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.



Stage 19: Mansilla de la Mulas to León (Curtis)

The medival walls of Mansilla de las Mulas at dawn

I rolled out of Mansilla a lot later than I had intended this morning, mainly because I could not get to sleep and needed a second cup of coffee in another of the town’s bars to get me rolling. Didn’t really matter in the end, because I knew I had a real short walk ahead of me and that I was gong to be grabbing a taxi from Villarente into León. Yeah, I know; a taxi is verboten for pilgrims, but then again, this isn’t my Camino, it’s Linda, Mike, Aidan and Alex’s Camino and I had to get into León as early as possible today to meet the three guys who will finally be arriving to join Linda and myself today.

After nearly three weeks’ of walking, first with Cheryl and Linda, then with Linda, it’s going to be interesting to see how the new group dynamic plays out with the addition of the three men to the group. I’ve been looking forward to it, though I’m certain it will require some adjustment.

And really, I can’t say I was sorry to miss the walk into León. After all these years, it continues to be a bloody nightmare. After some nearly 20 kilometers alongside the highway through industrial corridors, and over at least one terrifyingly narrow bridge upon which pilgrims are separated from the rumbling of passing trucks by mere millimeters, you get to a point at which you have to walk along the shoulder of the three-lane expressway that rings the city, with cars whizzing past you at top speed. It’s amazing that in all the years I’ve spent on the Camino, they’ve done absolutely nothing to improve it. If anything, with the new shopping centers and expansion of the motorway around and out of León, it’s gotten worse. Pilgrims travelling the Camino are low on the list of priorities in this province.

Aidan’s flight out of Dublin had been cancelled yesterday and he had phoned me to say that he would be arriving in León later than expected. I got to the hotel around 12.30 and hung out in the bar (having a coffee! Jeeez!) until Mike and Alex rolled in. Linda arrived before they got there, so we were both there to greet the two of them. The first order of business, after showing them to their rooms and getting them settled in, was to get some lunch. After that I popped off to chat with a friend in León while Linda and the fellas headed over to see the cathedral and the Basilica de San Isidoro. I met them back at the hotel around 7.00 p.m., and Aidan rolled up shortly afterwards, so we got him settled in and headed out to get him a pilgrim credential at the Benedictine monastery, get the rest of our credentials stamped there, and grab some tapas in León’s lively Barrio Húmedo before heading back to the hotel for supper and our beds.

The fellas are clearly still recovering from jet lag and in need of a good sleep; Alex also seems to have picked up some kind of bug on the tip over for which he is taking some penicillin. He and Mike decided to skip supper and just head straight to bed in the hopes that he will be in good enough shape to tackle tomorrow’s walk. He’s young and athletic, so here’s hoping he’ll kick it fast and be able to really get into the walk with us.

So, it’s back on the road tomorrow, this time with the full complement. Looking forward to it. Ultreia once more!

The gang's all here. Alex, Mike and Aidan join Linda and I in front of León's cathedral.

Stage 18: Calzadilla de los Hermanillos a Mansilla de las Mulas (Curtis)

Strange that I had never chosen to walk this “alternative route” of he Camino before, as it turned out to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful of the entire route so far: something on the order of 18 uninterrupted kilometres with no villages and no place to stop for a beak along the way (not even a cuppa for Linda), but it was marvellous.

By the time I rolled into Reliegos, Linda was already installed at the village’s rather funky little bar having a cup of tea. It would have been impossible to miss this place, folks … the owner had gone sticking up photocopied versions of a local newspaper article proclaiming him the “Elvis Presley of the Camino” and advertising his bar for at least the last five kilometers of the Camino, and when I hit the town plaza, there was Bob Dylan music blaring at top volume from the door of his bar. “This is the place for me”, I thought, and sure enough, I found Linda installed outside the bar with a cuppa, enjoying the sunshine. I went inside, ordered myself a café con leche and sat down to enjoy the morning.

The funkiest little bar in Reliegos

Half an hour later we got underway again, seen off by The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” blasting from the door of the bar as we made our way down the streets. The rest of the afternoon was largely uneventful: we arrived at Mansilla, checked into our hotel rooms, had showers and a rest, and basically just killed time until supper. I used the time to upload some new photos onto the blog, which you’ll all have seen by now. If all of this non-eventful rambling leads you to the conclusion that Mansilla de la Mulas is not Thrillsville, Spain, well, you would not be far wrong. But it’s well positioned for the next day’s entrance into León, and so that’s its principal virtue, and the next day’s story. Ultreia peeps!

