As I sit in a very nice albergue (read: sanitary) which I happened to stay in on my last Camino, I'm trying to think about the theme that sums up the last 24 hours. I have settled on "typical...for a pilgrim".
Picking up where we left last night, it turned out that the woman who ran the place did in fact cook for me, her lone pilgrim. God love her for it. When I inquired about dinner she asked if "insalada mista con pollo" would be acceptable. I nodded, grateful for anything at all. So when the mixed salad (oh so typical on the Camino) arrived and had a hunk of canned chicken (instead of the usual tuna) plopped in the center, I figured this is what she meant. It was...less than ideal but I was grateful for it and proceeded to eat as much of it as I could, which was nearly all of it, even if I did gulp down the slimy canned chicken like a pelican swallowing a fish whole. So you can imagine my surprise when an entire piece of baked chicken and fries appeared. "Oh God. Now I'm full on slimy stuff and need to eat this thing so as not to offend her", I thought. So I sat and did my best to eat most of the chicken (San skin-- slimy seemed to be a theme) before I politely begged off. 10 Euros poorer I headed to bed. Maybe it was the full stomach, maybe it was the willful desire not to think about the bedbugs, but I was out cold w the assistance of some TylenolPM and the eye mask from the plane that I arbitrarily saved.
At 6:00am I was sleeping so soundly that I did the math on how long it would take me to get to Leon (I figured 3-3.5 hrs) and opted to go back to sleep until 7am.
As I walked out of my albergue I uncharacteristically began chugging water (from my Platypus) and realized almost immediately that I was out. Good thing I figured this out now as there wasn't much between me and Leon at that point. So I stopped into a bar where I picked up a couple bottles of water and had a typical breakfast for non-coffee drinkers, called ColaCao. It's hot chocolate and the only hot chocolate I've ever had that's better than ColaCao is Ghirardelli. And for 1Euro it even came with a small elephants ear!
So with a liter of water now in tow and a small sugar rush to boost me, off I went to Leon. And what an impression Leon made today. She's the last big city on the Camino. There are some small cities left but Leon is grand. The hike in however, is described as "a slog" in the guidebook. Until you reach the outer city limits its a rough, rolling terrain. When I got to the top of the toughest hill, what would I find but a donativo table. These don't appear frequently enough to call them common, but you do see them every now and then. And maybe it was that it caught me off guard, but seeing it, and reading the note (posted in English and Spanish) made me emotional. The spirit that drove someone to lug these things to the top of a remote hill, and to make an effort to keep these items fresh and cold (!)...THIS is typical Camino.
Paralleling the Way for much of this climb, was fencing. For about a mile stretch, people had stopped to make crosses out of twigs and whatever was laying around. You see a lot of these from Sarria in to Santiago. (I have to believe it's all the religious groups that make the final 100k trek and collect a Compostella). Regardless of who put them there or why, they are touching.
Less touching, more funny is the fact that when you enter big cities you begin to see not only the commercialization, but the *western* commercialization that lives there. Case in point...
I would also pass a "KFC Auto" (drive-thru) and a McDonalds but I wasn't tempted. I had other plans...
As I reached the actual city limit of Leon, I was greeted by the Civil Protection Unit. This group of *volunteers* is there to help tourists (but mostly pilgrims) with anything they might need. They are celebrating their 50th year and they couldn't have been any more kind. The young woman on the left (I gathered them for this photo) saw me coming and got up and came to me. She spoke English and began to ask if I needed a map, directions, medical treatment, etc. I was (again) deeply moved. THIS (spirit) is so very typical on the Camino.
On the other side of the bridge behind them I switched into flip flops since I knew it would be all city sidewalks on my way to....the cathedral! Burgos wins the prize for best cathedral on the Camino, but Leon comes in a close second. It's glorious.
I arrived early. Too early. By 10:45am I was in the city and going to give my old plans a try (of waiting out for a little while until walking my final 5-10k for the day).
Once I reached the cathedral I went in search of a restaurant I ate at in Leon which brought me such joy: Peggy Sue's American Food. It's a 1950s diner that is exceptionally well done. It doesn't feel like it's trying too hard, it just hits the mark. So I searched "American food" on my Maps application and found something called "Taste of America". Oh boy, I had to see this. The logo bared an apple pie and this was the first thing I saw j side the door.
That's right! Jif peanut butter, Oreos, Aunt Jemima, Duncan Hines...it just went on and on.
I've never met an American who actually eats Squeeze Cheese, but there it was in four flavors no less! And then there was this:
That's a snickers milkshake in a squirt bottle. And they came in Twix, and Mars varieties too. Not that I've ever seen such a thing at home. And then there was the beer. Plenty of American beers including this gem which reminded me of home.
So what did I buy? I bought water (not American, strictly speaking), a pack of small snickers bars, and BEN AND JERRY'S! Heck yes "Taste of America" I will gladly buy your overpriced American goods. I applaud you, sir. Uncle Sam would be proud.
