Calzadilla, León, Hospital de Órbigo. The accidental 37 kilometers.

Wednesday, May 14

The road out of Calzadilla was quiet. I walked for a time with Lawrence and Pamel, but eventually at my pace we separated. It was a long way, little but wheat and dirt and canals for 24 kilometers, when I came to Mansilla de las Mulas. It was still early, so after a quick bocadillo and a little cerveza I left the town. I intended to stop at Puente Villarente, but the way the busy highway passed noisily through the town didn’t appeal to me. As I was walking I met again with Matthieu, an eminently fashionable Frenchman never seen without scarf and beret, and his new friend Tamie from Brazil. They also intended to continue past the town, but stayed a while by the river to rest.

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Five kilometers later I came to Acahueja, a sleepy pueblo like most with just one albergue. Since the center of León was more than 10 kilometers away, I was happy to stop there. A 34km day in total seemed like plenty. When Matthieu and Tamie arrived, I sat on the patio with them and with Nina from Slovenia. We enjoyed a basic pilgrim’s dinner during which Matthieu often remarked half-jokingly about the superiority of French wines over all others, and listened to the stories of two British men who have been doing the Camino in chunks together.

Night time was a chorus of snoring, and morning came at 4:45 when most of the room’s inhabitants decided to wake up and put on a light show with their headlamps and flashlights. I set out in the cold air and dim light knowing that León would be my stop for the day, only a little more than 10km away.

The town was buzzing even in the morning in the plaza in front of the Gaudí house. An important political figure, I think the regional president of the province, had been killed the day before. The details are a bit lost on me but it seems like it was done by an angry former employee.

I walked towards the Cathedral and came across Tamie and Matthieu, who would not be stopping in León that day. We had breakfast together — for me, café con leche and chocolate con churros, apparently a specialty in the city. I took their photos and we said our goodbyes. They walked away hand in hand. Ahh, Camino romance.

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Unfortunately I know almost nothing about Tamie, other than that she is a vegetarian. I only met her briefly and she’s very quiet. Matthieu lives in Paris and formerly worked for a company that manages how advertisements are targeted online. So that when you go searching for shoes online and then later visit your favorite news aggregator, you see advertisements in the sidebar for shoes.

This fails to explain why Facebook is so very sure that I should sign up for Christian singles websites.

I booked a bed at the albergue San Fernando de Asís, where I found that my roommate was a Texan father I’d met earlier on the trail. He took a bus ahead of his family to rest his feet, which were in a lot of pain.

I thought I’d go see the cathedral interior, so I began walking there, but I was stopped by Alejandro, a Spaniard who lives in Barcelona but isn’t himself Catalan. We’d first me in Teradillo de Templarios. He’s on his way to the end of the route, having begun along the Camino del Norte before swinging down to join the Francés.

He was having breakfast with a Brazilian girl named Larissa, a Brazilian guy named Miguel, and a Korean I’d met before named John.

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John is always bubbling with emotion, usually happy but sometimes sentimental. After dealing with an illness he quit his work and began traveling. He studied martial arts and meditation. He’s attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama in Nepal. He’s lived in India, and a host of countries in southeast Asia. Here on the Camino he has many names — Juanito to the Spanish and Brazilians, Giovanni to the Italians, John to English speakers, Jong-gu to Koreans. He speaks to everyone, knows everyone, and delights everyone. We joke that he’s a legend. La Leyenda de Juanito, Alegría del Camino.

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When I told the group I intended to stay in León for a day of rest, all but Alejandro decided to stay as well. I showed them to the albergue I’d found. After some laundry we went out for lunch with the intention of continuing to see the cathedral interior. But the funeral services for the fallen politician were beginning. After speaking with a group of Frenchmen for a time, we went down to a different plaza to meet with Sarah, Jonathan, Antonio, and Kristie.

Sarah and Jonathan have been traveling together for a few days, and the night before they had woken and left their albergue at 2am to walk at night and see the stars. We spoke for a bit before my friends and I left to find the worst dinner we’ve had on the Camino. There’s a restaurant with a sign that says Cafeteria over it near the Cathedral — I can’t recommend it.

We left early the next morning to reunite with Alejandro in the next down. The camino had a fork today, as it has once or twice before, with a choice between walking along the highway or out through the fields. I always choose the fields. We walked the 22km to Mazarife, but it was still early. We walked 10km more to Villavante, and the albergue was full. I tended to two blisters I’d gained through a sloppy taping job on one toe, and we walked another 5km to Hospital de Órbigo. To clarify, that’s the name of the city. I’m not actually in a hospital. And so we accidentally walked 37km today. Oops.

This morning as we walked Larissa described to me why she’s here on the Camino. She’d been working in a office job, like so many of us, and decided she had enough. She felt it wasn’t achieving anything that was important to her, and she wants some time to reconsider what it is she’d like to do. She seems to feel that she doesn’t know what her particular gift or calling is. I think perhaps she hopes to find it here on the Camino.

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Once Miguel learned about my former job and that I’d worked on Life of Pi, he spoke to me for a while about how to interpret the story. Was it a boy in a boat with a tiger? Or is the boy the tiger? I explained the interpretations I’d come to know and shared what seems to me to be the moral of the tale — when in doubt about the truth and in either case the core of it all remains the same, choose the better story. The one you prefer.

Alejandro overheard and we talked also for a time about a book he’s reading, about a wealthy businessman who, after a heart attack, decides to sell everything and learn from monks. It’s a story about the importance of willpower and controlling your mind rather than having it control you and paralyze you. I tried to will away the blisters I could feel forming on my toe, but I think that’s probably a bit literal.

So tonight we’re in Hospital de Órbigo. In León, Sarah said that the shortness of her remaining time on the Camino was becoming something clear and imminent for her. She seems to want me to reunite with her and Jonathan one more time as they travel to the Cruz de Ferro. All that is honestly a bit surreal after the events of last week.

Very hungry, and very much looking forward to a proper pilgrim’s menu tonight.

-Daniel

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