May 15th 2015 – Day 10
Leon to Villavante, 30km
I’ve learned over the years to make as little plans as possible while on the Camino, so I can be as flexible as possible. Before I left Dublin, I was mulling over skipping Leon and staying in La Virgen as I have been in Leon before. That didn’t happen. I also wanted to stay in Bercianos again due to the albergue’s hospitality in 2013 but things didn’t quite work out. There was one thing I wanted to do this year that I couldn’t do before and it would involve me leaving the traditional Camino.
I woke earlier than usual, spending time putting on my shoes. Blasted blister..I thought to myself. I was quite lucky though. Many people get a lot more and in more awkward places. I took some more paracetamol just in case my leg acts up. Funnily enough, it hadn’t caused me any grief the evening before. Things could be looking up. I made sure I left the hostal with everything, including my euros. I had no intention in leaving them behind. I left the keys in the main hall and signed my name before leaving. The guys talked briefly the evening before about stopping off in Villavante, a one-horse town 5km short of Hospital de Orbigo on the alternative route. I had my heart set on Hospital de Orbigo itself as I had never stayed there and heard lots about it. Do I stay there? The feet felt good but we are talking about 35km here. I may as well see how I feel as the day goes on.
I left Leon in the dark, passing the Cathedral, San Marcos and over the Rio Bernesga. I got lost a few times as there are few arrows to guide you. Keep your eyes peeled for gold shells in the ground instead! Leon was still alive with people going home from bars and clubs. I learned later on that there are no closing times in Spain. Once you cross the Rio, you enter Trabajo del Camino, an industrial area. It is quite the opposite of the meseta, but you take the good with the bad. I walked past workers as they made they way to work. I didn’t spot other pilgrims however, I must have been pretty early. On passing Trabajo del Camino, you arrive at a collection of hobbit-like houses, which are in fact bodegas. I stopped here for ten minutes or so looking down on Leon. From here, I walked on to the main road before stopping for some breakfast at a cafe along the road.
La Virgen del Camino is the first town I passed through. It’s a small suburb of Leon with amazing church, Santuario Virgen del Camino and it’s albergue which is on the opposite side of the road. I had hoped to stay here rather than Leon before I arrived on the Camino but as I said earlier, plans always change! The Camino divides into two at this stage until Orbigo so it depends what scenery you like. You can walk along the main road via Villadangos del Paramo and San Martin or take a left and walk away from the road. I saw the first arrow and lept for the diversion. I was glad to get away from the main road which I walked along since Mansilla de las Mulas. As soon as I took the diversion, I heard someone shouting at me, telling me that I was going the wrong way. I didn’t think so..and I carried on.
This alternative is pretty barren, but that’s just what I was looking for. It was getting warm also, so I stopped for a bit and put on some sun cream. It was at this stage I met two women whom I hadn’t met before. One was having extreme difficulty walking and the other was helping her along. I walked with them for a while before the woman who was in difficulty said that she was fine. I walked on with my new walking buddy through Oncina de la Valdoncina. Judith was from Belgium and had stayed in La Virgen the night before. The other lady was Scottish and had multiple blisters. She didn’t have walking poles either. I felt her pain! I really enjoyed talking with Judith who was walking to Santiago and meeting her husband there before spending time in Porto. She had a good pace too.
But we didn’t want to rush through the day. We both stopped for second breakfast at Chozas de Arriba. The towns we passed through had a handful of houses but it is better than hugging the road, I reckon. There were far less pilgrims on this option also, I met less than 20. One thing that struck me also was that someone had defaced the Camino sign at Fresno del Camino, the first village on this alternative route. Someone clearly doesn’t want people to walk this way.
We moved on. I haven’t heard from my friends at this stage and it was looking like I wouldn’t see them this evening. Not to worry, there is always Astorga. The next town was Villar de Mazarife which is reached another hour after Chozas. The roads are dusty and to be honest, I wouldn’t call them roads. My shoes were brown on reaching Mazarife. We again stopped for a cafe con leche here in Albergue Tio Pepe. Judith had walked the camino before and had stayed here. It’s a fine place but I just wasn’t ready to stop. Villavante was another 9km away…the feet were fine..the blister wasn’t acting up…I had water..I decided to go! She had made her mind on aiming for Hospital de Orbigo and Albergue Verde, a further 5km, but I knew I was happy to reach Villavante. Albergue Verde is an albergue renowned for serving vegetarian food and encourages you to stay for more than one night. One for the note book I reckon!
We reach Villavante in just under 2 hours and one of the first buildings we see is Albergue Santa Lucia. It’s pretty big. Before I check in I order some lunch and eat outside with the sun blazing down on us. I say goodbye to Judith afterwards..well, it was more “see you later”..as I hoped to see her in the morning. I checked in to the albergue and learned that I had taken one of the last bunks available. Most were booked in advance…part and parcel of the Camino nowadays I guess. I met a few new people here..Daniel from Denmark, he was part of a huge Camino family that were younger than me. He had blister problems however and lost track of them. And Samuel from Germany via Italy. The three of us ate a pilgrims meal which was included in the price of the bunk.
The albergue has a parrot also but don’t try take a photo with flash as you may be asked to leave 🙂 I had an early enough night after a few drinks with new friends. I had plans to aim for Astorga the next day..some 22km away..but I would be back on familiar territory.