Day 28: Finally walking again, sort of – Astorga to Ponferrada

Waking up in my four-star hotel, in a spacious bed, I contemplated staying another day. However, contemplating the cost of another day got me upright and dressed.

From there, I let my intuition guide me. I still wasn’t feeling great, which was concerning since I’d been on antibiotics for three days. I dressed and began to pack up my backpack, noticing myself lashing down my walking sticks as if my wise self wasn’t planning to use them.

Not walking? Hmm… I thought. The bus?

I wasn’t even sure there was one.

But of course, the friendly old men of Spain were my guardian angels once again.

The local gentleman I stopped could have pointed it out and been on his way, but instead we chatted. He told me that American women were the best looking. I laughed and waved him off. After he determined that I had not visited the lovely garden in Astorga, he recited a poem to me that is inscribed on a plaque there about God and poquitos pajaritos who sing and generally endeared himself to me.

So, in a delightful way, I learned that there was indeed a bus station. And it runs to Ponferrada six times a day from Astorga.

Once on the bus, I learned from familiar faces – two of the guys I’d met last night at dinner – that packing up my sticks had been wise indeed. The snow level had dropped dramatically overnight, and had I walked today, it would have been through snow and very cold temperatures. With whatever my illness was. Thanks, Universe.

In taking the bus, I was going to miss the Cruz de Ferro entirely. I missed the opportunity to lay down my crusty-hard granite heart at the top of the hill. But the idea began to grow on me of casting it into the ocean when I reached Finisterre.

The ride itself was beautiful, covering an additional 57.9km/36mi. The terrain changed from rolling green hills to a dramatic alpine scenery with mountain sides of blooming yellow gorse and pink heather. A steep chasm bordered the highway, revealing swirls of grey and white granite. I was equal parts glad and regretful not to be walking this way on foot.

At last, the ride ended and I could now begin walking again. I had my sights set on a small hotel not far out of town, a sane distance to walk given my illness. The bus station is situated so that, on arrival, one’s first impression of Ponferrada is of a town of corporate office buildings, concrete, and parking lots. I hear there’s a famous castle there, but I missed it entirely.

Instead, I wandered aimlessly, turning my map around and around trying to get oriented.

While yellow arrows continued to elude me, I encountered another Spanish gentleman out walking a tiny dog. Again, instead of pointing the way and being done with it (and me!), he asked me where I’m from and how I came to learn Spanish. We discussed the importance of practicing and the differences between the languages of the Spanish provinces.

Honestly, this sort of exchange would infuriate the pilgrims driven to click off the kilometers. I loved it. I was alone in a foreign country, sickly, and yet the Universe provided me with all kinds of encouraging, loving companionship along the way. Thank you, Senor Pequeño Perro!

Once on my way, I passed so many interesting things. The path wound through a lovely residential area, through someone’s actual garden, and past a small church for Our Lady. Around the doorway of the church were paintings of the agricultural activities of each month. September was threshing. December featured bread. January was the only exception – two-faced Janus, a Roman god painted on a Catholic church.

I arrived at the aptly-named Hotel Novo and promptly ran into Silvie – a French woman I’d met way back on Day 2 in Valcarlos. We were like long-lost friends, shrieking and hugging. She was now walking with Béatrice and they invited me to share a meal with them.

After an hour of struggling in French, and I mean really slaughtering it, I excused myself and went for “une sieste.” I was fried. Brain dead. Exhausted and sickly. I wanted to be witty and interesting, but I was just unable. I lay down in my basic but spacious room, read a local magazine (one article featured the health benefits of horse meat), and took a two-hour nap.

I’d like to say I felt better immediately after the nap. Or even the next day.

But I really didn’t. Here’s the thing, though. I really trusted that this was the experience I was supposed to be having. I don’t know why I got sick and stayed sick for so long, but this I do know: As I walked sick, my soul was healing.

And in the end, that’s what I came for.

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