Camino 13b – 1 October 2014
By Parson Thru
Palas de Rei to Arzua, via Ribadiso - Part 2
The heat intensified as the afternoon wore on. Where the route followed the road, there was little cover available. We passed through villages with nothing but a tangle of power-lines between us and the sun. Several of them had private hostels with cafes that were a good opportunity to stop for a drink and a chat.
We were grateful for the wooded sections and the shade they provided. In one of these sat a man selling T-shirts. The T-shirts were for a Spanish Paralympic charity. The man selling them was a double-amputee who’d represented Spain at the London 2012 Games. I needed a spare shirt anyway and it seemed a good reason to buy one, so I joined the small queue. He even had a stamp for our pilgrim’s passports.
It took two and a half hours to walk from Melide to Ribadiso, where the Camino crosses yet another river: the Rio Iso. An albergue sits on the bank of the river in an idyllic setting. Its stone buildings were once a pilgrim hospital. N and I were hot and tired. The soles of my feet were sore and my thigh muscles were beginning to cramp. The albergue looked inviting.
Pilgrims rested on the grass by the river or in the inner yard. Immediately inside was a bar. We walked in to size the place up and bought a couple of cold cokes. It was tempting to stay the night, but the plan was to carry on to Arzua to give ourselves a shorter walk the next day. We looked at the map. It’s a four kilometre uphill walk to Arzua.
Sitting alone at a barstool was a man we’d bumped into a few times during the day. His accent was maybe Dutch or German. He’d been friendly enough, but there was something about him that was quite pushy – overbearing. We said hello and he gestured for us to sit with him. He told us the albergue was filling up quickly and suggested we book in. It was tempting, watching people lounging in the sun. We finished our cokes and he offered to buy us a drink. We declined.
He must have been drinking for some time and I’d been watching the barman wincing at some of his comments. There was something manipulative about him – one of those people who is used to always getting his own way. I humoured him for a while, but I didn’t like him and made up my mind that I wouldn’t be spending the night at Ribadiso.
N and I had a subtle conference and decided to move on. Aside from anything else, it would be good to get the hill out of the way today.
As we were leaving, he began to berate us noisily for being unsociable, which served to justify the decision. I think we’re both too long in the tooth to take that kind of crap.
It seemed a shame to leave Ribadiso and the river behind and start climbing again. We spotted a few familiar faces. A couple of people called to us as we set off over the bridge. We waved back.
The initial section was steep. We cut underneath the N-547 highway and followed a track through scrub, finally joining the road for the long drag into Arzua.
There were great views to our left across the open Galician countryside, which was beautiful under the late afternoon sun. A thin line of peregrinos stretched ahead, also making for the town.
Coming into Arzua we passed a travelling fair that seemed to be gearing up for the evening. The first building on the main street, rua Ramón Franco, was a pension whose windows looked straight onto the fairground. We kept walking, stopping only to swallow water from our bottles. My head was sweating under my hat.
A few hundred metres further along, we stopped outside an albergue. Two women, who I took to be staff, were chatting in the doorway. I asked if the albergue had any individual rooms.
N thought I was wasting my time, but I stuck with it. We’d walked thirty kilometres since leaving Palas de Rei and it probably showed. One of the women told us to wait and went inside. When she came back, she told us there was a room for twenty euros and asked if we wanted to see it. I could have kissed her. She took us through the bar and past the dormitory, pointing to a door up a short flight of stairs. We took a look. There was a bunk-bed to one side and a small en-suite. It was perfect.
We paid and had our pilgrim’s credentials stamped. All the criticism in the world that we were missing the authentic dormitory experience wouldn’t have got me in there. With four sleepless nights, we’d had all the dormitory experience we needed for this trip. There’ll come a time when I have to do this on a shoe-string, but until then it’s worth the extra ten or twenty euros for a private room.
Within half-an-hour, we were showered and changed – blisters cleaned, checked and re-dressed. We crashed on the bunks for a while – I took the lower one. It was good to lie still. This had been our longest day so far.
We must have slept for a while. N lowered herself down from the top bunk and dressed. I slowly eased myself out and slipped my bare feet into my flip-flops. Everything ached or was sore. I could have stayed there, but we needed to shop for water and nibbles for the next day. The pulpo from lunch sat quite uncomfortably in our stomachs, so we wouldn’t need to eat much that evening.
We walked out along rua Ramón Franco to find a shop. We found a supermercado across the road about half a kilometre further into town. We may be a little sad, but we love wandering around supermarkets when we’re away to see what’s on the shelves. Food and drink is almost always cheaper than in the UK and the bread, veg and fish are so much fresher. We picked up a few bits and pieces and queued at the check-out. Shopping in Spanish was gradually becoming easier.
As we walked back towards the albergue, we spoke about people we hadn’t seen that day. One of them was Ziggy. No sooner had we mentioned his name than he appeared on the other side of the road.
He’d seen us coming the other way and came across wearing a big grin. He was looking for the supermercado. We pointed it out. It turned out we were in the same albergue. We arranged to meet in the bar later.
We crashed for another hour or so. It was difficult not to. By the time we made the bar, Ziggy had already eaten. We sat and ordered pasta from the menu del dia. Football played on the TV, as ever, with three or four locals watching it from bar-stools.
Ziggy showed us a book his daughter had bought him for getting by without language. We’d never seen anything like it. It’s called “Point-it” by Dieter Graf. You communicate by pointing to pictures. It would have been ideal when N was working in Malawi. We flicked through it as we ate, testing it out on our lack of a common language.
One of the men at the bar had been listening to us for the last hour. I’d been watching him earwigging. As we were getting up to leave, he spoke.
He introduced himself. I was so tired that I can’t remember his name. He wanted to know where we were from. He told us he was Portuguese. He had a job in Spain and had been living there for ten years, raising a family in Arzua. He told us the economy was bad, but better than in Portugal.
He just wanted to speak English with us. It was a shame he’d left it so late. We talked on for a while, but eventually tiredness got the better of us and we had to leave. We shook hands and he wished us a Buen Camino.
As Ziggy turned to go into the dorm, I couldn’t help being grateful for our room.