Day Twenty-Four: Valverde de la Virgen to San Justo de la Vega.

“I have an idea,” Inga greeted us in the morning, having slept in a different room. Eva’s and my room had been loud, two snoring French pilgrims kept everyone awake, and we probably looked the part. Inga, on the other hand, looked fresh. “Next time I come snuggle you,” Eva proclaimed, and I agreed.

“Let’s walk to San Justo, it’s about 28 kilometers and right before Astorga. Tomorrow we walk through the city and as far as we can. That way we’re early in Foncebaddon and can get up in time to see the sunrise at the Cruz de Ferro.”

“I have a wish,” Eva chimed in. “It’ll be my birthday at the Cruz, and I would like to have you guys there. But I also don’t want to sleep in an albergue because I want to leave very early and not have to worry about waking people up. I know you guys have budgets, and hotels are not in them, so I won’t ask, but could we meet and see the sunrise together?”

Inga and I looked at each other. “First, I cannot believe you didn’t tell us,” Inga began, “we could have gotten you something from a vending machine if you had. Second, we all take a hotel, my treat, got the sweet divorce money. And, lastly, if you thought I would not want to be there with you, on your birthday, to see the sunrise, you need to get your head checked.”

“I have you and the Camino, that’s the best present ever. I’ll buy dinner, then, and I am honored,” Eva replied.

I knew what the Cruz meant to Inga. She carried the, briefly lost, picture of her father to leave there. The Iron Cross was one of the fabled stations of the Camino, like the Alto de Perdon or the, soon to come, peak of O Cebreiro. I couldn’t admit it at the moment, but my heart almost exploded, knowing I was wanted there.

We set out to begin our busy day. The sky had cleared and, muddy underfoot aside, walking was easy and light. Our clothes dry, we felt like this day, long as it would be, would be easy.

We ate breakfast in Villadangos del Paramo and walked along roads and freeways to Puente de Órbigo where near the bridge that gave the name we found lunch at a bar that served piping hot fresh tortilla in a yard populated by exotic chickens and a few tortoises.

Strengthened and happy we set out after bandaging Eva’s foot again, ascending slightly behind Villares de Órbigo, when, suddenly, the sky darkened again. “Shit, man, not again,” Eva cursed between clenched teeth. Seconds later, as violent as it was unexpected, nickel and dime sized hail started pelting down on us. Shielding our heads and faces, we ran for cover and huddled under a group of trees, my poncho as a makeshift tent above.

Massive hail

Inga grinned. “You know, that close to the two of you, I think the hotel was a great idea.” Eva chuckled. “Another birthday present, then?”

As sudden as it had started, it ended. We ascended the final minutes to find a small shack in front of a yard. The owner told us about his Camino, four years earlier, and his sudden inspiration to disconnect. No phones, no photos, no electricity, no books. Just him, this oasis, and a daily visit from his friend in Villares, bringing him supplies.

We drank orange juice, I ate a hard boiled egg, and left some cash in his donation box.

A short while later we descended towards San Justo de la Vega, passed the famous “thirsty pilgrim” statue and, as tradition demanded, filled our water bottles at his fountain. It was late in the day, Eva was slightly limping, and once we’d found our albergue, between two BMW and Audi dealerships, we dropped our things, obtained a bottle of wine and some bread and butter from the honor kitchen, and retreated into the lawn chairs in its back yard.

By nine thirty we slept like babies.