Saturday, 2 January 2016

Camino Frances Day 1

As part of my new year's resolution I plan to post the story of my Camino De Santiago via the French Way which I started in Oct 29, 2015.

The year 2015 had been a great one for me , I finally did the Camino de Santiago. Not just once but twice !!!

The first one was in April via Camino Portugues. The second one unexpectedly was a bonus.

Because I was not able to extend my visa after my MBA, I thought of ending my stay in Spain with a bang.  What better way than by doing another Camino?

Unlike my Camino Portugues post, this series will be mostly led by the photos I took with my Samsung phone.

On October 28, I said goodbye to Murcia, my home for the past year.

I left a big chunk of my luggage in a friend's flat in Madrid.

I stayed for one night in Way Hostel near the Tirso de Molina metro station in Madrid. I checked out at 530 am and took a morning trip to Atocha train station. Two days earlier, I booked a one-way train trip from Madrid to Leon. Leon was about half of the way from the French border to the Santiago de Compostela. Allotting only 15 days to do the Camino, I chose Leon as my starting point. 

At 6:30 am of October 29, I was settled comfortably in Atocha waiting for my train to Leon to arrive.

The weight of one's load in the Camino is critical, it will determine whether you will finish the journey or go home broken hearted. One would have to strike a good balance between weight and necessity. I had to go through my stuff three times just to make sure that I bought only what is necessary. 

Necessary. That had been the operative word. All the things I would be needing in the next 15 days or so were packed in this 40 L bag.

I did not bring my razor, shaving cream and moisturizer to keep my load light. Without these, I knew I will most likely look like a hobo after the walk (assuming I already don't like one to begin with). I took a selfie inside the train for posterity.

It was drizzling when I stepped out of the Leon station. Good thing I brought my umbrella.

The train from Madrid just took 2 hours so it was still morning when I started my walk. A bit chilly even with 2 layers of clothes and a jacket on.

My first objective was to head straight to a cathedral. There weren't much people walking that day perhaps because of the weather or maybe it was too early. I approached an old lady and used my basic Spanish to ask for the general direction to the cathedral.

She spoke rather fast but somehow I understood that I would just have to walk straight ahead till I see an unmistakable structure.

On my way to the cathedral, I was greeted by a commanding statue of a lion. I haven't done any research of how Leon got its name although I know that Leon is Spanish for Lion.

While I was originally headed to the Cathedral I passed by a big church along the avenue. I asked a couple of beggars hanging in front of the door with the question.

"Perdon, donde puedo coger pasaporte para peregrinos?"

I was pretty sure this was not the colloquial way of asking for directions but somehow it was effective because I ended up in an office beside the church (seemed like a department of the ayuntamiento) and after paying the 2euro fee, I got my pilgrim's passport in no time. The balding receptionist who reminded me of my HR Startegy teacher in MBA was pleasantly surprised to know I came from Las Islas Filipinos.

"There are a number of Asians doing the Camino but rarely from the Philippines."

The first yellow sign I saw during that wet morning was on a lamp post, unmistakable. The rain did not dampen my mood. My Camino was officially starting.

The arrow sign eventually led me to the cathedral of Leon. Like any big church structures it gave a commanding presence. There was an entrance fee and since I was getting such a cheapskate towards this period of my stay in Spain, I decided to forego entering it. Though I was pretty certain that its altar piece would surely be a sight to behold. I took a selfie and a promised to come back to Leon in the future and spend at least 2 days exploring the city.

Further on the trail, I came upon another church. If it were in another town it would have been a major attraction on its own. But since it was in Leon sharing the limelight with the cathedral, I guess it was relegated to an ordinary status. It did not have an entrance fee which was the reason I was able to get a shot of its ornate altarpiece. It reminded me of the altar piece is Los Jeronimos in Granada, each tableau depicting a significant event in the life of Jesus or Mary.

The Camino trail in Leon can't be missed. Every 100 meters or so (at least in the urban area) a sign would appear in the form of a shell or a yellow arrow sign.

I passed by another interesting structure. I didn't know what it is but I think it would definitely be a place I would check out in the future when I return to Leon. When I did this Camino I haven't watched yet the movie "The Way" which was about a Camino journey. I think this building somehow appeared in the movie.

A tribute to pilgrims, this sculpture just in front of the building, depicted an old traveller taking a rest with sandals off his feet.

Still another sign of the Camino de Santiago.

The trail eventually led me to a slightly elevated sub-urban area. Warehouses lined up along the highway signalling that I was now leaving the urban part of the city. It was drizzling once again. I took this shot hoping to get a view of Leon from the hill. I got disappointed with the photo quality and had to remind myself that I only brought a Samsung S3 and not my Nikon DSLR. Such was the tradeoff to maintain a light load.

Some parts of the walk were just right beside the main highway. Warning signs were posted to remind the pilgrims to be extra cautious, lest they would be hit by a speeding vehicle.

At least in the Leon area markers like these indicated the name of the stop, the interesting sights in the area, if there are albergues, supermarkets or hospitals within the vicinity and the distance of the next town. I passed by a Chinese store in this area (thank God for their cheap prices) and bought an extra battery charger for the phone.

My phone battery was draining fast so I turned it off. I wasn't able to take much pictures after the La Virgen del Camino which was a pity. The next shot I took was a selfie with a priest at San Miguel del Camino who gave his blessings to the pilgrims who passed by their church.

At some parts of the walk there weren't many signs but you could not miss the trail because the path was intuitively just straight. As a rule of thumb the default path would be just straight ahead unless an arrow sign indicates to make a turn. Some paths could go on for 7 kilometres without any major town or major stop.

My phone battery definitely ran out of power because the next shot I had was this which was at Villadangos. I laid out the contents of my backpack in the albergue and took a photo of it. Some of the essentials (but often missed out items) are wet wipes and slippers. Glad I've read a list in a forum and brought these items.

For Day 1 I walked a total of 21.3 kilometres from Leon to Villadangos del Paramo. Not bad for the first day. It all seemed that this Camino would be a walk in the park.

I spoke too soon.

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