Camino 8b – 27 September 2014
By Parson Thru
O' Cebreiro to Triacastela
We headed out of Cebreiro and down a cobbled track to the main road. Helpfully, a signpost pointed left to Triacastela and Sarria. Beyond the road the ground fell steeply away and the view opened out across mountain tops receding into the far distance, their valleys filled with milky lakes of cloud. The morning sun shone over all of this from a clear blue sky.
We began walking in the direction of Triacastela, keeping to the edge of the road. The view to the right was stunning. For some reason there were fewer pilgrims than we expected – no more than a handful ahead and it seemed an age before anyone followed. I watched a man in a broad bush-hat cross the road and peer down a track I could see came back out a few hundred metres ahead. I asked if he was lost. He held up his guidebook, shrugged and walked across to us.
He introduced himself as Ron. We discussed the lack of pilgrims and wondered if we’d missed a turn. The road-sign pointed to Triacastela but something seemed wrong. N checked John Brierley’s guide and I quote:
“A quiet forest track starts just above the (O’ Cebreiro) albergue and winds around the hill… thus avoiding the main road. … Many pilgrims miss this track and take the asphalt in error.”
We checked the map. Not too much harm done. It was about two kilometres to the next village of Liñares, where the track joined with us. The way was far less steep by road. We carried on.
The mistake gave us chance to get to know Ron a little and he us. He was a seasoned walker, a veteran of some serious routes in the Appalachians. He was about sixty and said he’d like to retire and spend more time walking. I asked him why he didn’t. He told us he was a Paediatrician, working in a practice in the States, and needed to consider his partners.
He and N began chatting about her year working in Malawi and compared what she’d seen with conditions in the US. There were surprising similarities, apart from the availability of drugs and equipment in the US. Mexico is another story. He told us that every year the partners spend two weeks in Mexico running a surgery. A different world south of the border.
At Liñares, we picked up the Camino again and walked on to Alto San Roque, where a tall pilgrim monument leans into the wind gazing towards Santiago. To his left is a spectacular view across Galicia. It’s another of the defining monuments of the route. We photographed Ron standing on the plinth and he snapped us. We walked on and continued the conversation – monuments are all well and good.
The weather continued dry and warm as walked on along the plateau from San Roque to the summit of Alto do Polo, passing the village of Padornelo. We lost Ron at Hospital, appropriately, where he planned to spend the night in the albergue.
We paused to rest and buy a drink, then began to descend towards the night stop. The trail noticeably steepened at Biduedo and continued that way for the next five kilometres. My right knee was beginning to feel the strain. I’ve had problems with it for years – something I put down to running. Added to that, the muscles in my legs had begun to cramp a day or two before and the long, steep downhill sections had them pulling again. The only thing I could do was grin and bear it and play those tunes in my head.
As we lost altitude we began to enter more villages and farm settlements. Galicia has a different feel to Leon. It took a while to really sense it, but the villages are different – the overhanging Jacobean style streets had gone. The farms seemed more prosperous, having more modern tractors and machinery. People were less friendly, or so it seemed. Maybe it was down to the increasing number of pilgrims coming through.
Around mid-afternoon, we walked off a small hill, through woods and into Triacastela – twenty-five kilometres from La Faba. We spotted a modern-looking albergue across an open field to our left. It looked busy. As we drew up to the gate, we saw a sign reading “Completo” – full. By now we were both tiring.
Straight opposite the albergue was the O Peregrino bar and pension. We walked in. The waitress was busy serving and organising. She looked like she could have been Greek. She finished up and turned, beaming, to us. She had that deep, lusty voice that so many Spanish women are gifted with. “Hola! Hola! Que tal? What can I do for you?”
We asked if she had a room. “Sí!” It turned out that there was a twin room with no window which was almost as cheap as the albergue, or a four-bed room with window for forty euros. We looked at each other. Forty euros and a window? Four beds? That meant distance between my snoring and someone’s good night’s sleep. We took the one with the window.
The waitress led us up a flight of stairs at the side of the café, which I struggled to climb. She told us that she was trying to learn English but didn’t really have the time to improve. Her English was pretty good anyway. She opened a door and led us into the lobby. We were on the second floor.
Four enormous cases sat at the foot of the stairs. They’d been brought forward by the bag carrying service. Their owners would be walking in carrying day packs just big enough for a bottle of water and a snack. I asked who would have to carry the cases upstairs. She pointed to herself. N and I picked them up and felt the weight. They were heavy. The guests were staying on the same floor as us. We picked up one each and carried them up for her. That was me finished.
We spread ourselves out in the room, diagonally across from each other. The window looked out onto woods and hills.
First job was to shower. As I pulled my socks off, I noticed a blister coming on the ball of my left foot, just behind my toes. N found one near her heel, just on one side.