The only shade around was in front of this gorgeous building. Gaudi's masterpiece actually. Check out my Facebook page for a bubble image (you can use your phone to have a complete 360+ degree interaction of this place, seeing exactly what I saw in every direction).
This got me to 11:45a and so I decided to see if there was a noon mass. Oh, of course there was! So me, and about a dozen older locals attended the fastest mass on the planet. How long was it? I'm not sure exactly but after it was over and I sat praying for a few minutes I looked at my phone. It was 12:22. I report. You decide.
Peggy Sue's American Food wouldn't open until 1:30p, so I found some shade in a side street that had a nice view of the Cathedral and began to examine my feet. For those of you who can't stomach feet, this is the part where you need to turn away. But fair warning: feet are the biggest topic of conversation on the Camino. They are the necessary evils which get us where we are going and Camino foot surgery is done in the open and without second thought.
So I sat down to give me feet a good once over. The blister on the side of my left foot that I picked up yesterday, while down this morning (pre-departure) was back with vengeance. I decided to draw a line around it with a pen to see if I could keep track of its growth. I'd also discover several small blisters on the edge of my toes (from toes rubbing together) AND some deep blisters on the bottom of my feet (Ball-of-the-foot area) presumably from wearing my flip flops for the 4K or so into the city. Damned if you do, damned if you don't I tell ya...
Did it open on time? This is Spain. (Asked and answered) But it wasn't too long before the glorious smell of hamburgers and chicken fingers was wafting through an open front door. And there I sat, with decent onion rings, mediocre chicken fingers, and wondering what the hell a New Mexico burger was. I texted my friend Heather (who is from New Mexico). She tells me that unless it has Hatch green chile on it, she calls BS.
Either way, I was happy to have some grease in my system before heading out. It was 2k to get out of town. My feet were hurting and I had 6k more to go...in 85 degree heat. To say I wasn't looking forward to it was an understatement. But Leon would give me one last smile before I went on my way.
This is San Marco square and it is home to the most authentic artistic depiction of a pilgrim on the Camino. At least in my opinion. There is a LOT of art of the Camino, which is wonderful. And there are plenty of statues of pilgrims, but in my estimation none beat this peregrino.
This is the real deal. He sits at the base of a cross. In its shade. Sandals off. Bandaged feet. Admiring the beautiful building in front of him with a look of contentment and exhaustion. He makes me cry. THIS is the typical pilgrim.
So as I left town, out to my hot, uphill, slog, I began to thank God. I try to thank God all day every day on the Camino but this time for the ability to get on a plane and go home. The pilgrims in the day of this statue would have been walking from their front door to Santiago. But perhaps what's more impressive is that once they arrived and sufficiently rested they would have had to walk back. Just gnaw on that a while...
Some 2.5hrs later, with a few stops to mend my wounds, I arrived at my albergue for the night. The Big Bertha blistered on the side of my left foot now so filled with fluid that it threatened to burst. And why is that such a bad thing? Aside from the pain, losing that outermost layer of skin is damning because the raw skin underneath will then be exposed and entirely without protection. So Camino surgery was indeed in order.
I'll spare you the details but ALL of my blisters have been drained and Big Bertha now has thread running through it. (This prevents the blister from closing and refilling and also serves to help wick moisture out.)
At present I have 7 blisters in total. Oh, and 2 abrasions from the straps on my flip flops. And although this is typical for a pilgrim, it could be worse. But don't kid yourself, I am DREADING the very special kind of pain that comes bandaging up blisters and then stomping on them for hours on end.
But it has left me thinking a lot about whether I need to be a typical pilgrim this time around. I had hoped to keep myself "pure" by Camino standards. On my previous Camino I walked for 33 days, often in excruciating pain. I never took a bus, a taxi or a train. I never sent my bag ahead. I never stayed at a hotel. There's no "wrong" way to do the Camino. But for me, not doing those things would have felt wrong.
My plans have been to maximize the distance I could cover in 17 days of walking. That entailed rushing to Santiago since I was starting little more than a day behind the guidebook (which keeps an aggressive schedule) AND to walk an extra 3 days to Muxia (the other coastal town besides Finisterre).
As of tonight, I'm beginning to reconsider. Maybe I need to slow down and focus only on Santiago. I can already tell you that there are some hotels in my future. Maybe even a day off here or there. And if I have time, I could always take the bus to Muxia. It's only 2hrs away from Santiago. There's part of me that gets emotional by just the thought of this adaptation, but it is tempered by knowing I didn't start "at the beginning" in St. Jean anyway.
There's part of me that wonders if letting go is itself a challenge from God. Can I relent? Can I accept something less than my own idea of perfection? Can I take the time to slow down, and just be with Him (but don't forget the burning of calories...that's important). Would that help me find a new kind of maturity? Perhaps one that's overdue.
And regardless of the answer, I know that seeking out the answers to these kinds of questions, is so very typical...for a pilgrim.