Scallop shell marker embedded in a city street on the Camino de Santiago trail; photograph by Madelyn Given.

El Camino: A Quiet Walk

After my adventure the other morning, when I missed a trail marker, today I was hoping for a quiet, uneventful day of walking as I continued on my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in fall 2014. The landscape on the meseta is scrubland and grass, chopped low by grazing herds of sheep. In the middle ages, there were herds of 30 to 40 thousand sheep in this area. Today I stopped and let a shepherd, his dogs, and a herd of about 400 sheep pass me.

On my way to Reliegos, I passed benches along the trail. Since even one bench on the trail is unusual, to have one every kilometer for over 20 milometers kept me entertained. I did not stop to sit on any, nor were any other pilgrims sitting, and I didn’t see one pilgrim during that time.

Two bikers passed me on a road that ran parallel to the trail. As they passed me, I heard one of them shout out my name! It was Ruth from New England. I had not seen her for days. We had first met walking on the trail going into Pamplona. Although she had fallen badly earlier on the trail, resulting in a cracked rib, a goose egg on her arm, bloodied knees, and quite a few bruises, she had gotten fixed up and was walking again when I met her. Now, she was biking with a guide. Later, I saw her again at an albergue, and she was planning to ride a horse to the end of the trail. She was determined to finish, and she was quite sporting about it.

In the very beginning, I had met two other solo women hikers from my home state, but they quit after a few days on the trail. The experience was more than they had envisioned. I met up with a lone Canadian woman one morning. She had been walking with a friend who had developed a leg problem and had to quit. This woman had to adjust to going it alone, while her friend flew home without her. There are many different situations for the pilgrims walking here.

I have been hearing lizards rustling in the underbrush, all along the trail, but today I saw several. Nature keeps me alert and interested in walking.

I spent the night in Reliegos and had my own room. It was a quiet change and a chance to recharge my batteries. I didn’t have dinner last night, and today I stopped at a mercado and got a coke, a bocadilla, and something for later.

My goal now is to head straight to León: 24.5 kilometers. There are several towns and lots of countryside before this big city. The first town after Reliegos is Mansilla de las Mulas. There, I saw a large group of pilgrims waiting to catch a bus to León. This was very upsetting for me, a hiker, to see pilgrims getting on a bus! I was glad I didn’t know any of them.

I walked on through this beautiful medieval town with massive walls (three meters thick in some places), lovely plazas, and colorful window boxes on the homes. I took a few photos and continued on to Villamoros de Mansilla. It was cool, pleasant walk in the morning.

I went past the ruins of Lancia, on a hill near the trail. Lancia was the site of an ancient Celtic town, the last holdout of the Celtic Asturians, before it was captured by the Romans in 26 BC.

I crossed the Río Porma on a Roman bridge with 20 arches. Then on through Puente Villarente, Arcahueja, Valdelafuente, Puente Castro, and the suburbs of León.

I followed the yellow arrows and brass scallop shells embedded into the sidewalks, until I reached the center of León. You can see one of the scallop shells in my photo at the top of this blog post; these markers were very common in the big cities on the trail. Now that I had arrived in León, I headed to the albergue that was once the medieval Monasterio Benedictino de las Hermanas Carbajalas.

I had now walked from St. Jean de Pied de Port, to Pamplona, Burgos, and León. I had hiked through the Pyrenees and the infamous Meseta. All of this was behind me. I am excited to continue to a different climate and region, with different scenery, people, and customs.

(posted March 31, 2015)