A legacy of chivalry
Leaving Villar de Mazarife was a low and slow day of walking. We were so close to being out of the Meseta, it was almost torture. We were ready for a change of scenery and terrain.
Our stop for the night was Hospital de Órbigo. Its main feature was a massive, 13th-century medieval bridge, one of the longest and best-preserved in Spain. In 1434 it was the location of a famous jousting feat that inspired the novel Don Quixote. Every summer, the town has a massive festival and hosts a jousting tournament in the dry portion of the river bed.
The day that we crossed, there were a couple of fly fishermen in the river. We felt a temporary jab of envy that we didn’t have our fly fishing gear with us. Until we thought about how much of an added burden it would be for the journey we were on. Then we were thankful.
The bridge was made of stones that all but crippled our weary, aching feet. We crossed it gingerly and were thankful to be across until we realized that most of the restaurants were on the opposite side. We would have to cross it again for dinner.
We stayed in a very hippie-style albergue that was stocked with supplies for pilgrims to paint. Then the pilgrims hung the paintings throughout the albergue. It seemed like some sort of therapy, processing the mental and physical challenges of the last 300 miles.
One of the paintings was a self-portrait by a pilgrim we met on the trail. We called him Flower Beard, for obvious reasons. He ended up assigned to the fourth bed in our room.
We treaded back across the rocky bridge and wandered around town looking for an early pilgrim dinner. We didn’t have any luck, so we found a bar with a garden and settled in for a pilgrim happy hour.
After dinner, we went back to the albergue and made calls to our dads for Father’s Day. The wifi signal wasn’t always great, especially when there were a lot of pilgrims in one place. Thankfully, we were all able to call our dads, even if it left us each with a pang of homesickness.
The next morning, we woke up excited to get started for the day. This would be our last official day on the Meseta. As much as we enjoyed the Meseta, we were ready for a change and we knew mountains were in our very near future. As physically challenging as it might be, we were ready for it.
On our way into Astorga, we ran into a fellow American pilgrim that we hadn’t seen since we started the Meseta. He was by himself because his travel partner had to go home due to injuries, so we were happy to catch up and walk together for a few miles.
The place with the retired nuns
Thanks to Flower Beard, we learned about a delightful place to stay for the night in Astorga. It was a retirement home for nuns that would rent out extra rooms for pilgrims. I took a picture of the picture on his phone so that we would recognize the door when we got to that alley.
When we found it, I rang the intercom, and in my most polite (yet still primitive) Spanish, I asked if we could have a couple of rooms for the night. Within a few minutes, a small, stooped, elderly nun came to the door and welcomed us inside. After the intake, she ushered us to our rooms, complete with private bathrooms.
It was so Camino Rich (real sheets! Towels!) and homey and quiet.
If we had never talked to Flower Beard, we probably would have never known about the place, as it wasn’t mentioned in any of our guidebooks.
After we settled into our rooms, we went out to explore Astorga. This city is known for its chocolate so we picked out a couple of bars to savor over the next part of our journey.
Then we toured the cathedral and parted ways with Nicole to tour the Palacio Episcopal, a palace designed by Gaudí for the Bishop. Although not as impressive as Burgos or León, the cathedral was beautiful and featured an ornate altarpiece made of many lifelike carvings of the saints.
The Palacio Episcopal had been recently restored and now houses religious artifacts and relics associated with El Camino de Santiago.
We reunited with Nicole near the city center and went to the sporting goods store. Nicole’s foot was still causing her a lot of pain so she decided to get outfitted with proper walking poles. They were a big upgrade from the Camino-provided-pole that she found in the ditch so long ago.
After the sightseeing and shopping, we found a restaurant with a fantastic pilgrim’s menu which included pasta, meatballs, fries, flan, and a bourbon beer. The craft beer was a welcomed change from the chilled red wine we were accustomed to. We were full, happy, and grateful to return to our quiet, private rooms.
Into the mountains we go
We left Astorga with the morning sun behind us and headed for the mountains. Once again, we were happy to be leaving yet another city.
We decided to ship our bags ahead to the next town, Foncebadón, because the day had a drastic elevation profile. Since we had been on relatively flat ground for the Meseta, we wanted to give our bodies time to adjust to the topographical changes.
So we bounded along in the morning sun, headed for the mountains in the distance. The smell of wildflowers and fresh mountain air carried us forward. Andy decided to adorn his beard in the style of our friend Flower Beard.
The climb up the mountain to Foncebadón was pleasant, much better without packs, and the view from the top was great. We found our albergue where our packs were faithfully awaiting our arrival.
We checked in and settled into our bunks to relax a bit before dinner.
We found a delightfully hippie restaurant for an early pilgrim dinner, then returned to our albergue to enjoy some local beers. We agreed to a plan for the next day, did some journaling, then got ready for bed and climbed into our bunks.
We fell asleep that night to a steady rain falling. It was almost like the Camino was washing away the dust of the Meseta, cleansing us, making a clean start for what was ahead.