Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Day 9 - Leon - Astorga

We got the bikes out of the cellar and on to the road to Astorga. There was lovely flat tarmac, and rolling hills. A big climb before Astorga meant we had a cool, long descent into the suburbs. Another big hill into the city centre, guided in by the Cathedral which had a decidedly cheap look about it compared to Leon.

We sat down on the wall outside the Cathedral and looked longingly at Gaudi’s Bishops Palace. It’s fantastic and we were so looking forward to going in but “Cerrado todas de Lunes” – swines. We went to the Cathedral which was nice enough but I fear Cathedral overload is setting in.

The walls were largely covered in really horrid colourful sculptures with scarily muscular cherubs. We paid our 2.50€ to go into the museum – no pilgrim discount here. Strolling around there was plenty of bad art, with lots of disembowelling and beheading, but a disappointingly low relic count. We saw a few, but with no attribution. There were a couple of gross silver cases with bone bits in that had writing on it in ink, but we couldn’t see it. They were designed so you could carry the relics with you in your pocket for divine protection.

We have stopped off for lunch and a rest. We need to kick around here for a while until it cools off. Lou just calculated our statistics so far. 560km done, 290km to go. 18,200 feet climbed. She also set to work on the injury list. Mine was way longer than hers so she just chipped a tooth in a pathetic attempt to get back into contention. I ate some top cakes, including some form of butter buns which are famous in Astorga, whilst Lou had chocolates. We then stopped off at an Alburgue to pee, pick up a sellos, and stock up on water.

We started on the ride out, helped as ever by a random stranger. Up and down a few hills, but still really hot out. An old bloke flagged us down and insisted that we visit his village. Despite the fact that I’d pinned a Union Jack I’d found onto the back of my panniers, he still assumed I was German. I wasn’t keen on seeing his village but he kept touching Lou’s arm and it was clearly freaking her out so off we set, walking up the hill as it was too cobbled and steep to cycle. Castrillo de los Polvazaras was indeed pretty, but we were soon cursing it as another ‘helpful’ chap turned around his bike to offer us advice.

Steep rocky tracks took us out of town and we soon met a three way junction with no signs, and no real road for that matter. We knew which way was west, but were focussed on getting to a paved road so walked up to a peak so we could see further. I spotted a village and decided to head towards it, and after about a kilometre of very slow combination of walking and cycling we got there, and much to our delight it was the village we were originally heading for, El Grouchi.

A couple of lemon ice lollies and a chat with a somewhat confused Irish lad later we set off. The climb was long, but not particularly hard. We’re about 900 feet up from Astorga. It’s still hot.

We happened across Rabanal del Camino a little quicker than expected but disaster struck. There was no room at the nice refuge, no room at the nasty refuge and no room at the church refuge. A lady gave us advice – just go over the mountain, there’s refuges there. That advice would be a little easier for her to follow as she hopped back into her Renault Espace and drove off.

We scoffed sandwiches and pop to boost our energy levels. I got talking, again against my will, with Tonto and his mates, they were doing the Camino on horseback, and we saw their horses tied up outside. In a pathetic attempt to win sympathy we asked the refuge guy for help. He couldn’t even put us up in his barn as it was full, with sleeping bags all over the floor and Tonto’s horses were occupying the stable – he pointed us to the church. It was full, so we went on to the hostal – completo – but the barman clearly took pity on me when I asked in an exhausted attempt at Spanish, “donde esta una camal en Rabinal” which I think meant “where is a bed in Rabanal”. He told us to wait. He introduced us to Joe who he appeared to say he had a room at his house. At that point it didn’t sound so weird so we followed him home. He had a sort of holiday house, a Casa Rural, we got one double bed and our own bathroom – fantastic. We love Joe!

The only rule seems to be don’t wake Joe. We whizzed out to the store and bought loads of scrummy rations and some local wine then I had a quick chat with a family from Madrid who were staying at Joe's house too. We shared a kitchen and dining room with them. They were watching the news on TV and the Dad translated the news for me. Europe is in the grip of a heat wave with forest fires everywhere.

We’ve got into a routine with the strangers that stop and laugh at us in the street.
Spanish person: “Caliente?”
Us: “Si”
Spanish person: “Haha, Cansada?”
Us: “Si”
Spanish person: “Hahaha, Camino? Santiago?”
Us: “Si”
Spanish person: “Hahahahaha, Buen Camino!”
Us: “Gracias, adios!”

After a trip back to the refuge bar for a rioja, it was getting dark and we saw the mountains burning fiercely to the south. It looked impressive, but also worrying. We certainly couldn’t outrun a fire on the bikes. Madrid Dad assured us that they were far enough away and that there would be warnings posted on the road if the fires got too close.

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