Astorga

We shared an early breakfast of dry oats, whole-grain breads, and milk substitutes at the beautiful “vegetarian- yoga” albergue of Hospidal de Órbiga. Our host, a singing bodhisattva named Mincho, bid us farewell as we walked towards the soft hills of the Leonese countryside. Our walk was mercifully short with frequent stops along the way, giving us ample opportunity to get to know each other better and meet other pilgrims. Giovanni, an older gentleman from Livorno, shared his ideas on Spanish coffee with us. We heard the joyful laughter of a Panamanian man named Alfonso echoing from every café we passed. Towards the end of the walk, Frances – the trained EMT of our group – shared her medical expertise with a couple of students from the University of Southern California by tending to their wounded feet. Finally, after passing over a winding steel bridge and climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill, we arrived in Astorga.

The municipal albergue greeted us at the entrance to the old city. After checking in and showering, a couple of us decided to do laundry. We inserted the three euros, added the soap, and pressed the button to begin the wash cycle. But nothing happened. We pressed every button on the machine about a dozen times before realizing that it was not going to happen for us, so we went to the front desk to ask for help. Pilar, our hostess, came down to try and figure out our problem. Still nothing. She must have seen how hungry and tired we were after a long day of walking because Pilar immediately offered to do our laundry for us in her own quarters. With her joyful generosity, Pilar became our hero of the day.
Several of us went out to eat at the main plaza of Astorga. It seemed like the whole town was out for a midday stroll – including one Astorgan wearing a Fordham t-shirt, though he did not attend. Every fifteen minutes, the bell on the baroque town hall rang. On the hour, two mechanized statues of a man and a woman in early-modern garb hit a larger central bell with hammers. Certainly the most interesting municipal building that we had encountered to that point. After our mid-afternoon meal, we went back to the albergue to wash up before the evening presentations. We planned to meet at the cathedral around 6:00. The Baroque altarpiece stood out as a worthwhile draw to the church. Afterwards, we explored Gaudi’s episcopal palace.

For groups with different food preferences Cerveceria Restaurante is a great place. They had several different choices of paella, which is very helpful for vegans in the group.  For us, though, the highlight of the evening was the nearby chocolate shop: Pastelerias Peñin. The chocolate was good, but the shopkeeper Lucy was even sweeter. She ended up taking pictures with us, giving a couple of us extra cookies and cakes, and asking us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. If future Fordham groups spend the night in Astorga, I highly recommend paying a visit to our friend Lucy. After a trip to the supermarket to prepare for the next morning, we decided to call it a night early.

Buen Camino!

Jacqueline Rzasa & Ian Schaefer

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Hospital de Órbigo, Part Two

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After spending a particularly lovely evening of yoga and vegan food at the Albergue Verde, we stopped on our path to Santiago for a brief while at Hospital de Órbigo’s most famous historical attraction – its medieval bridge named the Puente del Paso Honroso.

While this bridge no longer spans a broad and brimming river (recent dam construction has limited the Órbigo to two smaller paths on either end of the bridge), it still stands prominent in the heart of this town on the Way. Constructed in the 13th century, this bridge has been continually reconstructed from over five lost arches due to flooding and near destruction in the Napoleonic Wars  – an excellent example of medieval architecture surviving and adapting  well into the modern period.

While the architectural presence and history of this Camino mainstay may be fairly impressive, one particular historical 15th century anecdote lives on to this day – the “Paso Honroso” of Suero de Quiñones. This story of one knight and his blind devotion to his lady sounds like something out of a dime-novel fantasy, but in fact it was all too real on the Camino nearly six hundred years ago.

Picture the twilight hours of the Spanish medieval period: the emergent power of the Christian kings of Spain against their Islamic enemies. The Reconquista was creeping southward, fueled by the knights of León (among the other Christian Iberian kingdoms).  One such knight, Suero de Quiñones (1409 – 1456) is the subject of the legend of the “paso honroso”, meaning literally the honorable step. Quiñones, a proper knight of his time, was caught up in the zeitgeist of the chivalric code of honor – particularly with the concept of courtly love. Dedicating himself to a noblewoman by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, this knight took to fasting and wearing an iron collar every Thursday to symbolize his love for her. Unfortunately, she did not reciprocate and Quiñones was forced to up his game.

