Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Monday, April 23, 2012

From Astorga to Manjarin

The Cowboy Bar in El Ganso is one of the most provocative stops along the Camino. 
Every guidebook mentions it. 
So we were disappointed on the morning we arrived and found it closed. 

Luckily there is a small restaurant/bar next door, 
so we were able to have our morning coffee. 
By the time we finished, the Cowboy Bar was open and we were able to peek inside.
 Eclectically furnished in spaghetti-western style,  
there was a familiar twangy music playing in the background. 

Coming from Bakersfield, California, 
the home of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, 
this felt surreal, as though I'd stepped through a time and space warp.  

I can't vouch for the food here; we had breakfast next door.
But you may want to give it a try. 
It's a conversational piece, at the least!

The walk from Astorga to Rabanal was lovely. 
Here are some photos of the trail. 
Actually, we passed through Santa Catalina de Somoza 
before we got to El Ganso.
Beer stop in Santa Catalina
The little Church in Santa Catalina has a pretty St. Roque
We slept in Santa Catalina, a tiny little village with a sweet Inn. 
We had a good dinner and were in the company of several bicigrinos. 
I had a headache from the heat, 
and the hospitalera kindly supplied me with aspirin.
We had no problems with bedbugs, 
but a few days later met a German boy who had many bites. 
He said he'd gotten them in the same place we stayed,
but in a different room. 
You just never know who is carrying chinches bed to bed. 
If you do get infested, people, PLEASE STOP
 and spray and wash all of your clothes and bag 
so you do not carry them along the Camino!

View from our room
Cool blue door in Santa Catalina
In the shade of the Roble Peregrino (Pilgrim Oak)
Nine hot kilometers later,
we stopped to rest under the Roble Peregrino,
a giant old oak which provided blessed shade.
This is a place of natural beauty
where many pilgrims stop to meditate and rest.

Albergue Gaucelmo in Rabanal del Camino was our next stop. 

We were really looking forward to hearing the Benedictine Monks sing vespers that night.
 Unfortunately it was not to be. 

The monks, we were told, were "on holiday."  
On holiday? Monks go on holiday? 
ALL of them at the same time?  

Well... there was a bit more to the story, one that will require it's own blog someday. 
But the bottom line was that a new group of young monks had come there 
and decided to make some big changes. 
Changes in the way things had been done for generations. 
Changes that the locals did not like and literally demonstrated against. 
And the demonstrators were not young ne'er-do-wells,
they were mostly little old grandmothers
who had enjoyed not-particularly-Catholic rituals
from a time long gone. 
The new priests were insistent on doing things "correctly."
The demonstrations got physical with the result 
that the monks took their "holiday" 
mainly to escape being bonked on the head by a rock.
 At least that's the story I heard. 
It was a protest that was apparently effective.
Could be just sensational gossip, 
but nevertheless, it was an entertaining substitute 
for the vespers we missed.

There was, however, a priest walking the Camino who offered to say Mass 
for those of us who wished to hear it. 
An table-top altar was set up in the back yard 
and this friendly young Polish priest said Mass, 
much to our delight.
The man in the white tee shirt was our Priest
We loved Gaucelmo! 
The hospitaleros there were friendly and helpful.
They offered a "tea-time" in the afternoon
where we could sit with other pilgrims
and get to know each other.

The beds were clean, the showers were hot,
the kitchen and library were well-stocked, 
and a pilgrim couldn't ask for a nicer place to stay.
Nice big kitchen at Gaucelmo
You will find a tiny tienda just up the street where you can buy food to cook.
There are also a couple of restaurants in the village,
but be sure to make reservations as soon as you get into town
as they also provide lodging, and getting a table could be problematic.

Next morning, we walked to Manjarin,
a short, but pretty walk.

Cruz de Ferro just before Manjarin

Approaching Manjarin

We had not planned on sleeping here
but fell in love with the personality of the place and the hospitaleros,
and decided it would be an experience worth having.

Looking at souvenirs
This is a nice place to stop. 
They have a little tourist shop where you can buy mementos. 
What you buy here will support the donativo albergue.
You can get a cold drink or a hot coffee.  
At certain times of day, Tomas, a modern day Templar, 
does a ritual to the four quarters, 
invoking heartfelt blessings upon all the pilgrims.
It is a ceremony that you will not see anywhere else on the Camino.

