El Camino – Days 9 & 10 – Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon to Villar De Mazarife

The Pilgrims have reached the big city!

We planned a short(ish) day today to give us more time in Leon. We have been building an impressive shopping list since Day 3. The phrase “We can look for that when we get to Leon” has become common in our vocabulary, so we knew we had a lot to do in our one day in the city. We walked a quick 11 miles and arrived in Leon at noon. (Again, I have to call out to myself that I just said “Walked a quick 11 miles” like that is a real or normal thing.)

The Hotel and Peggy Sue’s

Our splurge hotel was very interesting, with actual Roman Ruins in the floor. The section of floor between the kitchen and the supply closet was glass, so you could gaze down at them. It’s something that just would never happen in the US, so we all had to take a moment to appreciate it.

We choose a prime location next to the Cathedral and one street over from the main shopping area. But of course, by the time we had all showered off the trail dust and sweat, all the shops we needed had closed for the Spanish Afternoon Ghost Town window. There is a window of several hours (usually 2-5) in every town, no matter how big or small, where everything closes. Unfortunately, that happens to be the time we usually get into a town and need to do things. While waiting for 5pm we decided to scout out some food and stumbled on Peggy Sue’s American Diner. Offering real American style food. We approached at first just to see what was considered American food but as soon as we saw Veggie Burgers on the menu we knew we had found our lunch spot. Joanne got a bacon cheeseburger, representing the meat eaters of America. The burgers were actually very American style and very tasty. I think our waiter got a good laugh over the silly Americans getting so exited at his American food. Also interesting to note, apparently an “American Milkshake” is one that comes with a full size donut on the straw. We did not order one of these.

The Cathedral

While Leon is full of interesting and beautiful historical locations, the masterpiece of the city is clearly the Cathedral. The admission cost was 6 euros, and included a self guided audio tour. Not knowing anything about the Cathedral ahead of time, I went with a vauge image of a bigger version of the churches we had been seeing. I was struck speechless for a moment when entering, because this Cathedral is like nothing else we have seen before. It is huge, with stone work carvings, and ornate religious relics and paintings. But the wow factor, is the stained glass windows. The Windows cover every wall in the huge building and each one is different. They are massive and complex and create dynamic patterns of light all throughout the Cathedral. It’s the kind of thing that never comes through clearly in photos, but feels magical in person. We took our time just absorbing it all. I wish I could have come back at other times of day to see the way the light changes with the sun.

The Shopping

My biggest need in Leon was a new backpack. Mine was too large, too heavy, and just wasn’t going to work for me on the rest of the trip. We stopped in at a gear store in the city center but the options were limited and we weren’t able to get any help from the sole employee. I suffered a mini breakdown of frustration where I almost bought a crappy pack just to have it done with, which thankfully Joanne and Kelly talked me out of.

Our next stop was K2 Planet. This was the store I had found ahead of time on the Internet and claimed to have “Everything A Pilgrim Needs!” It was on the opposite side of town so it required a terrifying cab ride but was well worth the effort. The shop owner was very friendly and helpful, in spite of the communication barrier, he did everything he could to answer all our questions about the random gear pieces we needed and even called ahead to a few other shops to help find items that he didn’t carry. I ended up getting a new Ospry Kite 36. Down from my 70 litter pack this now gives me the smallest pack in our little trio. The pack fits well and I love the layout and pocket placement (which backpackers know is critical!). The only negative is the color which is a sort of garish and ugly fushia but will soon be covered in dust so it doesn’t matter much.

Our next stop was Corte Ingles which is a huge shopping mall. Picture a six-story Macy’s with full supermarket and food court attached. It took us three hours of wondering this store to check off the final items on the list. It was exhausting and overwhelming, but I was rather impressed by the inventory at this store. Joanne even managed to find a Fitbit to replace her broken one. Kelly got new sandals, a trekking pole, a rain jacket, and some small items. Most important though, we found real American peanut butter! We each bought a small jar to take with us for snacks and even full meals. It’s extra weight that none of us really want to carry, but we desperately need the protein and I think it will prove worth the weight.

After the shopping we were completely wiped and spent the rest of the night unpacking our loot and repacking our packs.

Correos – The Spanish Post Office

Instead of leaving bight and early the next morning, as is our pattern, we had to wait until the post office opened at 8:30am. Now that I have a new pack, I have to do something with the old one. It’s a good pack and I will use it again so abandoning it didn’t seem like a good option. Shipping it to Santiago was the better choice. This way, I can pick it up at the post office in Santiago and check it as luggage on my way home.

I was nervous about shipping a huge pack, both in cost and process, based on what I know of the American postal system. But the Spanish system was a pleasant surprise. My bag was a total of 15 pounds and included several items I decided were no longer worth carrying, as well as a few items Joanne and Kelly decided to let go of. The lady at the post office was very helpful and wrapped the bag in plastic wrap and tape to make sure it wasn’t damaged. The cost to ship it was 17 Euros, which included a special Pilgrim’s Package discount. Apparently this is a thing that many Pilgrims have to do. The pack is off to Santiago and will wait there for me until I arrive. It’s a huge physical, and emotional, weight off my shoulders to have it done and settled.

The Rest Of The Day

Getting a late start made for a long day of walking. Leaving the city of Leon was not a great process. Walking through traffic, dealing with crowds of people, the smells, the pollution, it all just made for a very unpleasant walk. Not to mention, our guiding yellow arrows were hard to spot.

We eventually made it to Villar de Mazarife, at about 6pm, which is our latest day yet! We choose to stay at an Albergue called Tio Pepe’s. Well I choose it. Because I liked the name. Too tired to do much of anything, we took a quick visit to the local church for our stamps, had dinner, washed out clothes in the sink, and went to bed.

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