I have a ‘note’ in my phone of things that I’ve jotted down since starting the Camino. Advice from others, tips on albergues, song and movie recommendations, etc. I just glanced at it and at some point I’d written: ‘Leon- DON’T stay at the monastery’.
Guess where I stayed in Leon two nights ago?
It could have been worse, but it was the second night in a row of not great accommodations. Hot, crowded, not super clean. But the shower pressure was great and they provided breakfast so I really can’t complain. And this is what I’ve learned when it comes to albergues and towns on the Camino: it’s all hit or miss. Sometimes I’m going to stumble on an amazing place or stay in an amazing town, and sometimes I’m going to stay in some real dives. But especially as I’ve let go of planning, I’m realizing that I just need to take what comes: the good, and the bad.
And really, the bad isn’t so bad. My Camino continues to be pretty amazing, and I’m still not sure how I’ve gotten so lucky. I want to believe that some of it is my outlook (today’s walk was super hot, next to a busy road for just about the entire 30k; I tried to find the alternate, scenic route but somehow was fed back to the main road, and at some point I lost my headphones. And my feet hurt more than they ever have, I think because it’s been so hot and they started to swell. But sitting here, settled into an albergue, drinking a glass of red wine with lemonade (it’s delicious!), I’m feeling good, despite the sub-par day). So some of it is my outlook, but some of it is just pure luck. My body is holding up, my spirits are holding up, and I’ve met the best people. I’m lucky.
Getting through the Meseta, and coming in and out of Leon, presented some challenges. And some were challenges that I hadn’t been expecting. I came into this walk knowing that I was walking alone, and the more I walked, the happier I was that I was here alone. Mirra and I paired up, and I think we were a great match for each other: we usually walked separately, and I think always felt that we could each go off and do our own thing when we wanted or needed to.
After Mirra left I was looking forward to truly walking some of this Camino on my own, but then I met some new people, and one in particular who I liked being around. In Leon I was faced with a decision: continue on by myself and do my own walk, or stay with someone and no longer have a solo Camino.
Maybe the decision never had to be so black and white, and maybe the decision I made- to continue on my own- will change and evolve as I keep walking. Maybe I will meet my friend at some point on the way, or at the end, and I will want to make a different decision. But for now, what has felt right, is to go off on my own for awhile.
Trying to figure all of this out- the social part of the Camino and the friendships and the connections and the hellos and goodbyes- has probably been the most challenging part for me. In real life, I don’t meet people like I do here. Every day, on the Camino, I have so many conversations, sit with so many different people and have coffee, or lunch, or wine, or ice cream. And I’ve loved this part so much. So much more than I expected.
And if I’m not careful, this Camino could turn into one big party. It would be so easy to stick with the people I’ve gotten to know, to always have meals with them and drink bottles of wine, and walk and listen to music and sing and dance. And there’s some appeal in that- a lot of appeal.
But I’ve realized that I’m not just here to meet people and have fun. That part has been important, and I think I’ve done a stellar job of it. But I’m here for something a bit more, and now is the time to figure some of that out.
So today I walked very much alone. I’d stayed at an albergue just on the outskirts of Leon last night, and I expected to now know many people there but it turned out that so many of my favorite people were there (this happens a lot). But it was also just what I needed: to make a big salad and share with a few people I’d gotten to know, but weren’t close with. To sit after dinner and play cards with the four Italians I always see in the mornings when we all stop for coffee. To stay up with Laura, the 12 year old Italian girl, and Nolan, the 10 year old Vermont boy, and have them show me card tricks.
Today’s walk was challenging, but overall I was happy that I made the decision to be on my own. I stopped for coffee, I stopped for ice cream, I stopped to put my feet in a cold river and eat tuna and cheese and cherries. Since I lost my headphones I sang to myself- long songs, like American Pie and Thunder Road.
I passed through a tiny town and wasn’t sure if I should stop or continue on for another 15 kilometers, and then I saw the albergue. A yellow building with painted blue shutters. I glanced in through the open door and I swear I saw a little paradise, and then I was convinced of it when I walked in further. This is the most beautiful albergue I’ve stayed in: a small courtyard in the middle of the building, a wrap around porch on the second floor with wooden chairs and an old couch and pots of bright red flowers. My room is beautiful, with wooden floors and large French windows that open up to the main village street. The bathrooms are modern, there is a small kitchen, and I was offered coffee when I checked in. Perfect.
And for tonight, this is just what I needed, and what I’ve been craving. A beautiful, peaceful place where I don’t know anyone too well. Time to sit by myself and write. Sitting here at the village’s only bar, drinking wine and lemonade, with two Germans at the table with me. Sometimes we talk, sometimes they talk and I write. It’s easy and relaxed, and always a reminder that even when I choose to be alone, I’m never really alone. But for now, alone in the way that I want to be alone.