Camino Postcard 33: Portomarín to Palas de Rei

13.5.19
I ended the last blog post on a happy note, but the 32nd day of our Camino did have a sting in the tail – I had another blister on my thumb. Fortunately, this one healed in just a few days rather than taking two weeks.

On our second misty morning in succession, we made our way down the great stone staircase and out of Portomarín. For a couple of minutes, we walked along the city-side of the Rio Miño before crossing it once more.

This took us back in woodlands. There were quite a few pilgrims in front and behind. And also, a tractor, taking some felled pine trees away. Our path took us up, up, and – no, not away – just up again until we were actually above cloud level!

What a sight. The valley must have its own microclimate.

As we made our way to the heavens, we saw Lillian ahead of us. We called out to her but while we turned the heads of the pilgrims in front of us, she never heard our cries. A forced march followed until we were close enough to again shout LILLIIIAAAAAN! This time, she heard, and we were reunited.

Today was a really tough day. The heat told on us and Ellena’s knee was in a very bad way. The presence of so many pilgrims around us and the possibility that they were TPs was also aggravating. It didn’t help that there were so many of them that, at one point, we had to walk on the side of the road because there was no room on the pavement.

We eventually stopped at Palas de Rei but should have done so much earlier. Indeed, as with yesterday, that was our intention. But again, as with yesterday, we couldn’t find an albergue. We struggled on under the burning sun. Towards the end of our march, I ran out of water. Memories of the Valcarlos route came back to me and I didn’t enjoy them.

Palas de Rei is 25 kilometres from Portomarin. We managed to walk 23 of them. Seeing the clouds beneath us had been the high point – literally and figuratively; the Spanish man who had replied to Ellena’s greeting of Buen Camino with Buen Camino and then And I hope you die in Spanish under his breath had been the low point. Imagine being a pilgrim and saying that to someone. Either he was a complete jerk or, for charity’s sake, let’s just say he was having a very bad day for whatever reason.

Another thing I should say is that the ill willed pilgrim was a low point because by the time we stopped at a roadside restaurant and bar I was thirsty and Ellena very poorly. Even though we were so close to Palas de Rei, she could go no further on foot.

After we had had a drink, I asked the barman if he could call a taxi for us. Thank the Lord for the kindness of Spanish people. However, when he called, none were available. He advised me to ask him again in a little while. So, we sat down, had a bite to eat and hoped for the best.

Eventually, with prayers in my heart, I made my way back into the bar. The barman called… and five minutes later, the taxi arrived. Praise be. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise.

Of course, we got looked at as we put our backpacks into the boot. We ignored them. This was our Camino and it was the right thing to do.

I did wonder, though, what this taxi might mean for our compostelas. Would we not receive one because we had not walked the entire last 100 kilometres?

That was a problem for another day. Today, the taxi took us to a cheap hotel at the far end of town. We checked in and took our rooms.

By the way, when I say checked in, I mean that we did so after booking the room on booking.com. We used this app for all the hotels that we stayed at from Sarria onwards. We didn’t want to run the risk of just turning up and finding that they had no rooms. That would have been demoralising. The app was very easy to use and a great help to us.

The hotel we stayed was called the Hostal Ponterroxan. The hotelier was very polite if a little forgetful in bringing the wine at tea time (or perhaps just busy) but very friendly. If I was passing through Palas de Rei again, I would definitely go back to there.

Once in our room, we each took a shower and settled down.

I mentioned two low points earlier. Let me mention another high point to even the scales. For today we met the Canadian pilgrim whom we had last seen on our way out of León (I mentioned him here). His wife had recovered from her injury and they were now walking together.

Camino Postcard 32: Sarria to Portomarín

12.5.19
We dragged ourselves out of the lovely hotel we stayed in last night and… stopped. Lillian was still with us but she had gone in search of a cash machine.

Before long, however, she returned, and we set off. One thing I regret about the Camino is not taking more time to explore some of the places that we stopped in. That was fine with the hamlets and villages where there was not a great deal to see but places like Sarria had a lot to offer and I rarely took the chance to explore. This was partly due to tiredness at the end of the walk, but also tardiness. Money was also a reason – in order to preserve it, I never went anywhere that had an entrance fee; that included cathedrals.

