Saturday, August 13, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 18 Leon-Villar de Mazarife

I WILL get through these Camino posts! My memories are already seeping out of my brain, so I'm gonna get on it!

(Last Camino post was here.)

After a skipping the suburbs of Leon to make the Easter celebrations and a rest day on Monday to take in the sights of Leon, I was feeling ready to hit the trail early Tuesday morning. For our rest day in the hostel we found out that the Benedictine nuns who run the hostel also rent out a handful private rooms. A few of us scooped them up and lived in what seemed like perfect luxury (towels! sheets! a door that separated me from the hundred in the next room!). I slept like a baby, the swelling in my ankle had gone down considerably and in this strange restlessness that hits you on the Camino, when I woke up on Tuesday I was ready to get to hiking again. 

I was also starting (what was in my mind) the last third of my Camino with a new resolve to not walk more than 20 km or so a day and to take care of my feet--hurrying through the wet Meseta resulted in numerous blisters, which, let me tell you, were GAMECHANGERS. So 20 km a day was the goal. No need to hurry. No more than 25. Or so I thought.

Leaving Leon I bid San Isidoro--looking lovely in the morning light--goodbye.

I also stopped to snoop around in the Convent of San Marcos, which is now a Parador (government run fancy hotel). 

Outside they had a pilgrim statue. I stopped to take pictures for the French women who were standing around it and chatted for a while. I definitely resonated with this pilgrim taking off his shoes... 

...and resting in the sunshine. By day 18, I knew that feeling well. 

I threw the concierge a nice smile and he let me have a little look inside the monastery. It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that they allow you to sleep in these places. I was pretty taken with San Marcos. 

The ceiling of the monastery/parador

On the trail again! Oh how I love those arrows!

Just outside of Leon were these little houses built into the ground. I thought they might be some kind of cellars, but I think they were actual houses. Anyone want to enlighten me on these?

For some reason I told myself that Leon was the end of the Meseta. I don't know where I came up with that, but it isn't true. The flat, (normally) dry Meseta stretched on.

On day 18, like most days, I met up with some colorful people. One interesting character was this guy:

We all had pack envy of his rolling bag. He just zoomed right past us with his rolly pack. So smart! 

One of the loveliest, and simplest, people I met was a farmer in one of the small towns along the way. He was knocking the mudd off of his wooden clogs at the edge of his place when I walked by. We got to talking. There was little more than a block's worth of a main street to the town and I think he might have just been thankful to have someone to talk to. We chatted for a bit, and then he grabbed me by the back of the arm and told me that I was always welcome to come back to the tiny town and visit. I was quite touched actually. 

I also walked quite a bit with German Christian, Australian Kate and the Russian girl. I'd known Christian for a while (we had dinner together back in Terradillos), but had just met Kate. She was an Australian urban developer (and reminded me tons of my good friend Meghann). It was always fascinating to me to notice how our different backgrounds caused us to notice different things along the Camino. Christian was on a mission to teach her a new German word or phrase each day. I couldn't keep up, so I just learned two really well (Ja genauuu!). 

The Russian girl was a new face. She was walking huge distances each day and so had caught up with us from behind. She wasn't ready to stop at the end of the day and continued walking to the next town, so I didn't get to know her really well. What I did learn about her was that, while I wouln't even fathom carrying an entire bottle of shampoo, she was carrying a huge block of cheese, a liter of milk and an entire bottle of whiskey (which she drank together). 

Another vivid memory of the day was that the trail was lined with fragrant herbs. Kate, ever resourceful, picked herself a giant handful of what we were pretty sure was fresh thyme to go into the pasta dinner she was planning. 

When we got into town we had a peek at all three albergues and chose the one belonging to a guy named Jesus. Its walls were covered in sayings and messages in a dozen different languages, I ended up with a room to myself (hooray!), and the place had a kitchen--Kate, Christian, myself and a very talkative guy from San Francisco decided to cook dinner together. 

After cleaning ourselves up and doing laundry, I did a little blister maintenance and then soaked my feet in a laundry basket. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that before. We then made our way to the corner store to see what we could come up with for dinner.

Just walking down the street to the store we saw Villar de Mazarife pretty much in its entirety. It also turned quite cold when nightfall hit. It was time for layers and I had no shame walking around town and the albergue like this: 

We also got to feeling good when we started eating. We made something like a bag and a half of pasta, loaded with veggies, and a giant salad for only four people. We invited everyone we could, but there were no takers. Instead actually we ended up with more food--someone gave us their leftover bruschettas. It seemed impossible that we could eat that much food, but, let me tell you, we did. All of it. And it tasted so good. It also put us in the best of spirits. Maybe it was just the good food and good company, the nice view from our table on the rooftop of the hostel, or just the good day all around, but, sober as could be, we couldn't stop giggling and having the best time. When we looked back...we wondered if those sprigs of herbs might not have been thyme after all!

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