After a lovely breakfast in the Parador, it was time to cast aside soft living aside and return to the life of the pilgrim! The statue at the base of the cross outside San Marcos seemed to be gazing back longingly at the luxury we were leaving, but we bade him farewell and crossing the 16th stone bridge over the rio Bernesga, made our way out of León through industrial zones and rather ugly suburbs.
|Last look at San Marcos|
I had woken up at 4am again with very bad sinuses and a pressure-related headache so I stopped off at a pharmacy in Trabajo del Camino to buy Pseudoephedrine and Ibuprofen (I noticed that you get a bigger dose of 300mg of the latter per tablet than the 200mg in Ireland – but that suited me as my sinus headaches had been unpleasant!). Nearby was the little chapel of Santiago, which seemed to me a little island of peace beside the busy road, so I stopped off briefly to pray and enjoyed the silence with one other pilgrim.
|Industrial suburbs at Trabajo del Camino|
There was a slow and steepish climb out of the city past some residential apartment blocks and some more old bodegas, which seemed marooned amongst the modern urban sprawl, until we crested at the site of another old ruined cross which gave a view back over the city but was surrounded by rubbish and detritus.
|Chapel of Santiago at Trabajo|
We reached the suburb of La Virgin del Camino; really the last part of León’s conurbation and stopped for second breakfast in a trendy little café that seemed to be frequented by an interesting mix of locals and business people looking at laptops or discussing sheaves of documents.
David went off to buy some provisions for a picnic lunch and I spent a long time in the wonderful modern church of La Virgen del Camino in contemplative prayer. Although built in 1961, the church is on the site of an earlier 16th sanctuary, where according to tradition, a shepherd saw a vision of the Virgin, who told him to throw a stone and build a church on the spot where it fell. The church has huge bronze statues of the 12 apostles on its façade and a surprising richly gilded baroque high altar from the earlier church, set in an alcove of natural stone, which somehow didn’t seem at dissonance with the clean lines of the modernist architecture and managed to provide a focal point, in which at the centre of the altar, is illuminated the statue the of Virgen del Camino herself which became a focus for pilgrimage.
|Church of La Virgen del Camino|
As previously mentioned in this blog, I am not a great fan of holy statues, but some are special, and worth contemplation, like the ‘Y’ crucifix that I discussed at Puente la Reina. The Virgen del Camino was one of those. It is a pieta; the dead Christ lies sprawled sideways, half hanging off Mary’s lap. This is rendered in a most unusual way and there is the sense of the dead weight of Christ’s corpse and that Mary can hardly hold onto him for much longer and that any moment, he is going to fall off her knees and slide to the ground. As I gazed at this statue I felt the Lord reminding me how he wants us to fully put our entire weight on him and not try and hold onto to other things. He can take our full weight; our sins, our cares, our anxieties.
|Local with Harris Hawk|
David returned from shopping and we sat a while longer enjoying the peace and serenity of the place.
|Picnic near Oncina|
We reached the end of the urban sprawl and decided to take the optional route to Mazarife. There has been local rivalry between supporters of this, modern route, which takes you out through quieter, open countryside (which is why we chose it) and the traditional route which runs to Villadangos del Paramo on a senda alongside the N-120 road. Obviously, the residents of Mazarife are keen to promote this new alternative route, as it brings them business from pilgrims travelling through their town, but the residents of Villadangos are worried that pilgrims will stay away from the busy N-120, as we did and they will lose the business. There were therefore, many rival graffiti messages (with accompanying arrows) sprayed on the tarmac such as “VILLAR DE MAZIRIFE” or “CAMINO ORIGINAL”. Well, I try to follow the original Camino route (whatever that is anyway!) where possible, but I wasn’t walking approximately 25km alongside the N-120 to Hospital de Orbigo just for historical accuracy, so we turned off towards Mazarife!
Just as we did so, we met a local guy coming back from the open fields where he had been out flying his Harris Hawk and he stopped to let us examine and stroke the magnificent bird of prey. It was good to be out of the city and back into the open countryside and to hear Cuckoos and Skylarks. As we walked I realised that I missed Matthew’s company on the road and his eye for spotting birds of prey. He and Heather were now travelling back to Bilbao, however we exchanged many texts during the day, which was encouraging.
|Landscape after Chozas|
Beyond Oncina, we stopped for our picnic and then had coffee at Chozas de Abajo where we fell into conversation with two middle aged ladies from Southern England (one of whom had an Irish husband). We also noted the interesting modern pyramidal steel campanile beside the church. We later saw more of these as we continued walking; they are obviously a stylish must-have local ecclesiastical addition to any church!
|Doorway in Mazarife|
I found the last section into Mazarife hard going, as my left foot was now hurting under the longitudinal arch, due to excessive pronation. We checked into the Albergue San Antonio, which was very nice. A family run business it was modern, clean and friendly. We were able to get our washing done and there was an excellent communal meal of paella which we enjoyed while talking to pilgrims of various nationalities including the English ladies that we had met earlier in Chozas.
My own foot problems seemed nothing compared with a young German woman who was also in our dormitory who had started the Camino at León that morning and whose feet were already in ribbons. I doubted she would be able to continue.
|Communal Meal at Albergue San Antonio|