Day 17: León – Hospital del Orbigo: 22 miles
Monday, September 26, 2016: Departed: 7:15am, Arrived 4:00pm
The first part of our day was winding through the suburbs of Leon, including passing the fancy pilgrim albergue San Marcos, where I think they filmed part of the film “The Way”. As we got out of the suburbs, we encountered an optional route. When I first researched the Camino, I learned there are many “ways” throughout Spain, and it’s neighboring countries. The most popular route, called the Camino Frances, is the one we are doing, but even it has alternate paths that leave and rejoin the main path. Today we decided to leave the main path and take the alternate path, which instead of going alongside the highway, goes more into the country side and smaller villages. The last several days have had a lot of highway walking, so we enjoyed the diversion into agricultural fields, and even some land that seemed untended at all. The diversion only added maybe less than a kilometer to our day.
As I approached the town of Villar de Mazarife, I passed an elderly local man and greeted him, and in Spanish asked if he was from the town. He said he was. I said we enjoyed the town and countryside away from the highway, and that we were glad we took the alternative path. To this, he responded that he did not agree with that “alternative” designation. He told me that this was indeed the original path, but when they built the highway and the hotel, they diverted the “normal” path that way. I think his expression was more than just “town pride” but perhaps some economic indignation at the Camino diverting pilgrims away from the town. Many of the towns that the Camino passes through are small and show little signs of economic or social life (often depending the time of day you pass through), but with hundreds of pilgrims passing through each day looking for either lodging or food, it’s quite an economic stimulus to the community. I sometimes wonder if the local residents are grateful or annoyed by the daily influx of pilgrims coming through, but by the regular greetings and “buen camono”s I receive and the monuments to pilgrims, I think they are happy to see us in their town.
We rejoined the main Camino as we entered the town of Hospital de Orbiga to finish off a long day. We chose Albergue San Miguel for our lodging – a tidy and artsy place of stone and hardwood. They do not do a pilgrim’s meal here, but they have one of the better stocked kitchen’s I’ve seen. Kim and I went and bought groceries and cooked a stir-fry with rice. Though we cooked our own meal, it still turned out to be a little “pilgrim’s dinner” as there was an Irishman and an Israeli couple cooking in there too, so we got some fellowship to close out a day that was fairly non-social otherwise.