The weather continued to be wet and windy yesterday. I don’t have any jacket or any clothes with long sleeves or any trousers other than shorts here. So now I know a new fact. If you want the ultimate exfoliation experience, expose sunburnt skin to hailstone and strong winds. I basically have no skin left at all. It hurts to shower.
My feet are a different size in the cold weather too and suddenly my sandals are hurting in ways they haven’t before. There was quite a bit of blood on my feet to deal with last night.
All that said, I still think walking in the wind and rain and hail and storms is more pleasant than the debilitating heat I’ve had to deal with for most of my Camino.
Yesterday I got to León, which means I crossed the 400 km point in my journey. León is also the last “real” city on the route before I hit Santiago itself. I’ve already complained enough about cities and how unsuited they are for hiking through. This wasn’t as bad as the walk into Burgos, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant. For a long stretch on the way into León, you’re dealing with a complicated road system of bypasses and ring roads and motorways. They’ve built wooden walkways over some of the motorways and they are terrifying. I know I’m a scaredy cat in life in general, but I never realised I was scared of heights until I found myself inching across a flimsy wooden bridge, high in the air above an eight-lane motorway. I was clinging onto the handrail for dear life. Then, suddenly, the whole bridge started shaking. “That’s it!” I said to myself. “This is how Connor dies.” I could visualise the bridge falling beneath me and I’d reach out and hold on to one plank but finger by finger, gravity would drag me down to my gory death on the motorway. You’ll be pleased to hear that I didn’t die. The shaking wasn’t the bridge collapsing. It was a man out for a run. He saw me clutching to the handrail with the fear of death all over my face and he smiled.
In the outer suburbs of León, there’s a pilgrim hostel. Most people want to get into the centre – if you stay in the suburbs, then you’ll have an extra five kilometres to face in the morning and no one wants extra kilometres. But the hostel is clearly eager for guests. There’s an absolutely enormous sign outside it saying “You ARE in León!” I don’t know if they’re fooling anyone. I carried on into the centre.
I was so tired, I collapsed into bed without having dinner. Now that every day’s walk is a “long day” in comparison to when I started the Camino, I find myself going without dinner a lot. Don’t worry though. I’m not starving myself. I often have two breakfasts.
Today was dry, but still cloudy, a perfect walking day. A lot of the day was spent in the outskirts of León, the centre of which is lovely, but I found it difficult to love it today, as I spent almost four hours walking through industrial estates.
I’m now basically doing a “Brierly stage” every day. This means that I’m often seeing the same faces on the road, as I’m more or less at the standard pilgrim pace now. One person who popped up again today was the xenophobic English guy who I can’t seem to escape from. He came across me today while I was having a break on a bench. He sat down next to me. I have to admit I was unfriendly to him, but I just have no interest in his “banter”, even if he does have perfectly lickable biceps.
Another group who I’ve run into a few times in the last few days is three middle-aged Frenchmen, who always greet me excitedly in French. They call me “One Direction” because of my cap and one of them is very encouraging. They don’t speak any English, but they get their message across. The enthusiastic one mimes having a big belly like me, and then gives me a thumbs up and laughs and says “Bravo!” over and over again and claps and pats me on the back. He’s clearly being kind, or trying to, but I sort of hate him.
They’re not the only French people I meet. The standard pilgrim greeting is “Buen Camino!”, which means “Have a good Camino!” I’ve heard all kinds of pronunciations – Bun Camino, Buon Camino, Ben Camino, Bin Camino, Bon Camino, Boon Camino, Bien Camino, but no matter how people pronounce it, everyone makes the effort. Everyone except the French. Every French person I’ve met just says “Bonjour!”
One thing that drives me mad is a lot of pilgrims use “Buen Camino” to non-pilgrims. A local walking their dog or a waiter in a restaurant will wish a passing pilgrim “Buen Camino!” and so many pilgrims respond with “Buen Camino!” too. It makes no sense! They’re not going anywhere! I say “Gracias” in these situations. And then I feel all smug, superior and warm inside.
Tonight, for the first time, I arrived at my destination before I expected to – in spite of having taken loads of breaks today. I’m speeding up.
I’m staying in what appears to be a truckers’ motel. It’s cheap and grubby. There are lots of lorries parked outside. Everyone in the bar is Spanish; they are all smoking and they all look depressed. If I’ve learned anything from the movies, every truckers’ motel will have at least one room with a dead body in it. I hope I don’t get dragged into the inevitable police investigation. I still have more walking to do.