The guy who runs the albergue I stayed in got up at 6:30 to make me sandwiches, fruit and water for my journey. I told him to just give me fruit and water and I’d be fine. Couple of somethings, could have been a sort of peach, and a frozen bottle of water packed into my bag and I was off.
Still dark and some spots of rain as I came through the town on my way out. Prepared my poncho for its first outing but the rain was going so I didn’t bother.
Saw two young girls coming out of an albergue on the outskirts of the town and the thought crossed my mind, how safe are young girls on their own on the Camino. Hadn’t heard any of the news at this point and as I walked along the lanes with ditches on either side I thought how easy it could be to be dumped in those ditches and never be seen.
The news later of the discovery a female body in the next area I was going to, shocked me. I could see the helicopters flying around but didn’t think anything of it.
It was the American girl who had been missing since April. She had been murdered by a local man from Astorga, my next stop. I only learned all this when I had arrived in Astorga.
The route was a very gentle climb of around 125 metres through some fields and a wooded area. Quite pleasant in the early morning.
I arrived at the most surreal place at the top of the climb where a hippy couple had set up home and were providing refreshments donitivo – by contribution.
They had all sorts of herbal teas and cartons of different juices and pieces of fruit. You just gave what you wanted.
Their “home” was the ruins of, what looked like an old adobe finca which had fallen down. Three walls were about one metre high and the back wall, presumably where a fireplace had been, were all that was left.
The couple, only around thirty or thirty-five, had transformed the inside of this shell into a peaceful garden-like area. White stones, like you would see in a garden centre show area, surrounded small clumps of flowers and there were two mattresses where you could rest, one just inside where the front door might have been and the other against the back wall under a small canopy.
Outside the front area, in a little outhouse, the girl was tending to a pot-belly stove, heating water for the tea. He was bare-foot with dreadlocks, she was tall and slender with a long hippy skirt. Both had the most contended look I have ever seen on their faces.
They had apparently been living there for the past six years, summer and winter. Exposed, save for the left-over mud bricks and no roof.
Didn’t take anything there and, thinking back, forgot to give them something for the pleasure of seeing such joy and contentment at just being there, helping peregrinos on their quest for that same contentment that they had, together up that hill.
A little further on came across a Cruceiro (cross) – de Santo Toribio. This was one of the types of places my memento for John might be placed. Not here though, didn’t get the feeling. That feeling that, as that Frenchman in Leon said – “You will know when it is right”.
Walked on. Gave a Euro to a guitar playing, scooter riding (not at the same time), guy who seemed to be trying to guess your nationality and then trying to start a conversation about your home. Norn Iron left him looking bemused. He asked me for a souvenir – seemed a bit odd. He pointed at a survival bracelet my daughter Bronagh had given me some time ago. That wasn’t happening.
Set off down the hill, bumped into Karl from Germany again and we walked into Astorga together.
We commented on the steel bridge over the railway line that zig-zaged back and forth to get you up and over the track. Bloody GPS was going mad.
As with most cities, you think you have arrived, only to find there is another two or three kilometres to go before you actually get to the centre. Astorga was no exception. Just as a final punishment we had to climb a really steep street which wound its way up to the first of the albergues in the city. Every peregrino used their own swearword from their country on seeing this.
Slowly we all stepped, trudging, bending, straining under our backpacks until we reached the top.
I couldn’t resist it. I am not ashamed. I have no guilt. When I got to the top of that hill the breeze beckoned me. I stood, with my legs apart, kilt spread, allowing the breeze to caress, nay pleasure me. I did actually let out a loud sigh to which my fellow peregrinos laughed and the locals stood, open-mouthed.
Apologies St. James.
Wandered around for a bit, met the Danish girl again, had two grande C&Ls, bought a phone charger (which is why I don’t have any photos of journey in), found a great peregrino menu in quite a plush looking hotel for ten Euro, which was a three course meal with a full bottle of wine.
Met up with Norbert from Germany and Mike from Surrey again who joined me at my table. We talked for ages while I waited for my bus time to Ponferrada. Mel from London joined us just before I had to leave and the four Scotsmen came to the same restaurant and we hurled abuse at each other. Celts together.
Said my goodbyes to Mel and went for the bus.
Astorga, like most cities my kilt has been to, haven’t really got the whole thing of a man in a skirt.
One older lady actually stopped, looked me up and down before saying “embarazoso”. Think she was saying I was embarrassing. No accounting for taste.
Just to finish, while sitting with the Danish girl, a German lady and an Englishman (not a joke), a local lady, who was pretending to have her photo taken with a huge stuffed bull, after she had it taken, pretended to take a photo of her boyfriend, who was behind me. When I looked round at him and then quickly back to her, she had her camera down below knee height trying to capture my under kilt status. That’s one picture going on Instagram.
I’ll give you a break now. Talk soon.