Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 47: The Hunt for Karolina Heats Up!

Dscn3336bSeptember 27: Out of Hospital del Orbigo, the trail once again split into a choice between a busy road walk or a scenic alternative path away from busy roads, and once again, I chose the alternative. I saw a lot more pilgrims taking this alternative than I usually did, and I’m not sure why there was such a difference. Although this alternative path was well-marked at the junction—most of them were not. Perhaps that played a roll? Whatever the reason, it seemed like an unusually large percentage of pilgrims actually took the alternative path. Maybe not a majority, but a lot more than I normally would see.


The big town for today was Astorga, which I reached late in the morning. The path into Astorga passes over a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the town next to a giant cross where I stopped to rest and met two people from France who had scraped a giant “1000 km” into the dirt with a stick.


“We started in Figeac!” they told me in heavily accented English, excited. “We’ve now walked 1,000 kilometers!”


“Congratulations!” I told them. “That’s a long distance! And I know, because I started in Le Puy and walked through Figeac too!”


They seemed slightly taken aback by this revelation. “You started in Le Puy-en-Velay?”


“Yes,” I answered. “And walked right through Figeac along the way! So I know exactly where you started from!”


“But then you’ve already hiked more than 1,000 kilometers.”


“Yes,” I replied again. “I passed my 1,000 kilometer mark almost 300 kilometers ago.”


Dscn3340bYou could see the disappointment seeping through their faces, obviously feeling one-upped. I didn’t mean for that to happen—I wasn’t trying to brag that I had gone farther than they did—just that I understood what a big accomplishment it was to walk 1,000 kilometers. Of course, they could have had no idea that out of the thousands of people walking the trail, the first person they grab to celebrate their milestone wound up walking from an even longer distance away. In fact, I was more than a little surprised when I learned they had started so deep in France—I hadn’t met anyone who started before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in weeks. Those of us who started deep into France were definitely a rarity on the trail.


I used their camera to take photos of them by their 1000 kilometer scratching in the dirt. That was the reason they first intercepted me—to ask if I would take a photo of them together by their dirt graffiti. I still felt a little bad for accidentally one-upping them, however, but they seemed to forgive me for the slight.


I decided to eat lunch in Astorga, in front of the cathedral which, from the exterior, looked absolutely beautiful. I also read my Kindle and killed some time before pushing onward, ever onward. Most of the other pilgrims I saw waking into town were in search of the alburgue, already planning to stop for the day. It was still too early for me to quit, though, so I kept going.


In Santa Catalina de Somoza, I met John from Indiana for the first time. We chatted a bit, and I asked if he’d seen a Polish girl hiking the trail as I often did nowadays in the hopes of figuring out where Karolina might be on the trail. Invariably, the answer has always been no, but John asked me to describe her so I did and he said that there was someone who had walked past a couple of hours earlier that fit that description. He hadn’t talked to her so didn’t know if she was from Poland or had an accent, but the physical description sounded the same.


Dscn3346bI didn’t get my hopes up, though. While I was happy that it might have been her, I have seen other girls hiking the trail that, from a distance, I thought could be her but later turned out not to be. Young, blonde girls were exactly an extinct species or anything! The fact that she was from Poland was probably her most distinctive trait since almost nobody from Poland was on the trail. (I met one couple from Poland on the French section of the trail but Karolina was the only person from Poland I’d ever met or even heard of on the Spanish section.) But people had to talk to her to learn where she was from.


“Did she carry a trekking pole?” I asked. Karolina never had a trekking pole—didn’t care for them—and if the girl John had seen had had a trekking pole, I could definitely rule out the Karolina sighting.


He thought a moment and said, “I don’t remember seeing one, but it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.”


I continued on, hoping it was a genuine Karolina sighting but also knowing it probably wasn’t.


I stopped by the water facet in El Ganso to cook dinner. Originally, I didn’t plan to do this, but this would be the last water source until I planned to set up camp for the night and I wanted to fill up all of my bottles for the night so I had enough to cook dinner and eat breakfast in the morning. But when I looked for my plastic water bottle I’d carried all the way since Le Puy, I couldn’t find it. It was missing. If I had to guess, it probably rolled under the bed at my hotel room the night before and I missed it before I left. In any case, the maximum water capacity I could now carry was seriously compromised. I wouldn’t have enough water for both dinner and breakfast!


