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.
Spend 47 days doing anything and you’re bound to forget something
As I think about my 21st day on the Camino, I remember so little, not even Google Images seems to jog my memory. Where did we walk? What did I eat? I’m drawing a total blank. What I recall is straight from my journal.
My first clue? I wrote “rain, rain… and more rain” on the map in my guidebook. Foul weather means walking with one’s head down which must be why I remember little of the terrain. My journal tells me that the path was muddy from the rain and that I was grateful for my poncho. I remember hearing frogs along the canal.
Almost three weeks in to this journey, walking was a part of me. This familiarity allowed me to notice small distinctions in pace – the body’s speed, how the mind races, and a glimpse into the slow, steady rhythm of a trusting heart. Considering that I often race through my daily life, learning to play with pace as a pilgrim bestowed a number of insights I use in my life.
“As you walk, eat, and travel, be where you are — otherwise you will miss most of life.” (Jack Kornfield)
Unless you go back to the 12th centuryCodex Calixtinus, there are no official stages of the Camino, but to me it felt like there were chapters. In terms of topography, the second stage of my pilgrimage moved from the mountainous first stage to the flatter terrain of the meseta. On a personal level, I gradually turned my attention from my peers to the inner workings of my heart and spirit.