Camino 11a – 29 September 2014
By Parson Thru
Sarria to Portomarin Part 1
N’s alarm woke us at around six.
Living in hope, we checked the time just in case it had gone off an hour early and we could roll back over. N switched the light on. I blinked and tried to open my eyes, my body stiff and achy from the day before – that last couple of hours into Sarria had been agonising.
We rolled out of bed and began pulling on our T-shirts and socks. I examined the plaster under my foot. The edges were still well stuck-down. Out in the corridor someone flushed the toilet.
Hanging in the drying room, our clothes were still a little damp from the previous day’s downpour. Hopefully, the temperature would pick up during the morning or they’d start smelling.
We left the room just as we’d found it for the manager. We’d said goodbye the evening before as she was driving her daughter to university that day.
By the time we’d packed and walked down to let ourselves out, the other rooms had been vacated – we never even saw the people, with the exception of the Korean girl who came out of the bathroom as we left.
The street was still wet from the previous day’s rain and the air was cool. The walking shop nextdoor was already open and doing business. We turned past the shop and climbed the steps to the lane, following scallop markings and yellow arrows along the wall.
At the top of the steps was a cafe serving coffee and breakfast to bleary-eyed peregrinos. The chairs set out on the cobbles sparkled with droplets, but we needed the fresh air. There was something strange about the atmosphere in the glistening electric light. The building opposite, though beautiful and historic, was sad and derelict. I went in the café to order drinks and bocadillos.
We drank our coffee and ate our sandwiches while trying to ignore the chill. There was something otherworldly about our situation. It seemed to tighten the bond between us.
After breakfast, we walked on up the rua Maior, past the restaurant where we’d eaten the night before. Pilgrims were emerging from the various albergues and pensions along the narrow street and starting up the hill.
Up on the edge of the old town, beside the monastery of Santa Maria Madalena, we paused in the half-light to look back across Sarria. We tried to trace the way we’d entered the city during yesterday’s storm. The streets that had so disoriented us in the rain appeared neatly etched below, stretching back to the Triacastela road, and we wondered how we’d ever become so lost.
It was time to press on. I was concerned about whether my legs would hold up after the near disaster the day before, and hoping they’d carry me over today’s hills and the next hundred kilometres to Santiago.
The distance from Sarria to Santiago is the minimum to qualify for a Compostela certificate. For this reason, and as the other Camino routes converge, the number of pilgrims swells significantly from here.
We crossed the rio Celeiro at the Ponte Aspera and followed the trail through woods and onto a steady climb for the next fifteen kilometres.
Beneath the oaks and chestnuts lay a carpet of acorns and opened husks. In the trees, foliage was still heavy, but autumn was all around us in the form of clustered fruits and dew hanging heavily on intricate webs stretched over bushes.
Along this trail we heard the sound of a cowbell. It turned out to be attached to a bicycle trailer, such as you might find on any urban cycle-path. The trailer was attached, in train, to another – the both being drawn by a monastic figure in shorts who grimly pulled his load, pausing occasionally to heave it over rough ground. From time to time he shouted warnings to clear the way through slower-moving peregrinos. The warnings were in a rich Irish accent.
We grew used to seeing him as we passed and re-passed each other through the day. On the steeper downhill sections, he reversed the rig so that it ran before him. At a rocky stream we found him jammed where the track suddenly twisted and several of us gave him a push from behind, lifting the wheels over rocks. We introduced ourselves. His name was Cyril. It turned out he was one of the Camino’s seasoned pilgrims. I think he said this was his fourth.
He’d had the idea of using a trailer at Roncesvalles on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. It had worked pretty well, but he needed more capacity, so he bought another in Burgos and attached it to the first. He fitted the cowbell later when he became tired of shouting.
Cyril was a warm, serious character, given to long silences, but his eyes betrayed a mischievous humour now and again as he delivered his drolleries on Camino life. N is one for quiet contemplation, too, and I have a couple of lovely photos of the two of them walking side-by-side along the trail enjoying the peace – just the odd word passed.
Through the day, we occasionally hooked-up with Cyril, or saw him roll by a rest spot as we drank and chatted with someone else.
We found ourselves talking to three men who I'd say were between their late fifties and early sixties. They introduced themselves as Michael, Mick and Stephen, all from Ireland – two of them in the building trade and the other a cabbie from Dublin.
I mentioned about the problem I’d been having with cramp in my thighs and Stephen straightaway said they’d had the same trouble and had been taking electrolyte salts and Ibuprofen to prevent inflammation and reduce pain. The salts were to prevent dehydration and cramp. Generously, Stephen tore off a few sachets of the salts and gave them to me. I poured one straight into my water bottle and drank it down. He passed me a couple of Ibuprofen.
As we caught up with the others, Stephen told me the three of them walked regularly in Ireland and had started the Camino in St Jean. They wanted to go all the way to Finisterre. He said his boots had fallen apart just a few hundred kilometres out and he’d had to buy a new pair. Normally, walking in brand-new boots would be a disaster, but these had bedded in perfectly. We carried on chatting away about anything that came to mind.
At ten kilometres, we reached the minor summit at Morgade, which dipped into a saddle running through Ferrerios before the final climb of the day to Alto Momientos. Close to Morgade was a café whose large yard was filled with people resting and refuelling. The five of us headed in and joined a queue for food. Behind a makeshift counter, women were selling slices of huge empanadas baked on flat trays. We grabbed bottles of water and empanadas and found somewhere to sit in the yard.
N needed the toilet. The facilities were pretty basic and shared between men and women. If you needed privacy, there was a portaloo standing right in the centre of the yard. It was like a Tardis landed in the middle of a lawn of people eating and drinking. Occasionally the door swung shut with a clatter. N decided she’d give it a try, but someone just beat her to it. She waited.
We chatted with the lads. N kept her eye on the portaloo. Eventually, we were all keeping our eye on the door for her. It remained closed. A fair amount of time passed. A couple of people had already wandered up and tried the handle. We’d finished our food and were ready to move on, but we waited out of deference to N’s need. Mick looked at the portaloo, then at N and delivered his wisdom.
“You know, when they’ve been in that long it’s usually not good to go in there anyway.”
You can’t fault wisdom like that. N nodded, sagely. We picked up our packs and carried on.