Sarria – Portomarin
Breakfast starts at 7:00am at the Hotel Alfonso and is too good to miss. We are packed and ready by seven, we eat lightly for we know the day ahead is long and ‘flat’. Flat is a word that is very open to interpretation on the Camino. The majority of the Meseta was flat, pool table flat. The rest of the Camino is dominated by the Pilgrims Law of Undulation where each incline and decline could be seen to cancel each other out like a Sine Wave.
Hilly with no mountains might be the best description.
The sun is still well below the horizon as we bid the lovely Hotel Alfonso farewell and head into Sarria. We have soon lost sight of the arrows and are casting about for the Way when we meet a Swedish couple experiencing similar problems.
It is their first day walking the Camino, they are walking the last 100+ kilometers that is required to obtain the Compostelo. We take photos for them (on their camera) standing next to each other under the Sarria streetlights once we have re-found the Way and wish them their first ‘Buen Camino’ which they return enthusiastically.
We still love a good ‘Buen Camino’ and never tire of saying or hearing it returned.
Many pilgrims walk the last 100+ km from Sarria and we are expecting the Way to be considerably busier than we have experienced before.
We set off up the first incline of the day through Sarria city. The Way passes a monastery at the top of the hill then turns left and passes a large cemetery on the left.
At the base of the hill we turn right and ‘hey presto’ we are in the country again back on the gravel roads we are so accustomed to.
We cross some railway lines and begin to walk up a long steep uphill. Soon most of the newbies are gasping for breath as Pam and I stride by. My knee is feeling stronger each day now and once we have reached the top we turn on the afterburners and settle into the kilometer eater pace we like.
The newbies are all walking in packs chatting and talking which we find distracting, so we keep a steady rhythm for hours as the pilgrim herd thins around us.
The countryside around us is small farm rural beautiful however after the glory of the climb to and descent from O Cebreiro it passes by in a green blur as we push through village after village.
On the outskirts of a little village an ancient farmer spies Pam and hails us to stop. He picks a magnificent purple flower from the vines growing on the wall beside and hands it to her while giving her a gap toothed kiss on each cheek. He shakes my hand and thinks for a moment before taking two walnuts from his shirt pocket and solemnly handing one to each of us.
He is speaking rapid Spanish the entire time and is obviously most taken with Pam, he must have been a right charmer in his day for his moves are still smooth.
He releases us back to the Way with a hearty ‘Buen Camino’ and we resume our stride.
We come to the 100km to Santiago marker and take photos as evidence of the moment.
We leave tiny village after tiny village in our wake stopping only briefly at a bar for drinks before pushing on again.
Portamarin lies on the far side of a river that was dammed in the 1960’s, the original village lies submerged by the dam and the town church Igrexa de San Nicolas was moved piece by piece to its current location in the middle of the new town.
The hill crest we finally come to allows us our first sighting of the town. Far below us the town looks quite flat.
Distance and undulation are hard to judge from far above.
Down, we go down, with the closing stages of our descent passing a section sloped steeply down and to the right which disagrees vehemently with my knees.
Finally we reach the river valley only to be confronted with a flat high long bridge crossing the waters far below.
There is a cross wind blowing and trucks driving just to the side as we commence the grim walk lying ahead.
Pam talks incessantly as we cross telling me to ‘look down and enjoy the view’, ‘don’t trip’, ‘walk closer to the edge so you can see more’, ‘that truck nearly blew me over the rails’ and other super helpful comments.
I restrain myself from just scooping her up and throwing her over the side and we finally cross and begin the steep ascent into the ‘seemed flat from above’ town.
Across the road from the bridge end is a long steep concrete staircase to the statue Capilla de Nuestra Senora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows) above.
Some wise arse has graffitied a street sign at the base of the stairs with the message ‘Eye of the Tiger moment’. Seeing this Pam cries out ‘challenge accepted’ and proceeds to bound up the stairs, backpack and all. She maintains momentum to the top and does a ‘Rocky’ routine as I try and take pictures from below.
She then turns forward again and her shoulders slump ‘not more stairs, challenge completed’ and we drag ourselves higher and higher into the town in search of our hotel.
Portomarin – Palas de Rei
Another long walk awaits us today and we set out well before sunrise again. From our hotel the initial stage is down, down, down the streets of the town under the halos cast by streetlights. We stop at an open Albergue for breakfast however the queue for service is too long and we decide to forge ahead of the crowds instead.
