After a quick breakfast of croissant and coffee, we dressed up warmly because it looked cold outside. This was not to last for long as the temperature soon reached 30 C – we were getting used to riding in the heat. Now we were meeting other cyclists travelling in the same direction. Indeed, the closer we got to Santiago itself, the more walkers and cyclists we came across.
I was determined to enjoy today’s riding, specially as I knew it would be relatively flat although, once again, it was sometimes difficult to find any trees to shelter from the heat if we became too exhausted. Some of the villages we rode through appeared to be empty. I’m convinced that it was all a front, and that if we had investigated further, we’d probably have found somewhere to stop for a drink. It was curious that, when we did find a small shop cum bar, and I insisted we stop to get some more water and maybe a Snickers bar (my favourite) but were to get no joy here. The proprietor showed definite signs of being either drunk or on drugs as he was acting very strangely. Perhaps it was because he realised that we weren’t Spanish and thought that if he shouted at us in his own language, we would understand what he was saying – which we didn’t but got the general drift that he was telling us there was no food available.
We left with nothing and it was with a huge sense of relief when the outskirts of Leon came into view. Better still, the Monastery was open for those making their way to Santiago. The Albergue de Monasterio des las Benedictinas was to be our home for the night.
I loved this Monastery (not the only, or main, Monastery in Leon), although John was not amused with the long queue which had already gathered. By now, it was late afternoon and both of us were hot, tired, and hungry. Neither in a mood to be standing in a queue waiting to sign in and be allocated a bed. Still, this didn’t put me off being fascinated by the inner sanctuary, and the nuns, who were very helpful.
I was told which dormitory I would be in and I rushed over to put my pannier and hat on a bottom bunk. This was to be a novel experience because until now John and I had always been in the same dormitory. This albergue kept men and women strictly apart so John was on the first floor. Appearing back in the enclosure to wait for him to join me, a nun approached and suggested that she could see if one of the private rooms (usually reserved for important personages) could be used by us as we were a married couple. I was happy to keep to the current arrangement and said as much.
One surprise was waiting for me, however, because when I inspected the ladies washroom I was appalled at the state it was in. No pretence to keep water off the floors, with bits of paper everywhere. Is it something to do with women knowing there were no men around to impress? There was a short note on the dormitory door which said: “To the thief who took our money. We hope you are happy because you stole from students who have nothing”. That was awful, and I was not surprised when I walked into the dorm to retrieve something from my panniers, and realized that I was being watched like a hawk by another pilgrim perched on the edge of her bed. While I would always be wary of keeping my money and Passport with me I had, for some reason, thought that like-minded people (in other words, pilgrims walking the Camino) wouldn’t do such a callous thing as steal from another. We certainly hadn’t come across anything like that so far – that is, until now and it’s very sad because people put their trust in others and feel let down when it is not observed.
Dinner in the Monastery was at 7.00 so we had time to explore the city centre. I think if we were to take a full day off this would be the place to do it – although the albergues don’t like you staying for more than one night unless you are ill. While waiting for 7.00, we decided to explore. We were extremely lucky because the part of Leon the Monastery was situated in was surrounded by what can only be the older part of the city – it was like being back in a lost era. The narrow lanes still relatively untouched by modern-day changes with much of it not having been touched for centuries and all a very short walking distance from the Monastery. We were delighted to come across yet more evidence of Roman occupation when we found the remains of an old Roman wall.
Hunger eventually drove us back to the Monastery where we waited eagerly outside the dining room with a few others. By the time the doors did open at ten passed seven, there was a nice long queue forming behind us. John and I were directed to a long table and sat down next to a shy young German obviously not looking for company. However, there was also a Spanish man who was happy to talk to us in halting English. We recognized him from previous sightings along the way as he was also on a bike. He was delightful company and the evening passed very quickly. Miguel was unemployed “I am riding the Camino because there is not much else for me to do at the moment” he told us.
The staff were obviously enamoured by him and saw to our every wish simply because we were associated with him. He was, in the true sense, a real pilgrim as he was having to rely on the kindness of others. We eventually retired for the night and I slept soundly. At least there was no snoring to contend with (which says a lot), although loud voices tended to drift in from the street below – we were, after all, in a large city.