Manjarin is a throwback to the way things used to be
and if you are squeamish or prissy, 
you may need encouragement to stay here. 

First, there is no running water, which means no shower. 
We went to bed refreshed, but unwashed.
There was no modern toilet. 
The toilet is a pit toilet across the road where you (literally) 
squat over a hole which has been dug.  
No running water also means no laundry
so the sheets and pillowcases were... 
well.. second or maybe third-hand.
We slept on mattresses in the attic. It was basic but warm and cozy.
In the photo of the beds, you will see a Tau Cross on the wall. 
The Tau Cross is the emblem of the 
Order of St. Anthony Abad, the hermit. 

This Order had many hospitals where people were healed from ergot poisoning. 
The symptoms of St. Anthony's Fire or ergot poisoning were hallucinations, 
a burning sensation in the skin, bluish color from loss of circulation, 
and eventually gangrene.  
It was sometimes mistaken for leprosy.
The disease could often be cured by eliminating barley (or rye) bread,
 increasing the intake of wine which diluted the veins, 
and vigorous exercise, as in pilgrimage.  
The hospices of San Anton sprang up along Europe's major pilgrimage routes.  

Without a doubt,
Tomas is authentically reviving the spirit of the Templars 
as well as San Anton.

We were happy to cast caution to the wind and stay!
In the late afternoon, Tomas closed the shop, 
and his helpers began preparing our meal.
We sat down to a generous dinner prepared for us in the basic kitchen.
We enjoyed the company of a diverse group of wonderful pilgrims 
and shared stories about our Camino experiences.   

Kitchen an Manjarin
Just as we began eating, a young man showed up,
barefoot, dirty and in raggedy clothes. 
At first we thought he was a vagabond. 
He refused to speak
and for a moment, the air was tense.
I wondered if he was deaf and mute.  
Tomas had said he was not taking more pilgrims that night, 
but he brought the boy right in, 
welcomed him, and sat him to dinner. 
He apparently understood the situation.
Come to find out, 
the boy was a pilgrim who had taken a vow of silence and had no money. 
Without hesitating,
Tomas had shown us a beautiful example of true hospitality.

At bedtime, we were shown the way to the attic, 
up some very steep steps.
We were instructed not to come down next morning until the bell rang. 
There would be no early-bird 5:30 rustling-plastic-bag pilgrims here! 
 Joe and I were happy at this news!
I slept like a log.

Joe said he woke up in the middle of the night 
because of a bright light in his eyes.
It was the full moon, shining through the skylight.

Next morning, we awakened to the bell.
Good Morning Sunshine! Watch out for those rafters!
We rolled up our sleeping bags and made our way downstairs 
where we found a welcoming breakfast of
hot coffee, tea, hot chocolate, bread, butter, jam, and cookies. 

As far as we're concerned, this place is primitive, but real:
a very authentic pilgrim experience, 
and one we would recommend it to anyone 
with a sense of adventure and a taste for the old ways.

We set out once more in the rosy dawn, 
happy and blessed by the hospitality of Tomas of Manjarin!

Annie and Tomas

See my website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Pilgrimage Trails of Europe
Walking the Camino Santiago


  1. Fantastic blog! Really enjoying seeing the photos of you and Joe!

    Safe travels to you both!


  2. I loved your blog. I stayed at the albergue at El Ganso, which was clean, no bunks and only single beds with even 1 double bed in the dormitory - but no atmosphere. After reading your blog, I will definitely stop at Manjarin in October.

  3. I loved your blog. I stayed at the albergue at El Ganso, which was clean, no bunks and only single beds with even 1 double bed in the dormitory - but no atmosphere. After reading your blog, I will definitely stop at Manjarin in October. Jenny.

    Thanks Jenny.

    (I'm posting this from an email I received. For some idiotic reason, Blogspot decided to change their look. WHY do people do this? Why fix things that are not broken, just as we users learn to use the darned things???! Anyway, I'm frustrated as heck because I'm getting comments in my email but they do not show up on the moderation page so I cannot add them.

  4. Ahh one of my favorite stretches!!


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