In January of 1434, Quiñones petitioned the King of León for the right to hold a tournament and challenge all knights who wished to cross the Puente de Órbigo. The King gave his permission, and in July 1434 Quiñones and nine compatriots established their post to challenge all knights who dared pass them – a situation that might sound familiar to those who remember the Black Knight of Monty Python fame. Don Suero aimed to break 300 lances in this tournament, and thanks to the well-trod nature of the Camino de Santiago, he managed to challenge and defeat 68 knights total. Despite this, Quiñones and his comprades only managed to break roughly 200 lances. Even though he fell below his original goal, the knights of the paso honroso declared their contest over and successful in August of 1434 – with Quiñones himself symbolically removing his iron collar and vowing to take on the role of a pilgrim and travel to Compostela to give his arms to Santiago, thus ending the tale of the paso honroso. As a final note to the story, Quiñones himself would live for another 20 years until he met with a knight he had dishonored at the Puente de Órbigo, who promptly challenged him to a duel that immediately killed that most famous knight, Suero de Quiñones.

When we entered the town we saw the beginnings of the preparations for the Fiestas de las Justas del Paso Honroso: the annual celebration of the 1434 tournament that began in 1997. The Puente del Paso Honroso is a great historic example of the eclectic legends that line the road to Santiago, and a historical moment that would inspire the likes of Miguel de Cervantes’ monumental novel Don Quijote.

Sincerely,

G. Barba

 

Hospital de Órbigo, Part One

The morning of May 26th, we all rose early to start our first day of walking. The trek from León to Hospital de Órbigo was a lengthy 31 kilometers, otherwise known as 19.3 miles. Because it was the first day, we all left the albergue at the same time in order to prevent any minor mishaps. Prior to leaving Leon the class piled in front of Basilica of San Isidoro (the patron saint of the internet), for some inspirational words from Dr. Egler. We also saw the woman who waits outside each morning to pray. With our heads held high and the adrenaline that comes with actually starting the camino pumping through our veins, we finally left the city.

There are a few very important things to note about walking. Firstly, Dr. Egler made it a point to make sure we understood how imperative it is that we don’t just rush to get to the next town. The true experience of the camino comes from taking your time on the way and really enjoying everything you see. Secondly, paying attention to your body is the only way you’ll get to Santiago in one piece. If you’re tired, take a break. If your back is hurting, send your pack ahead with a taxi. If you don’t think you can make it, take a taxi to the next albergue. There really is no shame in sending your things ahead or taking the taxi to make your life easier and ensure that you won’t hurt yourself.

The walk was much longer the first day than any other day thus far. Another important note is the fact that the trek from León to Hospital de Órbigo has two routes: sensible or scenic. While the scenic is gorgeous and an amazing photo op if you’re a fan of fields and flowers, it’s also a considerable distance longer than the other route. While we were told that scenic was left and sensible was right when the road split, the group of people that I was walking with accidentally took the scenic route. We thought we took the correct right turn and I honestly still don’t know where we went wrong. Learn from our mistake, make sure you know which way to go!

Tired but very happy to have seen such beautiful sights, my group and I strolled into Hospital de Órbigo and into our albergue for the night, “Albergue Verde.” This albergue will probably remain my favorite even as we travel from place to place throughout the following weeks. The food was mainly veggie centered but unfortunately cannot be labeled as completely  vegan due to the honey that they had. As a vegan, the fact that it was a vegetarian themed albergue was extremely helpful. This will also be of particular interest to you if you’re vegetarian, pescatarian or lactose intolerant! For dinner, we started off with a spread made from tomatoes, carrots, olive oil, and garlic. Our main course consisted of paella with cauliflower, carrot, pumpkin, garlic, leek, rosemary, thyme, zucchini, tomato, red pepper, and turmeric. There was also salad on the side with apple and cranberries. For dessert, we had amazing vegan brownies. The following morning prior to leaving, we awoke to find toast with various jams, strawberries, coffee, leftover brownies, and an assortment of non-dairy milk (soy, almond, oat, hempseed). While the food was my favorite aspect, there was also yoga led by Mincho, and a large backyard filled with comfortable seating and two adorable dogs. Overall the group had an amazing first day!

¡Buena suerte!,

Tiffany Negrea