heading out of Astorga, the terrain grew dramatically more interesting if commensurately challenging. hills! and trees! and still more fields though these were marked into smaller parcels by short, stacked-stone walls (that reminded me somewhat of Ireland). this terrain is better for grazing rather than planting and we saw more, though not many, grazing animals.
the second town we passed through out of Astorga had a distinctly remote and timeless quality to it. the houses were stout, the windows small, and some of the roofs thatched. little existed beyond the main street, which hosted three cafes and two or three casa rurales or albergues. the only water fountain was hidden behind some buildings and could only be accessed down a narrow pathway between the two. we stopped to peel an orange on a bench beside what might have been someone’s front door and saw more than a couple people pass the passage and double back when they realized their overshoot.
one of the more interesting sites on this stretch was a cafe (and possibly albergue) in the tiny town of El Ganso. unlike the previous town, it had an odd mix of modern/rustic — maintained but aging homes, presumably inhabited by aging owners without flashy young money to install the latest conveniences, and an assortment of homes being completely gutted and remodeled and re-roofed to satisfy the preferences for city-living, weekend-visiting younger owners. my cultural book indicates its one of the best places to view traditional Maragato architecture and that the main road wasn’t paved until the 1990s.
in El Ganso we stopped at a cafe called Meson Cowboy for our standard bocadilla. as we claimed a spot in the shade, we saw the Australian couple we’d dined with at the albergue in San Martin and said our hellos (we saw them again several more times though not with the consistency with which we saw the Koreans early on the Camino). at the bar we also encountered a herd of cats of various shapes, sizes, and temperaments — as well as some of the ruder German tourists we encountered on the Camino. it’s likely they were peregrinos, but they certainly behaved and carried themselves more like tourists disinclined to engage local culture. at least their presence spurred us to return to the day’s hike with a shorter-than-intended break. suppose it worked out in our favor somehow — helped us nab a room at a casa rural in Rabanal with a great view of the mountains where we chatted with a nice Canadian (?) couple at breakfast the following morning. a stark contrast and heartening reminder of all the reasons people decide to set out on the Camino.
the town that followed Burgos was something of the polar opposite of the sprawling, urban, cosmopolitan metropolis. Hornillos has a population of approximately 70 (according to the 2004 census); we didn’t see much evidence of those inhabitants upon our noontime arrival under brilliantly blue, cloud-strewn skies. there were two lodging options: a small casa rural (that had a sign out front indicating it was booked solid for the night) and the albergue municipal.
the next option for lodging was some seven or eight additional kilometers — a distance we had no interest in traversing in light of our various physical afflictions. a compact stone building immediately next to the church housed some 40 bunks for peregrinos. of course, most peregrinos opt not to continue on beyond Hornillos and 40-odd bunks and perhaps a half dozen private beds didn’t suffice for our not-quite-peak-season. when the bunks in the stone building filled up, overflow peregrinos are assigned mattresses on the floor of town hall and, once all that floor space is occupied, on the floor of the sports complex behind the albergue building. (see that white building beyond the laundry in the picture at the top — that’s the sports complex.) by the time we got to the showers in the albergue, the water was fully cold, so I suppose sleeping on a gym floor and using locker room showers wouldn’t be all that bad. what can you expect for 5 euros?
Hornillos was our first taste of truly limited options. in addition to one casa rural and one albergue, there was one bar/cafe and one corner shop. while the corner shop proved fairly well-stocked (with a disproportionate share of German snack foods), the bar/cafe only had about 8 tables to seat about 40 — half of the seats in the bar with a more a la carte-style menu (like sandwiches and plates of food) while if you sat in the cafe part (as we did), it was menu del peregrino or nothing as we and, much to their consternation, a group of 8 English-speakers found out because there were no seats in the bar area.
|the town plaza and its one bar/cafe
despite the rather bland options (for a vegetarian in particular) on offer for the menu del peregrino, we did get seated with an older Spanish couple in a bid to maximize table capacity. through my limited Spanish we managed to converse a bit about our respective Caminos — the husband had done the walk before and offered some advice on the stretch beyond Astorga. that’s about all I remember about them, despite the fact that they slept in the bunks beneath ours in Hornillos and we saw them pretty much every day until we got to León. apart from eating our meal, stocking up for the following day, and trading between Kindle and paperback, there wasn’t much to do. despite dire predictions of Olympic-level snoring in our room full of middle-aged men, I slept pretty well — doesn’t hurt to fall asleep before everyone else while the sun is still setting — and we were up and on the road before it rose the next morning.