Camino del Santiago Day Twenty-Three: Valverde del Virgen to Villares de Orbigo- The Gamble

22 04 2018

I think that if I’d started the Camino in Leon I would have given up by now. This long flat slog is so rough. Today it was as if we’d been asked to walk along the New Jersey Turnpike. I think if this were my second day I’d be back in Leon renting an apartment for a few weeks and doing a food tour of the city instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I started the day with a great attitude! What was to be a rainy day started with a perfectly mottled slight sun that eventually became full sun with a bit of humidity.

We had a very restful stay at the Casa del Camino and were excited to set out on another “easy” day going only about 13 miles. Granted I was a little concerned about how short our day was going to be but the next stop would have been Astorga which was just too far. We figured we will just pick up time later.

We did not opt for the breakfast option at the Albergue because it’s usually just bread and jam and Suzy doesn’t eat too much gluten so we headed out and there is really nothing else in the town. Luckily when we hit the outskirts of San Miguel del Camino we happened upon an adorable coffee shop and snack bar. Owner Jonathan has been in business about a year I think and has created an adorable space where you can get food, coffee or sundries to support you on your journey. And there’s a spotless bathroom! It’s his own business and he’s put such care into the details.

Just to note, I’ve not seen a dirty bathroom so far, most are impeccable. Why can’t the US have the same care for their services? I really was expecting at least a few issues but other than the occasional lack of paper or soap.

We headed along and walked and walked again remarking at how glad we’d not walked this far the day before… Especially when we happened upon the hotel we’d called that quoted us a high rate and turned out to be a truck stop. Let’s just say it was not a scenic area.

In Villadangos we came across crazy numbers of ravens in the trees. We went on and on through very sleepy towns with not much activity in any save the constant rush of cars past us. On a stretch of highway it seemed almost scary as cars and motorcycles passed on another. We were relieved to get onto a senda with a swift rushing canal of water rushing past us (it’s the stagnant water that produces he bugs…) We marveled at the incredible skill it took to make this water move along the very flat plain we were walking on. We met a sheep. We almost ran past a particularly stinky field covered with manure and perhaps some other unmentionable additives. We blew dandelions, anything to pass the time. We finally reached San Martin del Camino to grab some lunch.

We started walking again and it was hot. Full sun, no shade. We tried to step into the brush only to find a tree stump teeming with ants. No where to run no where to hide, no respite here and no where to stop and take a rest.

We finally got to Hospital de Orbigo but it was siesta time and it seemed to be shuttered, it was Sunday of course. So we kept on without another break through the heat across some dry and dusty track.

Finally we make it to Albergue El Encanto, a brand new Albergue open only 15 days! Immediately we were greeted by Marta with a warm smile. The place is stunning. Setbariujd a courtyard it was a run down building and barn for animals and hay. Marta had the vision to leave Leon, buy the building and convert it into an Albergue with her brother doing much of the construction. The best is that she has converted this 108 year old building into a comfortable Albergue with all the amenities but the bones of the old structure including the original wood beams and earthen walls, the old huge wood door… but it’s beautifully appointed. The showers and everything were brand new, and it happened that Suzy and I were her only guests!

We enjoyed full reign over the whole dorm room taking lower bunks on opposite sides and each of us “took” one bathroom, no men had even used the men’s room yet. Marta let us get settled and then came by the bar where she recommended we have dinner, well it was really our only option since it was Sunday and the store was closed.

The bar, called Arnal, was really loud because about 25 men were in there playing cards and dominoes. I asked Marta if she knew everyone in the town and was struck by her reply. She has only been in town 15 days, since the day this new Albergue opened!

Marta introduced us to Aranche and Eloy owners of the restaurant. Aranche is a chef who also teaches cooking. They set up a quiet place for us to eat in an upstairs dining room. Turns out we were not only the only pilgrims at our Albergue but probably the only ones in the town that night!

The food for 10 Euro plus wine was insanely good. We had a soup of local vegetables that also had olive oil and goat cheese melted in served piping hot. Then the main was a veal chop perfectly prepared.

Aranche explained that a lot of pilgrim menus just focus on what is cheap but she wants her menus to reflect what is local so that pilgrims can get a sense of the region rather than traveling across Spain just eating burgers and spaghetti. I loved he passion and drive she had. I have a feeling that this town is poised to become a destination on the Camino, I think the pioneer attitude here is great. This region is a challenge as there are a lot of towns that perhaps have seen better days but these folks are making investments in the future, throwing down the dice to see if they can make something happen. I’d implore you to visit Juan Carlos and Sandra (Casa de Camino), Jonathan (the snack bar), Marta (Albergue el Encanto) and Aranche and Eloy (Restaurant Arnal) if you make it here, it’s worth it to reward these people for their passion and commitment to follow their dreams!

I see parallels in my life with my seasonal business The Hungry Minnow out on Nantucket. I miss it. Last year was my first year. I know how hard it is. I cannot wait to get back to it and really make it what I know it can be and follow my dream. As far as the Camino I’m gambling on my feet and hoping they’ll be able to carry me a long 23 miles tomorrow. But I think it’s in the cards. My lucky number is 23, Albergue el Encanto is #23, today was our 23rd day and tomorrow is April 23 and we walk 23 miles so if I were at the roulette table you’d better believe that’s where my money would be.

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