Lead and I will follow

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Camino Day 22, 30th Setiembre. 516 klms. Astorga, León, Castile y León, España.

I have chosen a somewhat unusual cover photo for this post for reasons which I hope will become clear a bit later. Her name is Suzie, she hails originally from Streaky Bay in South Australia, and now lives just out of San Justo de la Vega, a few kilometres from Astorga, España.

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To date my theme or topic for the day always comes from my mental meanderings for that day, spontaneously. However I am developing a “problem”. Some days other themes also pop up. So now I have a backlog of 2 or 3 other themes just itching to emerge. I think I’ll have to start a theme log, even though it sort of mucks up the spontaneity, to make sure they they do get woven in at some stage. Who would have thought – too much rather than too little too write about?

However back to the beginning of the day first. As mentioned yesterday, we stayed in the lovely town of Santa Marina de la Reylast night, at the equally delightful Hotel Salones Victoria. Our hostess, Isabel, offered last night to drive us back to the Camino en la mañana. We had three logical start points, and after some deliberation chose Puente de Órbigo as the drop off point.
Good call. The sun was just rising as we stepped out of Isabel’s car and onto the bridge.

A couple of photos of the predawn and dawn light on the bridge and of the town of Hospital de Órbigo, which is on the western banks of the Rio Órbigo, follow:

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Out of Órbigo we chose the “path less travelled”, although in truth it is likely to actually be the path more travelled. It is slightly longer than the main route, heading slightly more north-west at first and then mostly parallel to but probably about 3/4 klms away from the main route, which hugs the N-120. It runs on a dirt track through a series of small farming villages and then out onto mostly open farming country. A bit of up hill and down dale together with the occasional forest, some natural, some plantation.

Compared to yesterday it was an absolutely wonderful walk. Varied, pretty, quiet, peaceful, unpopulated, cool (of temperature), and cool (of “coolness”). Really, what more could one ask for?

A few photos from along this lovely path follow:
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Which now brings me to Suzie. Three-quarters of the way through today’s walk I saw a man walking the other way. That’s not common, and at the same time not completely uncommon. He was carrying a bunch of empty water containers. He sought of looked like he wouldn’t be out of place in Nepal. I greeted him with a “hola”, to which he immediately responded “good life” (as in “I wish you a good life”). So I responded in English “thanks, you too”. To which he then responded “ah, an Aussie”. By then we were some metres past each other, and so I walked on, happily mystified.

I was walking uphill at the time, and got to the top of the crest maybe 300 metres later. There, another few hundred metres ahead was a little oasis. The oasis has a name – la Casa de los Dioses – The House of the Gods. Two people normally live at la casa, David, who I had passed those few hundred metres earlier, and Suzie. David, originally from Barcelona, has lived there for 6 years, and is a Camino institution. Suzie has been there for a year. La Casa is well beyond verbal or photographic description, although I will try. A couple of photos to start with:
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David and Suzie provide, unselfishly and unexpectedly, for the people who walk by. All manner of fruit, freshly boiled eggs, rice crackers, assorted teas and coffee, freshly squeezed juices … the list goes on and on. Take as much as you want. Make a donation if you feel inclined. Absolutely no obligation to do so. I recognised Suzie’s Aussie accent straight away; only later did we get to chat about our shared (well, similar) heritages. We never got to chat with David as he was off gathering water and hadn’t returned in the 30 minutes or so we spent there. The two of them live in this most simplest of places simply giving.

Now I’m not saying that this is a life I could, or even want to, live, but it very clearly shows that the very material life which is the norm for most of us in the western world isn’t the only way. And even if we don’t want to live Suzie and David’s very simple life, maybe we can learn to scale back some elements of our more “excessive” lives.

This experience is partly the reason for today’s theme. I think that Suzie and David are leaders in their own ways, and rather than be dismissed as simple hippies (if that was one’s thinking), perhaps they should be looked at as beacons in their own ways.

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The other thought around leadership has to do with the “keepers of the way”, a title I have just created in my mind. We have walked for over 500 kilometres now. Every step along the way we have been accompanied, a bit behind our a bit in front, by a flecha amarillo – a yellow arrow (or sometimes other marker) guiding us on our path. Today I was unable to stop wondering about who paints these markers of the path. They have become our comfort. I have noticed a slight unease when I cannot see one, or when walking through a village I lose sight of them. They lead us, and we happily and trustfully follow them. I wonder what that says …

A few markers, just from today, follow:
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Astorga is a lovely mid-sized town of some 12,000 people. Like so many others, or has an ancient Roman background, and a relatively more modern Christian history. A couple of shots follow:
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Would you believe, another highly social evening with a group of 8, in a nice restaurant just off the Plaza Mayor. This Camino thing is turning into a giant moving party. Oh, and Janet is rapidly gaining the reputation as the one to turn to find the best place to eat. Surprise.

Tomorrow, Rabanal del Camino beckons us. I guess the “usual crowd” will be there. A bit of uphill, but otherwise a fairly straightforward ~20 klms.

ps – the other “leadership” issue I could have got into is the outcome of the Catalonian election. Now there’s an interesting thing to contemplate.

pps – the above just scratches the surface of what I could say … so much more to tell.

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