My first day back on to the Camino Frances, and it was a relatively short flat day. I was just walking from Astorga to Rabanal, which is just over 20 kilometres. I left very early, I think I left at about 6:15 AM. There was a couple of reasons for that. One, I didn’t want to feel rushed in the walk and I was going to stay at a Donativo in Rabanal. I wanted to try Gaucelmo, that albergue I heard so much about and because it’s a Donativo, you can’t book it. I was a little bit concerned that there were so many pilgrims on the Camino Frances that it might be popular so I thought rather than rush, I’ll just leave early. It was potentially going to rain as well quite heavily by midday, so that was another reason to leave early. I left with a headlamp light, I needed that for the first 30 minutes or so. One of the places I really wanted to drop into again was the Pilgrim Memorial Grove, which is just west of Astorga on the Camino and particularly, I wanted to pay my respects to the memory of Denise Thiem. So, I did that just as dawn was breaking and then set off west on the Camino Frances heading for Rabanal.
Of course, it was a novelty to pass through three villages where there were cafes where I could get coffee or breakfast. I had left Astorga without breakfast and the knowledge that I would get something along the way. I actually stopped in Santa Catalina for a great breakfast, which was interesting in two respects. One, I could get some bacon and eggs if I wanted it, but I stuck with my normal breakfast of coffee, juice and toast with ham. It was interesting that it was double the cost that I’ve been paying on the Via de la Plata, it was €10 instead of the normal 5 or so that I was used to. The other thing that was surprising was that there were more people in the cafe than I had seen in the previous month in total, so many pilgrims. What was quite amusing was the guy at the next table thought he knew me and then said “Oh I know who you are, I watch your YouTube channel”. So that was mildly embarrassing, but we had a chat anyway. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the energy of the Camino Frances or the fact that I was on familiar ground, or that it was a relatively short flat day but I just felt so much more energetic and I was walking fairly quickly. I had a quick breakfast stop. I had a very brief coffee and toilet stop. I found I was in Rabanal by about 11:15, much quicker than I had anticipated. I was actually second in the queue for the Donativo and I had time to visit the church then finally, the Donativo was open at 12:30. I have to say I really enjoyed staying at Gaucelmo. It was a really nice reception from the two hospitaleras. Whilst there was no communal evening meal provided, they do provide afternoon tea at 4:30, which is very nice. We all sat out in the garden and had tea and cake and biscuits and chatting with the other pilgrims.
It was very different for me from the VDLP because most of the pilgrims were under 60 except for the three of us, and there was a lot in just in their 20s. When we first checked into the albergue, there was only 5 of us. We went out for a nice lunch. By the time we came back from lunch, it was almost full. It was an interesting experience. I expected, you know, with all these young people in the dormitory that there wouldn’t be a lot of snorers, but there were. There were lots of snorers so I didn’t get a great night’s sleep.
Another interesting element of staying in Rabanal that I hadn’t experienced before, but I wanted to, was going to vespers at 7:00 PM. They had vespers at 7:00 and 9:30 PM and three months from the adjacent monastery coming to the church and basically sing the service. Whilst it was all in Latin and incomprehensible to me, it was a very nice service to attend and something fairly unique that I hadn’t seen before.
Overall, it was a great day, full of energy and enthusiasm and great to meet lots of new pilgrims. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.