It’s 9:30 on a Wednesday evening and I’m sitting at a child’s school desk, flanked by bunks, and looking through a wire mesh covered window at the square outside my hostel. It’s warm but occasionally a cool breeze wafts through the window providing relief. Despite the late hour there’s ample light to see by and I’m watching the patrons of the neighboring cafe converse. You can hear people speaking but not what they’re saying, except when a shrill voice in English exclaims how much she loves Spanish cafes. A balding man is feeding the pigeons leftovers, the waiter rushes out to clear a table when it vacates all while a young man is serendading the diners on a Spanish guitar hooked up to a small amplifier. I imagine this is what it looks like every night.
Tonight I’m at the Benedictine monastery/convent in Leon, having walked over a full marathon. Putting in an 11 hour day and now watching the cafe, I understand why the Spaniard schedules his day as he does. I don’t quite understand it, but the sun is at it’s highest at 3 in the afternoon (hence siesta from 2-4) and the sun doesn’t go behind the buildings, much less set, before 8 (hence the late dinners). If I were a pharmacist and started my evening at 9, I wouldn’t open the store until 10 the next day either.
Leon is a mid-sized city in northwestern Spain and, like Burgos, sports a large gothic cathedral. This one is based on the one in Rheims, France and, because most of it is one big room, you can fully see the soaring ceilings. Standing in there, you can begin to understand why these things were built. This would be the grandest place a medieval peasant would ever see (I’d point to the gold altars I’ve posted previously) and what better way to convince them that God exists here than to build a ceiling so high that you can picture heaven just beyond?
I will say after more than a full day’s walk, I probably wasn’t in the best position to fully appreciate the cathedral and I was slightly miffed by the 6 euro entry fee (no pilgrim discount). Taken as a whole, it certainly isn’t as impressive as the Burgos cathedral and if I could only visit one, I would pick Burgos. This one is nice, but you can see just as nice or nicer in France, Belgium and Germany with no entry fee.
The reason for today’s walk can be chalked up to an unhealthy combination of stupidity and cockiness. The first 15 kilometers went pretty easy, so we decided to stretch an originally planned 25 to 32. Still feeling good around noon, we decided, what the hell, let’s go all the way to Leon. Maria, who sat out two days so far, decided to catch a bus and meet us in Leon. Rather than make her wait, we figured we’d walk 1 1/2 days mileage and just meet her today. Since I actually like seeing things along the way, I decided to tack on the cathedral as well. (This is Spain and the cathedral won’t open until 9:30 tomorrow, by which time I’ll be moving on)
Astute readers will notice that I’ve been behind in my posts by a day. Since absolutely nothing of interest happened yesterday, I’ve decided to combine the two days into one post and just focus on today. Tomorrow will be a short day, but hopefully more full of experiences than what I’ve had recently.
I decided to break off from dinner early so I could attend to some personal business and I’m glad I did because after my shower, a nun came through the dorm rounding up people for the evening prayer and pilgrim blessing. I’ve yet to attend mass on my trip but a blessing seems palatable.
The whole affair was in Spanish but we were given little booklets that explained the prayers in our native tongues. There was singing, recitation of psalms, prayers and a heartfelt offering of safety, contemplation and accomplishment at the pilgrimage’s end by the roughly 15 nuns in attendance. Once again I’m struck by how there are people along the Camino who’s only purpose is to serve the pilgrims that come along. The nuns that operate this place charge a measly 6 euros per bunk. There’s no way their costs are covered, not to mention the extras like taking time each and every day to deliver a special blessing.
The Camino’s origins are spiritual (Catholic, specifically) and I want to take the last few weeks and explore that aspect a little bit. For now, I’m beat and am headed to bed. Good night.
July 11, 2017
Ledigos to Berciano del Real Camino – 16 miles
July 12, 2017
I loved this show as a kid