Saturday 20 April (published Sunday 21 April)
Villavante - Hospital del Orbigo - Villares de Orbigo - Santibanez de Valdeiglesia - Cruceiro de Santo Toribio - San Justa de la Vega - Astorga - Murias de Rechivaldo - Santa Catalina de Somoza.
When we left you at the last update, we had settled in to our delightful little house at the Casa Molino Galochas, and were about to head over to the main house for dinner. As it turned out we did not eat with the other guests, although we met them as we were finishing our meal and they were returning from a day in Leon.
Understanding the habits of peregrinos, particularly non-Spanish peregrinos, Mercedes offered us dinner at 7.30 which suited our timetable very well. We discovered that the other guests of the Casa were Spanish families from near Madrid - of course they would not be dining until at least 9pm.
Mercedes and Maximo prepared a superb and memorable meal for us - a tasting plate of the most delightful dishes including char grilled chicken pieces on the bone, with chargrilled peppers and zucchini, and croquettes. A second plate of pulpo (local octopus dish) and Spanish potatoes. And the freshest salad of iceberg lettuce, walnuts and soft goat's cheese. Everything was cooked to perfection. For dessert, strawberries (from Mercedes' garden, marinated in their own juices, lemon juice and a little sugar) and cream. Mercedes then insisted we join her in a shot of Orujo (Spanish grappa).
As we planned to leave early the following morning, we said fond farewells and Mercedes sent us back to our little house with fruit and more of her home made cake to keep us going in the morning until our breakfast stop.
Not sure if it was because, or in spite of, the Oruja, we slept very well. We were up early, said thank you to our little Casa and, soon after 7, we were walking down the path to rejoin The Way. Clear skies, dawn just turning to blue - a perfect start, except that it was -1. We agreed that this was without doubt our coldest morning yet - including those days we had started in rain or even snow. It was 7.5 kms before we came across a village with a cafe open for breakfast and, more importantly, our first caffe con leche of the day. It was the fastest 7.5 kms of our whole 20 days of the Camino so far.
After breakfast the temperature rose relatively quickly and one by one we were able to remove gloves, then jackets and, finally by lunchtime, our hiking pants became shorts. Once again the sun shone all day in an almost cloudless sky - perfect walking weather other than that first hour or two.
The day's walking was relaxing and relatively easy going and we saw just a few other pilgrims on the path every now and then, as well as a group we took to be a gypsy family travelling with 3 donkeys. About an hour or two before reaching Astorga, in the middle of nowhere, we came across a ramshackle building with an outdoor 'stall' for want of a better description. A Spanish man David, friend of the pilgrims, offers tea, coffee, snacks, fruit, bread etc, purely for donation. We are not sure how long he has been there but he was there in October 2011 when Jenny was on the Camino.
After a break at David's 'cafe' we walked on to Astorga and enjoyed a delicious lunch of calamari and salad, shoes off, sitting in the square and soaking up the sun. We'd come a long way since -1 at 7am.
Our resting place tonight is the charming town of Santa Catalina de Somoza (population 50), some 10 kms further on from Astorga, and at 1,000 metres above sea level. The mountains are directly in our path and tomorrow we will climb to the pass of Irago and Cruz de Ferro. Though not our steepest climb (that is some days away) Cruz de Ferro will be the highest point of our Camino at 1505 metres followed by a steep descent falling to just 600 metres over a distance of about 10 kms. Cruz de Ferro has a special place on The Way which we will tell you more about tomorrow.
We anticipate more cold mornings ahead - but we hope that the cooler weather will help with the formidable 'up and down' to come. We are looking forward to this new stage of our adventure and finding out what the Camino has in store for us.
It's hard to believe we are heading into Day 21. It seems the days are long, but the weeks have flown by. So far, we are both in excellent health - still not a blister between us - and in great spirits. We have come across few peregrinos who have been as fortunate, so we are most grateful - and hope our good fortune continues!
Before we sign off, thank you to Audrey, Lakiesha, Martin, Rosanne and The Coopers for your comments and emails. It means a great deal to us to hear from you.
Hope all is well with all family and friends.
Jenny xx and Jill xx