The sky was cloudy overhead today as we left Sarria behind and walked into the countryside. There were pilgrims in front of and behind us but we were not yet deluged by them. This would happen a little further on and tomorrow. After that, they pretty much disappeared as quickly as they came. I still don’t know what happened to them.

We entered a woodland and paused to take photos at a train track (non-electrified!). Train tracks are a very potent symbol – of the future and past – but I have to admit, they resonate with me because one of my most favourite films, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café begins with the camera travelling along one.

A train track also plays a very important part in the Fried Green Tomatoes story but I’ll say no more here in case you would like to watch the film (I heartily recommend it to you!) (And the book; Fannie Flagg is a great writer).

After taking our photographs, we passed a group of German pilgrims. I learnt a lot about the country from Ellena, not least that it is a strict one in terms of behaviour. I wonder what it means, therefore, that we met so many Germans walking the Camino. Are they rebelling against their country’s strict you-must-work-(hard)-to-be-valid outlook? I think that – whether or not they are walking the Way for religious reasons – they are, and I am pleased for them. To walk the Camino is to recognise the wildness, the messiness, the incredible nature of life and to refuse to stay in a box that someone else created. For this reason, I’m a little sad that we met relatively few British people. I hope it isn’t the case that in Britain we live life’s wildness in things like drinking and sports, so much so that we leave no space for the deeper – true – wildness of the Camino.

Crossing a bridge, we came to the huge bole. It was so big, Carolin was able to fit inside and do a very passable impression of a tree spirit.

The path now went upwards – another good stretch for the legs – before turning at a hairpin. We came out of the woods. The clouds were very low now, and it was very misty. We stopped at an albergue-café-tourist shop to get our pilgrim passports stamped. This was important because in order to qualify for a compostela in Santiago, the pilgrim has to get his passport stamped twice a day from Sarria onwards.

We had already got our first stamp at a café in Sarria so this one took care of the twice a day obligation. Or did it? I think it may actually have been our third one.

But anyway, I have just remembered something. So, in yesterday’s post I made a lewd reference that has probably lost me such readers as this blog enjoys, or enjoyed, so let’s go the full hog and mention Hitler.

In Sarria, a friend from home sent me a video of a man in a bar dancing. He turns to the camera, and lo and behold, he looks exactly like Adolf Hitler. Here is the video.

I love the juxtaposition of Hitler, a bar, and dancing. It’s so perfectly ridiculous. And yes, it’s also offensive, so don’t watch it if it is likely to hurt or anger you.

Further up the road, we met two horses who were either very interested in us or in the possibility that we might have some sugar to give them. Probably the latter. Sadly, though, we had naught to give but our love.

Hm. Buried in that line somewhere is a quotation from G. K. Chesterton.

… I’ve just looked it up – the key is the word ‘naught’ – in his poem The Ballad of the White Horse, he writes ‘I tell you naught for your comfort’.

As the morning progressed, the sun burned the mist away and it turned into a hot, a really hot, day. We soldiered on, and managed to keep going all the way to Portomarín – 25 kilometres from Sarria. It was a mighty effort under the hot sun and we all felt it. Why did we go so far? Well, my memory is hazy on this point, but I’m sure we didn’t mean to; I’m sure the original intention had been to stop at either Mercadoiro or Vilachá but for want of an albergue that turned out not to be possible.

(I know I said yesterday that we didn’t bother with albergues after Sarria but the situation was a fluid one. If we had arrived somewhere and saw an albergue in front of us, we would probably have taken it)

So, we staggered across the long bridge that took us over the Rio Miño and almost collapsed when we saw that to enter the city, we had to climb a large stone staircase. Summoning our last remaining strength, we made our way up it. At the top, we paused to consult Brierley. There was a hotel just round the corner – the Casona da Ponte. As we were all feeling the heat to breaking point, we went there.

The Casona cost a few more euros but was just what the doctor ordered. Clean, fresh and comfortable. The receptionist/barman was very friendly and, I cannot lie, very handsome. I enjoyed being there.

We had dinner/tea at a café round the corner from the hotel, and as we walked there, we heard a familiar voice from the hotel next to ours – it was Lillian (she had walked ahead of us during the day). We met her in the café.

And so, after washing our clothes, the day – with its beautiful view of the Rio Miño – came to a gentle end.