Lost in the Fog

With my new novel Lost in the Fog about to be published, in September of 2019 I embarked on a four month trip to France, Spain, Portugal, and the Caribbean. The main reason for the journey was to hike the Camino de Santiago, a 550 mile pilgrimage. With this blog, I am excerpting from the journal I kept and am sharing what made it so special. David Lynch once said "getting lost is beautiful", and my voyage embodied that definition.

Monday, October 7th – 3:23 pm
El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas
Las Delicios del Camino Café
, Mansilla de las Mulas

Drinking a grande cerveza at a sidewalk café after the day’s walk never gets old.  We’re right around the corner from the municipal albergue where we’re staying, and feels nice to get showered and settled this early in the day.   The bartender serves us a weird sardine tapas, and while J’Nell isn’t interested, I’m so hungry I scarf down both of the strong fish tasting bites.

We were on the road this morning at 8:10 am for another gorgeous sunrise, and it was the coldest weather we’ve experienced thus far.  There would be no food or water for about 8 miles to the next town, so we made sure to fill up our bottles and eat some granola bars and fruit before setting out. 

Leaving El Burgo Ranero we follow the country road on a gravel path, flat fields stretch out for miles on either side of us.  There are a lot more people on the Camino today; not crowded, but surprising to see since we’ve been walking with very few others lately.  At Reliegos, where we passed more bodegas (or hobbit houses if you prefer) built into the hill, we stop at the first café for our normal late morning brunch. 

This fuels us to our ending point of the day, about 6.5 km later, at Mansilla de las Mulas.  J’Nell and I stroll through the crumbling old Roman Gate, which long ago lost its arch, meander the Medieval streets, and finally arrive at the municipal albergue where thankfully there are plenty beds. 

Sunrise in El Burgo Ranero
Mansilla de las Mulas …. here we come!
More hobbit houses….I mean bodegas, in Reliegos

….Later on after dinner

J’Nell had booked a donation based massage at our albergue for 5 pm, so I go to another bar directly across from the entrance.  British Peter is there and we have a nice chat over beers. He lets me know he isn’t done walking for the day, and will be continuing another 18 km all the way to Leon!  Peter is on a very tight deadline, as he’s meeting his “better half” (his words) in Santiago on October 21st. J’Nell joins us and we bid him a Buen Camino.

Dinner is at La Curiosa, a restaurant housed in an old pharmacy with a plethora of cool bric-a-brac; according to my Moon guidebook, it is supposed to be one of the best places to eat on the Camino.  Entering just past 7 pm to a near empty room, I ask the woman who was bartending (possibly the owner as well) when the kitchen opened. She answers with a smile, “whenever the cook arrives”.  Maybe 10 minutes later we are seated and she serves us an outstanding meal. 

Back at the albergue, we open the bottle of wine bought earlier and share a glass with Hannah in the kitchen.  We have a nice conversation with her and her friend Layla (very tall, in her 20s, from France), but 10 pm lights-out is fast approaching. Everyone shuffles off to bed, and while I could certainly stay up for another glass to write in my journal, I pack the rest of the bottle and join them.

J’Nell with British Peter

Tuesday, October 8th – 5:53 pm
Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon
Café La Estrella, Leon

J’Nell and I drink beers at a sidewalk café while our laundry spins in a dryer around the corner. This is the same big city routine we did in Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, and now Leon (population 127,000).  In every other town along the Camino where we slept, we’ve handwashed our clothes and hung them to dry.  It’s nice to do a proper wash in a laundromat, and then it gives us time to write in our journals.

Today’s walk from Mansila de las Mulas to Leon is one many pilgrims skip by bus.  The Brierley book calls this stage “a slog”, “worrisome”, and “potentially hazardous”; even he suggests skipping it if you’re concerned about time or have an injury.  J’Nell and I are physically fine and we’ve never been in a rush, so there wasn’t any thought of avoiding today’s walk. 

No judgement against anybody who does (everyone walks their own Camino), but after taking every step for the stage I would completely disagree with the book calling it a slog, wearisome, or hazardous.  It’s no more so than most any part of the Camino when you’re by the side of a highway or walking through an industrial area.  J’Nell and I would enjoy it.

