Day twenty-one marked the end of my journey across the Meseta, and for me the unfortunate arrival in another city. I was sad to say goodbye, as I felt the Meseta had nourished me so well. Many mornings as I left on my own, I had felt that there was someone behind me holding a torch that shone light straight at my feet. Often I had turned around to check, but I was alone. Or was I?
For most of the morning I walked with Eugene and Heather and we talked about the possibility of hopping onto a bus to take us through the suburbs and into the city. My purist attitude of a week earlier had gone; by this time I would have accepted a bus without difficulty. No longer did I think it necessary to walk all the way to Santiago. After a while I let them get ahead of me, and I walked on my own until I met Branu and an anxious Kirsten. Branu approached the city leisurely, browsing the shop windows on the way, while Kirsten worried about finding an albergue. So I asked if she wanted to come with me to the Benedictine convent and let Branu follow in his own time.
The nuns were certainly in charge in what was the only albergue where I experienced men and women with separate sleeping quarters. There was something about the place that I loved; maybe it was that the beds had crisp white sheets – I don’t know. In particular, I loved the safety I felt there. After arriving, Branu, Kirsten and I shared a picnic lunch in the courtyard. While I only had bread to contribute, as usual Branu had enough for both of us. He used his rucksack for carrying food rather than physical attire. When he offered me wine from his yogurt container, I thought he was joking, but I was tempted to find out and it was, in fact, red wine. I was impressed. Kirsten had something of great value too – a sharp penknife – and it was lovely to have actual slices of cheese as opposed to bitten off chunks, which is what I often had. Not only was the experience an upgrade on my own cobbled-together picnics, but it was also better than any café lunch, and I was struck again by Branu’s generosity: he always had food to offer and at all times wanted to share what he had.
As we rested in the aftermath of a satisfying lunch, I spotted Kathy, the American woman with the blisters who had stayed with me at the hotel in Castrojeriz. I was excited and delighted to see her again and we headed off for a drink, although I felt a little guilty about leaving Kirsten and Branu straight after eating. Kathy and I had so much to share that we spent the remainder of the day catching up. I saw nothing of the beauty of León; that would have to wait for another occasion. Later, Kathy gave me her iPod to listen to the poet David Whyte in conversation about Mary Oliver’s poetry. He was offering his thoughts on the importance of retaining innocence in adulthood. That night I drifted off to sleep on my white sheet to the sound of David Whyte’s mystical voice.