Community On the Camino

Hanging Around the Fruit Cart

Hanging Around the Fruit Cart




After three and a half weeks on the Camino, the excitement of the first days has dissipated. On the meseta, where you can often see the road ahead for a kilometer or more, the trek and the heavy backpack weigh on you. After five or six hours, you feel more pack mule than pilgrim.

And then you have a day of pleasant surprises. After a light breakfast at the albergue on Sunday morning, Gabriela, Paco and I left Santibáñez while roosters and wild cuckoo birds saluted the dawn of a cool, crisp day. The next available food and drink was ten and a half kilometers (six and a half miles) away in Astorga. Plus, a lot of Spain closes down on Sunday.

Tu Casa

Tu Casa

An hour later we saw some sort of construction rising in the distance. By the time we reached the hand-lettered sign saying “Tu Casa Self-Service,” the long-haired proprietor with starling blue eyes and a rich tan was bouncing out, offering the healthy snacks on his cart while his friend hung upside down from a contraption in a tree. Starved for fruit beyond bananas, I dropped my backpack and international travel caution. The sliced watermelon was sweet and juicy. The gorgeous peach didn’t disappoint. Half way through, I wondered out loud if it has been washed. “Pfft,” said Gabriela with a dismissive wave. “Don’t think about that.

Later, we paused for photos at a historic cross before descending into the wide valley and Astorga. I couldn’t locate the guitar music and singing until we started down the hill and spotted the gypsy. His song about being four kilometers from Astorga on the road to Santiago had a good beat, and the way he periodically flipped his guitar was cheesy but cute.

As the parent of a musician, I have a soft spot for street musicians. I tossed a two-euro coin (about $2.85) alongside the one-euros at his feet. He suddenly got friendly and asked where we were from. “Barcelona, Paris and the United States,” I answered. He came toward me with puppy-dog eyes and asked if I couldn’t give him a dollar to keep as a memory. “If I take back the two euros,” I replied. Amazing how quickly and sweetly he said no. With the iPad, I’m not capable of uploading the video I took, but the gypsy said to just google, “El cantante de Astorga.” Sure enough, several videos turned up on YouTube.

Astorga Cathedr

Astorga Cathedral

Finally in Astorga, we stopped at the plaza cafe of Hotel Gaudí for mantecadas (spongy cookies) and hojaldres (similar to backlava), specialties of the area. From there, we took time to visit the beautiful cathedral where I found an altar to Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

It was past two in the afternoon, when we finally marched into Santa Catalina. The narrow main street in front of our albergue was lined on both sides with familiar faces, pilgrims from our traveling community who had gotten to the day’s destination before us. Like fans in the bleachers, they sat at outdoor tables and cheered our arrival, offering greetings and raising wine glasses and beer mugs.

It’ll feel great to get home in two weeks, but I’m sure going to miss the Camino and the community.



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