The Camino’s extravagant cities provide captivating experiences for a travel-worn trekker. Just the thought of bubbling festivities, sprawling parklands and ancient architecture can replenish the reserves of even the most jaded pilgrim. I looked forward to drinking in every one of these cultural pillars in León. Though, I soon realised big city chaos wasn’t conducive with the meditative meanderings of a humble pilgrim. For the last week, I’d hungered for the hectic hubbub of a metropolis; but, on Day 20 I found myself drawn back to the benign.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 20
For the first time in a week, I awoke to sunlight penetrating my eyelids. Over the past seven days, including another pre-dawn alarm on Day 19, our morning’s had consisted of pitch-black manoeuvres around rickety bunk beds stocked with unconscious pilgrims. Thankfully, our León Airbnb apartment hosted just our four weary bodies, and we all favoured a slothful AM slumber.
The day’s climbing warmth soon followed my light-fuelled alarm clock. Even before we had stepped outside in search for breakfast, the temperature had soared to a scorching 34°C. The blistering heat pulsed off the city’s brick coating and sent pedestrians scrambling for the thin slithers of shade afforded by the late-morning sun.
León has a great Jacobean tradition behind it and the second starting point of the Camino de Santiago more chosen by the pilgrims every year.
We had planned to do little else other than sleep-in, wander aimlessly, and, the task I looked forward to most, eat ourselves silly. Despite drinking like a fish and eating like a horse over the past three weeks, I had managed to sweat 3-4 kilograms from my slender frame. My stomach desperately needed a day-long stuffing.
After lining our bellies, we ventured back into León’s historic city centre where the fiesta had barely subsided from the night before. We navigated our way past cultural parades, lively street performers and swarms of sunburnt tourists. Finally, we stopped at a brassy dance competition in the Plaza de Regla, before seeking the serenity of the nearby Catedral de León. Though, even inside the refuge, the concert continued to reverberate through its substantial wooden doors. There is little room to hide from a Spanish fiesta.
Following a lengthy tramp through the Meseta, I rightly expected to be re-energised by festive León, but I never thought the raucous celebrations would deafen my inner-musings. I realised the cacophonic din of a city carnival suffocated the Camino’s constant flow of meaningful insights.
Inadvertently, I’d discovered the enduring benefits of walking the endless Meseta: introspection. Spending extended periods alone, without interruptions, can help pilgrims re-evaluate their purpose, by allowing them to enjoy life’s simple pleasures while savouring each step of the figurative and physical journey. This reset button is best pushed away from the disruptive smokescreen of an urban environment.
While there is little room for introspection amongst a Spanish fiesta, the chaos is an excellent distraction from an aching body. My recent knee pain only returned once I had begun refocusing on my onward journey after arriving back at the apartment later in the evening. Despite the worrisome twinge, I felt re-energised; ready for more unimpeded insights from the road ahead on Day 21.
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