We showered and changed, then applied Compeed plasters over the blisters. There’s some disagreement between pilgrims on the use of Compeed, many believing that the blisters are then neglected allowing infection to set in. To try to avoid that, we followed the practice of pouring a few drops of Betadine onto the blister, which smarts a little, and changing the plaster daily, going against the instructions which state the plaster should remain in place. Betadine is the stuff that surgeons apply to skin before making an incision.
We were both hungry, so ordered a meal from the café and sat and ate it in the sunshine, watching other tired peregrinos arrive. We washed the food down with Spanish cider – home-from-home. Ursula and Jurgen, the Germans we’d met at La Faba, wandered up and joined us. Ursula wanted to attend the pilgrims’ Mass in the town, held the church of Santiago at 7 p.m. As she was so excited about it we thought we’d have a look, too.
With a couple of hours to kill, we limped off for a look at Triacastela, whose three castles are long gone. I was wearing flip-flops to get some air to my feet. Instead of continuing down the lane into town, we walked up a ramp to the main road to get a better idea of the place. It’s a small but busy community with businesses strung along the street. Lanes leading off the hill offered a few bars, one of which was busy and showing football on a large television. We walked on.
At the end of town was what looked like a municipal albergue with clothes airers outside, drying socks, shirts and underwear. We headed down the hill to take a look at the church. It sits back behind a wall surrounded by a graveyard. The tower reminded me a little of the ones in Somerset. Carvings depict the three lost castles. We strolled towards the door and saw there was a service underway. The celebrant waved us in. We sat down at the back. There was quite a congregation of pilgrims.
The priest was one of the most jocular I’ve seen. He sounded like a raconteur, preaching the virtues and sacrifices of pilgrimage mainly in Spanish. He was going down well.
At the end of the Mass, he asked everyone to come forward and sign the visitors’ book. I joined the queue. We had the pilgrims’ passports with us, so I took them along to get the church stamp.
The priest took up position at a hatch by the altar and began stamping as money dropped into the collection basket. I stood waiting to sign the visitors’ book behind a woman who seemed to be writing her life-story. I stood watching the stamp queue diminish. She carried on writing. I wondered whether to give up on the book, but I wanted to say how much I’d enjoyed the priest’s encouragement.
The queue dwindled to nothing. I waited. The priest waited. The woman wrote, and she wrote and she wrote. I decided not to bother and just get the passports stamped before the priest gave up. At that moment, she finished. I scribbled down a quick one-liner and went to get the stamp.
I chucked a couple of euros in the collection tray and said “Gracias, padre.”
He looked at me. It wasn’t a pleasant look.
I’m not sure whether I spoke out of turn – I’m not that good at church etiquette even in English – or whether my contribution fell short of what the Church expects, but the priest gave a derisory look at the collection tray, shot another at me and shuffled off without a word.
I mentioned it to N as we headed along the lane to the pension – she, naturally, thought I was paranoid. Moments later, we bumped into Ursula and Jurgen coming the other way.
“Aren’t you going to the pilgrims’ Mass?” she asked, breathlessly.
“We’ve just been.” N answered.
“Nooooo!” Ursula howled. “I thought it started at seven.”
“It must have been six. It was underway when we got there.”
“Scheiße! Scheiße! Scheiße!” Ursula crumpled, as though struck in the stomach.
We made our apologies and headed on to the pension.
We ate in the bar of the O Peregrino – it seemed the easiest option with tired legs and no appetite for watching football. The bar was busy and we shared a table with a couple of others. One of them was a young Italian we’d been chatting with over the last couple of days. He introduced himself as Alfonse. An older man sitting with him was a Spaniard called Augustine.
Alfonse was a wiry, athletic man. He could be seen striding along with his earphones in, listening to classical music. He’d set himself a brisk pace. Our journeys would only coincide for a day or two before he pulled a stage ahead.
Augustine told us he was walking the Camino in three stages. This year was his final stage into Santiago. He would then have walked every step from his home in Barcelona.
After the meal – another pilgrim menu – Alfonse ordered coffee. It was a small, strong espresso. When he’d finished it he ordered another. Then another. N asked him why he drank so much coffee. He told us he liked to have nine espresso coffees in a sitting – he enjoyed it. It explained his highly animated walking style.
We looked at options for the following day. There was a route that deviated out to Samos following the rio Oribio to take in an historic monastery. It would add 6.4 kilometres to the direct route. Walking against the clock means having to miss things like Samos. There were so many times I wished we could stop or deviate from the route. One day, I’ll give myself just as long as it takes to do this thing.
Flagging badly, we bade goodnight to Alfonse and Augustine.
Our weary legs drove the decision in the end and we chose the direct route to Sarria. Just as well, as I struggled to climb the stairs to our room.