Mansilla de las Mulas ➡ Leon ➡Valverde de la Virgen
The morning dawned cold and smelt of damp pavement; it was still a little drizzly, but the rain had thankfully abated. We plucked the newspaper stuffed in our shoes, thankfully drier now than yesterday when we had squelched with every step. We had booked a B&B in Leon, which we couldn’t check into till 3pm so had a plan to either bus or dawdle our way to Leon. We ended up dawdling, stopping as we walked to turn around and admire the beauty of the sunrise. Pink and oranges blending with red and blues in the crisp morning air. Getting up early didn’t seem like much of a chore to me when this was what I got in return.
Most of the 16 kilometres from Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon was along the highway and suburbs. Traversing the outer city limits as we slowly made our way into town. We met up with Bret, a fellow pilgrim from Texas, fluent in Spanish and chatted with him on the way into Leon. We checked into our hotel early and get our pilgrim passport stamped before dropping our things, having a proper long hot shower and going back to bed for a couple of hours. Finally, a proper comfy bed! No snoring to keep me awake and no creak of bunk beds as I sunk into the pillows. It was a cheap hotel, but it was still better than the communal living we had become accustomed to. After sending Royce off to do some laundry while I sat in my underwear back at the room. We went in search of our evening meal and stumbled across KAMADO Asian Food.
The Resturant was quite large and open plan; we sat in the corner and watched the open-air kitchen as food flew upward from woks and steam hissed its way to the ceiling above. The dark contour of the room felt cosy yet majestic, and my stomach growled in anticipation. The meals were large servings; I had a Thai green curry, while Royce Pad Thai. (We have a soft spot for Thai food!) I could barely eat it all. It was Delicious! Exactly the warming meal I was after. As we sat digesting a waitress came out and served us complimentary sake (Japanese rice wine) in apology for having to wait for our food. It puzzled us; we hadn’t thought we had waited any longer that what was normal. The waitress explained that in Spain it was far too long a wait, and many of the local Spaniard’s had been dissatisfied. We were very surprised; we had ordered drinks and eaten in a little over an hour, to us this was very normal. Still, we weren’t complaining at the delicious dessert Sake that tasted of plums.
The following morning was a well-received sleep in, my body protesting heavily at getting out of bed at all. We met up again with Brian whom we hadn’t seen for a few days and explored the centre city, taking photos and trying to avoid the rain. Leon is the Capital of the province of Leon, It boasts an impressively large cathedral at its heart. And was one of the first cities to stage an uprising during the Spanish war of independence. Leon is a milestone of the Camino Frances and is a point of intersection with other Camino trails. Many pilgrims both start and end their journey here in the city of Leon.
After I acquired a pair of long pants to combat the cooler temperatures (I should have brought some with me to begin with.) We found ourselves in the shadow of the gothic style cathedral, a dominant figure in the city. At a bar on the corner we found ourselves among a group of pilgrims (they’re surprisingly easy to spot!) Including Sam, a freezing Australian woman wearing only a light summer dress while her clothes were at the laundromat. Her companions and another younger English woman, Hannah. We drank wine with them and laughed at chatted, huddling up to the outside heater to chase away the growing afternoon chill. Hannah along with Dan followed us back to Komodo that evening for another plate of Asian food as we had enjoyed the previous night so much.
The following day we hung around as we had more friends arriving in Leon. We had contemplated staying another night in a hostel, but decided we had better keep moving. Before leaving, we met with Bar and Sonia again for brunch and Royce got a haircut and shave at the barbers. Sonia and Bar plus several other pilgrims they had become friends with led us to a chocolate cafe where servings of piping hot chocolate drink coupled with churros could be had. As we sat inside on the drizzly morning, there was more chatting and laughing. Everyone was so lighthearted at this point in the trip, really enjoying themselves, not worried about tomorrow. We all knew what tomorrow would bring; we would wake up and walk. It had become the routine, and it was liberating in a way. Get up and walk, stop, have lunch, walk, arrive, drink, eat, chat, sleep. No responsibilities other than yourself. No need to worry about tomorrow.
We left Leon just before midday and spent the afternoon walking out of the city limits. It seemed to stretch on for forever, just another suburb after suburb. It still didn’t feel like we were past the city when we found our rest for the night in Valverde de la Virgen. An Albergue just off the highway, with a pretty garden ornamented with Camino inspired trinkets in and around the building. We found Dan there, having in the morning, but still having trouble with sore feet from his blisters had decided not to walk too far. Being in an Albergue meant we were back to communal sleeping areas. Only we got a double mattress! on a bunk bed?? It was an odd sight, but welcome, and more comfortable than the usual single mattress.
Here in Valverde de la Virgen we were over halfway, but it felt like no time at all had passed since we left St Jean Pied de Port. It seemed almost surreal how much time had passed. Had we really been walking for 22 days now? I sat writing my diary in the cool evening air as the occasional car swished past on the other side of the wire fence. I felt so lighthearted now; I mean I was looking forward to getting back to the wilderness of the track but even with my knee and ankle still in braces I just felt so.. free. Tomorrow I would get up and we would walk, and the same the day after that. I had a goal, but it felt like the worries of the rest of the world couldn’t touch me out here. I didn’t really want this feeling to end.
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