In the morning, I couldn’t decide what to do. I still felt rotten. Should I head off like the others? Should I stay put for a night and try to get a private room? I sat up and, almost robotically, started putting on my socks, one at a time.
Looks like I’m getting dressed to leave, I thought. Pants went on and I stood up. Let’s just take it one step at a time and see how I do.
Still feeling feverish, I wobbled my way down the cobbled streets, following the yellow arrows.
A lot happened that day. I wrote about it at length here.
Suffice to say, the memories I have from that day are fever-addled and wavy, like scenery viewed across a wide, hot plain. Everything was experienced through my infection-induced fever, so I was more attuned to my inner world than the one around me.
What stands out? The funny Canadian woman singing me Fever (in the morning, fever all through the night). The heart-bursting Barcelona man who gives his all to pilgrims every summer. My tenacity of just hanging in there and walking ten freaking miles with the worst illness I’d had in years.
Arriving at last in Astorga was the greatest challenge of the day, but worth every step. Crossing over the train tracks took a good ten minutes in a green-metal, human-sized Habitrail®.
The first albergue I passed was closed, and the patio chairs stacked in its windows gave the appearance it might never be open again.
In the distance, a large sign revealed itself to be an advertisement for two four-star hotels in Astorga. Perhaps because I was hot and tired I was more impressionable than usual, but it didn’t take long for me to make up my mind: pampering was in my near future.
The path into the old city inclined dramatically, straight uphill on cobblestones. I panted, coughing, trying hard not to run out of steam.
The hotel beckoned – and I learned that they not only had a room available, but a pilgrim rate as well. I even took the room without looking first – the only time my entire journey – and I was not sorry.
Words cannot describe the immense the pleasure of taking both a shower and a bath in the palatial bathroom, of deliciously-scented body wash and shampoo and abundant, fluffy towels, or the bliss of sliding into clean, cool sheets, feeling squeaky clean after so many hard days. The room was beautifully appointed, modern, and pin-drop quiet. The view of the distant hills I’d just descended was gorgeous. It was, in a word, heaven.
For two nights, I slept and bathed and ate breakfast to my heart’s content. I didn’t lift my backpack for 48 restful hours. I was more tranquila than I have ever felt in my life.
When I felt up to it, I made short forays into the town, viewing Gaudi’s handiwork and admiring the church that Saint Francis is said to have visited. I sent a care package home with local chocolates and pages from my guidebook. I had a snack with Cheryl and Jim in a cobbled courtyard and managed to keep up my end of the conversation, despite my fatigue.
When I was tired, I sketched and re-sketched the bell tower outside my window from the comfort of my bed. I used the free computer downstairs to send emails home, reassuring my family that four-star amenities were just the medicine I needed.
On my second night in Astorga, starting to rally, I went out for dinner, expecting to dine alone. Instead, I got swept up into a lively group of pilgrims that included a Czech social worker, a retired Dutch school teacher, a Hungarian molecular biologist, a Romanian goldsmith from Canada, and an British emergency medical technician, among others. It was loads of fun and the waiter kept bringing more pitchers of beer, bottles of wine, and plates of food.
Considering that all of my Camino friends had either left the trail or were ahead of me, I felt happy to be a part of this new group and feeling well enough to enjoy myself.
I was looking forward to tomorrow’s journey. Although I wasn’t feeling 100% better yet, the Cruz de Ferro was calling me. In the tradition of pilgrims, I was ready to release my stone, a craggy heart, at its base. I hoped that this ritual would help me discover the softer heart I carry underneath.