Day 38 – 24th October 2015, San Mamed del Camino to Portomarin.
I slept like a log last night. I don’t think that was entirely due to the wine and the fabulous, deliciousness of the five course veggie banquet. I was cream-crackered alright and was comfortable and cosy tucked into the warm hug of my borrowed sleeping bag (thank you Brett!) underneath a snuggly, thick blanket. Oh just a few more minutes before I have to get up, showered, dressed and packed…zzz. Some mornings my familiar Camino routine seemed like a faff and too much effort, but hey, no pain no glory right?
I galvanised my weary body into action and not at break-neck speed, more of a turtle toddle, I got everything ready and moseyed down to the main dining room, where a lovely healthy breakfast buffet was waiting. What a change! I could actually have muesli and yoghurt for once. Hurray! I must confess though, I topped this up with a couple of slices of wholemeal toast and honey as well. My fellow pilgrims were also up and about and we jovially jostled for the butter knife, while hanging around the toaster. There was a pleasant and laid back buzz around the table, gone was the hectic pilgrim rush hour. Ahhh the albergue Paloma y Lena had worked some magic.
As usual, I was up before dawn, the cool morning air felt a tad moist and clung to my skin, when I came out of the breakfast room. Right well I’d best put on my tangerine poncho again, I thought to myself. Jolly good. I could tell I would be in for a damp trek this morning. Never mind, worse things happen at sea, so I’m told (and I have all that to look forward in future adventure travels I’m sure…). Off I clicked down the street towards the bustling, celtic and medieval town of Sarria, founded by Alfonso IX, who was King of Leon and Galicia, on the cusp between the 12th and 13th centuries. Did you know that King Alfonso was terribly prone to fits of rage, in which he foamed at the mouth, giving rise to his nickname of the Slobberer? Oh how things haven’t changed all that much. I know some politicians like that today.
Sarria has been a favourite gathering place for pilgrims way back when and still is today, boasting many churches, chapels, monasteries and seven pilgrim hospitals. I’d only walked about 4.5 km but my stomach alien pointed out that my body was ready for my second coffee of the morning. I wasn’t alone, I spotted Sheree, Nick and Stefanie and we chatted while we all headed for the same cafe, Meson O Tapas, for our pitstop.
It was with a sense of nervous anticipation, when I set off a short while later on to tramp through the picturesque and damp cobbled streets on my way out of town. Sarria is the well known starting point for many pilgrims, who are perhaps time-poor and yet want to complete their pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Situated approximately 115 km from Santiago de Compostela, it provides the perfect spot to begin, because a pilgrim must show a distance walked of at least 100 km in order to receive a compostela (pilgrimage certificate), or 200 km if travelling by bicycle. I expected to walk right into a pilgrim rush hour of epic proportions (an introvert’s nightmare), which would continue all the way in to Santiago. I trundled on past the beautiful Igrexa de San Salvador, the Hospital de San Anton (now the courts of justice) and Fortaleza de Sarria, standing in ruins to skirt around the Mosteiro da Madalena and on to the bridge.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I walked in solitude for most of my walk. What a relief! It may sound awful, but I did not relish the thought of making small talk with a whole load of new, energetic and squeakily clean pilgrims and having to answer the usual interrogations – “When did you begin your walk?”, “Where are you from?”, “Where did you begin your Camino?”, “Why are you walking the Camino?” I didn’t mind these questions at first, but after a month, they can feel a bit stale. I recalled that ginger-haired guy a few days back, walking the reverse Camino, who said “No, learn something new today…” Hmm, I wonder what ‘new’ questions I could come up with for the next unsuspecting pilgrim? If you could ask anything, what would it be and why? How about – “What would it take to truly bring about world peace?”
Although I was damp and a bit chilly, I thoroughly enjoyed strolling through ancient woodlands, alongside fields of gigantic cabbages, that would literally put John Wyndham‘s triffids in the shade. Somehow, the “Day of the Cabbages”, didn’t quite have the same ring to it. Brassicas included, I felt utterly connected to the nature around me. The countryside reminded me of Warwickshire and my home so I intuited being at home and yet homesick at the same time!
