Leon to San Martin del Camino
Depending on which book you consult, we either have another 309 or 312 kilometers to reach Santiago de Compostela. It’s 192 vs 194 miles, and this minor discrepancy in distance is comically ubiquitous on the Camino. Whether you are consulting the books, the apps, the official signs, or local waymarkers, there doesn’t seem to be much agreement.
But in the end it doesn’t really matter. Just continue to walk west and follow the yellow arrows.
J’Nell and I began our Camino nearly one month ago, and I’ve held little interest in the statistics of our journey. Every once in a while it’s fun to ponder how many miles we traverse each day, the amount we’ve traveled thus far, and the remaining distance. But reaching the town of Santiago (and then hopefully afterwards Finisterre on the coast) is the goal, and we do not have a deadline to arrive.
I’m also just enjoying walking every day, and part of me doesn’t want it to end. I actually had a realistic dream last night where I had finished, and was back home talking to people about the Camino. I felt truly sad it was over, and when I woke up I was grateful it was just a dream. But then it hit me lying in my sleeping bag … that will actually happen at some point, so just soak up every second of this!
We don’t leave the AC Marriott until 10 am, enjoying our posh hotel room for as long as we could. Great plan by us, as the day ahead is 16 plus miles of the least enjoyable terrain we’ve encountered on our trip. The trek into Leon was much more enjoyable, and if I were pressed for time or needed to skip a stage because of injury, this is the day I would recommend.
But I’m glad we walked every step from Leon. And after a day like today, you can’t help but appreciate that something like the Camino even exists in 2019. Sure, you might have to amble near a highway or though industrial areas every now and then, but that is the exception. The Way almost always goes through beautiful places of either nature or man-made towns, cities, and churches.
However, the walk today doesn’t offer much to write about except for (1) Convento de San Marcos at the far end of Leon (the hotel where Martin Sheen and the group in the film The Way enjoy a luxurious evening), (2) the pilgrim statue out front, and (3) La Virgen Del Camino about 8 km outside of the city.
The church there is named Our Lady of the Camino, and built in 1961, it is a big contrast to all the Medieval ones we have seen on the trip. I really dug the Mad Men vibe to the place. There’s also a cool metal modernist sculpture of Mary with apostles on both sides of her over the entrance.
After our late breakfast at a cafe across the street, we ponder whether we should do the 2.6 mile detour. It will take you away from the highway, but the afternoon sun is hot and we already planned to walk further than the book recommends. J’Nell and I both agree to stay on the shorter main Camino.
There’s never an issue of safety for the rest of the day, but you’re always near zooming cars and trucks. The incessant noise is also mentally draining. Maybe the detour would have been the right call, but it would have taken too long to get there.
We reach Villadangos del Paramo at 4pm, the book’s ending spot for this stage. It’s the hottest part of the day, and we need a break because we still have another three miles to the albergue we booked in San Martin. We find the one open bar in town, and take refuge under the umbrella outside with a couple of beers. Feels nice to cool down and rest.
From there the trek to Albergue Viera is in the hot sun with no shade. Maybe we should have had a few more beers. The cars and trucks whiz by on our right, while flies from the cornfields on the other side buzz our faces and ears. Strange the day began so cold and ends so warm. We finally arrive at 6 pm, making it one of the latest of the trip.
While checking-in, J’Nell almost sits on a cute black cat that was blending into a black leather chair. Before showering, we chat with our friends June from Australia and Mattias from England (he speaks many languages and had last seen him at the first big dinner we had with the group). We’d like to relax more, but there’s not much time until our 7 pm dinner.
It ends up being a delicious home-cooked community one, and we sit across from a lovely older lady from Britain who has done all of the Camino except Leon to Sarria. She normally walks with her son, but he cannot make it so she is solo. We also meet a young lady from Brazil named Flavia who started a week before we did and will likely finish in 26 days (she’d like to take longer but is on a tight schedule because of her job).
I pop outside after our delicious dinner for some pictures of the pretty pink streaks in the post sunset sky. But that is all I’ll see of San Martin del Camino tonight. We’re back in our private room afterwards, making it the first time we had not explored the town where we stayed.
October 11, Friday – 7:10 pm
GPS Plaza Restaurant, Astorga
San Martin to Astorga
We are out the door at 8 am, and 30 minutes before sunrise, it’s ridiculously cold. It’s frigid for at least another 2 hours until the sun gets higher, and we are both glad we bought hats and gloves in Leon.
