Watching the kilometers wind down, looking forward to the next hill, ready to take on any challenge . . . then cow poop, rain, wet cow poop and thoughts of “Will I ever find my way around again without a yellow arrow to guide me!”
September 28 | Day 34
Cacabelos to La Portela de Valcarce
Stats | Hiked: 22.7 kilometers; Weather: rainy morning/clear afternoon; People Met: 0; Time on Trail: 7h/30m
Route: 6 a.m. and our laundry was ready and waiting at the reception desk, as promised. After a nice breakfast at the hotel’s private restaurant with several other pilgrims, we threw on our rain gear and headed out at 7 a.m. Realizing a few minutes later that in the future we would need to wait until at least 8 a.m. in order to start out safely as sunrise was now later in the day than when we had started this trek.
Less than two kilometers from the hotel was an interesting albergue with tiny private cottages making the albergue look like a summer camp for kids or perhaps a little girl’s dream backyard with several dozen or so miniature playhouses. Almost made us wish we had gone a little further yesterday, but the hotel shower was worth more to us than staying in one of the adorable cottages.
Continuing past the cottages we hit Pieros in a few more kilometers and opted to take the Senda route because the rain was making everything muddy and the Senda is always nicely covered in gravel or asphalt.
We were trying to make it to either La Portela de Valcarce or Vega de Valcarce to set up the next day’s hike, which is the third highest climb of the Camino, into O’Cebreiero. The rain was definitely playing a huge role in the day’s plan as it was making a mess out of the dirt trails, slowing us down a bit.
We followed the Senda into Camino, which isn’t really a town as much as a place. We left the Senda at Camino and headed into the green area for 2.6 kilometers passing through more vineyards. The morning was misty and quiet and we didn’t see too many other hikers, but we did come across a sculptor’s workshop in the middle of the vineyards. It was a little eerie watching the tall statues rising out of the mist, forming into shapes the closer we got. We stopped for a few photos. Alan’s turned out okay with his iPhone, but Tracy’s backup camera lens was fogged and the photos turned out almost too misty to make out anything.
We left the quiet vineyards behind and made it to Villafranca del Bierzo. This was a lovely town with a castle, three large amazing churches and one funky bar. We stopped at the bar for something warm to drink, both opting for café con leche. We dropped our wet gear at the door and found a table. The owner was very friendly and we enjoyed his company for a bit until a friend of his stopped in. Looking around the café, it was impossible not to notice that the little town did a fair amount of events. The walls were covered in photos of the owner and his family and friends taking part in a myriad of events around town. The walls of the little bar were stone covered with plaster that made shapes and forms for the eye to follow. Former patrons had used the uneven surface to place coins, from one-cent pieces to one-euro coins, filling the walls with coins balanced on the plaster.
Noticing a break in the rain, we quickly added our own coins to the wall, finished up our coffee and grabbed our gear, thanking the owner as we headed back out.
We had passed the 11th century Iglesia de Santiago and the lovely 15th century Castillo Palacio de los Marqueses, with it’s very distinctive chunky turrets, on our way into town. On our way out of town, we walked through Plaza Mayor finding the street full of so many umbrella-covered tables that cars had to navigate slowly around them. Then following the street to rejoin the Camino route we passed by the impressive 17th century Iglesia San Nicolas. A local woman passing by heard Tracy as she looked up at the beautiful façade and said “Oh my goodness, that is beautiful!” The woman stopped and in rapid Spanish was telling Tracy all about the church. She realized after a moment that Tracy wasn’t following the conversation and switched to English and said, “It is truly beautiful, is it not?” Tracy agreed. The woman smiled and said, “We are very proud of it!” and wished us a Buen Camino and headed off down the street.
We caught back up with the Camino route as we were crossing a beautiful medieval bridge. On the far side of the bridge the route suddenly split with arrows pointing in both directions. We had to backtrack to a safe spot away from the road and pull out the guidebook. The path up the cobblestone street would have taken us over three hills in the green area, the path recommended by the guidebook, but we wanted the path that lead us along the freeway as it offered more places to stop for the night.
Safely back on the right path, we hiked carefully along the shoulder of the freeway until we could turn off onto the safer Senda area about a kilometer outside of town.
