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.

Camino Postcard 30: Villafranca del Bierzo to Triacastela

For the first time today we had to take a taxi for a non-medically related reason.

I say had as if we didn’t have a choice. Of course, we did. It just wasn’t much of one, that’s all.

For if we kept walking, we ran the risk of our money and time running out before we reached Santiago.

Money could, hopefully, be managed; time, however, could not.

But how? Our Camino didn’t have to end until 23rd May – the latest day that Ellena could to return to Germany and to work (I having quit my job in January had no obligation to return to the U.K. at any particular time; Carolin’s new course didn’t begin until September so she was under no pressure either). That was thirteen days away. Thirteen days to complete under 200 kilometres? Easily possible.

However, after we finished the Camino, all three of us wanted to spend a few days recovering in Finisterre on the Atlantic coast and then return to Santiago to relax there. That gave us just about a week to finish the journey.

The desire to go to the coast married the fear over money and time and persuaded us to hire a taxi to take us to O’Cebreiro. To be honest, even if we had had lots of money and time we might have got one, anyway; Ellena had been bitten by something during the night and it had made her foot red and sore.

So, we piled into the taxi and raced away down the woodland road.

At O’Cebreiro, we took some photographs of the beautiful valley below. As you can see in the photograph, the clouds were so low, we were lucky to see it.

O’Cebreiro was a small but beautiful village. The shops and albergues were made of a darkish stone. A souvenir shop had a thatched roof. I tried to take a selfie next to a stone statue of St. James and we met a shy dog which Ellena befriended. I wish we could have stayed the night there.

Having jumped ahead of time, though, we now had to keep it behind us. So, we got walking. Outside the village, the path split. The lower path went along the roadside, the upper path into the woods. I think the lower path was the quicker one but we decided to take the higher. This was because we thought it might be the one to lead us to the Alto San Roque where we hoped to see the famous statue of the saint.

As it happened, the two paths rejoined each other long before we got to the statue but before then we were treated to a lovely walk through a pine forest that looked straight out of Middle-earth. The trees were black pines so Tolkien would have felt completely at home there.

Up till now, the weather had mostly held but it was in the woods that it threatened to fail and we had to stop and put our rain covers over our backpacks.

The threat of rain did not ruin our day. How could it? We were in beautiful surroundings and had got into the habit of playing music out loud from our iPod and phones. As you might imagine, The Lord of the Rings soundtrack got a good airing today.

We came out of the woods, descended a shallow slope and rejoined the lower path as it snaked past the tiny hamlet of Linares. Presently, we were back in the woods again and climbing up until just over the crest appeared San Roque himself, looking out past the valley ahead and I guess to Santiago and Heaven.

When we arrived, a group of cyclists were also taking photographs at the statue. One of them kindly took the photograph of us, below. Unfortunately, none of my photos of San Roque are very good – the sun was behind him so made all my photos of him very dark.

After spending some time admiring the statue and taking photographs we moved on. We stopped at Hospital de la Condesa. Here, we took our second taxi of the day to Triacastela. Now, I am sure this was part of the plan, but I also remember Ellena being in some pain, particularly from her bite, so we may have chosen to take it for her sake.

Either way, we drove to Triacastela, arrived in good weather and checked in to an albergue with a hospitalera who talked… and talked… and talked… LOUDLY. Boy, did she have a lot to say! And just when we were trying to rest.

While Ellena and Carolin did rest, I went in search of a chemist. There, I bought an ointment that would hopefully help Ellena’s bite. Along the way, I stopped and had a beer in a local bar. There, I accidentally tore a ten euro note in two! Don’t ask. It was just an accident. Given the money situation, a spectacularly badly timed one, but there we are.

Speaking of accidents, I had a few of them at the albergue: I was on the bottom bunk, and this one was a low bunk so I forever had to be careful when lifting myself up. I was not forever careful enough.

And so, I leave us sleeping into the night with our next destination being Sarria beginning the last few days of our Camino. As I do so, I say goodbye to my journal: today’s entry was the last to be written. I wrote it tomorrow, presumably in Sarria. What a shame I couldn’t keep it going just a few days more!