and I both looked at each other and said at the same time, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
We arrived into Rabanal de Camino and took a room at the first Posada we saw. It too had tables in the sunshine out front, and after dropping off our bags in the room, and turning in our laundry to be done, we had a glass of wine and talked with other travelers. We wandered around town and passed the Shrine of El Bendito Cristo de la Vera Cruz, the 18th century Church of San José and later listened to Gregorian Chanting at the Parish Church of La Asunción.