Back we go down to the bridge level again, no climb is ever maintained on the Camino. We cross the river via a shorter yet still high bridge, Pam is still too sleepy to remember to cruelly taunt me at this hour of the day.
From here for the next few hours we climb and climb. The first stage is steep and long and has us both breathing hard, the climbing stages after this are milder and separated by long flattish sections.
As the sun rises the countryside around us is revealed, we walk through many forested sections which give way to views of the valleys on either side.
The air is heavy and grey and we are once more climbing steadily to the cloud line above. Sections of gravel and bitumen road intersperse as we travel mostly parallel, though away from, the busy road to our right. We cross and re-cross this road a few times until we turn right at a business selling tractors and farm equipment and take an overpass to a quiet country road with a gravel shoulder beside for walking pilgrims.
This is close to the highest point for the day and we are level with the clouds spilling over the crest of the ridge to our left.
The countryside is very picturesque as we follow the undulating road lower and lower however Pam and I have finish line fever in our minds and we rarely break stride for photos.
I do stop to take pictures of giant ant sculptures in the yard of a little cafe we pass to our left.
Soon after we stop for lunch in Lestedo. 19km down, five to go.
An hour or so later we make our destination, the Pension La Cabana, which lies just outside of the entry to the outskirts of Palas de Rei proper. The Pension La Cabana is a large establishment that looks like a ski lodge and we are soon showering in the wood lined room.
It begins to rain lightly outside, we made it just in time.
My role for the rest of the day is to focus on bringing the blog up to date and I type away furiously only pausing for lubricating cervesa as Pam goes about the more important chores of washing our clothes and organizing things for the day tomorrow.
As I write the rain intensifies and a cold wind springs up that threads through the busy cafe each time a door is opened, stealing the heat built up by the congregating pilgrims.
The joint is jumping as the afternoon wears on however I stick to my task and we are super productive despite my increasing inebriation.
We are two ipad ninjas. One slightly impaired.
Palas de Rei – Arzua
We wake early knowing we have a thirty plus kilometer walk ahead of us today, the longest in quite some time. We are nearly the first to breakfast at the Pension La Cabana and leave so early we need to use our torch to light our way into the town below.
We had no chance or desire to go into the town in the rain the afternoon before and are surprised to se Palas de Rei is a large town that takes quite a while to walk through. Make that thirty plus plus kilometers for today.
There are long forested stretches with many areas of planted eucalypts between villages and once we have left Palas de Rei we are making good progress. We could be walking through the Daisy Hill forest which is ten minutes drive from our home. Pam is missing our dog Ivan.
By now finish line fever is consuming our minds, we look around us as we walk, however we rarely pause and we have blasted through the first sixteen kilometers and have made the town Melide before we eat of couple of bananas in a park.
Melide is confusing to exit via the Way and we see many pilgrims casting about for the yellow arrows. A friendly local sees our looks of confusion and sets us straight. Soon we are powering over the hill out of town beside a large cemetery with many of the other lost pilgrims close on our heels.
On the outskirts of Melide the Way turns left, follows a road for a short time and then turns right again walking us beside the Iglesia de Santa Maria which is a small beautiful church constructed in the 12th century.
Once again timing is everything, for just as we pass, our day one German friend Andrea steps out of the church and we have a friendly reunion which only intensifies as Marte and Elma also exit the little church.
We are all chatting and laughing like the very best of friends and make plans to reunite in Santiago.
Soon we are burning up the track again and have walked another eight kilometers to Rio where we run into Andrea again and have a more complete lunch of delicious sandwiches and tortilla.
From here we cross yet another peak and descend into the wide river valley below. The last section of the descent is on a steep bitumen road and has my knees singing. Across the little stream at the bottom is a hamlet comprised of a few homes and an Albergue.
We forge on up the hill ahead hoping our destination Arzua is close.
Finally we crest the hill and walk down the long centre street of Arzua. We stop to gather our wits. To my dismay Apple maps seems to indicate our hotel lies about two kilometers back in the direction we had entered the town however before grinding the beastly device to powder beneath my heel I decide to ask the cafe owner where we are and she directs me to continue walking down the road for a further kilometer and a half.
We come to a tourist information stand down the road where we ask for further directions and are directed to continue on down the road for a further 800m.
Spanish people seem to have a very relaxed attitude when it comes to estimates of distance and we are starting to become concerned when both estimates fall short as we continue winding down the road.
Finally we come to a sign indicating we have left Arzua and I am about to really lose my cool when we finally see the Hotel Suiza sign around the last corner we have come to.