We thought about stopping in Pereje as the day was getting wetter and colder, but decided that another eight kilometers wasn’t that far to go and we would be set up better for the next day.
[I still find it hard to believe that the words “it’s just another eight kilometers” ever left my mouth! ~tm]
We made Trabadelo about an hour later and stopped at the café, the only one in town, and grabbed a bite to eat and a cold beer and sat at a table on the covered patio.
After lunch we headed back out along the Senda arriving in La Portela de Valcarce about an hour later. We stopped at the first place we saw, the El Peregrino and were pleased to find that for 18 euro each we got a room with a private bath, dinner and breakfast was also included in the price. Not a bad deal at all. The view from the patio across the freeway was of a grassy hill with cows, donkeys and a horse all grazing in the misty rain. Though we probably could have gone the extra three kilometers to Vega de Valcarce, we doubted we would have received a private room/bath and had meals included in the price.
The entire day was full of beautiful views, vistas and hills covered in mist, valleys with pretty creeks and rivers, as if each time we left the freeway Senda we were given a picturesque view as a reward.
Sites: Iglesia de Santiago, 11th century, housing the 12th century Puerta de Perdon (Door of Forgiveness), a midway point for sick and injured medieval pilgrims to stop and turn around with the full blessing of the church as if they had made it to Santiago; Castillo Palacio de los Marqueses, 15th century, with it’s very distinctive turrets; Iglesia San Nicolas, 17th century
September 29 | Day 35
La Portela de Valcarce to O’Cebreiro
Stats | Hiked: 14.6 kilometers; Weather: light rain; People Met: 3; Time on Trail: 5h/0m
Route: Breakfast was served at the bar of the hostel, we took our meal to the patio where our gear was stowed. We had to wait a few minutes for the bar to open as we had gotten up and going early, nearly forgetting our decision to wait a little later in the morning to get started. We had a huge climb ahead of us today, 700 meters/2,296 feet, and both of us were a little anxious to get started. The weather was still wet, a light rain but nothing too bad, at least we wouldn’t be worried about heat stroke while climbing!
We made it to Vega de Valcarce in about 35 minutes and were amazed at the extremely tall overpass of the A-6 freeway. Nearly gave Tracy vertigo just looking at it! A small quiet town, except for the freeway which was fairly quiet as we passed through. Just past the far edge of town we caught a glimpse of the Castillo de Sarracin, 14th century, on the left. Further up the road was an old church, nearly dilapidated dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
Just a kilometer or so from the dilapidated church we entered Ruitelan. We stopped at a small bar for coffee and Alan realized he still had the key to our room at the hostel. He went inside to see if there was a way to mail it back to the hotel, but a local couple offered to drive the three kilometers and return it for us. Alan offered to pay them for their time and gas, but they refused saying it was no big deal. Grateful for yet another Camino kindness, we pulled on our damp raincoats and backpacks and headed back out.
Crossing the old Roman bridge into Herrerias about 10 minutes later, we noticed that there were a lot more people hiking today. A few folks who we kept seeing again and again over the last 3 or 4 days would pass us and we would see them again as we passed them taking a break. One of these was an older blonde lady (whose name we never did get) and we noticed her waiting at a stable in the middle of the buildings along the curved main road. When we approached, she said hello and asked if we wanted to use the horses to go up the hill. The owner of the stable was waiting for two more people before leading the expedition up to O’Cebreiero. For 20 euro, the pack horses will carry you and your gear up the hill. We had already decided that we were doing the entire Camino on foot so we graciously declined and wished her luck finding two more travelers. She was nervous to get started because she had mistakenly sent her bags ahead to a town past O’Cebreiero which required another 5 kilometers of hiking once she arrived at the top of the mountain. The day was cold and wet and she didn’t want to be hiking downhill in the dark.
As we left Herrerias, we noticed a large crowd of locals gathered by a large meadow. They all had shotguns and hunting dogs. We were curious what they were hunting as the only animals we had seen all day were cows, which do not require hunting dogs. As we passed the next corner and the noise from the barking hounds started to dim, we came face to face with some very large cows standing close to the fence as if interested in the barking dogs around the corner. We took a few photos of the cows as they seemed as interested in us as they seemed to be about the dogs. It’s not often you see that intense “thinking” look on a cow.
