Spain, Travel

In Search of a Supermarket in Leon

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I had imagined Leon as a quaint city with a pretty historical centre. Perhaps the Gothic cathedral it’s known for had given me this impression, or it’s location on the pilgrim route, or maybe I just had it confused with it’s French cousin Lyon. Either way, we had neither the time nor the inclination to check it out. After two days struck down with gastro, we were late for our planned arrival in Portugal and were on a lightning dash across Spain. We’d done 550 kilometres on empty tanks and were ready to crash in an ideal freeway motel just out of town . . . if only we could find a supermarket to refuel.

Google maps promised several hamlets not far from the motel, so taking a brief detour we delayed check-in in search of food. But a three-minute trip to the supermarket soon turned into an adventure.

Litter rolled across the public open space and dry grass grew long and wild at the roadside in the tiny hamlet of Valdevimbre. It was like pulling into the outback town of Fitzroy crossing . . . only closer to the city. Four skinny horses reared up against tethers on the local oval and my hand hovered over the door lock as we were funnelled into a tunnel of crumbling buildings. Loose shutters swung over the main street and broken glass lined the footpath. The only figures pacing the pavement were the ghosts of misfortune. I was no longer comforted by the (albeit highly-recommended) motel complete with secure private garage. We’d just landed in the Wild West.

Spat out the far end of the deserted town my hand finally pressed down on the lock. There was clearly no store, and now we were faced with a sea of underground bunkers, and ramshackle shelters. What the hell? Whatever busted-arse place we’d just driven into, the little white van with GB plates stuck out like a sore thumb . . . and Colby was taking far too long to turn it around. I searched for signs of life, but there were none. The only signs pointed to wine cellars and the Museo del Vino and suddenly the bunkers made sense. Although with churning stomachs and tired eyes they were not helping our plight.

The nearby hamlet of Ardon held a similar scene. Flaking paint. Empty streets. The abandoned houses surrounded by dirt tracks and vegetable plots. The only difference the €100,000 Audis parked outside the boarded doors, but still no supermarket.

Expecting the Wild West to morph into civilisation closer to the city, we headed in the direction of central Leon. But the highway only slowed to an industrial ghost-town. Derelict furniture stores and deserted motels lined the roadside. The monotony of shattered windows and boarded doorways, broken only by the odd leather-goods store or random bar. Didn’t these people eat? We looked at each other under raised eyebrows. There was probably a Spanish couple, driving through Osborne Park right now, and wondering where the hell the bars were.

We’d almost reached the centre of the city before spotting a sign to the local Carrefour. Screeching around the corner with excitement we came to an abrupt halt at the red light on an empty pedestrian crossing. I stared out the windscreen at the sea of black and white lines and red lights filling the forever between us and the supermarket. Yet I was barely frustrated, only captivated by the world unfolding around me. A tractor chugged down the other side of the road as a motorcycle slid to a halt, narrowly avoiding a woman on an uncontrolled zebra crossing. The six rusted beams propped against the local sporting arena and topped with lights could only be described as agricultural engineering at its best. And all the while, we were bunny-hopping our way toward the supermarket, stopping at every deserted crossing for no one.

A mini-mart was all we needed, but against the backdrop of disarray we’d found the grandest supermarket I’d seen in Europe so far. I was almost glad we were now running an hour late for check-in as I pushed past the mountain of €1 wine at the entrance. I could lose myself in this place for months. Pushing past white goods, laptops and activewear, the valley of fruit and veg opened up . . . between the winter tyres and the wall of Jamon. Racks of fresh stone fruit were piled high, prices rivalling the wine. My stomach groaned at a sea of fresh pastries. Ah-ahh. Making for the endless row of checkouts, a bag of nectarines in one hand and a Gatorade in the other, I was grateful to that sick feeling. This could have been a very expensive shopping experience.