Our guide indicates the Hotel Suiza is located in a scenic rural area. I say to Pam ‘if you count the corner of a main road, beside a servo that fronts an industrial complex as being scenic and rural you really shouldn’t be writing guide books’.
My sore knees and feet are making me mean.
We drag ourselves up the drive fearing the worst however find the owners to be lovely and accommodating. Our room is spacious (huge really) and clean, the shower is hot and has good pressure. Half an hour later all is good with the world again.
We work on the blog again in the quiet bar, the married couple who own the hotel have a little one month old daughter in a pram at the bar and we coo and gush appropriately. We show pictures of Lexi and they show pics of their five year old who is playing outside.
The owners shout us a shot of the local liqueur as we sit writing and drinking which knocks Pam out. She retires to the room and comes back down at eight for a delicious dinner.
The statement ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover’ goes for hotels as well.
Rain has begun to fall steadily by the time we finish dinner.
Arzua – A Rua
By now we can’t help ourselves, we are waking earlier and earlier each day
Despite the very long and tiring walk yesterday we are the first into breakfast at the hotel in the morning.
In the dark outside the rain is pouring down as we eat. We have been advised that the turn off the road to the Camino is about 100m up the road.
We don our wet weather gear and step out into the falling rain. We walk down the short hotel drive turn right and commence walking up the road as passing traffic splash us with spray.
Luckily two German men who have lights attached to their foreheads leave shortly after us for we miss the dark turn off the road despite our torch and have to turn back once I realise they are no longer following us.
From here we are walking under heavy wet tree branches and Pam is shining the torch back and forth in an effort to miss the deepest puddles and water streaming down the path.
After about half an hour there is light enough to make our way ahead without the torch.
Walking in the rain wearing wet weather gear shrinks the world. Vision is reduced to a small oval in front with no peripheral sight and hearing is dominated by the large drops of water plopping off trees onto the hood.
We are keen to finish the 19km to A Rua we have planned for today and to stay upright in the slippery conditions must maintain visual contact with the ground in front.
We do our best to look around as we pass however the camera never leaves the bag.
Soon after daylight we are passed by two Australian ladies Helen and Robyn who have been Wacky Races contestants for days. Helen has run multiple marathons with a best time of four hours and twelve seconds. She ran a marathon just prior to commencing the Camino. Robyn has also run a marathon however due to injury no longer runs.
We have no chance of keeping pace with these two tigers and they always chat for a while then leave us in their dust, or mud as per the conditions today.
We squelch on, the rain gear I wear keeps me dry for about the first five minutes before becoming a wearable personal sauna, my ‘waterproof shoes’ are soaking soon after. Every time I raise my arms the sweat that has accumulated as cool pools inside the sleeves gushes back and soon my shirt underneath is as soaked as if I was not wearing the coat.
It does keep me warm though, super sauna sweaty warm.
Pam is complaining of the same conditions however we are both happy and keep a good pace all morning cracking jokes as we squelch along the Way.
We come to a bar open beside the road at Salceda and enter. Helen and Robyn are inside the bar which has the walls and ceilings covered in messages written with a Sharpie by pilgrims. Signed T Shirts hang from the ceiling and an old Dire Straits album is playing on the stereo.
I have entered the bar dripping wet after taking off my coat and Robyn cheekily asks me ‘how my rain gear is working’. I say ‘it is keeping me very warm, very very warm as you can see’ which cracks her up. We keep the conversation lively cracking wise about walking the rest of the Camino nude other than our boots.
They leave ahead of us as we pull on our, by now cold, coats again and squelch on.
By the time we make A Rua and walk up the driveway of the O Pino Hotel we have had enough.
Thankfully the O Pino is a dry oasis in a very soggy world, we are rapidly in our room showering, our laundry is being done by the hotel soon after. The bar is beautiful and the service friendly and fast. We eat and drink and Pam goes upstairs leaving me working on the blog.
A while later a lady comes into the bar and commences typing away similarly to how I am doing, we greet each other ‘Buen Camino’ and are soon talking earnestly.
The lady’s name is Wendy and she was born in England. She has multiple degrees and an open mind. She has lived for eight years in Spain in the 1970’s and is fluent in Spanish and capable in French and has lived in many different countries. She has spent the last fourteen years living in the USA and has just completed a book which will be published in December, Lynton Keith Caldwell; An environmental visionary and the national environmental policy act.
