The Road to Santiago.

November 2, 2002

Paseo Honoroso
Paseo Honoroso

San Martin del Camino to Astorga

The rain didn't come. It was foggy and misty, but not an unpleasant day. My experience from the night before convinced me not to look for breakfast in San Martin. I would wait 'til I got to Hospital de Orbigo which was about two hours away.

Hospital de Orbigo is a village, not a hospital. In fact I don't even think that there is a hospital in Hospital de Orbigo presently. The name comes from the fact that during the Middle Ages there was a large hospital specifically to help the pilgrims. The town became an important destination on el camino and, for me, the hope for a good breakfast. My hope came true. I found a bar where I was able to get eggs, lomo (thin slices of pork loin), toast, and a good cup of café con leche. The proprietor and la cocinera (cook) were very solicitous, hovering nearby. The food was delicious and a welcome change from my usual morning fare. Before I left, the proprietor asked me to sign the guest book.

The town became famous not only for the pilgrims' hospital but also for some strange medieval act of machismo. Some guy named Don Suero de Quiñones and a small group of knights (nine I think) would not permit other knights to cross the ancient Roman bridge until a sufficient number had assembled. For a month they took on all comers and successfully fought off any who tried to cross. Apparently, 300 was the magic number for the don because when the group reached that figure, he ceased his struggle and permitted them to cross. Ever since then the spot has been called el Paso Honoroso (the pass of honor). I think that a woman may have been involved.

In the afternoon the landscape began to change from flat to gentle hills with many more trees. I was coming to the end of the great Spanish meseta (tableland). Not only did the land change but also the type of agriculture. The presence of horreros indicated smaller, individual farms rather that the large latifundios of the central meseta. Latifundio is a hard word to translate because we do not have a comparable concept in the United States. It is a system that goes way back the feudal era when families where given large land grants in response to loyalty to the royalty. Even though the land was worked by tenant farmers, housing was clustered in small pueblos and the workers traveled to the fields. The result is that fields are huge and seemingly endless. Today, there are fewer tenant farmers and, with the use of modern equipment, individual families are able to cultivate the large pieces of property. The fields, equipment, and methods of farming resemble those of our Midwest.

In Galicia, the Asturias, Cantabria, and around the edges of the meseta where the land is hilly and irregular, the latifundios are not practical. In those areas the minifundio is common — small individual farms. Houses are more spread out and the farmers tend to raise livestock as well as many different types of crops. The farms are more like those found in the hills and mountains of New England. In many places, stonewalls mark the boundaries. One thing a small farm with animals needs is a silo. The horrero is like a silo. It's a small, loosely built structure that allows the circulation of air in order to dry out corn. It's set on posts well above the ground, and between the posts and the floor are broad stone slabs to deter rodents.
About 3 K before my day's final destination, I came to a hill that rose about 100 meters. At the top there was a six-foot stone cross and a resting area where a couple of pilgrims were having lunch. In the distance, through the fog, I could see the cathedral of Astorga. What can you say about a city that is over 2000 years old? It's an impressive site, placed on the heights above a valley. As you start up the road to approach the city, you can see the ancient Roman walls of Asturica, upon which was built the medieval city of Astorga.
The cathedral dominates the hill, but there is another building that grabs the eye. It is a smaller building behind the cathedral and it looks like a castle from Disneyland. Actually it was a palace — the bishop's palace — and was designed by Antonio Gaudi in 1889. The bishop who commissioned the construction was from Barcelona, and he convinced his paisano (compatriot) to design and build a private bishop's residence. Unfortunately, the bishop died before it was completed. His successor was embarrassed by the edifice and refused to occupy it. In fact, it remained vacant for some time until the church realized that they had a treasure. Now it is a museum housing art related to the pilgrimage. The interior is indeed beautiful!
Gaudi's Bishop's Palace
That afternoon at 4:00 I had lunch at a fine restaurant in a three-star hotel. I was tired of the standard menu del dia (menu of the day) that I usually ate so I took a lujo (a luxury) — I ordered a la carte!

That night, since I had had a late lunch (or was it an early dinner?), I didn't need another big meal. Instead I went out for a glass of wine and a tapa. Tapas are small snacks that are served in bars and restaurants when dinner is not wanted. When I asked if anyone wanted to go with me to find a bar, a young Korean woman said yes and that she knew of a good place. Well, a young person's idea of a good bar is one full of other young people and loud music. It was fun, although I looked a little out of place.

Her name was Min and she was a very interesting person. After getting her college degree in social work she went to India to volunteer for the organization created by Mother Theresa. More recently, she performed volunteer work in Kenya. Afterward, and prior to coming to Spain, she traveled by bus all though Africa — going alone didn't seem to bother her. She wanted to travel and volunteer some more before returning to Korea and graduate school. She wasn't sure where she was headed after Santiago.

We got back to the albergue to find it full of the same kids from the previous night. After everyone went to bed, they remained in the anteroom playing cards and having a gay old time. A gay, noisy, old time! As much as we tried to ignore them, we couldn't. Finally a Frenchman jumped down from his top bunk and went out to address the multitude. I don't know if they understood him, but he was loud and angry. I think they got the point, for one by one they got ready for bed. The constant opening and closing of various doors was almost as bad as the talking and laughing.
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