Mazarife – Astorga
After tucking into excellent breakfast of tea, coffee, juice, toast, churros and biscuits headed out into dark (very dark), wet and windy morning. As it was 7.45am and decidedly darker than usual my by now highly attuned natural instincts suggested there was a very heavy low cloud overhead which could mean a pretty miserable day of weather ahead. A few hours later after crossing beautiful old medieval bridge which must have been 400m long I decided to treat myself to a hot coffee but the waitress in the bar was so overwhelmed with the aftermath of the hotel breakfast crowds recent departure that it was impossible to get served so I headed on to the next place and was soon at the end of the town with nothing but fields ahead so sat awhile on the pavement against a wall sheltered form the driving wind and rain and ate a Danish pastry. A woman from Oregan joined me and we watched as passing pilgrims reached a fork in the road and made their decisions between taking the easy and direct ‘senda’ or the longer, bendier ‘el campo’ scenic route. Before my joints seized into place on the ground I hauled myself up and set off ‘el campo’, obviously. Despite the increasing howling wind and driving rain this choice was to be highly rewarded when in the middle of a long stretch through fields I came upon a large, slightly dilapidated barn. As I approached, a man, dressed slightly as if he might be backpacking through Thailand, only with the addition of a couple of jumpers, slid open the large metal door and beckoned me inside. Once the door slid shut and the wind and rain were outside I could see a couple of sofas occupied by 3 other peregrinos and a cart laid out with a vast array of drinks and snacks. David, our host lived here in this old barn for about 9 months of the year, dispensing refreshments to passing pilgrims for free or a small donation. Only in the bleak winter months did he leave. He had hung large plastic sheeting around the interior to block out some of the weather as much of the roof was gone, but at the front were we sat he had built a small room with new roof where he slept and put together a semi open air kitchen alongside this. He had a wealth of goodies on offer and I even tried almond milk which was completely new to me and I wondered whether I might find this in Sainsburys. David had no transport, not even a bike and carried all his supplies on foot from Astorga which was still some 8km away. If this included the gas bottles I was suitably impressed! Really had to force myself to leave and head back out into the wind and rain after a hug and a stamp for my credencial. In a small town before Astorga I was tempted to stop, soaked as I was but Roberto the Italian passed me and asked some locals how far to Astorga to which they replied 2 and a half kilometers. He beckoned me on, ‘only 2 and a half kilometers!!’ . It seemed to remain 2 and a half kilometers away for quite some time after that, not least because the yellow arrows seemed to be sending us in every direction apart from towards Astorga. But Roberto continually called out ‘only 2 and a half kilometres’ and we kept going. At a railway line we walked close to 2 and a half kilometers getting over a bridge which zig zagged up a ramp continually back and forth to a great height from where it crossed the railway line and then slowly zig zagged back down. It must have taken five good minutes to get to a point 5m from where we had started. Despite the fact we were incredibly soggy pilgrims it was still comedy…..just 2 and a half kilometers to go now. Just as it looked like we might finally be heading directly into Astorga the route veered sharply left and directed us on a tour of the outside of the city walls before finally entering the city at the furthest point away imaginable. Roberto had given up by this point and stomped off into the first albergue he saw. I decided, in for a penny so to speak, I might as well get across town and stay on the other side since I wasn’t going to be getting any wetter. As I finally got through the door dripping all over the flagstones who should be standing there but Hot Spanish Guy! Would you credit it?