A few miles up the trail, I stopped, curious to see what a Danish pilgrim was peering at. As he stepped away, and I wished him a “Buen Camino”, I noticed the bright, red breast of a robin, in marked contrast to the dark oak trunk behind him. The robin lingered there for some minutes, completely content and unafraid. Once again, I sensed my emotions rising up from my heart. Was this another sign from my dear Mum to show me that she journeyed with me from the other side? At that moment I felt incredibly connected to her and reassured, that she was not only watching over me but also enjoying the walk as well.
Today, marked a significant stage of my pilgrimage, for I soon reached A Brea, where the 100 km to Santiago way point stood, beckoning me to have a photo taken, like everyone else. I offered to take photos of other pilgrims too, including some Australian women and French guys, who were just ahead of me. At this moment, a turmoil of feelings enveloped me. On a purely physical level my body was extremely tired and I wanted to go home. However, on emotional and spiritual levels, my heart and soul were full of euphoric joy at this immense achievement!
Certainly the way of the sword has presented many challenges along the way, and one of these has been learning to love and take care of myself. Feeling fatigued and in need of a rest and energy boost, I popped into Casa Morgade for lunch, in the quaint hamlet of the same name. I peeled myself out of my tangerine waterproof layer in the bar area, while I was waiting to be called to a free table. I struck up conversation with an older Peruvian couple, who had walked the Camino Primitivo last year and were now walking the Camino Frances. They were decked out in matching, khaki, walking gear and safari hats. They seemed charming at first, but then a little twist of “We are veteran Camino walkers and we know everything” kind of haughtiness crept into their conversation. I noticed their judgemental remarks about other pilgrims, particularly those, who stopped to take photos of the beautiful countryside (ha ha like me, as I could tell by their barbed comments, when they walked past me later on). And there you go, I am also guilty of the judgement thing again! Thank God for grace. Never mind, each to their own walk, I suppose. Ultreia!
A few times in the afternoon, a small group of people riding horses, trotted by. I was so used to walking in my own world, they took me by surprise. Their appearance reminded me of gauchos and at once I was transported to the grasslands of Argentina or Uruguay. They did indeed look noble, brave and generous to quote the metaphorical meaning of the word. I sensed their energy, joy and freedom as they rode by towards Portomarin, my destination for the day.
My pace slowed down in the afternoon, from Morgade to Ferreiros to several small hamlets strung out along the Camino and on to Mercadoiro. I wondered, whether to stop and find a bed in the albergue here, but felt a pull towards the river and Portomarin the other side. Standing on one side of the bridge, which spanned the wide Mino river basin, I caught my breath and marvelled at the views before me. Up and downstream, I could see how the River Mino had carved out an impressive valley and floodplain. Ahead of me, stood Portomarin, a lovely town that reminded me of the seaside towns and villages in Cornwall.
At the other side of the very long bridge, I took a sharp intake of breath, in preparation for walking up all of the steps to enter the town. Was this some cruel joke? Steps, after all of these kilometres? Would my knees make it? The riders had arrived and were enjoying the attention from many passers by on the road at the foot of the steps, who vied to take their pictures. I turned back to focus on my next challenge, getting up the stairs and finding a room for the night. Eventually I reached the top, slightly out of puff I must say and looked over my shoulder to the bridge and the river below. I clicked my way up the street past the first two albergues and ambled further into town. Such choice, hmmm where next? I trundled up and down a few of the streets and also got my bearings in the town centre. I decided to try to get my own room again, so I could catch up on my sleep in peace and quiet. I opted for the Hotel Villajardin and got an ensuite at a really cheap price. I even had a bath! Wow, what bliss.
After freshening up a bit and skyping Brett, I went out in search of an evening meal. I didn’t feel like walking very far so I popped into the Meson Rodriguez. I can’t say the pilgrim meal was that memorable really, but the company on the table opposite me certainly was! I saw the three French guys, I had met at the 100 km mark where I had offered to take their photos for them. One of them, a strawberry blonde, beardy-weirdy bloke, clocked me and seemed to recognise me. He asked me where I was from, so I told him. He promptly launched into a wine-infused rant about how awful Great Britain is, especially the food and then laughed maniacally and said he was only joking. Right, well there’s no accounting for humour. I refrained from giving him the Agincourt salute in response, but it was so hard. Moments like these make me realise what a miracle the European Union actually is!
Anyway, on that note, I bade my companions good night and retired to bed…in my Villajardin room, my temporary ‘English castle’ for the night.
Watch this space to find out what happened next…
Peace, love and light,