Day 22: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino
Clouds like swhirls of broad brushed impressionist paint filled the sky. Like some giant kaleidoscope the moving clouds and early morning sun created an ever changing colour tone to the morning vista. The walk out of Astorga was an easy stroll toward the mountains. Within an hour I was happily sitting in a streetside cafe having my cafe con leche and french toast at the foot of the mountains.
Today’s walk a relaxing stroll up pathways alongside the forest and country roads, through towns no longer made of mud but of the large rocks found in the area. Ahead the clouds continued to move and change shape. You can almost smell Galicia in the air. Galicia lies over the mountains and is renowned for it’s rainy days it’s ever changeable days.
The last stop before the final walk up to our destination of Rabanal de Camino sees us stopping for drinks in another rocky little ville. I then feel like a brisk walk and tell my friends I’ll meet them up the mountain. I pushed on enjoying stretching my legs. My golf ball blister decided to cause me some trouble and burst on the walk up the hill but it wasn’t enough to slow me down or stop my enjoyment of the walk.
After a brisk but pleasant and not overly steep walk I arrived in Rabanal. A stone town with winding sloping streets typical of mountain villages. Little clusters of townspeople standing around chatting, stone houses with flowering plants out front, a van calling out for people to bring their knives and scissors out for sharpening, this town is a great stop on the Camino. The afternoon rainshower did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for Rabanal. The Albergue, run by volunteers including a friendly Aussie couple (great to meet some Aussies again) is run by the British confraternity of St. James and is a friendly, cosy place to stay in this friendly, cosy little mountain town.
Rabanal is also an important stop on the Camino and the reason why I stopped here after just a 20km walk. An Italian friend had explained to me when we were in Astorga why this village was of importance. Peregrinos often carry a stone, either one they pick up on the way or one they bring from home. My particular stone is one that lodged in my old boots whilst walking across the mesetas and stayed there for 8km slowly wearing a hole through both layers of socks and wearing into my heel. My stone found me.
The concept of the stones is that they represent the burdens we carry in life. Tonight a ceremony is held in which monks in the village chant gregorian prayers in Latin, a few words are said, following prayers, by peregrinos from various nations (I’ve been drafted in to do the English version as one of the few native speakers in town tonight) and then the stones are blessed. Tomorrow peregrinos carry these stones to Cruz del Ferro (Iron Cross) at the highest point on the Camino and symbolically place their burdens there. This little ritual is part of the rich tapestry of the Camino and, especially for the religious people on the walk, an important part of the journey.
Turns out I didn’t read at Vespers as the reading was only done in Spanish. Vespers was held in a little stone church opposite the Albergue and Monastery. The church is quite small and about fifty peregrinos crowded in as four of the monks chanted away in Latin. The acoustics of the church made their voices fill the small space and the intimate little ceremony carried out in Latin transported me back in time and I could feel what it would have been like for peregrinos of the past. At once sombre and uplifting, ceremonial and reverent the chanting in the church left me feeling priviledged to have seen this ages old ceremony.