Mr. Coffee, Meet Mr. Taxi – Day 28 – Leon

IMGP3825

La Torre is slightly off the beaten path in Arcahueja.

Continuing into Leon, I stopped at a small but well-known bar and albergue, “La Torre,” to get some food and drink. It was the middle of the day and it was hot and dry. I was the only person in the small bar, which suited me fine. The hospitalero was friendly and welcoming and there was toilet paper in the WC.

Life is good.

I had already had several friendly encounters that day.

First thing that morning, I had come to a bar for my morning coffee and croissant only to discover that the bar was in crisis. Their coffee maker, the big gleaming metal machine found in every cafe, capable of spurting individual cups of foamy cafe con leche in under a minute, was broken. This was a major problem because the line of pilgrims looking for their morning “cuppa joe” was just beginning.

But the machine was broken. Fini. Kaput. Nada. No coffee, no milk, No happy pilgrims.

The owners came up with the best solution they could on short notice on a Saturday.

They had a small Mr. Coffee and a carton of milk and they apologetically splashed hot coffee into cup after cup as pilgrims came into the bar in a steady stream.

A month ago, I wouldn’t even have noticed. Now, after almost a month on the road, Mr. Coffee seemed completely out of place. I knew, in my heart, that there was no way this would be an “authentic” cup of cafe, but I felt the pain of the hospitaleros as they made pot after pot of coffee, running out and then having to wait while the next pot brewed. At least the coffee wasn’t sitting on the hot plate for long.

I had my coffee (coffee, not cafe, it made a difference to me), wished them luck, and continued walking.

IMGP3820

Tiny raneros

Shortly after, I met a local man who was out for his morning stroll. He stopped and wished me a very fine morning. It had been a long time since a local had given a greeting that was more than just a smile and a nod. We had a short conversation in my very halting Spanish and I felt good as I continued walking.

Walking along a stream, I heard a familiar sound. This time, I stopped and really looked. Yes, there! I finally saw one of those elusive raneros I had heard about from Carlos days earlier when we left El Burgo Ranero. So small but such a big sound!

IMGP3822

I encounter a local eager to chat even if we didn’t speak the same language.

Continuing, I met another local women out for a walk. Her friendly greeting and smile warmed me like the sun and we began to chat. She asked questions about where I was from, how long I had walked, where I was going? She asked if my clothes were comfortable, was everything in my backpack, was it heavy?

I learned that most of the pilgrims she ran into on this part of the Camino, which ran through her neighborhood, didn’t look approachable. Their heads were down, their eyes shaded, they determinedly planted their hiking poles with each step, They all seemed focused on getting one foot in front of the other and she never felt comfortable interrupting them with conversation.

But, oh, the questions she wanted to ask. Why are you walking? What have you seen so far? What are the people like? Where do you sleep? My answers were as complete as I could make them. I asked how long had she lived here? Had she ever walked the Camino? What is Leon like?  She herself had never walked the Camino and now she felt she was too old.

Other pilgrims passed us as we talked. Our chat lasted for at least 30 minutes. We laughed, noting our similarities and differences. Eventually, we went our separate ways, wishing each other a “Buen Camino.”

Now it was lunch time (OK, early lunch, I still needed a real cafe fix) and I was at La Torre. The simple menu appealed to me. I decided it was too hot and late in the day for coffee and went the beer route. The hospitalero saw me wipe sweat from my forehead as I dropped my pack outside and he asked whether I would like an ice-cold frosty glass for my beer. My eyes teared up in joy.

IMGP3824

The hospitalero at La Torre was ready with a fast taxi, a cold beer, whatever.

Bliss was mine as I sat outside in the shade and ate a tortilla (not as good as Sinin’s, whose I mentioned in an earlier post, but not bad) and washed it down with the iciest beer I’d had in a loooong while.

Karen, a nurse from Australia, and another pilgrim, a young woman from Germany, arrived at the bar. They were tired and thirsty. Karen was limping heavily and as soon as she sat down she began massaging ointment onto her knees.

It was at least another eight kilometers to Leon. They considered their limited options and finally decided to try to find a ride into the city.

They didn’t speak any Spanish so I offered to try to arrange transportation. I haltingly asked the hospitalero if there was a taxi available (I hadn’t seen any cars in the village) and he told me that he had a relative who had a taxi and could take us into Leon.

I hadn’t thought of going along for the ride.

I told Karen that a taxi would be available and the cost would be reasonable if it was split. After some back and forth – did they want to take this taxi, how much would it cost, when could it come to pick them up – business was settled and soon a clean, new van parked in front of the bar. I used my “Espanol muy primitivo” to check the arrangements for the women.

They asked me to ride along. They even offered to pay in return for my helping them.

I thought about it. There was not a cloud in the sky, which meant that the sun was really burning down. Siesta time was approaching and the roads would be devoid of people. Taking the taxi would get me to Leon in 20 minutes instead of 3 hours. Having walked about 430 kilometers straight, there would be no shame in taking a 20 minute taxi ride.

Yet, I declined their offer, breaking my new rule of always accepting what is offered. Getting into a vehicle at that point seemed as out of place as, well, drinking a cup of Mr. Coffee. My mind was on walking, slowly, carefully, strongly. Let the adventures find me along the road as planned.

I saw them drive away, slightly regretting my choice as I thought about how quickly they would be in the city and how much trudging l had ahead of me.

The beer was no longer cold, the tortilla was finished. I said “adios” to my hospitalero friend, hoisted up my backpack, and headed out.

IMGP3831

Approaching the suburbs of Leon

A Kick in the Heart and a Very Short Post – Day 26 – Mansilla to Leon

How do I write about this day?

