Time walked – 7 hours including 4 stops for removing shoes and one stop for lunch
Total distance walked – 12.3 miles
Miles to date – 339.5 miles (Ray) and 329.7 miles (Wendy)
Weather – 55 degrees F to 68 degrees F
Terrain – pavement and some smooth rocky trail
Ray and I could not stay at Pensión Blanca for a third night because she was fully booked. Because we were so comfortable there, it was a good thing we couldn’t stay longer or we might not have been able to get back to the Camino. Fortunately, we found a room at a hotel on a side street near the cathedral that wasn’t outrageously priced for a Friday night in the city of León. It was a quaint, medieval hotel with a narrow staircase and poor lighting to get a good photograph. We were giving a room on the second floor, which actually meant up three flights of stairs. The stairs were wooden and so worn that they dipped in the middle from the thousands of people who had climbed them before us. Our room was nice and we hoped off the main street enough to not hear the noise of the city below.
My feet were still recovering from blisters all around, but three days and three nights in León had been enough. I was very worried about the schedule. By my calculations, we were going to arrive in Santiago two days after our return flight to Panamá that I booked from Barcelona. I thought I had given us plenty of time to walk the Camino de Santiago, planning to finish our trip with a couple of days in Barcelona. I had wanted to visit Barcelona since the first time I had learned about it, and hoped it would be a grand finale to our trip. I knew there would be a penalty for changing our flight, but I was stunned to find out that the cost of changing our tickets was nearly the same as purchasing one-way tickets for us both. I was ready to see if I could get walking again, even if it was just a few miles.
Ray insisted that we begin our day back at the cathedral. He had walked into León and walked all the way to the massive Cathedral de León, and he wanted to start again at that very spot. I was glad that it wasn’t too far from our hotel as I did not want to be taking any unnecessary steps. The day before, I had worn my new shoes for about an hour, then let my feet rest and wore them around town again for awhile. It took about thirty minutes to prepare my feet for walking out of León and I had started in my new shoes. The plan was to stop every hour to remove my shoes and socks, making sure my feet did not get too hot. My feet did not feel perfect, in fact, they didn’t even feel normal, but I was managing to walk without too much pain.
We passed the Basilica de San Isidoro, an active church with a mass for pilgrims, located on an ancient Roman church site. The plaza was empty on the early Saturday morning, but I could imagine activity there, both now and hundreds of years ago.
Ray and I walked across the plaza of the Parador de San Marcos, and I stopped to take another photo of the impressive. I found out after we had visited there two days before that Steve and Ann had seriously wanted to stay in the luxurious hotel but the prices had been prohibitive. Our Camino friend Carmen, however, had been able to get a room for herself there for just over $100. She was like a celebrity with all of us wanting to know what it had been like for her staying there. As I learned about things like this on the Camino, the longer my bucket list was getting.
An hour had passed and Ray and I were still walking through the streets of León. We spotted a park bench and decided it was time for me to check and re-grease my feet. Several pilgrims passed by as I removed my shoes and socks and reapplied the petroleum jelly that reduced the friction between my feet and shoes. Once I had started getting the blisters, I was changed from preventative care to treatment. I finally understood that I needed to do both.
The Camino trail began to ascend out of the city. I looked back at the rooftops under the cloudy skies and wondered if I would ever return to León to enjoy myself. We walked through an industrial area before reaching the suburb, The Virgin of the Camino. We stopped at the second café for our morning coffee. Ray and I had a decision to make while we had our breakfast and coffee. Just passed this suburb, the Camino split into two trails. The main trail was a path next to the highway for 13 kilometers, or approximately 8 miles. A more scenic option veered to the south for an extra kilometer. While we have always opted for the scenic trail, I was concerned about leaving the busy highway to follow a more remote path. In case my feet wore out, we had discussed that I would stop and take the bus to our destination. As far as I knew, the scenic route would not provide that option. I would have to walk the distance regardless of how my feet were doing. On the plus side, it was an eleven mile walk, which no longer seemed very far.
As Ray and I poured over our options, Steve and Ann arrived. I was pretty sure that Steve had already had coffee, but they sat down with us anyway. They had made reservations at the 11 mile village on the scenic route. Even though we had said our good-byes a number of times, Ray and I had enjoyed being with them, and the thought of them being at the end of the day’s journey was convincing. My feet were feeling much better than they had been, the highway option was unappealing, and knowing Steve and Ann were going to be in Villar de Mazarife helped make the final decision.
