Policia

All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improved his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it – Samuel Johnson

Camino Day 23, Jueves 1st Octubre. 537 klms. Rabanal del Camino, León, Castilla y León, España.

Today belongs to Patrick …
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But as ever, let’s start at the beginning. I may have said something to this effect previously – our initial assessment of how easy or hard a day is going to be is often based on the planned distance to be walked. Today was a 20 klm day, and in my head I had turned that into an easy day. Which was not quite as it turned out.

Our hotel last night was probably the nicest yet. A well appointed room, a lovely big comfy bed, a nice part of town – and Astorga is a lovely town in itself. Because we had a short day we didn’t rush out early. As we left the hotel this was our first view:
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That’s the Astorga cathedral on the left, and the Gaudi designed bishop’s palace on the right, both bathed in the first rays of the day’s sun.

We only made it about 50 metres up the road before ducking in to the Gaudi Hotel for desayunotortilla y café would you believe.

And then we were on the road proper, with the following being our farewell view of Astorga.

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As we left town we were remembering and then practising the 3rd and 4th verses of Waltzing Matilda, as one does. That was a left-over from yesterday’s dinner frivolities. Slightly ahead was Patrick, who, after a hola and a buen camino we got chatting to, in part because he made some comment about Aussies singing in the morning.

Patrick is from Guatemala, and is a deeply religious man. Early in our conversation he told us how the Virgen Mary had saved his life, which of course prompts a “how?” response. Now I’m generally happy to take take people on face value, and I think here on the Camino even more so. So here’s Patrick’s (incredible to our ears) story.

Fifteen years ago Patrick ran a discotheque in Guatemala City. He lived life hard – 2 bottles of vodka and 3oz of cocaine a day. He also refused to pay the protection money demanded by the police. So seven police kidnapped him with the intent of murdering him. They did not want their money or a ransom, but rather they were going to kill him to send a message to his business partner. They had taken him to some deserted place where they were going to carry out the deed. It was there, 30 minutes before time, that the Virgen appeared to Patrick. He knew then that he was going to live. The police did not carry out their threat, but left him there. Later, a drug dealer who was a client at the disco, and declared himself to be a friend of Patrick’s (Patrick says that he was not indeed his friend), attended to retribution by in turn killing the seven police. A true story?? I actually have no reason to disbelieve it. (Patrick tells us that their are 40 murders a day in Guatemala – Wikipedia puts that figure at 100/week. Whatever.)

Patrick’s life fell apart after this. His marriage dissolved (his ex-wife and two oldest kids now live in France). He underwent therapy. He has turned himself into a “nice” person, acknowledging that he previously wasn’t. He is happily single. He now runs two businesses – one a wedding reception business in Guatemala City, and the other an exclusive retreat somewhere in a remote area.

After the Camino he is intending to then walk on to Lourdes, “because Our Lady also visited there”, as she had visited him.

I took a real liking to the guy. We parted company after an hour and a half or so, but saw each other off and on for much of the day.

An hour or so later we were walking into the little village of Santa Catalina de Somoza, and I had wandered onto the nearby road to take this fairly unremarkable photo:

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I heard a car behind me – nothing all that unusual – and I turned around to see a police car, which is fairly unusual. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I gave them a wave and a hola and they were in their way. Funny though to unexpectedly see a police car so soon after Patrick’s story. And what were they doing there – well who knows, it was just a patrol, but it was within just a couple of kilometres from the site of the sad murder of the American pilgrim in April, which case was only solved in the time we have been in Spain.

A world full of wonderful coincidences.

Now a few random shots from the day …

Firstly, Meson el Llar, just outside Astorga, where they make all sorts of yummy vegetarian food.
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The main street of Santa Catalina de Somoza
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A run down house in the same town …
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… and directly opposite a very nice house with flash Merc parked out the front. The dichotomies still astound me
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Inside the “Cowboy Bar” at Gabino
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The walk into Rabanal del Camino had its moments. The track in is quite pretty – I was particularly taken by the green of the pine forest against the blue of the sky.

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And then I was reminded how much for some this is a devout Christian walk.

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And then I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony that in a deeply religious country like Guatemala it’s apparently OK for somewhere between 100 and 300 people to be murdered each week.

It was with this sort of thinking running around my head that I chose today’s quote – it sort of speaks to the differences between my and Patrick’s countries.

So we got into Rabanal at a perfectly civilised hour – around 2:30 pm, and wandered through town looking for our accommodation. Only to then discover that we had actually walked past it a kilometre back, and that we had now overshot the mark by 1 1/2 kilometres. So we backtracked, adding a total 3 klms to our journey. We are staying at a slightly odd but pleasant enough place – but I won’t be recommending it on the various booking sites.

Alex the proprietor came by a bit later, signed us up, took our Euros and then dropped us into town around 6:30 pm.
We caught up with a couple of the others, and then all went to mass!!! Melie had heard that there was to be Gregorian chanting. It was our first pilgrim mass – mostly in English, with chunks sung in Latin (which is where the supposed chanting comes in). Fascinating. The priest was very political, and spoke of the need for tolerance at a global political level, and was very critical of Putin’s intervention in Syria. This was an amazing experience at many levels.

Some photos of Rabanal and the church follow.
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Big day tomorrow.

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