Waking up in my four-star hotel, in a spacious bed, I contemplated staying another day. However, contemplating the cost of another day got me upright and dressed.
From there, I let my intuition guide me. I still wasn’t feeling great, which was concerning since I’d been on antibiotics for three days. I dressed and began to pack up my backpack, noticing myself lashing down my walking sticks as if my wise self wasn’t planning to use them.
In the morning, I couldn’t decide what to do. I still felt rotten. Should I head off like the others? Should I stay put for a night and try to get a private room? I sat up and, almost robotically, started putting on my socks, one at a time.
Looks like I’m getting dressed to leave, I thought. Pants went on and I stood up. Let’s just take it one step at a time and see how I do.
Still feeling feverish, I wobbled my way down the cobbled streets, following the yellow arrows.
If I learned any new, important vocabulary on this pilgrimage, it was the word tranquila.
Many of my interactions with the Spanish people included this word as advice to me. Be calm. Be at peace. Be at ease. Be relaxed. Be serene. So many meanings embedded into this simple word. Every reminder I received to be tranquila illuminated the many ways I struggle with fear and anxiety without even realizing it.
On my first day of walking completely alone, I slipped out of the crusty hotel first thing, with visions of a comforting breakfast to warm me.
As I walked León’s streets, I realized there were no cars were on the roads. This city of 130,000 was completely, eerily dead. No buses. No people. The silence and cloud cover made everything feel spooky and post-apocalyptic.
“Well, a few things are for certain,” I wrote in my journal after arriving by bus into Leon. “One, I really dislike cities and León is no exception. Two, I’m not a cheap hotel kind of girl. Three, it’s very hard to use a toilet when the bidet is so close I bump my knee. Four, a little humor goes a long way. And five, I don’t like being alone.”
After a long night’s rest in Carrión de los Condes, Muriel and I enjoyed a leisurely morning and a good breakfast. Eventually, we headed down to the bus station (which was also a café) with different destinations planned — she to la playa at San Sebastien for a few vacation days and me to León. Taking the bus would help me recoup some miles to reach Santiago on time and catch up with Katrin, Meg, and other friends. I didn’t feel even the slightest bit guilty.
It’s been said that the lessons of the Camino come in three parts, corresponding to the phases of its physical journey. The first lesson is the body, second the heart, and third the spirit. If this is true, then the meseta is the realm of the heart as the second third of the journey emerging between the mountainous Pyrenees and hilly Galicia.
Over these fecund and flat lands, one has the opportunity to contemplate the inner world of the heart without excessive physical strain. It’s certainly a contrast from the cities and forests. Many complain of the boredom of the meseta and absence of interesting features.
Ever since I took that hike to Cascade Head, I’ve been gradually coming out of a year-long post-Camino funk. I’ve been reading a lot and talking to others about the muddled sadness that can follow an intense life experience and the choices that aid in coping and thriving. Whether completing service in the Peace Corps, doing a tour of duty, or ending a long-distance walk like the Pacific Crest Trail, people seem to be affected in similar ways afterward.
First there’s elation of having accomplished something so momentous in terms of time, effort, and impact. The achievement creates a glow around the person–especially if the experience ended positively.