I have found a kindred spirit on the Camino. Our conversation intensifies, she tells me how significant Lynton Keith Caldwell was in implementing environment legislation in the USA and how she cared for him as he died in his 93rd year. I take out the cork that I mostly keep very tightly sealed when talking to people and we swap ideas.
She tells me ‘she has met a lot of Australians but never any like me’, I reply ‘that I rarely meet anyone as open minded as she, and that I only very, very infrequently speak in the way that I am with her’.
It is a regular mutual admiration club.
Space and time have come through for me again.
Pam returns from her nap and the conversation turns to less controversial real life topics. Pam and Wendy also get on famously and we all have dinner together in a most amiable fashion.
The O Pino shines once again, dinner is delicious and piping hot.
The hour is getting late and both Pam and Wendy are starting to fade. In all honesty I could have kept going all night for once I take the cork out, my mind lights up in ways that often make it difficult for me to sleep.
We bid Wendy good night after swapping details and make our way to our comfortable and super cute room which has a sloping ceiling and a wooden cupboard that is cut to match the slope. I can never recall seeing a cupboard with triangular door tops cut to match the ceiling line before and wish I had remembered to take a photo.
As per my suspicions I have a lot of trouble getting to sleep and toss and turn most of the night listening to Pam’s regular breathing.
Even with my mind bright burning, still I am at peace.
A Rua – San Marco
Today is our second last day, if all goes to plan tomorrow we walk into Santiago de Compostela, our pilgrimage completed.
I have mentioned several times the confusion and frustration we have often felt coming in to large towns and Pam and I are determined to be in top form as we triumphantly enter Santiago.
To give ourselves the best chance of doing this our plan is to walk to Monte de Gozo, which is about five kilometers from Santiago, today and walk the last few kilometers tomorrow.
The rain is slashing down, drumming on the windows of the O Pino Hotel as we eat a delicious breakfast prior to sunrise.
We leave with the first light, eager to reach our destination as early as possible.
Putting our dry sock covered feet into soggy wet boots wakes us both up and within ten minutes of hitting the road my personal sauna kicks in.
Yesterday, after the early morning the rain was mostly continuous drizzle. Today, wind is slashing the rain across our faces in sheets.
Genuine rain that feels like it will keep on coming all day.
We squelch along gravel roads interspersed with short bitumen stretches as we come to villages. The roads mostly pass through forests, much of them Eucalyptus trees that we have learned were introduced from Australia in the 1800’s. The eucalyptus trees are long and straight and seem very disease free.
We had heard another pilgrim at breakfast talking about avoiding lightning on the last day of the pilgrimage.
Being killed by a falling gum tree branch in Spain after having walked 795km is much more likely and I keep my ears pealed for cracking sounds above to avoid such an ironic death.
We walk, at the best pace we can muster, without pause and make it to our destination without incident.
The place we are staying is like a military barracks with row after row of low buildings for pilgrim accommodation. This is largest Albergue on the whole Camino however at this time of year there are only a few people staying here. Once we have found the place, we are holed up in the bar working on the blog soon after.
As we enjoy the afternoon the rain clears and the sun begins to shine through blue patches above.
I write poetry for many reasons, sometimes things land in my mind that I just have to express, even (mostly) to the audience of myself.
A poem can fall from the sky fully formed, like a meteor.
Sometimes a poem can crystalize more slowly from thought or emotion and such a crystal can be stored or jettisoned depending on whim or need.
Beyond this, a poem can be an anchor or a mnemonic device transporting the poet or reader back to the emotions, thoughts and memories encountered in the moment the crystal forms or the meteor strikes.
Oddly enough I have a very simple little poem that inadequately describes what I am trying to say. It goes something a little like this……..
Poetry is a five dimensional beacon
Wrought from memory, time and space
Spend with me a moment
In such a place
Write a poem
Put a smile on your face
This blog has also served such a purpose. It has made clear and bright days that might otherwise have blurred together in one continuous (and seemingly never ending) undulation. As I read back, events and people I have not mentioned or described spring clear in my mind.
Having never kept a journal I was unprepared for this mnemonic effect. Pity the damn thing takes near as long to write as it does to walk. 🙂
Time and Space have intersected here at this moment.
It is now 11:15pm Wednesday on the 16th day of October in the year 2013 AD. It is the end of our fiftieth day on the Camino.
Our spatial location is room 5 at the Ciudad de Vacaciones Monte de Gozo, Spain,Europe……Earth, Sol, Milky Way, The Universe.
Fine weather is forecast for the morning.
See you in Santiago de Compostela tomorrow.
Mick and Pam