I made it to virtual Astorga today, by bicycle. Back in 2008, I remember watching the line of pilgrims advancing through featureless country next to the highway on which I was travelling by bus. I had two thoughts at the time; one that the only two constants in the landscape through the centuries were sheep and pilgrims, and the other, that although I admired the grit of those people trudging by the roadside, I had no wish to share their struggle. In retrospect, I feel that I should have done it anyway. By this time, there was no physical reason not to.
I arrived in Astorga around lunchtime, but didn't linger. I visted the market. I admired Gaudi's Bishop's palace from the outside. I went into the Cathedral as a matter of course and was unexpectedly enchanted by a tremendous baroque altarpiece. There was a service going on so I couldn't get up close, but was still very glad that I'd stopped.
But I had to get on. Rumour had it that Astorga was Bedbug Central so I needed to get out of town to an albergue that I could get to in the half day available to me.
It was a miraculous day, a proper new beginning to my camino. The moment I left town, the scenery stopped being bleak, as we were now on the edge of the mountains of Leon. The hills were dark and dramatic, the skies were wide open, and windswept, and the ground beneath my feet a bright orange. This new dynamism was expressed by a group of choughs, wheeling and calling to each other in play. I had never seen these birds before.
I was, in a word, enchanted.
That feeling stayed with me all day until I reached Santa Catalina de Somoza, which had a fairytale quality that spoke to me. It said, "Stay Here! You love it!" So I did.
I stayed in love and enchanted all the way to Santiago. Every step of the Way.
Twelve years later, since I can't safely travel to Spain, I have made up the lost kilometres within my own neighbourhood, and can now grant myself absolution for all those missed kilometres. Should I do the same for the bits I missed in subsequent journeys? Not at all. No guilt has attached itself to those decisions as it did the first time round.
If I learned anything on the Camino Frances, it was that your Camino is yours. You do what you can, or what you will. No one should judge you, least of all yourself. The lessons learned sometimes come from what you choose to do, or not to do, and the why of that.
Buen Camino, peregrino!