This was a day that would take me from the tiniest and emptiest of villages to the huge city of Leon. I would walk solo for the longest stretches, and also have some of the most meaningful conversations with strangers I’d had yet. I would wind up staying in the oddest pension I’ve ever stayed in, and walk away with a lump in my throat and a souvenir that I will always treasure.  Family would join me with an unexpected kick in the heart.

My saints would be with me, and I would need them.

Looking over my journal for this day, I realize it would make several chapters of a book. How to condense it for a blog?? What do I cut out? What person do I shortchange?

I planned to stay in Leon for two days because I had heard about the Cathedral, because most pilgrims stayed in Leon for two days, and because I wanted to take a rest. But this day alone covers six pages in my journal even though my notes and photos are only designed to jog my memory.

  • Unexpected news from home, which I share with my new family
  • Theresa gives me the guts and I earn a thumbs up
  • I stop carrying around other people’s fears
  • Mr. Coffee rescues a bar
  • My “language skills” help an Australian get a ride to Leon
  • I have an unforgettable talk with a local
  • Raneros, in the flesh
  • Irony at a bus stop in the city
  • Many unnecessary kilometers of walking in the city, searching for necessities
  • I expire on the road
  • Dad sends me a message, although he passed away two years ago

Seeing the Cathedral is the least important thing that happens this day. And day 2 in Leon is another 7 pages.

I am daunted as I try to write. I’m not blocked. I’m overwhelmed.

Any suggestions??

I Get a Camino Family – Day 24 – Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

IMGP3717

I had cancelled my reservation for the community dinner at the convent the evening before so I could go to the bullfight. In return, I made a reservation for breakfast in the morning.

I arrived with the last wave for breakfast and enjoyed the food and conversation.  When the last hospitalero (I’m not sure if she was a nun or not) came into the breakfast room and saw that I didn’t have breakfast in front of me (it had already been cleared away), she insisted upon getting me breakfast. No amount of Spanish on my part could convince her – I knew she understood what I was saying  – that I had already eaten.

In case you’re wondering, breakfast consisted of cafe con leche, some cellophaned croissants, butter, jam, a juice box, and a sandwich to take on the road. If this sounds spartan, please don’t think so. The breakfast was fine and I was grateful for anything offered with a glad heart. All I really ate in the mornings was coffee and maybe a croissant anyway, so this was more than I usually had before getting on the road.

Understand my predicament, then, when the woman in the convent made me sit and have a second breakfast. Coffee, I would drink, no problem. juice, OK, I’m always thirsty. But I already had the first sandwich tucked into my backpack, knowing in my heart that I would not eat it.

And yet, refusing food, in a convent, would probably upset the mojo of the Camino big time.

IMGP3769

Breakfast number two just for me.

So I ate another croissant, drank more coffee and juice, and tucked sandwich number two next to its brother in my pack and set out.

I soon had to decide which path to take.

IMGP3775

Why all the graffiti?

The guidebook listed two choices on this relentlessly hot day. Option one, recommended,  would take me along the ancient Roman road. Historic, yes, but flat, shadeless, and with only one water stop. The other, the Real Camino Frances (that is, Real as in “Royal,” not as in “not fake”) would follow a road.

I decided that I had had enough of ancient roads, historic bridges, and centuries-old churches for a while. The path along the road, which is called a senda, looked straight and well maintained. I decided to take the way that offered a stop (and a bathroom) about halfway.

I took the not-recommended route.

Dear reader, you expect this to turn out badly, but it turned out well in every way. The road had very few cars. The senda was tree-lined and brush free, making it comfortable to walk.

I walked under a little metal archway, an art installation by the local government. It made me think of all the people whom I had not met and would never meet, but who had thought about me, walking the Camino in their town, and who wanted to show that they were aware of my travel. They wanted to give me a sign that I was not forgotten and was well thought of. They wanted to give me a work of art. I cherished that little archway as I passed under it and said thanks to the artist and the people who approved it.

IMGP3776

IMGP3779 At the halfway point, Bercianos del Real Camino, I ran into a home of one of my saints who I have not mentioned in a while. St. Roque (“row-KAY” in Spanish, “Rocky” to his friends) had an inauspicious little “ermitage” next to the bar where I  stopped for a drink. This bar was one of only two places on the Camino where I thirstily downed two sodas in the middle of the morning.

I was very surprised to find Rocky in this most unexpected place. Once again, this ermitage (hermitage) was not on the map.  St. Christopher was apparently guiding my steps. IMGP3780

The ermitage was locked so I couldn’t go in. It probably would not have been much to see anyway.

No great altar, no gold statues, no ceiling up to heaven. Just a simple hermitage, a place of solitude, introspection, and local devotion. It would be meaningful for me only because these weird encounters with my saints  kept happening.

When I settled in at the municipal albergue in El Burgo Ranero at the end of the day, I met Otto, who was Austrian and ran a ski resort and hotel. I also ran into  M.L, whom you may remember had called the albergue at San Juan de Ortega a “hell hole” and was complaining about the conditions in this town now. I had walked part of that day with a woman named Deana, who was English but lived in Germany. And I was happy to meet up again with  Dave and Rena, the newly weds from my first day on the Camino – we had been passing each other for weeks.

But I was happiest to catch up with my two Spanish friends, Andres and Juan Carlos. Our language skills were terrible – my Spanish, their English – but they were funny, they were sweet and they were helpful.  We were similar ages, and similarly enjoyed being among the last to fall asleep and the last to get out in the morning.  They had both been on the Camino before and were enjoying themselves immensely, each for wildly different reasons. Our conversations struck a chord and we became Camino family members.

I, who had decided to travel solo, discovered that just knowing that friends were up ahead or just behind added pleasure to my journey. I liked knowing that there could be familiar faces at the end of the day to share stories with.

IMGP3778

Carlos, me and Andres at Bercianos del Real Camino.