Cycling Day 1; Saturday 1/6/02
Sahagun to Leon (67 km)
We walked to where he was staying, a room over a bar, and I reassembled the bike. I was relieved that everything was unbroken, (the obsessional packing had done its job) and soon had the mudguards, wheels, gear mech and bars all back together and working. I packed up the spare hubs, straps and cycle bag into a parcel, ready to send to myself in Santiago. We breakfasted on coffee and rolls, then with the bike fully loaded, I wobbled along to the Post Office. A German couple, hikers, were also sending a post restante package. I needed to my passport number, for I D on collection, and the parcel was packed in a neat fold-up box, which even included sticky tape to secure it. Without the extra weight, the bike felt steadier, and by ten o’clock we were on the road, the A231. It was a beautiful day, the road was wide, with a metre or so of cycle way on the side. As with most of the journey, there was very little traffic. The countryside was pretty flat, and it was easy riding. It was just so pleasant, bowling along at 20+ kph, in the sunshine. I plastered myself with factor 30 sun block, not wishing to get burnt! Riding behind Chris, I noticed his rear tyre had a kink in it. When we checked it, we found a deep cut across the outer cover. We needed a replacement, as it could blow out any time. We reached a little town, Mantilla de las Mulas, where we needed to find a bike shop, and I asked three women (granny, mother, teenage daughter). They didn’t know but they asked in nearby shops until they found out. I wonder whether a Spanish tourist in Pudsey (where I live near Leeds) would be so well treated!! The shop (open even though it was well past 1 pm) sold agricultural gear, motor bikes, and cycles. After a search in the storeroom, the owner produced a tyre of the correct size, the last one in stock! We decided to fit it later. Just by the bike shop was a bar, and it was time for cervesa e bocarrillo (beer & sandwiches). We had 15 miles left before getting into Leon, and Chris upped the pace a few miles outside the city, in an attempt to get there before everything closed for the afternoon. I could just about hang on to his wheel going up the hill outside Leon (at an impressive speed of 25+ kph – well it impressed me, anyway!), but as usual, he was fitter than me!! Alas, we were too late – we reached the big square with the cathedral on one side, and found the tourist office, but it was closed. Following a drink and snack, we set off looking for rooms, and after meandering around for half an hour, settled on a double room above a bar, quite close to the city centre. The bikes were safely locked up to banisters in the hallway.
After a shower, we strolled back to the centre to try to find somewhere I could get a credencial. This is a pilgrim record which allows use of pilgrim facilities, and serves as proof that one is a bone fide pilgrim (see http://www.csj.org.uk/passport.htm). I had intended to get one before leaving home, and had emailed the Confraternity of St James, but too close to my departure date…
Asking for directions in Leon; I might have been more respectful if I'd realised this quiet chap was the great architect, Gaudi!
Chris knew of a convent which ran a refugio (pilgrim hostel) which might be able to help, so I asked a couple of elderly ladies which way to the street we needed. They looked at me with evident concern – beard, pony-tail, jeans, and were obviously worried that I was about to mug them for drug money, when Chris asked if they knew where the convent in that street was. Instantly, I was transformed from lowlife to Jesus (the sandals doubtless fostered this image), and of course, they knew where convent was … Once there, we queued with other pilgrims to see the person in charge. Chris discussed motivations for the pilgrimage with some Americans, I just queued. Eventually, our turn came, and despite not having any proper ID (passport safely in our room!), thus disrupting the bureaucracy, I was issued with my credencial. (Its secular equivalent would be a Youth Hostel card, with lots of space for stamps from hostels, churches and tourist information centres.) I did not realise at the time how important it was to have obtained the pilgrim record – without it, we couldn’t have stayed in three of the refugios, and I would have missed out on meeting other pilgrims. We returned to the cathedral for evening mass, which was being said in a side chapel – a few pilgrims, but mostly locals. I have no recollection of what or where we ate that evening (but I don’t remember being hungry, so we must have had something!) Perhaps because I was tired, or maybe just sheer clumsiness, but I dropped one of Chris’s little cameras three times over the course of this day, but he still let me use it. Clearly this is a measure of how saintly and patient he has become, as in his younger days, he would have been considerably upset by my carelessness! We had a fairly early night, and slept well, except when the revellers were leaving a nearby nightclub, and playing boy racers with their cars.(Well it was a fiesta weekend – Corpus Christi.) This was at 5 am…..