After a nice Sunday in Leon, another Greek lunch, and a nice steak for dinner, I hit the road on Monday before dawn, heading for Mazarife. When I got there, about one o’clock, I made the exact same mistake as I did last year. Mazarife looks like a nice little town with a choice of accommodation and food. After a drink and a snack I decided to carry on to Villavante. This is not a good idea. It’s a long way considering what you’ve already covered, and it’s one of the two most boring sections of the whole Camino. It’s hot and there’s no shade. The boring landscape is mentally tiring. You can see for miles, and you never seem to be getting anywhere. Villavante, when you finally get there, is equally dull. One albergue, and a bar that closes about 7.00.
I was happy to leave it early the next morning. Most people stay in Astorga for the next overnight stop. It’s OK, and a decent size, population about 12,000 but I carried on to the tiny hamlet of Santa Catalina De Somoza, population 58. Terradillos De Los Templarios, a small village a few days earlier, had a population of 78. Leon on the other hand has almost 130,000 inhabitants and Burgos 180,000. So the longer the name the smaller the population.
I stayed at the first of the two albergues in the village, and I have to say, that the people in charge were really friendly and welcoming. They gave me so much free tapas with my wine I didn’t need any dinner. When I’d had enough wine a german guy gave me another half a bottle. People keep doing that. A decent nights sleep too in the spacious dorm.
With such a small population I suppose you don’t have to be a massive over achiever to be celebrated, and, walking around this interesting village, I stumbled across a statue of the most famous person from hereabouts. A musician. Whaddaya think? A concert pianist? A virtuoso guitarist? Opera singer? No. None of the above. This guy played … the tambourine. The tambourine! The instrument that rock bands give to the singer who can’t play anything else. You know, the thing the tone deaf kids are given in music class at school. Under his statue was a plaque depicting him not only with the tambourine but with a recorder as well. So, multi talented. The whistles and the bells.
I liked the village and it suits me to stay at the smaller villages. The choice of food is more limited sure, but the people are friendly and you meet travelers you may not come across in the recommended guide book stops. Off piste so to speak. The next day I headed for El Acerbo, keeping my eyes open for dogs. I had a scary experience last year with a couple of dog brothers. Read THIS if you’re interested.
At Foncebadon, where I stayed last year, I pulled up for B&B . Bed and Breakfast? No. Beer and Banana. Although I like Foncebadon I was keen to stay , this time, in El Acerbo. These are the two villages either side of El Cruz de Ferro (The Iron Cross), the highest point on the Camino. A tradition at the cross is to lay a stone, brought from home representing a burden or problem in your life that you want to put behind you. I didn’t bother last year, but as almost everyone seems to participate, this year I brought two small pebbles. After B&B with Ramon a friendly Spanish guy walking with his dog, I set off for the cross.
Tourist buses pull up at the cross and walkers linger there too, so it can get a bit crowded, but today there weren’t many people there. I had a picture taken with a nun, after checking she wasn’t the one who beat me as a child, (she wasn’t). I left my burdens from home and pushed off.
There is a tiny ruined hamlet, Manjarin, a few km on. One albergue, six beds, no electricity. It is operated by Tomas, the village’s only inhabitant, on the ‘donativo’ system. Interesting place.
It’s all downhill then to El Acerbo. Half of a very tough descent to Molinaseca. I passed a German woman wearing a full length, heavy, leather dress. In 28 degrees. She looked like she was struggling but said she was OK when I asked. Finally I made the bar at the bottom and grabbed a beer (no banana).
There were about eight pilgrims with exactly the same idea, quaffing well earned beers on the terrace. All the talk was of the leather clad woman. Everyone had asked her if she was ok. A very strange choice of garb we all agreed. People also shared their stories about the stone they had left at the cross. They asked if I would share my story. What were the burdens I had left behind?
‘Don’t feel you have to say,’ said a young scottish girl.
‘No, it’s fine,’ I said. ‘My pebbles represented a disputed gas bill and a Pet Shop Boys CD. And thank God they are out of my life.’