Stage 17: Sahagún to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (Curtis)

Darling, what do you expect to me to do all day with only 14k to walk?

‘Twas a bit of a short walk today, it was …

We had breakfast at our hotel in Sahagún this morning and set off along the Camino as always. This time out, I had programmed an “alternative route” for us, alternative in the sense that never in all the Caminos I have walked have I taken the route that splits off and follows the line of the old Roman Via Traiana from Calzada del Coto to Mansilla de las Mulas. I don’t know why exactly, but I suspect that a lot of the reason has to do with the fact that all of the modern guidebooks that I have used over the years indicate the other route (Calzada – Bercianos – El Burgo Ranero etc.) as the “Camino Francés” and this as the aforementioned “alternative”. But really, the fact that this is the old Roman road makes it very clear that this was the main route for the early pilgrims travelling westward to Compostela. Medieval pilgrims weren’t given to detours and ambling after all; they looked for the quickest and most direct route possible, and this would have been it. Seems the local government has worked very hard to promote the other route (which was undoubtedly the real alternative), but the framed, 19th century map on the wall of the place I’m sitting writing this indicates the road we walked this morning as the ancient pilgrim’s route, so there you are.

Calzadilla's main street

In any case, Calzadillo de los Hermanillos is only 14 kms. from Sahagún, and even trying to drag it out we rocked up in town well before 10.30 a.m. So we’ve had a lovely rest day and all, but my body is muttering unpleasant things about getting fat again if I don’t get my arse in gear and get back to doing some real walking, starting tomorrow.

The two main agricultural activities in Calzadilla are sheep herding and wheat farming, which pretty much sums up the economic activity of the meseta in general. There’s something essential to the Camino experience about staying in these little farming villages; in my stroll around town this afternoon, I saw lots of older folks out taking some sun and everyone of them (accustomed to pilgrims as they are) said hello to me. And unlike some of the crumblier towns we’ve passed through over the past week or so, you can see that there’s a bit of money in this one. The town’s broad, asphalted main street is spotless, as are all of the the brick and stone houses; even the traditional adobe houses are in perfect repair here. The town also boasts two pilgrim’s albergues, a municipal and a private one, as well as the casa rural where we are staying.

So, it’s pretty much been a rest day today. I’ve holed up in the casa rural for most of the day while Linda caught up on her e-mails, resting (TWO naps today kiddies; I seldom get even one lately), reading and having a lovely home cooked lunch. Our hosts, Leo and Gema, are fantastic; Leo is an absolute hoot, and you couldn’t ask for a cooler place to spend the day.

A little dispute erupts over the cost of the meal ...

Tomorrow we’re off to Mansilla de las Mulas, and then we meet Mike, Alex and Aidan in León on Friday. Looking forward to that and to the dynamic of “re-grouping”, which will make the trip seem brand new, although, truth be told, I could carry on like this for another month or two, since Linda is so easy to travel with.

I know you are all breathlessly awaiting the latest photos of us doing that pilgrim thing, but the computers lately have not had USB portals that I could plug my camera into, so you’ll just have to hang in there and put up with the generic ones till I can get to a better ‘puter, peeps. In León for sure, if not tomorrow …


With our fantastic hosts Leo & Gema in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos

Stage 16: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagún (Linda)

Today dawned rainy and misty, our paranoia over getting wet again was at an all time high. We set off in the dark as the Camino runs beside the road again for the first part of our walk.

Dawn on the meseta

I was determined not to speed along so stopped in Ledigos for a cuppa, Curtis was going to walk right by because it is highly unusual for me to stop so early in the day. We had a nice cuppa headed out.

I wasn’t stopping at the next town, but the lure of a toilet was too much. As I poked my head round the door the table full of some of the Aussie group and the Italian cohorts chorused “Hola Linda” so I sat for a moment discussing how their feet and legs were traveling today and proudly informing them I had thrown the top half of my second little toe away!

Rebecca and I decided to walk together from there, and set off chatting away. All was good as the sun decided to put in an appearance and the morning began to look up. On to San Nicolás del Real Camino where we sat outside having a break and enjoying the sun. Shortly after we managed to wander off the Camino, too busy talking! But were alerted by a passing motorist tooting their horn to let us know we were on the wrong path.

We crested a hill to see Sahagún before us, lovely; as we crossed the road the local flasher put in an appearance. He can’t have been all that impressive as I missed it completely, but it gave us something to chuckle over.

