DAY 18: June 20th, 2014. Calzadilla de los Hermanillos – Puente de Villarente, 30 km
I am walking fast and smoothly. I haven’t been taking any Ibuprofen for two days, and today I finally got rid of my knee brace. What a feeling of freedom, releasing my left knee from the constant contact with that awful black neoprene!
The weather was also on our side, but we were still looking forward to arriving in Reliegos for a break. A three-hour lunch and a couple of bottles of wine later, we were walking even faster.
In Mansanilla de las Mulas – surprise, surprise- we found Miguel. We celebrated the retrouvaille with a beer and promised to meet in León the following day.
After a 12-hour walk, we were all extremely happy to rest our tired bodies in Puente de Villarente. 13 km left: León, here I come!
DAY 19: June 21st, 2014. Puente de Villarente – León, 13 km
I had imagined my way to León many times. Walking the old streets and squares, seeing familiar faces, hugging my inseparable friend Rita after all this time, taking my new friends de tapas… But, surprisingly, the 13 km that separated Puente de Villarente from León were not filled with excitement and joy. I was not in a good mood and I didn’t feel like walking, surrounded by ugly warehouses and factories. I just wanted to arrive.
At 10 AM we finally walked into the city. I left my friends in the albergue in Alcalde Miguel Castaño and headed to Rita’s place. My mood completely changed when I saw my friend: it was just as if I had never left, like if she had never accompanied me to take that train to Pamplona 20 days ago.
I was starving: Rita gave me something to eat while trying to catch up with news. Taking a shower in her bathroom and wrapping my aching body in her soft towel made me feel like a princess. I saw my body in the mirror for the first time in three weeks. I didn’t look much thinner – all that eating and drinking compensated the constant physical exercise- but definitely fitter. My farmer tan looked just ridiculous, but it was a sign of my pilgrimage and I somehow grew fond of it.
By 1 PM Rita and I were picking up my friends from Ademar and leading them through the city’s narrow streets. The Fiestas de San Juán y San Pedro, León’s patron saints, filled the city with concerts, street stalls and general merriment.
Stress and excitement kept mixing during the whole day. I was excited to be finally back in León, to see Rita, Ernesto, Laura and Mariela. Excited to show my city to my friends, to take them from bar to bar and watch their bewildered faces at the sight of the huge and yummy portions of tapas accompanying every corto or glass of wine.
But I was also stressed, because the peace of the past few days was gone. My phone was ringing every 10 minutes: either my friends were calling to ask where I was, or my mom was trying to convince me to apply for a job in a school in Florence.
Houli wanted to buy a new pair of shoes (I gave her directions for the Corte Inglés and she came back with brand new Crocs!), Joanna needed a new SD for her camera, Kieran wanted to party, the girls to rest… Aaaargh!
But well, we still had great time and after filling our bellies with ice cream, beer, wine, croquetas, patatas ali i oli, embutidos, morcilla, and much more, we enjoyed the movida leonesa and moved towards the river, where the atmosphere was great. There were stands with food and music from all over the world, from Africa to Latin America.
After drinking more wine and eating sardinas, asado and pincho moruno, I took the guys back to their albergue and stayed awake till late talking to Rita.
DAY 20: June 22nd, 2014. León – Villavante, 33 km
Leaving León was harder than ever. We didn’t put our backpacks on until 9.30 AM, after a filling breakfast and a last, long hug with my friend. I know that I am going to see her again, but this is really a goodbye.
We passed from the Colegiata and I imagined that scene from “The Way” where the group of friends arrive at this very spot and Martin Sheen says “My treat”. Well, obviously it was nobody’s treat this time, so we just passed by it, crossed the river and walked through the ugly Polígono Industrial.
We stopped in La Virgen del Camino for a sandwich and a glass of wine, after which our speed increased as usual. It was a long but easy day.
We passed by a field enclosed by a fence and full of storks, and while wondering where they all came from, suddenly Joanna went running towards the fence. A little bird had been trapped into the wires. The moment when she managed to free it, together with Nathan, was very emotional. We watched the bird flying free towards the sky with smiles on our faces.
Hopefully I had booked us a night in the next hostel, because we arrived in Villavante at 8.30 PM. There was nowhere to eat but vending machines, so we had beers for dinner while talking to Sebastian, a Dutch guy who had been walking together with his girlfriend since April 1st. Our three weeks of walking sounded stupid compared to their three-month-journey.