Monday, March 10, 2014: After a few days of rest in Astorga, I was finally ready to rejoin my fellow pilgrims and get back on the Camino de Santiago. It was a Monday, which for me seemed appropriate — it was the beginning of a new week and a second chance to finish my pilgrimage in one piece.
After my final visit with Lisa-Marie and Bufón, I made my way through town in search of the train station. Now, in all the writing I’ve done about Astorga so far there’s one thing that I’ve failed to mention: the city is home to Roman ruins.
My guidebook mentioned the site, but I didn’t realize it was only a few meters from the entrance of the hostel. I’m a big fan of ancient history, so to be able to see the site so up close was an experience I’ll never forget.
I learned that Astorga was actually settled by the Romans in 14 BC, and the ruins I was looking at were the remains of the public baths. If you look closely you can see a very well-preserved floor mosaic. I had the whole place to myself, in an open air setting, on a site that’s been seeing pilgrims since the beginning of the Camino de Santiago. It was a big moment for me.
Also, did I mention that my favourite saint, Saint Francis, had stayed in Astorga during his personal pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James? Looking back, I now realize that Astorga was probably the best town for me to recover in: I challenged myself and overcame a lifelong fear of horses, I was able to personally connect with a site of historic importance, and I was following in the footsteps of a Saint that is held dearly by my family. It’s almost as if I was meant to get sick and stay in Astorga. I found new strength — physical, emotional and mental — from my time here. But, I was ready to move on and begin again.
Here are some photos I took on my way to the train station. Astorga is quite beautiful, and is even home to a Gaudi building.
Thanks to the help of some locals who somehow understood my Spanish, I eventually arrived at the station, bought my ticket and waited for my train to Sarria.
As I sat on the platform and waited, the weight of the moment suddenly hit me. “Holy shit, Ash. You’re actually in Spain. By yourself.” I realize that by this point I had already been in the country for nearly a week, but the shock of it all finally hit me as I sat there, sharing the bench with my pack and an elderly woman.
The ride to Sarria involved a connection to a second train, which is probably a good thing seeing how I slept through the entire first leg of the trip. The views were stunning with a noticeable shift in scenery once we entered the region of Galicia, home of Santiago de Compostela. The greenery became more full and lush and embodied a Celtic flair (which is quite fitting seeing how the area was originally inhabited by Celtic peoples). I’ve never seen the green hills of Ireland, but I’m pretty sure those of Galicia are a close comparison.
One thing you learn while hiking the Camino is how to pick out other pilgrims. In all honesty, it’s not that hard of a task. Hiking boots? Check. Large backpack? Check. Scallop shell and walking sticks? Double check. Getting on to the second train I took notice of a group of four ladies who showed these exact pilgrim characteristics. However, I heard them speaking Spanish so I kept to myself. Why? Because sometimes I’m a huge loner and would rather sit by myself and look out the window. I’m lame, I know, however it turns out that those ladies were meant to be noticed that day.
Getting off the train in Sarria, the five of us were the only ones with walking poles and backpacks. I continued to keep to myself, walking ahead of the group to put some distance between us so I wouldn’t have to be social just yet (I guess being in quarantine over the weekend made me a tad anti-social). I popped into a grocery store to grab some supplies for the next day, and once I returned to the street I found myself following the ladies all the way to the hostel.
My gut tells me I was destined to meet those ladies.
While we all waited to check in for the night, I finally became acquainted with the group. There was Consuelo and Adriana, a mother/daughter duo originally from Colombia but who had immigrated to Madrid; Adriana’s friend Johana, a Venezuelan native who had also moved to Madrid; and Christine, the lone American of the group, hailing from Seattle. When I first saw the ladies on the train, I thought Christine was an original fourth member of the group. Turns out, those Spanish ladies just like to make/collect friends wherever they go, and they picked her up on the first train.
After we got settled in, I joined the group for some dinner and beer at a nearby bar. Within just a few minutes of us sitting down, we were all laughing and talking as if it was the most natural thing in the world; like we had all been friends for years. It was an incredible moment for me. As I sat there, looking at these ladies while we all laughed our faces off, it occurred to me that if I never got sick and took the train, I wouldn’t have been there at that very moment. I never would have met these women who, little did I know at the time, were the only reason why I was able to ultimately finish my Camino in the end.
Destiny? Divine intervention? I’d like to think so.