“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.
The bus was packed with pilgrims and the ride was lovely, sunny and uneventful. Due to our assigned seating, Muriel and I were far apart, so when her stop came, our goodbye was a quick European kiss on the cheek then copious waves and smiles from the window. My heart felt mixed about the departure of my friend; I was looking forward to having the experience of walking completely alone, as I had intended to, but I would miss her gracious, funny company and the inspiring conversations we shared.
For the remainder of the ride, I sat beside Jim and Cheryl from Oregon who I’d met on Day 15 and got to hear his inspiring story about how he changed his life for the better, despite huge obstacles. As we sped along the highway, I looked out the window sighting pilgrims walking in the hot sun, Camino arrows, and the places where the path crisscrossed the road. “There it is!” I kept telling Jim, and pointing. I even spotted three deer!
When we arrived in Leon at last (covering 96.8 km/60 mi total), Cheryl, Jim, and I walked into the city from the bus/train station, along a lovely river, over a bridge, and stopped right in front of the Leon Parador hotel, originally a massive monastery from 1100 – 1700CE. It was stunning.
“THAT’s our hotel?” Cheryl asked, incredulously. I loved seeing her face!
I decided not to swing it this time in an attempt to stay on budget, but I was so tempted! Instead, I continued on to my 1-star hotel, preferring this to an albergue, which turned out to be a mistake. I asked to see the room before committing and I almost didn’t based on what I saw. I felt tired, however, and was low on other options.
The guy behind the desk seemed gruff at first, but turned out to be a sweetie. His demeanor kind of made up for the miniscule bathroom, earwigs in the shower, the room smelling of old cigar smoke, a view of nothing but closed shutters across the courtyard (8 stories up), and an uncomfortable bed. Not that I was complaining. The pigeon-deterring strips of pointy nails outside the window ledge turned out to be a handy place to hang my socks to dry. Okay, I was whiny, but I felt lonely and a nagging fatigue which, in a few days, would turn out to be something much worse.
I hobbled around Leon looking for an internet cafe, and then took in the sights a little. For the first time since I began the journey, I felt a little self-conscious about my appearance. My big, white sunhat, neon-green shirt, and black, clod-hopper Crocs stood out in gleaming contrast to the fashion-conscious, city-dwelling Spanish. I got a few looks, but I was almost beyond caring. After sending a few emails home, I tried to find somewhere quiet to reflect and pray, but struck out.
Moping, I just wanted to go back to my hotel room and retreat from the bustle of the city. I looked down and noticed a yellow arrow at my feet. “Thanks for that,” I thought to the Divine and followed it back to the hotel.
I also had a laugh with the grumpy guy at the desk. Though I’d tried unsuccessfully to call an albergue to make a reservation for the next day, the tones didn’t make sense to me and no one picked up. A little sheepishly, I went to the desk and asked for help.
He asked me, “No sabes como llamar el albergue, o no sabes usar el telefono?”
I laughed and told him it was the second one, both of us amused at my complete helplessness. He called the albergue for me and made my reservation, which I thanked him profusely.
For as long as I’d wished for solitude, I didn’t like being alone. I felt sad and distressed. I didn’t even want to tell Mary I was by myself in my email to her. When the lady running the restaurant downstairs reprimanded me for wanting a meal before 9pm, I went back to my room shedding crocodile tears to watch stupid TV and eat the last of my granola for dinner.
During the night, I heard a lady walking down the hallway every few hours in high heels. In the morning, I put two and two together.
Before I fell asleep, I kept thinking about what my classy father would say about me staying in a place like this, which nagged at me and I felt ashamed. “This is what you’ve come to,” I thought to myself. “Staying in a cheap, crappy hotel all by yourself.”
It ended a lonely day.
After so many high days and such wonderful company, maybe feeling lonely was just what I needed. I needed to get in touch with my self and the Camino interior. This intention would come to me in ways I couldn’t have expected and blessed me many times over.