Day 21, Saturday, April 27: Mansilla de las Mulas to León (21.8 km, 13.5 miles)

Ok, friends, I know: this is terribly out of sequence. The title of this post and the heading above were, indeed, written on April 27. “The rest of the story” I sit down to write on Thursday, May 2, a wonderful blue-sky day as seen from two windows of the lounge of the Benedictine Monastery where I am “resting” (that’s what the monks have told us we are here to do) for several days. Now 10:15 am, Laudes (morning prayers), breakfast, and a beautiful mass with Gregorian chant (by the three monks) over, I will play a bit of catch up.

Lucky for you, some of the details have, undoubtedly, taken a back seat in my memory. Maybe this post will be shorter than some. Surely it will be. (“Let it go, Katy…. Let it go….”)

Vocabulary: learn something; take a (somewhat) educated guess

I’ve checked my notes for the day. Other than being able to recall (with their assistance and that of photos I took that day) that I was the last one to remove my boots from the “boot shelf” in the morning, there’s not much left to tell of my walk into León. Not everyone, however, had left the albergue’s kitchen when I stopped in there before heading out. Some of the young people who were having such a good time the night before were still there, organizing their day. I was offered some left-over pasta from the previous night’s dinner, some chocolate and some figs. The olives in the pasta were beyond off-putting for yours truly, and I eat chocolate only when not doing so might offend someone, but the figs I accepted, looking for some better bowel functioning (sorry….). I dug out two cellophane-wrapped croissants which I’d been carrying for many days and then enjoyed the repartie among the young people. One pilgrim, age 20, told me with enthusiasm: “This [pilgrimage] is the very best thing I have ever done in my life.” He is young. I wish him many “better things,” but still I am happy that it has been such a powerful experience for him. I trust that the life that awaits him will be “all that much better” for what he is now experiencing.

But on to vocabulary: I was walking toward a big city. Less boring for me than for some because I can at least read the signs and understand them. Furniture factories. Car dealerships (well, those would have been pretty universally understood). Manufacturers of bathroom fixtures…. And then, one sign that I had seen before and hadn’t understood. Here I was seeing it for the second or possibly third time. My notes say: “What is a ‘tanadero'”? I knew it was not a tanning studio and I suspected it wasn’t a taxidermy business. What then? I just looked it up: it is a “funeral home” according to Wikipedia (or perhaps just a place to prepare the bodies for burial?). Learn something knew every day.

And again, with plenty of time for my mind to wander, it occurred to me that in an earlier post I had used a word that I put down as a “place holder” until I had a chance to check it out. Which of course I totally forgot about doing. My notes jotted down on the walk say: “Ferrier–horseshoes?” From what recesses of my often-forgetful mind had I pulled out that word? Anyway, I’ve checked and… except for the spelling, I had it. Should have been “farrier,” the kind of person I needed the other day to supply me with some new “shoes” to replace my tired feet! (The recesses of my mind were aided by the Spanish word “herrero” that made me feel that I was at least on the main track.)

(Really, you have to find things to think about while walking, and singing as you walk your way within a city’s outskirts is a way to get youself labeled as a “lunatic” [which is what the cuckoo bird has been calling me for weeks now!]; and one needs a break from praying for everyone you have ever known or will ever know. “Vocabulary” fit the bill and brought me into the city.)

I’m not great with Google maps, but once I found the address of the Airbnb which Ginny had sent me days in advance, I plugged it in and before long….

A little refuge inside the big city

… before long Google was telling me that I had reached my destination. Only… only Ginny hadn’t told me she lived in the middle of a lovely city park! I admired it, and then began looking for a nearby street (which was, as it turns out, directly across from one side of the park), a “house number,” and the bell that would lead to Ginny’s friendly voice over an intercom: “Hi, cousin,” and a welcome buzzer indicating I should push the door and go inside.

And then, in order:

  1. Big hugs!
  2. Meeting Marcela, Ginny’s “flatmate” from the Czech Republic who has been traveling and working in Spain since…. January (?) and who plans to “do the Camino” from the town of Lugo once she has recovered from the cold that set her back a bit on her plans
  3. Changing clothing and digging out everything that I’d put in my pack which needing washing
  4. Loading washing machine
  5. Filling belly with the huge bowl of oatmeal–my favorite, and nothing which has been on any menu we have yet to see!
  6. Catching up
  7. Hanging up clothes on a line just reachable out a window, the pulley system proving very useful; setting smaller items (socks) on the stone ledges outside our bedroom windows where the sun was beating down
  8. Heading out to the corner cafe for coffee and a sweet (to complement my breakfast/lunch; in tow: my winter jacket on a hanger
  9. Crossing the street to the lovely “parque de los reyes” (Park of the Kings) where we placed my jacket in the sun, admired –and photographed–the tall, fat-trunked cypress trees, did some catching up with family via WhatsApp (Ginny able to join in on the weekly Saturday morning “conference call” where she was able to speak to her siblings and her husband), just as if they were all in the same room)

How quickly four hours can pass! Also: we tried to come up with a “plan” for Ginny. Hard to do when there are so many unknowns: where’s the bus station? To what towns along the Camino do the busses go? How many days ahead should she jump? Etc. Etc. Kind of stressful stuff. Hey, much more fun to take off for the historic downtown, a 20-or-so minute walk from the Airbnb. And so, around 5:00 pm, that is precisely what we did (after bringing in the now-dry clothes and turning the burner off under the… get this!: lamb stew Ginny has had simmering now for hours (the marvelous aromas of which had greeted me upon my arrival).

