Stage 24 – Astorga – Rabanal del Camino
Total Distance – 21.4 km
Adjusted for Climb – 23.4 km (accrued ascent 400 m = 2.0 km)
High Point: Rabanal del Camino at 1,150 m (3,770 feet)
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Breakfast in Astorga was on the early side (7:30) for me and I was fortunate to have run in to Jean-Marie a French peregrino from Perpingan. Jean-Marie had a respiratory infection and I was sad that he would not be starting out with me from Astorga and after wishing him “Bon Chance” I started walking. I soon stopped in order to say a prayer in the beautiful Catedral de Santa Maria and continued on my way.
As I walked the easy road out of Astorga my thoughts were centered on Rabanal del Camino which was to be my destination. Brierly, in my guide called it, “one of the most authentic and welcoming villages along the entire camino” but he also called for caution because several pilgrims had been “killed on these roads in recent years.” It didn’t take long for me to reach the cross that marked the sight of one of these deaths.
I was soon upon the charming medieval hermitage Ecce Homo at the crossroads that lead to the village of Valdevivas. Here I took some time to take a water break and visit the lovely little hermitage. It was here that I was given a prayer card that had a lovely Pilgrim’s Prayer written in 5 languages. I’ve re-produced the prayer on my Spiritual page. As you can tell from the picture below this lovely hermitage has undergone extensive restorations in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As I continued walking I decided to take the path at Murias de Rechivaldo rather than continue on the side of the road. My decision was one that I regularly took and not only for safety reasons. I always chose a path or trail rather than walk along the side of a road or highway mainly because it was easier on the feet and I preferred to see the country views rather than take a risk with automobiles on the road. Murias de Rechivaldo was a Maragato town that in the past was famous for supplying carters and pack-mule trains to the region. The strategic position of the town, right at the beginning but still relatively flat portion of the entrance to the mountain passes that lead to Leòn’s El Bierzo region makes it an ideal place to organize pack-mule trains.
Walking here one cannot help notice how the terrain changes and suddenly you find yourself gradually climbing long ridges that lack vegetation other than scrub oak, heather, broom and wild thyme.
One also sees changes in the in the villages. The major change is the extensive use of stone for the houses. In addition to the stone houses you now see stone walls and stone corrals which I had not seen on such a widespread basis until after I had left Burgos. These villages alas are semi-deserted but you also find some newly renovated stone houses.
I had been noticing all these aspects of my environment when I had to stop and say a prayer for the family of a peregrina named Trudy who had died at a spot alongside the road. It was my custom to do because I felt that it was only right to honor those of my fellow peregrinos who had died walking and also to remember their families who loved them so that they would go to the expense of memorializing them. It was the least that I could do to remember them in my prayers.
As I approached the small village of El Ganso (It means the Goose in Spanish) little did I know that I would have a fateful meeting in a place called the Cowboy Bar. It was in this oddly named establishment (had somehow American Cowboys invaded the place?) that I met an Australian peregrina named Sue. We were both sitting outside in the patio area of the Cowboy Bar when we struck up a conversation with each other. We decided then that we would walk together and little did I know at the time that we would walk together all the way to Santiago!! I guess stranger things have happened in stranger places than the Cowboy Bar but Sue always answered people who would ask how we met by saying that I picked her up at the Cowboy Bar!!
So after our drinks we started out together and as is normal after you start walking with someone new on the Camino you tend to talk a lot about where you are from, why you are walking the Camino, etc.. For me this is one of those great moments on the Camino where one can make a friend and indeed Sue and I were so compatible and at ease with each other that we talked and talked and this is why I don’t have a picture of her on this first day we met. Sue had actually started her Camino in Le Puy in France. She originally was with a friend and did not intend to walk the entire Camino but alas the Camino Bug got into her and she continued on long after her friend had decided to return to Melbourne, Australia.
Finally we reached Rabanal del Camino and I must say that it was one of my favorite places on the Camino. It had a peaceful Alpine village feel to it that somehow (Don’t ask me how because I’m a City Boy!) attracted me. I can’t explain other than maybe it was because Rabanal had once been a Templar outpost that protected peregrinos in their passage over the mountains. Or maybe it was that the Ruta de Oro (The Gold Route) led to the original Roman Gold mines just 1.5 kilometers away. Whatever it was I felt noticeably at peace here during my stay.
My good sensation about Rabanal was only increased tenfold by the wonderful Casa Rural A Cruz De Ferro where we had the good fortune of staying. I will write a detailed description in my Places to Stay page but let me say that everything there was outstanding – from the wine and olives that welcome you, the Paella at dinner to the private rooms – it was a pleasure to stay there. Another pleasure and indeed an honor for me was the opportunity to attend Vespers at 19:30 that evening and Compiline at 21:30 with the Bavarian Benedictine missionary monks at the monastery San Salvador del Monte Irago in Rabanal. The Gregorian chants were a thing of beauty and the prelude to a peaceful and contented slumber that night.