The first part of the day is exactly like yesterday (heavily trafficked, flat and straight road), but the sun rising over the cornfields and the purple, pink, and orange sky is beautiful. After about 3 miles we finally turn off the highway to the right towards Hospital de Orbigo. The quiet we experience is so lovely after the incessant drone of vehicles we’ve endured.
The long 13th Century Puente del Paso Honroso awaits. This is the famous 19 arched bridge where the knight Don Suero in 1434 challenged all comers to a jousting tournament because he was spurned by the woman he loved. He prevailed in all 300 matches, somehow wearing an iron collar around his neck, and then made a pilgrimage to Santiago.
No knights on the bridge when we cross, and hardly any people at all. At 9:45 am we get a lot of great photos, and its a special place. After enjoying the stroll across the historic bridge almost to ourselves, we share a very tasty omelet and a chocolate croissant at a café patio that overlooks the town’s icon.
Leaving Hospital de Orbigo, there are two paths. One takes you back along the freeway for 6 miles to save you 0.7 mile walking, and offers no food/places to rest. The other goes through wilderness and natural paths and has plenty of places to stop. We have no need to save ten minutes, and instead follow the lovely detour for Astorga/Camino Way spray-painted on the asphalt.
There is a lot of farmland until we reach the next town of Villares de O’bigo, where we see Hannah and her mates who joined her in Leon. We chat and walk with them a bit, impressed when she gets a call and has a conversation while easily plowing up a steep hill. In that town we also meet a very sweet older gentleman who has written in chalk on the ground in front of his garage “No donations, only ♥”.
On the Camino there are places that give out food and water and ask for donations, but this guy only wanted love. He was wearing a NYFD hat and had postcards, photos, and bric-a-brac from all over the world in his garage (either he has traveled to all these places, or people who had visited sent the souvenirs to him…or a combo of both). He gave us toast with jam sin azucar (no sugar), which he claimed keeps him trim. A special Camino moment.
After cresting the hill we come down into the tiny town of Santibanez de Valdiglesia, where we shed layers and put on sunblock. After the frosty morning it is now sweltering hot. We go up into a brown, reddish dirt with a forest in the distance, and eventually down through tilled earth with bugs surrounding you in the blazing sun.
After a stubborn, gradual ascension up another hill, we reach the oasis of Casa de los Dioses.
This is a donation based food, beverage and rest stop for pilgrims run by the thin, charismatic Spaniard named David. It’s hard to describe how amazing it feels to reach it after walking in the middle of nowhere for so long in the heat. There’s shaded benches for resting, water, lemonade, tea, coffee, fresh fruit, crackers with jam, and other items to eat and drink. David is so nice, and it’s another signature moment for the day.
Leaving there, you don’t realize how high up you are until you see Astorga, way off in the distance. Then it’s down, down, down to the pilgrim statue of the guy holding up the water flask to drink. Nells does an excellent, and hilarious imitation of the sculpture.
We continue in the hot, late afternoon sun to what a lot of people call the Mousetrap Bridge (it looks like some kind of wacky contraption you would build in the board game). After crossing, we are close to Astorga. But we both audibly sigh because there’s another hill to reach it (you’re always going up and down on the Camino, but when it happens at the end of your walk in the heat, it can be discouraging).
We had booked a private room at Hotel Gaudi, named after the famous Spanish architect who had designed the castle like building we had seen in Leon and the similar larger one here in Astorga. At 70 Euros it was clearly overpriced, and after checking-in the pipes (when a toilet flushes or a shower runs) sound like a railway station from the 1870s. But the location is perfect, the person at the desk very friendly, and we were tired and hot and happy to get off our feet.
After showering we view the cathedral next door and take some photos of the beautiful structure. We’ll then walk the length of Astorga to Plaza San Francisco in search of a sunny place to have a beer.. On our way there we see and chat with Hannah in the shaded main square, and also walk through the enclosed Roman Ruins.
We head back to the main square, called Plaza de Espana, and find an empty table at a sidewalk café. We have a great view of the baroque 17th Century Ayuntamiento (City Hall) and clock Tower with moving figures that use a hammer to ring the bell. It’s like something you would find in Germany, and it’s a cool place to have dinner.
On the walk back to the Hotel Gaudi we purchase some of the famous Astorga chocolate bars and a bottle of wine. It’s not too late and we have short walk tomorrow, so we enjoy a cocktail in the cool Belle Epoque bar at our place. When we get back to the room, we hope nobody flushes the toilet next door and sets off the grinding and screeching of the pipes we heard earlier. We’ll pack the chocolate and the wine for tomorrow.