Which meant I quickly had to scramble to Plan B: I cooked dinner in El Ganso next to the water facet. Afterwards, I brushed my teeth. And now I only needed enough water for breakfast and to get me to the next town, which wasn’t particularly far. No problem! =)


Dscn3349bI was still thinking about that possible Karolina sighting, so I kept my eyes open in El Ganso for anyone that might fit her description. Even if it wasn’t her, at least I could probably eliminate the possibility it was her. I did see a few pilgrims in town, but none of them were young or blonde.


On my map, it looked like the trail followed more-or-less close to a paved road, but it passed by a green area that usually meant lots of trees—which also meant it would likely be easy to find a private, out-of-the-way place to camp. And it occurred to me that if the possible Karolina sighting was actually real and Karolina was looking for a place to camp, there was a good possibility it could be in the same trees I was aiming for. Still, a long shot, but how cool would it be to look behind a tree for a place to camp and find Karolina already set up there! =)


By now, a couple of hours before sunset, the trail was empty of pilgrims. They’d all stopped in alburgues already so I had the trail to myself. When I reached the trees, I kept my eyes open for good places to camp—and maybe for Karolina. The trees were pretty dense, though, and I couldn’t see very far into them. I looked around and, when I realized nobody else was around, I tried calling out into the trees. “Karolina! Can you hear me?” I heard nothing in reply, though, and kept walking.


About every five minutes, though, when I found a potential spot to camp, I’d call out into the trees again. It was a long shot, and I knew it was a long shot, but it didn’t cost me anything and nobody was around to see what a fool I looked like looking for someone hidden in the trees that probably wasn’t anywhere remotely close to my current location. =)


As expected, I didn’t find Karolina, but I found a suitable place to camp and went about my business. I still hadn’t been able to confirm or deny if the sighting was legitimate, though, which kind of annoyed me. What if she stopped in El Ganso at an alburgue? If John had seen her only a couple of hours earlier than me in the day, it was already fairly late in the day. Whoever the mystery girl was, lodging options that late in the day meant either staying in El Ganso or Rabanal del Camino a few kilometers ahead. I was camped directly between the two, but what if it was her, and she did stay in El Ganso? She could hike right past me in the morning and not even know it with me hidden in the trees like I was!


So I wrote a note on a piece of paper: “Karolina! Take a two minute detour into the trees on your right!” and left it on the trail, weighed down by a rock.


Then I went back to setting up camp and wrote in my journal and read my Kindle for the rest of the night.


Kind of a creepy little pilgrim statue….


The little shack on the left is a small drink/snack stand for pilgrims
passing by.


Wonderful views from the cross overlooking Astorga!


These two had just walked 1,000 kilometers from
Figeac, deep in France, and they were pretty excited about
the milestone until they met me. =)


Wonderful views walking into Astorga. One thing to note in this photo
are all those mountains in the background. I’m definitely not
in the Meseta anymore!


A pedestrian overpass that crosses over some train tracks.
Sometimes you just feel like you’re waking in circles and not getting
anywhere. That’s what these bridges feel like. =)


A more modern-day kind of pilgrim statue.


A church in Astorga.


Who can’t just adore this little fellow? =)


I don’t remember what this building in Astorga was for.
But it sure is pretty!


The cathedral in Astorga.


A more modern-day church along the trail.


A small, wayside church along the route.






I like the addition of the rainbow! =)


Just in case you get tired of walking, there’s always a Plan B. =)


Could Karolina be within those trees? Maybe…. But probably not!
But I’d be camping in them for the night. =)


Anonymous said...

You DID pass the place before Astorga where a hippie lives!That little shack with snacks and drinks - he runs it! It only seems he wasn't there ahen you were passing by...

And the pretty building in Astorga - I recognize it. It's Bishop's Palace designed by... Gaudi!

Anonymous said...

Oh Dang..... have to wait until Monday for more news on the hunt!!!! Just like watching a serial on tv!!!!