Sunday, September 29, 2013. Well, after two rest days in Leon, many of us (Yves and Janice, Larry, Christel and others) either begin our walk out of Leon or catch the bus just another few kilometers to avoid the UCK and get just a bit closer to the countryside, in the Leon suburb of La Virgen de Camino. From there, the trail splits, again taking either the path along the road or the one through pastures. We’ve done this through the meseta, but now the landscape will change, becoming more spotted with trees and rolling hills before approaching the next batch of mountains.
Christel and I choose the countryside pathway, and we, though we walk solo for most of the day, have agreed that our goal today is Hospital del Orbigo, 30 km from our start. This is the farthest I’ve walked on any one day, and I have a very heavy pack, with food I haven’t consumed yet (Mansilla supermercato and the Leon Farmer’s Market), as well as the boots I had previously sent on by post. I’m wearing the boots, but if they misbehave, the will add another few pounds to my pack weight. But ah, I’m feeling like Superwoman, and have made a reservation at Albergue San Miguel in Hospital de Orbigo, so here we go.
One of the first things I see is something out of a fairy tale. A group of locals are loading a flower-decorated cart onto the back of a flat-bed trailer. I have no idea how they will keep it on the truck once they get it up there, but I stand delighted to watch this scene, wondering where they might be taking this. Could I have a ride? IT only has two wheels, so it must have something on the front that will attach to horses or donkeys. I don’t get a chance for the follow-up, of course, but it does tweak my imagination for part of the walk ahead.
After just a few tiny villages, one with only tables and a fountain for filling up water bottles and taking a rest, I begin to enjoy the change in scenery from the past week. No more meseta, a few trees beginning to show, and the sky a wondrous whirl of clouds that seem to change continuously over the peaceful little hamlets.
Though after a day or two of rest, sometimes my walking legs feel more challenged, this environment allows my mind to sway with the breeze and the clouds. The temperature is right for me, and 30 km or not, I know it will be a beautiful day for walking.
Sooner that I imagine, Mazarife is in sight. This will be a stopping place for many of the walkers, because it is “in the book” as such. I come to a bar with a wide patio and see Larry, Yves and Janice, and two Canadian priests on sabbatical, Tim and Robert. I only know they are priests because Yves has talked about them by name, so when I’m introduced, I know exactly who they are. Robert is showing someone his watercolor sketch book, a 5×8 one, with beautiful renderings of some of the countryside and old churches that have captured his artist’s attention. Pencil sketches at first, and then the water colors added. I wish I had asked him for permission to photograph one or two of them, but that ship has sailed.
Everyone seems ready to settle into this town, but it is only about 2:00 p.m., and we still have 15 km to go before Orbigo. Yves calls the Albergue San Miguel to tell the man that the two women who reserved beds under the name “Joannah” will be late, perhaps two hours. I say, “No, more like four hours,” but Yves has already hung up the phone. Later I will call the man again, but now, I need to get moving. My backpack is ridiculously heavy, but I swing it onto my back, feeling sort of like a pack-horse or an elephant with a side-heavy burden, and begin again to walk.
It is later on this path that the sheep herd spills out in front of me (see Walking Across A Country from October 8). We stop in one more town and I call the albergue again, letting them know we WILL be there, but just later. As a note, I had wanted to go to Orbigo especially because it has one of the oldest Roman bridges in the country, and is supposed to be spectacular. Photo ops swim in my mind. However, we will get there too late to take good photos and tomorrow the early morning will be too misty to even see the bridge. But now, we just want to get there.
At about 7:30, perhaps 8:00, we walk over the beautiful bridge, now in shadow, and I make a mental note to retrace my steps in the morning to get a photo. A few more blocks, at the other end of town, we stumble into our Albergue San Miguel, and our host, Alberto, with his assistant, a lovely younger woman named Begoña, greet us with near shock. Alberto is about 75, and he hovers over us like a loving grandfather, muttering in Spanish about how long we must have traveled, don’t worry about taking off your boots now, sit down, sit down, here, have a glass of wine, no, no, we will check your passports in awhile, but for now, tranquilo, tranquilo. He picks up my pack and looks at me in astonishment. How far did you come today, he asks? I say 30 km. He again picks up the pack, pats my shoulder, tranquilo, tranquilo.
After about 20 minutes, we go through the registration for the bed, payment, stamp the credencial, and Begoña shows us our beds. I ask whether they are both “baja”, that is, lower bunks, and she says no, only one is lower. I tell Christel she should have it, since she has finally begun to feel better in the ankles than she has felt for the past week. As I fling my pack to the top bunk, Begoña returns to our bunk room to tell me she has found another “baja” in the room across the hall, so I move my things.
A shower is always in order after finding exactly where you will put your head at the end of a day’s walk, and tonight is definitely no exception. Clean body and clean clothes. Relief. I take all the food I’ve been carting around, and spread it on the table in the kitchen, gathering plates and silverware to cobble together some sort of dinner for myself. Alberto gives me a carton of gazpacho to add to my bread, olives, tomatoes, mushy strawberries, artichokes, and pate. A bit of this and a bit of that, and I’m full, exhausted, and ready to head upstairs to bed. It is already nearly 10:00 p.m.
30 km. We did it. Greeted by the nicest hospidaliers yet! Crash. Boom. Sleep.