Day Twenty-Three: Leon to Valverde de la Virgen

It rains. And we meet a cop.

We didn’t walk far, today. And it wasn’t Eva’s doing.

We got up in the morning, meandering downstairs for breakfast. Our backpacks packed and checked out, we settled for a last sip of coffee at a restaurant, Eva making fast friends with the owner, who advised us to leave early to avoid the rain.

We walked in silence for a few kilometers, only stopping once to rebandage Eva’s ankle. The air was heavy with a coming thunderstorm, and much as we didn’t want to say it, everyone feared to be caught out by it in the open.

By 11am the flood gates opened. Thunder rolled above, the city long out of sight, and flashes of light illuminated the hills around us. This wasn’t a drizzle, it was a down pour, drenching us and making walking against a harsh wind harder and harder.

We decided to stop in Valverde de la Virgen, assess the damage done to our bagged possessions, and wait out the storm. In a small bar and cafe we crowded around a heater at a wall, joined by smoking older men, a gaggle of other pilgrims, and children who, unlike their adult counterparts, seemed to have too much fun with all this.

Over chocolate and churros we inspected our gear. Mine was, thanks to bags and compartments inside my backpack, mostly dry, but Eva and Inga had suffered great watery doom. “This is shit,” Inga proclaimed, wringing, much to the amusement of the present men, a red lace pair of underwear into the ashtray. She held up our fully wet pack of smokes, and her Credential, dripping.

Eva didn’t fare any better. Her backpack dripped when lifted. “Another fucking hotel to dry all this?” she sighed, “a bad day to start carrying my backpack again.” “No, no, no fucking hotel,” a local chimed in, pronouncing it the way you would circumscribe a brothel. Come with, my brother has an albergue, they dry your things. Eva, switching to Spanish, quickly ascertained that this was indeed in town, we packed, paid, and left with the local who introduced himself as Matías, a Guardia Civil officer.

Matías took us across the street, rain pouring down even worse than it had when we entered the bar, around a bend, and there it was: golden warm light streaming from windows, an inviting door standing half open, the laughter of pilgrims coming from inside. An older woman, introduced by our guide as his mother, took our backpacks and showed us the stack of newspapers to stuff our shoes with. She then proceeded to hand us towels and plastic bags to stow everything wet “for washing and drying.”

I dug through my, mostly dry, things, handed my two clean t-shirts to Eva and Inga, and slipped into my shorts, leaving my wet shirt on. Towels wrapped around their midst, the girls definitely turned heads when we entered the common room, a warm and comfy place filled with pilgrims.

Matías excused himself but promised to be back in the evening to have dinner with us, we briefly visited our cots to pull liners over everything and charge our phones, and spent the afternoon learning Banjo riffs from a Mexican pilgrim, card tricks from two peregrinas from the Philippines, and hear stories about the Way from everyone.

By dinner time, storm and rain still blanketing landscape, most pilgrims had left to either take a cab to their intended final destination or to brave the rain. Matías returned, carrying a stack of newspapers to accommodate future wet pilgrim boots, and a massive terrine of soup for everyone. We ate, drank, spent the evening hearing stories about the life of a Guardia Civil officer along the Camino, and retreated early.

“Tomorrow we’ll have to make up for this,” Eva sighed. “I’ll send my backpack again, and we walk what we missed today.” We didn’t protest.