Day 18: Hospital del Orbigo – El Ganso: 19 miles
Tuesday, September 27, 2016: Departed: 7:30am, Arrived 4:00pm
Even though we’re still in the recovery stages of our sickness, we felt rejuvenated at the start of this day by a bright sunrise and beginning the transition into hills and changes in elevation that made for a more scenic walk. The Camino stayed largely on gravel paths away from the highways. I found myself speaking more with other pilgrims. It seemed like no time, we were arriving into Astorga, a beautiful town built upon elevated ground.
We happened upon a big flea market that was happening in the central plaza and surrounding streets. We grabbed a late breakfast / early lunch at an adjacent café. Kim had to catch up on some home business while on wifi, while I ate and checked out the market. So many of the towns we’ve passed through have seemed devoid of social or economic activity, apart from serving the pilgrims. Maybe we just hit them at a bad time, or during siesta. But it was nice in Astorga to see street life full of activity and bustle. Apart from the city life, I enjoyed seeing some of its impressive architecture. Most cities / towns we have passed through mid-day, we only stay long enough for a snack and keep moving, but we ended up spending more than 2 hours in Astorga before moving on.
It has been my travel pattern of late to bring things with me that I intentionally “retire” during my trip, and don’t bring back home. Already on this trip, I’ve gotten rid of several items that had served their time, and even this morning left behind a favored silk shirt whose holes grew too large to maintain. But today I rather abruptly got rid of an item that I felt connected to, such that I couldn’t just unceremoniously leave it in rubbish bin. Something that has been on my person more consistently than any other item I own: my wallet. I think I’ve had the same one for 12 years, and bought it in Argentina. It has some holes in it and has been losing coins, so I took advantage of the flea market to buy a new one. I transferred all my ID, money and credit cards to the new wallet, but I felt a sense of attachment and loss as I looked at the old empty one, now no longer needed. I thought of all the places it went with me, and how it was constant routine to check that it was safely on me. I carried it with me through the town, unable to throw it away. All along the Camino, there are little shrines and memorials where people leave stones and mementos. When I got outside the city, we came upon one labeled Peregrino Identes. I left my old wallet there, and said good-bye while feeling the new one, bulky and awkward in my back pocket. I wondered how soon we all might be getting rid of our wallets, as they go the way of watches and cameras, becoming absorbed into our phones, making such things as paper money, ID’s, credit cards, and memberships a redundant hassle.
We continued up in elevation into the hillsides under a hot sun. While it had seemed to me that the architectural charm of the villages we first encountered on the Camino gave way to less charming, dilapidated towns in the dry plains, it seemed to me that the charm was returning in a way unique to the region we were entering: natural rugged stone, that looks charming even in the abandoned crumbling structures. We chose for our town of rest El Ganso, a small village with an old west vibe, and at the Gabino Albergue secured a double bed under the stairwell of the dorm – a cozy nook in an otherwise large common area. We continue to be surprised by the uniqueness of each lodging situation we encounter at the end of the day. After showers, we went for a drink at the “cowboy bar” full of western décor, showing old American movies dubbed in Spanish on the tele. Later we got the pilgrim’s menu at the adjacent restaurant. Small towns and small albergues naturally lend themselves to natural conversation to those around you. I like that very much. Now we and the other pilgrims are retiring for the night; it’s not quite 10pm.