I woke at 4:45AM, noticing my Hungarian friend, Agi, was gone. I noted to thank her for being so quiet. Leaving Mansilla de las Mulas at 5:22 it was still dark passing tiny Gloria, a middle aged woman from Ecuador. As always in The Meseta I walked in the dark with no headlamp enjoying the quiet guided by the light of the stars.
There have been many shooting stars but this morning looked up and saw two simultaneously that ran parallel in the sky from east to west. Perhaps this was a sign! Within seconds an idea emerged to skip León and walk on to Albergue Verde in the village of Hospital Orbigo, and one of my favorite spots on The Camino, The Bridge of Orbigo. The only problem was that this village was 50 kilometers away. Well, I have walked 45K a few times and thought I could have gone further but there was no need. Some pilgrims think poorly of others walking long distances in a day, as you won’t enjoy the experience. One thing I have learned after hundreds of days on the Camino is that there is no right or wrong. Listen to your heart and do what FEELS right to you. So I listened to my intuition.
This time I felt it was The Camino giving me the sign of a star for Albergue Verde and a star for The Bridge so I had a reason. Last year I spent 10 days as a Hospitalero at Albergue Verde, which is a bit of an oasis; a communal vegetarian dinner, yoga, views of the mountains. Mincho is the very amiable owner and his 91 year old mother, Balbina, and 92 year old aunt, Maruja, are beautiful to watch working in the organic garden. And The Bridge is where a real knight rejected by a woman, along with 8 companions challenged 300 knights from across Europe in a month long jousting tournament. The knight’s name was Don Quiñones and the year was 1434. This story was the inspiration for Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’.
Last year I was a hospitalero at Albergue Verde, and after sending the pilgrims on their way each morning and finishing my chores I would walk to the bridge and listen to the entire soundtrack of ‘The Man of La Mancha’. Including the song ‘The Impossible Dream’. Sometimes I would walk and sing the songs until I noticed I was getting some odd looks from the locals.
Back to the walk, I arrived in Leon at 9:15 and had some breakfast at my favorite cafe kitty corner to the Cathedral. A short time later, Agi, the Hungarian Italian teacher who speaks English with a strong Italian accent walked up and joined me. I was telling her, “I feel the energy of The Meseta and that is why I have been walking longer (39K per day last 3 days) and sleeping less each day. I told her the story of the shooting stars and that feeling ‘juiced’ would try to walk 50K today. Agi makes me laugh as she is very skeptical about the spiritual aspects of the Camino and had some great one liners with her Italian Hungarian English accent. She turned to me with that doubting look and said, “What isss thiss ‘juice’ you speak of? And what isss thisss ‘Meseta’?” I laughed and explained. She replied, “Maybe I go to Orbigo”.
Agi walked on and before leaving I checked emails and my dentist from Mallorca had made some calls and had a dentist friend in Leon who opened at 10:30 could see me today but I would have to wait until he had a gap. The pain in my tooth has been there for almost 3 months and sometimes worse than others and occasionally affecting my sleep. I thought “But what about the sign. I’m feeling juiced and feel such a strong urge to walk on.” Of course, I had to be practical and walked to the dentist office taking a seat in the waiting area. I texted Agi telling her that I was stuck in León. The quest is over.
The office seemed quite busy but the dentist soon x-rayed my full mouth. Back in the waiting room I was hoping he could just pull the tooth enabling me to continue the quest. 20 minutes later he explained my top right rear tooth was decaying, cracked, and infected. He said I would have to go on antibiotics first, then in a week or so have a potential root canal or pulling. Oh no, but what about the quest, I fretted. Then he stated it would be better to have the work done later by Dr. Jose in Mallorca. Jumping from my seat, I shook his hand and thanked him profusely, for now I can resume walking so strong is the urge. His look suggested he was speaking to a crazy man.
It is 12:20 by this time and I would have to walk a further 35K in the hot sun, but my quest for 50K was still possible. Stopping at a Farmacia, I purchased the antibiotics and took the first dose. Then, using Maps.me took a shortcut to the Camino and minutes later merged onto the Camino in front of the Parador Hotel, the upscale hotel Martin Sheen stayed at in the movie ‘The Way’. For a minute I thought how nice a bed there would be. No, the quest is still possible. Maybe next time.
I kept a strong pace and about 12K out of León I caught up to Michael, the one armed Polish man and had a very brief chat as he spoke almost no English. But with hand signals I suggested he accompany me to Orbigo. He started out where I had back in Mansilla so this would be 50K for him as well. He smiled and nodded yes. I don’t know why I invited him as I almost always walk alone except for short chats. Together we walked with a fast pace passing Agi who said she was going to stop at 40K. As we walked side by side, the feeling arose that we were the two shooting stars.
Two 63 year old pilgrims starting out far away from each other but on the same day May 15, he from Poland and me from the west of Ireland. The Camino connecting us and our coming together as brothers. For a time, we are young again and enjoying the strength of our youth. Such is the power of The Camino and especially The Meseta. And yes we walked onto the Bridge of Orbigo at 6:30 in the early evening. We listened to my recording of Richard Kiley singing “The Quest/The Impossible Dream”. I wished I could have told him the story of Don Quiñones and the bridge.
The joke was on us though. The distance guide had a mistake and in fact we had done 54K. We trudged beyond the bridge to Albergue Verde, where we were greeted by Mincho and his Mother and Aunt who are well into their 90’s.