Camino Postcard 32: Sarria to Portomarín

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.

Camino Postcard 31: Triacastela to Sarria

My copy of Brierley shows that there are two paths leading out of Triacastela. One turns left and follows the path of the rio Oribio, going through at Samos before continuing along the line of the river to Aguiada where it joins the right hand route. This route goes through woodland and across the Alto do Riocabo before passing through Furela and onwards to Aguiada. We took the right hand route.

It was a sunny day and before long we met the equally sunny Lillian. She was well and truly bitten by the Camino bug – as I write this she is currently walking the Camino Portugues.

Somewhere in the woods, we found a very rustic looking albergue with a sign saying ‘WiFi Zone’ – except ‘WiFi’ had been crossed out and ‘Hugging’ added above it. Hm. Hugging or WiFi, which would you rather have? I’m English so obviously would infinitely prefer WiFi, or at most a firm handshake.

We stopped for breakfast in the albergue and had a lovely little meal. We also met a lovely dog – Buddy. He was a service dog so we weren’t supposed to distract him, but while his owner had breakfast, Buddy was allowed to come over to say hello. He was quite big and very fluffy; he had a very serious face. If he was a human he’d be professor of something or other at Oxford.

A few days ago, Ellena took a passport stamp and stamped her hand with it. Today, I copied her. The rustic albergue’s stamp was a pair of lips. Well, they looked like lips alright but which kind I shall leave to your imagination.

Not long after leaving Buddy and the lips (a great name for a 50s pop band btw), although technically the latter came with me, we met two dogs playing very enthusiastically with each other. They joined us and one tried to jump on Ellena as she knelt down to pet it. He’s trying to exert his dominance over me, she said. Fortunately, it only took Ellena standing up to put alpha doggo in his place so he he went back to playing with his friend.

Further on, we passed a tiny house that seemed to be doubling as a shop – selling prints. I can’t imagine how one is able to sustain a business in the middle of a wood. The prints may be of the greatest quality, but how many pilgrims will want to carry them through the day to Sarria?

We continued on. It was now cloudy overhead and may even have rained a little later in the morning. If so, it didn’t last and before long was brightening up. More of an issue, perhaps, was the climb as we climbed the Alto do Riocabo. One puff step puff after puff another puff. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but it was a good stretch for the legs.

We stopped for a rest at a house with an open garden and assorted fruit and drink available for purchase. Here, we met a pilgrim who had arrived there a week or so before us and decided to stay awhile. What a lovely freedom to have to be able to do that!

The facilities at the house, or rather, garden, were extremely rustic – it had an open air compost toilet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the women in the party declined to use it. I did my best but however good this kind of toilet is for the land I have to admit it is not wholly comfortable from a human perspective. Still, there was a copy of Romeo and Juliet by the toilet to distract oneself with so that was something.

Another thing that we saw at this garden was a collection of scallop shells. The house owners encouraged all pilgrims to leave theirs there – according to them, real pilgrims got their shells after finishing the Camino in Santiago. Yeah, right. I don’t care what real pilgrims do, you’re only taking my shell away from me over my cold, dead body.

Anyway, after a nice cup of coffee, we left the garden and continued on our way. Down into the valley we went, and then up again. By the time we rolled into the town whose name I won’t mention because I’ve forgotten it, it was not only sunny but very hot. We stopped at a café for lunch. There, we met Buddy again. Another dog was also present and he waddled over to say hello if by hello I mean beg for food.

In truth, today was the Day of Dogs because further on down the road we met a beautiful Alsation chilling out in a high garden at the side of the road. He looked as noble as the hills, ancient as the sky and I should move on because frankly when did you last see a noble looking hill?

We climbed a staircase made out of paving stone embedded in the ground, met a cow and her calf – like the Alsation she was on high ground but also behind a fence so we could get very close to her and the calf without incurring any risk. And then, we met a few beautiful roses, saw a memorial stone (?) written in an oriental (perhaps Japanese) script and were in Sarria.

And here, in a sense, our Camino ended. For we knew that from now on, we would see a whole lot more pilgrims on the route – those doing the last one hundred kilometres only – and the thought of this irritated us intensely. Yes, there would be some who were doing the last 100 for legitimate reasons: time, health, etc and we had no problem with that, but we despised the tourist pilgrims (TPs as they became) who were coming to do the last 100 as a bucket list exercise or simply in order to get the compostela on the cheap.

None of this might have mattered to us so much except that competition for beds at albergues along the way would now increase dramatically. There may even be days when we missed out because the horrid tourist pilgrims – who didn’t even carry their bloody backpacks with them – got there before us.

So, in Sarria, our more carefree Camino ended. From now on, the shadow of the TPs would be upon us. We dealt with it by simply not bothering with the albergues anymore. In each stop between Sarria and Santiago we stopped at a cheap hostel. Or, in the case of Sarria, because it was hot and we were too tired to go searching for an albergue and risk being turned away, a not to so cheap hotel.