I need to do this fast, because my computer is running out of juice, so I will sketch the main ideas and flesh them sometime later.
We did go to Vespers, and it was a magic experience. Sor Ana, a diminutive nun who is in charge of the hostel, was expected to come at 9:25 pm to collect us and take us to the church. When she arrived she was all flustered, saying “Where are the bicycles of the Mexicanos?” Well, they should be there; why? She had seen four bicycles in the afternoon and now there were only two, and never, ever, has a bike been stolen from the convent. Fortunately the other two bicigrinos were there, and they promptly explained they had taken their bikes to the repair shop. Sor Ana expelled a deep sigh of relief, and then gathered her pollitos in a hurry because it would not do to be late for Vespers. So we followed her, and in the atrium she gave us responsorial booklets, rehearsed us on what was going to be our role, and finally ushered us into the church. The sisters were just coming in, from wherever the invisible bell they carry in their heads told them it was time, and the service started. It was calming to hear the voices of the nuns repeat the millenary formulas, and at the end the Mother Superior came to the front and blessed us, the pilgrims, with an encouragement to see into our souls and carry there the true pilgrimage of our faith. It was very touching.
The following morning we took off early, enjoyed the city of León in the cold of the early morn, and then went for about 10 kilometers parallel to a busy highway. Not much fun.
Then we got to Hospital de Obrigos (17 km). Pretty town. From there we took off across the mountains. Pretty but tiresome because there were many small up and downs.
Eventually we made it to Astorga (40 km), around 2 pm, just in time for lunch. Maria Eugenia and Juan had told us we should not miss the Cocido Maragato, in the restaurant Casa Maragata, so we dutifully went there (the surrounding country is called the Maragatería, and that is where the funny name comes from). No doubt they meant well, and the food was delicious, but it was not a good idea just before we started up the foothills of the Talano Mountains (the tail end of the Cantabrian mountain range). Peculiar about this cocido (stew) is that first they bring the meat (seven meats that have been slowly cooked in the stew, including pork ear, pork feet, thick chunks of bacon, beef, chicken, and all sorts of chorizos). Then, after you have stuffed your face with meat they bring the garbanzos and veggies. Then, after you cannot possibly eat anymore they bring the broth! Why? Because this was a dish developed during the Spanish civil war by the soldiers and, since shooting could start at anytime, they were anxious to pack the meat first!
Stuffed with food we started the long bike ride up the foothills. They are beautiful, but I am afraid we did not enjoy them as much as we should because we were trying to digest our wonderful lunch. It was soooo painful biking up the unrelenting slope, which was just steep enough to extract the last bit of energy from you as you force the bike up, foot by painful foot.
Finally we made it to Rabanal del Camino (60 km), where a friendly hostel was waiting for us with warm showers and wash basins. The lady of the house told us that we should go to Vespers in the little church, which we did, and were treated to a magnificent concert of Latin chants by the three monks who live in this tiny mountain monastery. It was magnificent.
Since by this time our digestion had been completely ruined, we went to have a glass of wine and some tapas in the local mesón. The mesonero had tried his hand at making callos, which is beef tripe cut in small pieces and stewed in a delicious tomato and garlic sauce. Unfortunately he had only made a small portion, just enough to see if his customers would like them. We praised them heartily, so from now on the mesón at Rabanal will feature Callos a la Raúl.