The Church of San Lorenzo in Sahagún

We had a few drinks and a chat with everyone at the bar when we entered town and then I said my goodbyes as they will go on another 20kms today before stopping. Found our hotel and sat down to paella for lunch, ready for a relaxing afternoon.

Stage 15: Carrión de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza (Linda)

Our stay at the monastery last night was lovely, a wonderful old building that, yet again has been renovated with great respect shown to the original architecture.

For the first time this morning it was good to be a tea drinker in Spain. I wandered up to the bar at breakfast to find the coffee drinkers lined up about ten deep for their chance to make a cuppa. I, on the other hand, walked straight to the hot pot of water and peacefully went about brewing a tea. Sometimes being the only tea drinker in Spain rocks!

We headed out late this morning as breakfast was not til 8.30, and we only had 19 kms to walk, so no rush. It was overcast as we set out, but that has become the norm. I promised Curtis I would not walk too fast, and so became the sport of time-wasting. I am not good at it, and was becoming frustrated with the flat nothingness of the landscape.

A fellow who dined at a table near us the night before had set out on his Camino this morning and passed me as I was having a ciggie (time-wasting). As I started walking again, I saw Lars and Signe ahead, a lovely Danish couple I had come to know a little and very good fun. I determined that I would not be bored rigid alone so set off in a bid to catch up to them. As my footsteps approached him from behind the young guy started walking faster and faster, in the end to put him out of his misery I broke into a run creating some consternation from those around us. I could hear them thinking that the Camino had finally broken me, a pilgrim, running, after all that walking, loca!

Bag the tea, girl, what'cha need is one of these babies!

We had a lovely stroll into Carrión de los Condes, arriving at the hotel at 11.50, no one could believe that my day was over. We sat outside cheering on the arriving pilgrims, particularly the Aussie group, with their Italian cohorts. Tintos con gaseosas all around and much laughter. We were about the only ones in the first group staying so farewelled everyone and settled in for some serious relaxation, tended to by the greatest flirt I have ever met! Bring on the Brazilians I say.

A lovely dinner followed by interesting conversation with an Irishman, American, and a German living in Spain rounded off the evening; the Camino brings everyone together.

Stage 14: Frómista to Carrión de los Condes (Curtis)

I made the mistake of teasing Linda before she’d had her first cuppa of the morning, and very nearly lost my head in the process. The hotel at which we stayed in Frómista, while lovely and managed by a magnificent young couple and their little daughter, committed the unspeakeable crime of not having black tea at breakfast for Linda the leaf junkie, and so, well, let’s just say that we’re fortunate someone didn’t lose a limb before eight in the morning.

We remedied the situation at the first bar on the way out of Frómista, and set off on our measly 19k walk to Carrión. I was concerned about the threat of rain, having got thoroughly soaked the afternoon before, but thankfully this didn’t come to pass. What did happen, a bit beyond Población de Campos, was a a thick fog that settled in around us and obscured the countryside for most of the morning’s walk. Not a bad thing altogether, since walking in the fog is way cool, and since, well, let’s face it, one only needs to contemplate so many wheat fields in one short life. It also meant that the distance seemed to fly by. Around 10.45 or so, I rocked up into Villalcázar de Sirga, where I made a brief visit to the magnificent church built by the Templar Knights (“La Virgen Blanca”) and stopped for almuerzo in the bar; the young lady there made me the most fantastic omelette with chorizo while I chatted with a Spanish pilgrim who had arrived in Frómista the day before via an alternative route from his home near Murcia.

I rolled out of the bar to knock off the final 6 kms to Carrión around 11.30; by 12:30 we were making our entrance into the city. Linda and Candy (another lovely young Australian pilgrim we’ve met on the Camino) had come up behind me on the final stretch, along with Irish Terry; they nipped off to the nearest bar for some refreshments while I scuttled off in search of morning Mass with the promise of hooking up with them afterwards. This I did, and then had lunch with a Spanish couple that we had seen in our hotels for several days running before heading off to our hotel in the Benedictine monastery of San Zoilo. After a hot shower and a two hour nap, I didn’t much feel like popping back up into the town, so I just hung out in the hotel for the rest of the evening, reading the Sunday papers until dinner time.

Dinner was marvellous: fresh pureé of vegetable soup followed by baked trout and a dessert of wine soaked pears. I decided to turn in early, around 10.30 p.m. or so, and got an unbelievable 8.5 hours of sleep for once! Fantastic, and it meant that I was ready to tackle thefollowing day’s even measlier 17.5 kilometers with energy to burn.