The surprises León had in store for us

So… I really am capable of enjoying a big city (León, by the way, has some 130,000 inhabitants) in small doses. I took in some small plazas, some fountains, some roundabouts, made use of an ATM–with Ginny’s help; what will I do if I’m ever short of cash and she’s not around to come to my aid?–, and mostly followed like a faithful puppy dog as Ginny had traversed this route (toward the cathedral) several times already.

Hey, a familiar pilgrim here, another there! Greetings! Hugs! And before long, we’re in the thick of things, the “thick” meaning: cafes, bars, outside tables, possibilities (obviously) for food, for giving the legs a break, for finding a cozy table in the sun. We continued down the street, not finding right away the meant-for-us spot. And suddenly, we were in the cathedral plaza, lured by a cafe sign indicating that sangria was to be found within. And pastries or tapas.

Frankly, I don’t remember if we chose either the one or the other, but I do clearly remember the outside tables, bathed in glorious sunshine, being full. But wouldn’t that (most likely Spanish) matron who was sitting alone just love for us to join her? And so, with only a gesture on our parts–to tell the truth, it was Ginny who piped up with a “Do you mind if we sit here?” While I played “dumb” and didn’t let on that I knew Spanish…–and another on hers, we were soon seated.

But who can resist? Eventually, via a conversation I had with the waiter, it became obvious that we could have a conversation. Anything else would have been more awkward than it already was to have taking over her table and, most likely, blocked her view of the tons of passers by (tourists, couples, pilgrims, families, grandmothers and parents pushing strollers, folks gawking at the cathedral; this is where it was at… and we didn’t know the half of it… not yet….). So this well-dressed and well-coiffed “matron”…. I learned that she was my age–sobering! I thought she was a “matron,” you know, kind of elderly…–was in town for a month. She and her two siblings take turns coming to León to be companions to their 92-year-old mother who is in pretty good shape but who they don’t want living alone. In the plaza, she was enjoying a bit of a respite from her caregiving. Was this the woman who told me that she had not done the Camino, but that she went to Lourdes every year with a contingent, bringing ill people in their caravan. (Or was that someone else? Hmmm: I think that was the woman we met at “Ginny’s park” who asked me to hug “the santo” for her when I arrived in Santiago.). Anyway, a pleasant conversation even though some of the specifics escape me these many days after the fact.

Then along came Fabio and Regina, a Brazilian couple we had met during our first week and with whom we have met up several times. The very first time, at the chapel in Eunate to which we had detoured, we saw them taking selfies at the chapel while holding a small stuffed animal. As often as we have talked with them, we have not questioned this act, out of respect that their reason for doing this might perhaps be “raw” and personal, even while hoping that it is a fun gesture, a photo taken to send to a grandchild back in Brazil. Hugs to them both and then good-byes, hoping we meet up again but knowing that one of these times will be the last.

And then–we’re getting to the crème de le crème now: the sound of drums from a distance, but getting ever closer. I stand up to peer down the street, and what do I see approaching?  Costumed walkers bearing large flags (of their “pueblos”–villages–I later learned), and then many, many costumed villagers. Out came my camera and I snapped and snapped and snapped some more! They paraded into the plaza and settled in a cordoned-off area where they proceeded–in groups according to the villages they had come from–to dance to the music played by one or two in the group. Is this why the plaza was so full? The waiter couldn’t tell us what the occasion was. “Just the pueblos celebrating their identity,” he told me, sounding a bit bored with it all. Maybe something like this goes on often, though the waiter offered that it might be related to the post-Easter celebration. We soon left our table and found a bench on which to stand to see the dancers a bit better.

With great reluctance, but knowing that a delicious lamb stew and a loaf of crusty bread and a good salad awaited us back at the Airbnb, we headed for “home” about 8:00. Counting our blessings, blessings we would likely have missed had we not lingered so long at the park in the afternoon (me, chafing at the bit to see a bit of the town before we were too tired or hungry or out of the notion) or had we chosen a different cafe at which to sit and sip sangria.

Life works out sometimes, doesn’t it? And even when it doesn’t, it does. If you get my drift….

Another day comes to its close

To conclude, then: we returned to a waiting Marcela, reheated the stew, made salad, sliced bread, and set up a “dining area” in our bedroom (kitchen too small to seat three people), and dug in to a meal fit for queens (while looking over the Park of the Kings where daylight lingered and families were still out enjoying the air and one another).

Roberto (owner of the Airbnb) and his Dutch girlfriend returned from a performance/recital by a group of would-be circus performers and joined us in the bedroom-turned-dining room. Lots of pleasantries and also suggestions for how to proceed on the Camino. “Go to Rabanal. You must go to Rabanal. Eat at El Refugio, a restaurant for which I am a consultant. I help them become more modern, more successful. There’s a monastery there. One stays for two or more nights. You should go.” (“And the rest,” as they say, “is history.” You’ll hear more about the degree to which I listened to Roberto’s recommendation in time.

I felt so bad: I was all prepared to give Ginny a massage… and by the time the “party” was over, I was 100% exhausted. The massage on the tight muscles was not to be. In spite of the big bowl of oatmeal, in spite of the lamb stew. In spite of my best intentions. Not to be. This night was over!

(You see why I had to postpone the telling of this day? It was too special not to do it justice. Photos from the day may or may not already have been posted somewhere by Regina, one of my at-home techno-geeks. Perhaps she’ll add some to the start or end of this post. And perhaps not. “Let it go, Katy. Let it go.”)