Out of Leon
We found what looked to be a pretty good pilgrim outfitter called K2 Planet that was along the Camino on the way out of Leon. Unfortunately, it did not open until 10am so we tried to be a bit leisurely to time our arrival We had a nice breakfast and were ready to go so we left around 9am. As we left, we passed scores of children heading to school and scores of parents pushing strollers with babies for what we soon realized was childcare drop-off.
It only took uas about 15 minutes to get to the area In which K2 was located as we passed out of the city center, by a very large hostal being renovated, over a bridge, and past a park. We stopped into a cafe for a cup of coffee as we waited, sitting outside and watching life unfold around us. Apparently, our chosen cafe was the preferred location for postal workers from the local Correios office – we watched group after group cycle through a table outside for their coffee and cigarettes.
The major win at K2 Planet was a new belt for me – my pants had been sagging for about a week since my belt broke. We didn’t find the rain resistant pants we wanted but did buy gloves. We’ll see what we can find in Astorga before we climb into the mountains and what looks to be a rainy Galicia.
Basilica de la Virgin del Camino
The remaIning walk out of Leon was very urban, lasted about 8km, was marked by narrow sidewalks that slanted and, yes, there was a climb out of town. We saw our Korean friends along the way and stopped at the modern and very beautiful Basilica de la Virgin del Camino. It is considered a minor Basilica and was opened in 1961. The architectural style is called “rationalist” and was radically different from anything we have seen. Squared and simple, it’s entrance was adorned with large avant-garde sculptures of the Apostles and Mary by artist Joseph Maria Subirachs – they are hauntingly beautiful. The doors into the sanctuary are carved with scenes from the Rosary in the same style. Inside, the simple space is marked at the one end with a beautiful retablo from the original church behind the altar under a large skylight and at the back by a panel of stained glass. Stunning.
Yesterday’s walk was along a busy highway – the drone of the traffic soon became deafening and the two towns after Leon were sparse and uninteresting. We arrived at the edge of Villadangos by about 2pm and ran into Rudy who was walking on to San Martin, another 4.5km, to meet Bert who had taxied the remaining distance. They had encountered many pilgrims who were running out of time and supplementing legs of their journey with motor support. Bert had been struggling with blisters and muscle pain so the taxi made a lot of sense. Getting to our hostal in what seemed like an empty Villadangos a few minutes later, we decided to push on to San Martin, about another hour down the road.
We arrived at Albergue Vieira around 4:30pm. I will describe it as the summer camp version of an albergue on the Camino. The plain building is literally built alongside the Camino (as well as the highway running parallel to it). As we walked up, Rudy was outside with two men he introduced as being from Holland (we learned that they were “doing” the Camino in 3 weeks which meant buses between towns and occasional walking). We entered the albergue to check-in and were warmly greeted by a table full of women; Marilyn stepped over to get us situated. The kitchen and dining hall were right up front, a few private rooms and two bunk rooms lined the hallway as did the male and female shower/toilet areas. It was very basic. We opted for the pilgrim meal, to be served at 7pm, and were introduced to the rules: doors closed at 10pm, shoes off and stored in a communal closet, do not exit your room before 7am so as not to disturb the other peregrinos. It is 6:20am as I write this and I can hear movement in the hall, though I have complied by writing this from our room which contains a bunk bed and a twin bed.
We sat outside in a tent and listened to Rudy and the guys from Holland picking at a eukele and singing a variety of songs. The albergue is a family affair and we watched two of its members build an outside heater for a tented area. We talked about the day as we chilled before dinner, which we could smell as it was prepared inside. A short while later, Kayla walked up (without Julia) and went inside to see if there were rooms available. We didn’t see her the rest of the evening so I’m not sure if she crashed in a private room or moved on.
Dinner was communal and boisterous. Summer camp for adults who speak different languages. Our end was English speaking, some French the middle, then Chinese and Korean toward the other end. All served by our Spanish speaking hosts. We met two new characters: Alex and Shel (not sure if her name was Shelley or Michelle) from Connecticut/Rhode Island. Rudy and Bert sat near us as well. Alex and Shel were celebrating their one year wedding anniversary = I’m not sure of their age though she has an 18 year old son. Shel practices the “healing arts” though she did not explain what that meant. Alex is a carpenter and quite quick-witted. Rudy observed that Alex looked like Billy Joel, I had to agree. Rudy talked a bit more about his desire to start an animal shelter while Alex told us of the curiously rollercoasteresque 2-3 week courtship before he and Shel were married last year. Bert was ready for bed at 8pm and said little other than we learned that he is raising money on his Camino for Kiwanis.
The home cooked food was quite good, two types of soup: a lentil and a garlic soup were starters. The salad was adorned with large fresh tomatoes which had to have come from the garden outside. The main dish was beef that was cut into squares and quite flavorful, though I would prefer to have the bones removed. Dessert was an apple cake for me. We talked and laughed with the cast of characters until about 9pm when we retired to our room.
We capped off our evening with a FaceTime call to Hillsdale to talk to Madison, Cooper, and Reagan who were playing in the backyard on what looked like a beautiful fall day. Cooper gets quite excited when we call and we get to watch him run around the yard or house, stopping by occasionally to chat. Everyone looked great and we reminded ourselves that we are nearing the finish of this journey. As we turned the lights out, we could hear some of the other campers singing and laughing but it apparently didn’t phase us, we were out before they stopped their merriment.
Today, we walk on to Astorga where we’ll see another beautiful cathedral and the fairy castle-looking Episcopal Palace just behind it. From there, we begin our next ascent and what will likely be the most challenging legs of the journey.