we opted for the less scenic route from León to our next destination — off our guidebook’s preferred path –of San Martin del Camino. while probably “less scenic” as it followed more of the highway-hugging sendas, this alternative route provided more amenities and a shorter step count. I guess I should qualify that following the sendas made the trip shorter on balance; we actually walked farther the day after León than our book suggested on the “scenic” route but we had fresh legs and the day after San Martin, to Astorga, was shorter. rather than a 22km day followed by a 31km we had a 24km day followed by another 24km day. no brainer!
our route took us through a series of small towns, most of which had a distinctly different character from small towns we’d walked through prior to León. as towns on the US-highway and/or Interstate system all across America can attest, proximity to a major highway and the national autopista system definitely affects the viability and character of your town. in lots of ways the highway adjacent were the same as the ones at a distance from the highway — quiet with any number of abandoned structures or windows shuttered to keep out early morning sunlight or allow for afternoon napping. it’s quite odd, though, to have a major two-lane highway — one down which lorries come barreling without much warning — bisect your town. maybe you get used to watching for and dodging highway-speed trucks and traffic on your way to get a pack of smokes at the shop across the street. as a peregrino, though, it was nerve-wracking.
in Villadangos del Paramo (the last town of the day before arriving San Martin), we encountered a disoriented Brazilian peregrino in search of a bus stop to catch a ride to San Martin. though we hadn’t any idea, we walked with him towards the “center” of town — really, just an arbitrary distance mid-way through town on the highway — in search of a cafe for answers (and nosh for us). by his estimation, he hadn’t eaten a good enough breakfast in preparation for the day and decided that busing the last 4km to San Martin might be a better idea. sometimes your body makes decisions for you. he had a smoke and got something to snack on while he waited for the bus outside a cafe; we ate our bocadillo and headed onward.
there were several albergue options in San Martin, including the municipal one “directly under the watertower.” we opted for a private one on the road into town and snagged a private two-bed room with access to some chilly showers. it’s one of the only places I remember seeing crucifixes on the walls… we had a tasty communal menu del peregrino, sharing our table with some Quebecois and an Australian couple. dinner conversation ranged all over the place, from housing crises in our respective countries (and Spain), to politics, to our respective Camino experiences. at the end of the meal the proprietor brought out three bottles of liquor as after-dinner drinks, something we’d never encountered before but which our companions had enjoyed occasionally at albergues before. in addition to brandy, we tasted muscatel and a boysenberry non-alcoholic drink that, I have on reliable authority, tasted like jell-o. all the chat and drink kept us later than normal and meant we started out later to Astorga, but it was a good time and I certainly enjoyed the company of our Australian companions. we saw them several more times before the end of the Camino — and if we hadn’t taken that extra day in León we’d never have met them!