The morning starts frigid again with another stunning sunrise as we cross the bridge and get a wide view of Mansila’s Roman walls.  There is a dark blue, pink, and yellow glow along the horizon in front of us, and the busy highway is shielded by trees until the road tracks off to another direction with much fewer cars.

We detour half a kilometer off the road to stop in the town of Villamoros de Mansilla for a coffee and croissant.   June and Hannah are sitting at a table together at the cafe, and we join them.  Always nice to see familiar faces on the Camino.

A few miles later we reach the pedestrian bridge which crosses the Rio Porma.  To our right an old stone bridge is going through a restoration project, but still looks pretty over the wide body of water.  In the town of Puente Villarente, J’Nell stops to pet the horses she spies a few feet off the trail.

For the rest of the day, even when we got on dirt paths, the highway is always close-by.  In Arcahueja we fill up at the fountain inside the shaded rest area, and then struggle up a steep but (thankfully) short hill.  There is still about two hours of walking until Leon. 

After finally cresting a ridge we see the sprawling city about three miles away, and soon glimpse the spires of Leon’s famous cathedral far in the distance. We are maybe one hour away, and with all the pavement we have gone over, my feet ache.  It feels good to know we’ll be staying two nights in the same room.

Mural showing our walk to Leon
If you squint you can see the Spires of the Leon Cathedral (just left of the center)

….Later on back in our room

After dropping off our clean clothes at the hotel, we make our way to the Medieval center of Leon. In Regala Square the cathedral looms majestically over the cafes, shops, and all the people buzzing about the area.  At 7:30 pm most everything is shaded except for the church, where the sun casts a golden glow on the beautiful building. 

We have a perfect view of the scene at a place called the Albany, and enjoy a beer while waiting to find out where Russ, Emilio, Doug, Nancy, and the rest of the crew will be.  We soon learn they are at Molly Malone’s, just around the corner, and meet them at a sidewalk table.

We are introduced to more friends: Alex from Vancouver, Michelle from Australia, Quinton from South Africa, and Diana from someplace I cannot recall.  The maître d’ from the restaurant across the street starts hitting on Diana, and eventually holds out a flower in her direction.  Nancy is next to her, and jokingly makes like its intended for her.  The guy plays along, there’s a lot of laughter, and we all end up having a wonderful dinner at his restaurant called Green Corner.

Sadly this will be the last time we’ll get to see most of the group on the Camino.  Almost all will start walking again tomorrow while J’Nell will enjoy a much needed rest day.  They’ll also be doing longer hikes than us in order to arrive sooner in Santiago, so we won’t be able to celebrate with them at the end.  Very much a bummer, but I’m grateful for their friendship and the magnificent times we had.

Golden glow on the Leon Cathedral before meeting up with our friends
At Molly Malone’s with some of the finest people you’ll ever meet

October 9th
Exploring Leon

While we call them rest days, they’re more about exploring the town than actually being off our feet. Getting inside the cathedral, which began construction in 1205 and modeled after the one in Chartres, is our main objective.  It’s better than advertised, as fine as any that we’ve visited on the Camino thus far.

The interior has the most impressive stained glass windows of any place I’ve seen not named Sainte-Chapelle.  Words, pictures, and even the videos I took do not do it justice.  We spend about an hour there, and I could have wandered around a lot longer gawking at all that gorgeous stained glass.

Next is a visit to Basilica San Isidro, with its strange patterns chiseled into the pillars, walls, and just about everywhere there is stone (very Da Vinci Code).  We do some shopping afterwards, check out the city’s outer edge Roman walls, and have an epic Italian lunch in the cathedral square.  While heading back to our hotel we run into Jeremy and Butterfly, our friends we haven’t seen since Granon two weeks ago! 

Later that evening we meet them and their friend Camille, who amazingly started her Camino 500 km before we did in Le Puy, France!  We begin at their Airbnb with a bottle of heirbas and some wine, and then wander past the cathedral to the plaza mayor.  There are a lot of restaurants to choose from, and we pick a place called Mama Tere for dinner.  Too cold for a sidewalk table even with the heating lamps, we eat inside and have a wonderful evening with terrific friends.

Roman walls in Leon
Never pass up a chance to take a photo with a mysterious chicken sculpture

One thought on “Lumbering towards Leon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: