Stage 20: León to Villadangos del Páramo (Curtis)

Maybe I shouldn’t even write an entry for today’s leg of the journey, since mother always used to say that if you can’t say something nice, then …

And really, what is there that can be said in favor of the walk out of León? Possibly only two things: the first, that it is certainly less potentially deadly than the walk in, although the first five kilometers unfold along streets than run through the unremarkable neighborhoods, housing developments and industrial corridor of León’s west side; the second, that you at least get to admire the remarkable facade of the San Marcos Hotel, a former pilgrim’s hospital now converted into one of Spain’s luxury paradors. Other than that though, the departure from the city is only slightly less awful than the arrival.

Larking about with the pilgrim monument on the way out of León

Which is not to say that the city of León itself is a bad place to be. It’s not. It’s a fantastic city with fantastic people and amazing tapas and wine bars in the Barrio Húmedo, and any city that houses both a gothic cathedral and a basilica like San Isidoro has to be a priority on anyone’s Camino.

But the folks in the regional government need to get their act together and make the pilgrim’s entry and departure from the city easier. And the walk today … aaarrghh! After 5 kilometers of the slog mentioned above, we got to Virgen del Camino, which is now a suburb of León but was once a separate village. We stopped for a coffee in a bar there, and then set off again.

The next challenge that our group of recently arrived pilgrims had to face was the detour around and under the off ramps of the recently constructed expressway around León. The ancient Camino lies below the asphalt of the N-120 highway that runs west to Astorga; I felt bad that Aidan, Mike and Alex’s first day on the Camino was going to be 18 kilometers of trekking alongside a highway, with heavy trucks and passenger cars rumbling by constantly. Whatever charm the villages along this section may have once had, it has been destroyed completely by the highway and the traffic.

Of course, there is an alternative route through the countryside and away from the highway nightmare that I considered proposing, though it would have added a five kilometer detour to today’s walk, but since Alex is fighting some bug and not feeling 100%, it didn’t seem wise.

We made it to our hotel in time for lunch. Today had been one of the “black spots” on the Camino when Ursula and I were planning the journey. The man who received us at the hotel was very friendly and helpful, and the hotel was clean (though I never did get the heat in my room to work), but it was clearly the kind of place designed with truck drivers rather than pilgrims in mind. Dinner and lunch provided solid, if unspectacular, fare; Aidan, Mike and I popped ’round to the village church of Santiago Apóstol to catch the evening Mass before dinner, and following dinner we headed off to bed early. Alex was clearly hoping that another good night’s sleep would help him kick the bug that was bothering him.

No sooner had I arrived in Villadangos than Linda told me that she wouldn’t be hanging around for breakfast in the morning. Seems the bar of the hotel doesn’t have tea, at least not the black kind. I checked and they have green and red, but even suggesting such a thing to Linda would be ridiculous, to say the least, so it will just be the four lads fo brekkie in the morning.