The magic of travelling across a country on foot is that you don’t just see it, you really experience it.
One of my favourite experiences is the food. Food along the Camino is like nothing else on earth. Of course, it’s probably not just the quality of food (though it’s generally very good). Walking several kilometres with a heavy pack in the Spanish sun can make sitting in the shade to eat a sweet, juicy pear feel like sipping nectar.
Along with the food, the hospitality of Spanish people along the way never ceases to amaze me. For example, today we met Manuel who is building an albergue in Oncina.
While he’s building it, he has a stall outside with all sorts of snacks and drinks for donation only. He waited on us hand and foot, and showed us around the construction site. We also met his lovely dog Tina, who has walked the Camino with him several times.
There’s incredible nature. Several days in a row we’ve “woken with the chickens” (a phrase I’m stealing from Inês) to be greeted by air full of birdsong. And today, as we walked along a white, dusty Camino I heard frogs singing to each other from the irrigation channels. They’re not as melodic as the birds, but every choir needs a bass section.
Last night, however, was one of the most magical Camino experiences of the lot. We were in Leon for one of the Holy Week parades, and our albergue was at the centre of preparations.
When we arrived the ornate floats were partially hidden behind enormous tarpaulin tents, being decorated with flowers by fastidious Spanish ladies.
After exploring Leon a little we returned to find the square in front of our albergue (and the bar) full of men and women in their processional dress. There were even little children and babies in robes. We picked a table outside of the bar and sat down to watch, it felt like a backstage seat.
The evening only got better, though, as the light began to fade. Our backstage seats transformed to front row seats for the parade. I’ve seen Semana Santa parades before, in Granada, and this was just as spectacular. You really do have to see it to experience the drama of the thumping drums, the warm air, thick with the heavy scent of incence, and the moodily lit scenes from the last days of Christ’s life.
The crowds are enormous too. Everyone dresses up beautifully and descends on the town for these special evenings. The mood is electric. We watched for hours.
After the floats had all left the square, we returned to our albergue for lights out at 10:30pm, only to be awakened by the returning floats half an hour later… The pilgrims in our dormitory crowded onto one bed to watch through a narrow window for the next two hours, as the processions returned in the opposite order from which they had left.
Slowly the drumming died down and was replaced by a more familiar sound. Other pilgrims snoring.