Our journey from Astorga to Rabanal (21.4km, 6hrs) began a little later than our usual 7am start. It is still dark at 7am with the sky lightening only after 8am. Wanting to see more of our surroundings, we left the warmth of the albergue at 8am and strode through the still-sleeping town.
The first part of our route took us along the main road and then on to a dedicated pilgrim track. On either side we had long grass, scrub and oak trees (not like our oak trees in SA). In orienteering terms it would be 'rough open land with scattered trees' with a dash of 'light green' and some 'forest' here and there.
We got into the first small town, Murias de Rechivaldo, in good time (5km from Astorga) and stopped for mom to enjoy a cafe con leche. We then followed the alternative route - on the track (and not the road) through to Santa Catalina de Somoza.
Here we pulled put. Our rain jackets - not for rain but to block the icy wind that was blowing. Our timing was good because leaving the town the wind was sharp!
All of the little towns (and the big ones) are old. Like really old. Like they have structures dating back a thousand and more years! There are loads and loads of old buildings and I cannot get enough of the stone-walled houses (many of the old buildings from the 12th century). I've taken loads of photos as we pass though the towns. In some places the older buildings are for sale and in others, like the towns today, there are many, many ruins.
I am quite certain that without the Camino, these would be ghost towns.
Of course, loads of buildings have been fixed up and are maintained, but there is no way that all of them can be sustained. There are just not enough people who love out there. These towns are not far from the main road and they certainly only still exist because of Camino. Fortunately! These buildings and cobbled streets are a treasure.
In El Ganso we entered the town to the sounds of a banjo, played by a jolly fellow outside the relatively new 'Cowboy Bar'.
Just up the road and around the corner we saw a building with benches outside - in the sun - near the the parish church. We stopped there for lunch and sheltered from the win we got quite toasty.
Back out on the road we were still on the dedicated pilgrim track.
Something else I love out here are the fruit orchards and vegetable gardens. There is an abundance of apple, pear, peach, fig and other such fruit trees as well as grape vines in yards. Also all the wild blackberry bushes. Summer here must be a fructose feast!
If there is one thing that has surprised and disgusted me is the toilet paper that litters the trails. I'm sad to say that I suspect these pieces are left by women wiping off after a wee (little pieces, no evidence of poop). There is old paper, fresh paper... they don't even bother to go more than five centimetres off the track! It would be so easy for them to keep a plastic bag specifically for this toilet paper; but they don't. Considering that we have seen little to no other litter at all, this is a disgrace! Not just on this section but every day thus far.
The route today has steadily climbed with a gentle gradient all the way (and a few gentle downs). We climbed from 900m in Astorga to 1,160m in Rabanal. This kind of a climb, over 21.4km... well, to me it is not much of a climb.
The guide book warns of a climb tomorrow, to the highest point on the whole route (a hilltop at 1,505m at around 6km into the stage). 345m... that's a bit more of a climb. Mom remebers it being very steep. As I told her, this time she has me to give her a tug up the hill.
About 2km before our destination, Rabanal, we went through a divine section of native woodland vegetation. This is the first section that I would call 'trail'. Really lovely. Coming into town we had a bit of an uphill to get to our overnight stop - the monastery. They don't have a set fee but rather accept donations.
We are looking forward to tea and cookies at 5pm and apparently there is a short service at 7pm and the local monks sing. A thru-and-thru atheist, I hope I don't get struck by lightning sitting in the church. Things I can appreciate are serious history, great architecture and soothing chants.
I had a quick whizz around town when I went to check the other hostels for mom's backpack (successfully recovered). We are now freshly showered and as I type, mom is softly snoring. We're sitting out in the monastery garden in the soft sun and mom is lying on the bench with her head on my lap. Lights out!
After a very tough Day 1 and Day 2 she is doing much, much better today.
Tomorrow we head into mountains on 26.5km stage into Molinaseca. We've got a bit of climbing (nothing hectic) with some gentle downs for the first 15km and then it is downhill all the way to the end of the stage.
(As in Chile, in June, I am typing these posts on my mobile phone. Any typos are just that - or silly autocorrects).