Once again we are blessed with shining sun, even if the coffee houses are closed this early in the morning (“this early” being a relative thing, since I have been awake for hours). Finally we found a place for Raúl to have a zumo de naranja and a magdalena and I a café con leche and a pastry covered in chocolate.
By the warmth of 9 am we were on the road, uncertain if we were going to spend the day biking on the highway. No, that was not the case. After a couple of klicks we took a dirt road that took us through the most beautiful rolling hills and the most bone-jarring cobble road you can imagine. At first we thought that this was the fault of the cursed Romans, who built their roads by piling cobbles thick and high before covering them with the a thin layer of sand. Naturally, since there have been a couple of years since the last Roman engineer maintained the road the sand has blown away and the cobbles are exposed. But not all fault can be laid at the feet of the Romans, since these rolling hills are formed by an extensive layer of river conglomerates that seem to go on and on.
Finally, with our teeth loose and our butts severely sore we arrived to the town of Mansilla de las Mulas, where Raúl had the brilliant idea to stop for a bocadillo and a cold glass of beer. Having recovered our strength and enthusiasm we took to the road, which was sunny, dry, and thirsty, until almost at the verge of collapse we reached the small town of Arcahueja, where a mirage sign claimed that the local bar carried sidra from Asturias (Apfelwein!). The friendly bartender opened a bottle of cool sidra just for us, and holding the bottle over his head he poured it unto two small glasses to a depth of no more than an inch. “Drink, drink” he enticed us “before the gas bubbles wear away”. We, being obedient pilgrims, drank and drank, as he poured time and time again, punctuating the drinking with tapas of patatas (French fries), pimientos (marinated red peppers), and huevos capeados (hard boiled eggs rolled in an egg batter and then deep fried). We made it out of the bar making zig zags in the bikes, but the refreshing coolness of the sidra was absolutely fantastic.
And so we made it to the beautiful city of León, where we went straight to the convent of the Benidictine nuns (patron saint San Benito), also known as The Carvajalas, where we humbly asked for shelter for the night (this is one of the big stops for the faithful, and we felt we had to follow tradition). We were very welcome, and settled easily unto our cots, long enough to shed our biking gear and go out into the secular world to seek food (which ended being a magnificent affair with pasta with shell fish for Raúl and cold cuts for me, followed by a veal cordon bleu that was to die for, cheese cake, and a digestiff).
Afterward we visited the magnificent cathedral of León, which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. It was an important place in our pilgrimage, being a place that is truly conducive to prayer and meditation. From there we went to the convent of San Isidoro, but by then we were beginning to ache, and after a short while we were seeing the monuments of this magnificent city with a little bit of hatred.
We have finally made it to the hostel, and are now waiting for the 9:30 pm benediction to the pilgrims. I am not sure we will make it.