I started my day in the San Miguel albergue the way I ended the last one, chatting and exchanging stories with the wonderful host Arturo. He told me how camino magic had brought him and his wife to that place, and stories of other camino workers, helpers, characters. In the end I had to leave though as it was looking like it would be a hot day again. I wanted to get as close to Astorga as I could before it got too bad, as there is no shade after Santibañez.
The pilgrim mannequin in the desert is still there, no doubt updated to showcase the very latest in camino chic. A Facebook friend pointed out that he is no longer wearing a mask, so things must be looking up!
Polly the Parasolly was up and out again in the baking heat as there was no shade. No doubt one of the best purchases so far (if also one of the oddest). The looks I get are mainly envious and I bet a lot of people will put ‘umbrella’ on their next packing list. Apparently I looked like half pilgrim, half UFO – I’ll take that as a compliment.
Apart from the mannequin, the person I was most hoping to meet on the way to Astorga was the now rather famous David, back from a long walk of his own. He started his Casa de los Dioses (House of the gods) project with practically nothing many years ago, sleeping under the stars and offering refreshments and sustenance – water, coffee, tea, juice, fruit, bread, boiled eggs – to passing pilgrims for a donation. Meaning, pay what you can, and if you can’t, take what you need. Daily donation money went towards refreshments for the next day and tomorrow’s pilgrims, paying watermelon forward before it was a thing. Over the years this plot of hot dusty land has become a welcome oasis for the tired pilgrim, with basic tables and benches, a lovely flower bed in the open courtyard, several small structures to provide shade and shelter, and rows of hammocks to rest or sleep in. David himself took some time out from his Casa de los Dioses and pilgrims in general, but it was soo good to see him back again! If he gives up on us, what hope is there?
He asked where I was from, and when I said Norway, he lit up and asked if I had seen him in the book where he was a dog. I didn’t understand at first, until he said it was a book of pictures – and of course I have! He was referring to Norwegian comic artist Jason’s book On the camino, which in our camino obsessed, bilingual household can be found in the original as well as English version. Here’s the Casa de los Dioses as remembered by Jason on his camino:
Not far from the Casa de los Dioses is the cross where you will see Astorga – especially the towers of the cathedral – for the first time. It’s still an hour or so to go but at least you can see it! As I came down the hill from the cross to the fountain statue of the thirsty pilgrim, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. Seems the metal man was joined by two human lookalikes!
Oh look, the green pilgrim hamster wheel contraption in Astorga, no doubt twinned with the blue one leading into León. Great. However, a Belgian couple I met had found a nice local man who offered to show them a way around it, so they whooped and cheered while silly old me went the whole up and down and round and round. This man showed us the shortcuts into Astorga as well, and let me take his photo:
Muchas gracias, señor. And nice flowers, by the way. I hope she liked them.
I checked in to the fab Só por Hoje albergue, run by the lovely Patricia, a much needed alternative to the two main albergues and quite expensive hotels. Só por Hoje has a small dorm with normal, not bunk, beds and has a brilliant shared chilling space.
Then I went out for a meal outside the Astur Plaza, as they normally have good food, if only they would serve me. I wondered if they ignored me because I was on my own, so they wouldn’t make much money out of me? But then again the couple on the table in front of me were joined by another couple, and the head waiter showed no interest in providing them with more chairs to make them spend potentially even more money. I kept trying to catch their eyes to let them know they could have my spare ones, and in the end they noticed and offered their friends a seat. When I finally got the head waiter’s attention and asked him to recommend a fish dish, I was not disappointed. Next time I managed to get hold of him, I asked in bad Spanish to see the menu again to consider one of the starters as a dessert, but the head waiter just decided I had ordered half a cheese board, so that’s what I got. It was really nice though! I munched my way through local specialities while people and Astorga watching, then went straight back to my albergue and chilled for the rest of the evening.