Leon's albergue is a slightly different story. It's a benedictine monastery run by the nuns. It's donation based but frankly the sermon you are given when you get here about giving money, it really should be a fixed price. It sleeps 150. When Liz arrived and got a bed no one had told her that there was a woman section a man section and a married couples section. On the basis that we've all been mixed up in albergues for the last 20 days and it's not been a problem its hard to see the logic behind it. There are too many people working here and there efforts to be useful are counterproductive. If someone had explained the sleeping arrangements as soon as we got here we'd never had gone to the wrong section. But they were so busy telling us about the desperate need for donations and the recent death of a pilgrim due to dehydration that they didn't. An irksome conversation ensued. Some pilgrims left as soon a they saw the sardine like sleeping arrangements (but they'd already had the donation extracted from them after the massive guilt trip). Those who left included two women who walked about 40 km today. They were awoken by a fellow pilgrims fog horn of an alarm clock and thought it must be 'time to go' not realising she had set it for 4am. They'd already done 20km by 8.30am. So here we are sleeping in a woman's only section but male hospitaleros keep walking through! Meanwhile the men sleep in a section next to the couples. You know it makes sense. Perhaps the hardest thing to grasp is that a large percentage of pilgrims started today in Leon so they haven't actually done any walking yet.
Anyway I mustn't get too inflated about the fact that so few of us seem to have actually started from Sant Jean. A big dollop of humility is in order for me. The closer we get to Santiago the more newbies on the camino there will be. I have to remember I was a newbie at this only 20 days ago. I have to swallow my urge to giggle when a grown man has a freak out because he has a tiny little innie winnie blister on his toe and is demanding immediate medical attention (as much as i argue that men and women have more in common with each other than not, when it comes to stamina and pain thresholds we are worlds apart). When I get tires with the constant whinging and wining I have to remember that I can't possibly know what kind of pain someone else is in and I did mire than my fair share of complaining about my feet since I began walking and probably have a bit more whinging left in me still!
And I have to remember what the camino has taught me; there will alway be people 'ahead' of you and people 'behind' you. There are people who have walked for years rather than days. People in their 80s and in their pre teens. There are people walking who have survived terminal cancer and others who have done the road as a dying wish from a loved one.
We leave the strict patriarchal institution of the albergue and wander onto the streets of Leon trying to make the most of the few hours we have before the albergue closes at 9.30pm (my life on the camino is getting more and more monastic by the minute!) We look at the immense stained glass windows of the cathedral, glowing florescent in the late evening sun, the locals and the tourists sitting in coffee shops, smooching in bars and eating tapas, a crack head who is trying to get money out of people by pretending she is a pilgrim who was robbed and needs one euro from everyone to have enough to get home (she needs to work on the acting). We join with a bigger group of women to eat and talk and share our experiences. I'm a little overwhelmed by the larger group dynamic but I note that I keep meeting people who dance (the path I originally trained in and left behind many moons ago). It feels like something interesting maybe going on here. I haven't even voiced this when Elaine, one of the women who teaches a form of shamanic dance says... Maybe you're getting a message about dance... Keep listening and see where it takes you. Elaine also reminds me that the camino to Santiago de compostela is directly under the milky way (hence the name field of stars) and, for me, more exciting still is the day we plan to arrive in Santiago (the 20th) is the autumn equinox. That feels just right to me.
Location:Reliegos to Leon