Just before the split in the Camino, we stopped at the modern church with large, bronze statues of the 12 apostles facing Santiago and the Virgin Mary hovering above them. The altar inside was impressive and beautiful, but I didn’t feel right about taking a photo with the number of parishioners inside the church.
Once Ray and I turned toward the scenic route, I was committed to walking the entire daily trek. We remembered that the salesman at one of the shoe stores had said that the next two days of walking will be flat, so that gave me some confidence as well. Ray remarked several times that it felt good to be walking again. Because of my concerns with my feet, I wasn’t quite as happy as he was, but I was glad to leave the busy city. I continued to doubt my abilities, however, and was not sure that I was going to be able to finish what I had started. I knew that I was determined enough to finish, but I worried that my determination and stubbornness would lead to permanent damage.
We’ve become fascinated with what we were calling the hobbit huts that we’ve seen a handful of times. Steve and Ann were intrigued by them as well, and we all talked about how fun it would be if they were an accommodation option. A hostel near us in Panamá is adding new hobbit huts as an option for a private room. Thinking about our home and friends in Panamá made me a little sad. I normally do not miss my home, but I’ve never before been gone for this long.
We passed a nicely designed sign for a pilgrim rest stop just before entering the hamlet of Oncina. If we stopped, the timing would be right for treating my feet again. I was getting tired as we entered the village and became frustrated when I realized the stop took us several feet off the Camino. My attitude changed when I saw how pleased the man was that created this resting place. He had drinks, snacks and trinkets for sale, but no pricing only donation. He was working on another building when we walked in to the patio, besides the two he had already built. I greatly appreciated the restroom as well as a comfortable place to sit and rest my feet.
Once we left there, Ray and I were back into the wide open spaces of the countryside. The weather started out cold in León but now was perfect for our walk. The clouds started to fill in with more gray, and I felt a couple of rain drops. My reaction was to stop immediately and put on our ponchos, but Ray said that we should wait to see if it was actually going to rain. I convinced him to pull out my pack rain cover, but he would not let me do the same for him. The few sprinkles that I felt before stopping to cover my backpack were the only ones that fell.
Ray had carried my old shoes with him when we left León. He wanted to leave them on the trail the way we had been seeing so many others along the way. We entertained ourselves by trying to find the perfect location to leave them. The cement trail markers were set at each kilometer, but some had been damaged and others had been defaced with graffiti. Eventually we chose a marker and proceeded to fill the toes of the shoes with rocks for weight and planted flowers from the field in the heels. Ray thought we should have a ceremony like a funeral before hiking on, but not being sentimental, I thought getting a photo was good enough.
Ray and I could see the trail stretched before us and pilgrims dotted along the path. As we walk the Camino, we refer to the pilgrims in front of us as ants. Whenever we are unsure of the direction we are supposed to be going, we look for the “ants.” Although the trail of ants has thinned out greatly from the beginning of our Camino, we can usually see them in front of us. I could see several specks of moving peregrinos ahead of us for the first time in days and was excited to get a picture.
We stopped in a small town to rest again and decided to grab a sandwich for lunch. We had eaten nearly as many sandwiches as the number of coffeees we’ve had to drink. As we entered the restaurant, I immediately recognized Marsha, the nurse that we had met on the Camino before León. We spent a few minutes catching up with her and later followed her into Villar de Mazarife. The rain clouds had passed and the sun popped out for the first time all day. We watched as Marsha mounted her trekker umbrella to her backpack for shade. Ray wanted to catch up to her to find out more about her umbrella, but we never could catch her. We have met several women walking the Camino alone, and all have been impressive. Marsha, however, is walking her third Camino, has the coolest gear, and at twenty years older than us, is walking faster than we are.
Upon entering Villar de Mazarife, we were greeted with signs of the Camino everywhere we looked. Steve and Ann had called us to say where they had checked in and let us know that there were still rooms available. We got settled in, and I made it a priority to stretch and get my feet above my head as long as I could stand to lay on the floor with my feet on the wall.
Ray explorered the town, deciding to get a grocery dinner rather than to wait until later for the pilgrim’s meal. The wifi in our accommodation wasn’t very good, so after dinner we headed to the only place open in town. Steve and Ann met us there and we visited for what would probably be the last time on the Camino. It seemed as though we’d thought that before, but our schedules changed from this point onward.
We took some pictures even though it was late. It wasn’t getting dark until ten o’clock, but we needed to get to bed so that we could begin again the next day. The feet on the statue of the peregrino were worn from being touched so much. While I thought it was appropriate that his feet were worn, I was also tired of spending so much time and effort on my feet, more time in the last few weeks than in my whole life before the Camino. This was one chapter I was ready to finish.