The Road to Santiago.

November 3, 2002

Leaving Astorga.
Leaving Astorga

Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

Everybody got up late, probably because it took so long to get to sleep. Claudia, a young Swiss woman, was sleeping on the floor in the anteroom. She moved from the dormitory because she couldn't sleep with so many roncadores (snorers) in the crowd. I was happy that, for once, I wasn't singled out as the problem child in the group.

The kids in the next dormitory were as boisterous as ever. At least we didn't have to put up with them for another day. Tomorrow they would be back at school. They were loud, obnoxious, and yet in some cases, quite amusing. And, they were singing and having a grand old time. For some reason the tune sounded familiar. Suddenly I recognized A Mi Manera. I couldn't help but think how ironic it was for a 14 year old to be singing My Way.

Even though it was Sunday a lot of the cafeterias around the cathedral were open. I went into one that advertised fresh pastry and ordered café con leche and a boli (breakfast roll). If I were going to have to eat a load of carbohydrates, at least they would be fresh and delicious rather than the usual packaged variety.

The weather was beautiful and I was in a happy mood. On the outskirts of town, there were several fenced in garden/picnic-like areas that seemed to me to be the Spanish version of outdoor barbecue stands. One was guarded by a flock of geese and when I peeked through the fence the gander raised his head and wonked a challenge at me. Well, when I was a biology student in college, I was the caretaker of the fowl, and I wasn't about to take any guff from a fat old gander. Since I can speak goose, I thought that I would have a little fun with him. So, I gave my best threatening wonk right back at him. He wasn't about to take that squatting down so he goose-stepped up to within ten feet with his chin (well, as much as a goose can have a chin) jutted out towards me. This is gander for, "You want a piece of me? Come and get it." We stood there staring at each other; it was a Spanish version of a classic Mexican standoff. When I heard some dogs barking and coming toward us, I decided that fun was fun and continued on my way. As I left, I looked back over my shoulder as he strutted back toward his flock. I really think that his chest was puffed way up — "See, I told you I'd take care of ya!"

As the landscape became more and more hilly, other changes were occurring. The trees were getting larger. Eventually I was walking among tall oaks and chestnut trees. On the meseta, a tree was seldom over 20 feet high. Here they were huge — 60 to 80 feet — with a full canopy. Their rusty brown and yellow leaves reminded me of New England and I began to miss the colorful foliage back home.

Rabanal del Camino.
Rabanal del Camino
I arrived in Rabanal del Camino and had to search for the albergue because it wasn't where my guidebook said it would be. It turns out that the municipal albergue was closed but there was a private one available very nearby. The albergue was inside a large, old, stone building typical of the area. Its entrance was through an eight-foot tall wooden door that opened into a large courtyard. In the back were four dormitories, showers, and toilette facilities. My bed was in a 10' by 20' room which had eight double bunks. The anteroom in front had a small kitchenette, two large picnic tables, and fireplace with a big hearth. The fire not only added a pleasant atmosphere but also a welcome relief from the chill.

Because I hadn't eaten since morning, I was quite hungry. I went to a nearby restaurant for comida (dinner) at 3:30 p.m.. Back in El Burgo del Camino, José had suggested that, when in Rabanal, I order some cocido margata for which the area was famous. Es comida tipica y muy delicioso. (It is an area specialty and very delicious.)  It even has five different types of meat. Oh sure, that is, if you consider chorizo (pepperoni-type sausage), pigs knuckles, pigs' ears, and tongue to be meat. And the great vegetables it comes with? Fava beans, turnip greens, and boiled potatoes! I should have known that a food described as "typical" meant that it was the food that poor people eat on a regular basis — sort of like corned beef and cabbage, baked beans and salted pork, or chitlins and collard greens.

Full of food but not completely satisfied, I went back to the albergue and sat by fireplace to write some postcards. I discovered that in the courtyard the hospitalera had a small outdoor bar where she made coffee and mixed drinks. I had a café con leche to warm up followed by a copa (cup) of parcharon, which is a fruit liqueur made in Navarra and is popular throughout Spain. The ambiance of the fire, a good drink, and the interaction with the other pilgrims made for a very pleasant evening which more than offset my disappointment with the meal.

One pilgrim that I got to know was the Frenchman, who had yelled at the kids the night before. His name was Louis and he was traveling with his wife, Sylvie. I learned that he was just a few years older than I and, like so many people I know, was laid off from a computer company after a long career of loyal service. Now, he and his wife have a small bed and breakfast in the countryside in France. I told him that I had created a Web site for my friend who has a B&B in Newburyport, Massachusetts. We exchanged Web addresses and then compared cameras. Mine was an older, digital, single-frame camera and his was a new, small, compact, video camera that could also take stills — I was jealous.

(If anybody is interested in more information about either of these B&B's, just email this site and I will send it to you.)

Having had such a large and heavy meal so late in the day, I didn't need to have dinner that night. However, about nine, I went to another restaurant for a glass of vino tinto and a small slice of tortilla española. In Spain, tortilla means omelet. A tortilla francesa is an omelet similar to what we have at home. A tortilla español is a quiche-like potato omelet that is about eight inches round and an inch thick — it's delicious.

While sitting at the bar, I saw a man wearing a sweatshirt with the logo of the Confraternity of St. James, an organization from Great Britain. It turns out that he was there to check on a small albergue which is maintained by the group and is only opened through October. I chatted with him for awhile because he was an interesting chap. Also, it was nice to hear English again!

It was with some apprehension that I got my backpack ready before I went to bed. It was supposed to rain again and I wanted to get an early start before the trails got too slippery. What lay ahead of me I didn't know, only that it was supposed to be difficult. I'd been told that many pilgrims got stress fractures in their shin bones from going down the steep slopes after Rabanal.
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