Coffee only taken at the hostel and then headed out. Memories of the laid back night still danced in my head as we passed the funky Reliegos monument with bits of shared wisdom scrawled on its exterior walls by the inspired. “The world is changing, how bout you?” Or “Together, we walk alone”.
The simple, local vino never dulled one’s head in the morning, compared to how a small glass of vino back home could knock hard at times. Guessing sans preservatives made all the difference.
I had been corresponding back and forth with my good friend Doc whom would be passing through Madrid around this time. We had strategized rendezvousing if my Camino and his visit synced. Doc was one of my traveling soulmate. We had traversed about as many countries together as I had with my other traveling soulmate Kashi. The thought of ticking off another country with Doc would be good fun. I considered myself quite fortunate having two wonderful compadres to share my passion of traversing the world with everything I needed in my backpack.
Nowadays, Doc’s present dream job took him around the world in first class style. His comfort level had been upgraded a wee bit since we had last traveled together, but his spirit was the same. The Camino hostels may present more of a comfort challenge for him now than when we hosteled it in England or backpacked through Vietnam. He wouldn’t miss a beat though, as once a traveler, always a traveler.
Past discussions with Kashi about the Madrid diversion left no conclusive answers to go or not to go. Kashi’s time was limited on the Camino and he wished to continue forward. The next village was about a 6 km’s walk. That distance would buy me time to find a peaceful resolution for this desire to be in two places at the same time. En route, we bumped into the Austrian woman from our hostel. She shared that she got sick on the hostel food last night. Condolences and Bien Camino’s given.
We arrived in Mansilla de las Mulas and looked for a breakfast joint since we were fueled solely from our morning coffee. Kashi studied the guidebook. Normally he scoffs at these helpful books. He was strategizing how best to use his numbered days left on the Camino. He was even routing out bus options starting from this village. No pilgrim dare talk out loud about utilizing means beyond one’s own feet to complete the Camino.
I was slowly coming to melancholic terms that two things I had imagined doing on the Camino may not materialize. Firstly, there was the realization that a Madrid diversion would shake up the peaceful intentions of the Camino. Secondly, the acceptance that I may not be walking the usual Camino route if I were to continue with Kashi. A second coffee was needed at this quaint little cafe to digest this new agenda. Parting from Kashi to do my own Camino made me sad. Since I didn’t have a plane ticket home yet, I reckoned I could return later to complete the skipped Camino sections. We had already encountered one woman walking the Camino to and in reverse, stating pilgrims had to walked both prior to buses and cars.
The book also recommended taking the bus from Mansilla de las Mulas into Leon describing the route as the ‘slog into the city center.’ The Camino aligned with two busy highways until one reached Leon. The author further challenged Pilgrims to assess their ego and their intention at this junction. My desire to walk every Camino step was total vanity, but was still very difficult to overcome. Kashi was intent on taking the bus, as this part of the walk would have been a time waste for him. He had no trouble letting go of his ego voice, as he never had plans to complete the whole Camino. My ego was not as tame.
The entire distance to the bus station felt like a walk of shame. My spirit hung low as we walked against the Camino flow back to the station. The ride into town was a quiet, pensive time. I struggled with the self important voices in my head demanding why I wasn’t walking.
Leon is one of the major cities along the Camino route. We had planned to visit the Cathedral at minimum if not stay a night, to explore the city more thoroughly. Everything was closed for the afternoon. Another minor upset, but the true art of travel is how well one rolls with the changes. Today truly challenged that art form.
Not wanting to wait until things reopened and being a big busy city, we decided to move onward. But first a stop at the Parador per my request. This was the fancy hotel that was featured in the movie, “The Way”. Many Pilgrims on the Camino upgraded and stayed here for a night. We just wanted to have a coffee and enjoy the high life for a few hours. Backpacks were acceptable as they welcomed Pilgrims here.
I always enjoyed walking into a 5-star joint in my backpacking travels around the world so that I could feel like a goddess for a few hours. This habit was especially relished in countries where a clean toilet was difficult to find. Surprisingly, in all my five star walk-throughs, I hadn’t been stopped at the door, excepting at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. They didn’t allow sandal wearing patrons at the front entrance. A fellow traveler later shared that I could have walked around to the side door. I had missed my opportunity to indulge in the infamous Singapore Sling.
We really hadn’t figured out where we would end up for the night as we sat, sipping coffee and vino. I did kind of thrive on the “not knowing where I would end up” notion. Per Kashi’s guidebook study, the next part of the Camino was also alongside the highway, so Kashi suggested we return to the bus station and see where a bus could take us before sunset. I surrendered my bruised ego as best I could and put my trust in the Camino.
Astorga was the decided upon destination. We jumped about two days of walking with this plan. So a grand total of three days walking were cut by the end of the day. I recognized the Polish man walking the Camino route on this busy road. Shame flushed through me again as I looked out.
We arrived in Astorga at dusk. We were tired. We passed the Gaudi designed Palacio Episcopal building with its Neo-Gothic style, en route to our hotel. The setting sunlight painted a threatening dark intensity to it’s walls. We had upgraded to a hotel tonight, as we needed the space and quiet to absorb the day’s changes.