We enjoyed the last few minutes on relatively flat trail as we immediately started to climb once we passed the cow pasture. Over the next 8 kilometers of trail we would climb over 650 meters.
It was hell. The path was wet, mucky, rocky, so narrow in spots that you had to walk single file and nearly all of it was, at best, a 12% grade. It took us twice as long to reach La Faba as it would normally take us to walk that distance. By the time we entered La Faba, Tracy’s legs were shaking so badly from the climb that we decided to take a break. Though it was still early (around 10:30 a.m.), cold and misty we opted for a cold beer and a sandwich for an early lunch. As difficult as the climb had been so far, we knew that it would be worse trying to make the summit. The small bar was full of those “tourists” we had seen at Cruz de Ferro. Though there were a few people we recognized from earlier in the day, most of them we hadn’t seen at all and figured, less than generously, that perhaps the bus had dropped them off here.
After a short respite and a quick test of Tracy’s legs to make sure the shaking had stopped, we geared up and got back on the trail. The next 5 kilometers would take us twice as long as normal and would be a nearly vertical climb. Thankfully, every once in a while there would be a short flat area to stop for a breather before climbing the next kilometer.
The trail was difficult, but the views were exquisite. There were valleys and trees and mist and rock outcrops and WOW it was just amazing. We both felt like we were walking on top of the world. The clouds were below us in some places giving the entire climb an ethereal feel.
We passed right through Laguna de Castilla without stopping and were thrilled when we saw the province marker for Galicia about 2/3 of a kilometer from Laguna. We made it into O’Cebreiro by 1 p.m., exhausted yet exhilarated at the same time. We checked into the large municipal albergue that can house just over 100 people, lucking out and getting two lower bunks that had been moved together so that it was almost like sleeping in a queen bed.
After showers (without privacy walls or shower curtains – a first on the trip) we went to the laundry area and found that for this large facility there was only one washer and one dryer. Thankfully, Andre (Italy) was just finishing with the washer so we were able to get into the queue quickly. We chatted with Andre while we waited. He is a law student hiking the Camino while deciding on which type of law to specialize in when he returned to school. A nice young man with beautiful English and a nice laugh, which we heard when we tried our limited Italian! Alan helped him out by making change for him after he realized that the dryer needed a very specific configuration of coins in order to operate. 90 minutes later and we were finished with laundry and heading out for a bite to eat. Thankfully Alan was quick getting us in line for the machines, it was raining so no line drying, and by the time we finished our laundry there were a dozen or more people in line for the washing machine.
Alan found us a great little place serving some of the biggest steaks we’ve ever seen. Not realizing just how large the steaks were until after we had each ordered one. However, after that huge climb we both needed badly to refuel ourselves. Tracy had past the point of hunger and had moved into the point of her muscles shaking uncontrollably. We finished nearly the entire meal and the second bottle of wine as well.
We had run into Doug and Stephanie earlier while doing laundry and had made friends with the couple in the upper bunks. Stephen and Marianna (Holland) were a couple who we had had lots of mini conversations with over the last 4 or 5 days, but hadn’t had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to until today. Steve reminded both of us of Jeff Goldblum the actor and we both found it difficult to remember not to call him “Jeff.”
After wandering through the tiny hilltop hamlet, we retired early thankful that we were finally in the Galicia province and getting closer to our goal. Santiago was just 185 kilometers away, we had completed over three-quarters of the trek, 615 kilometers/382 miles.
[Looking back at all of the days we spent on the Camino, this is by far one of the favorites. Though the climb was difficult and the weather less than optimal, we both had a great day and completing the hike up the mountain left both of us feeling very, very accomplished.]
Sites: though we passed a few sites today the only thing worth mentioning here is the awesome views we had all day long.
September 30 | Day 36
O’Cebriero to Triacastela
Stats | Hiked: 21.3 kilometers; Weather: rainy morning/warm afternoon; People Met: 2; Time on Trail: 6h/30m
Route: Leaving O’Cebreiro this morning was breathtaking. It felt like we were walking through clouds as the mist and fog obscured everything around us. We did notice while packing that this was the first time our microfiber towels had not dried by morning.
We had a leisurely walk downhill on what seemed to be an old farm or logging road. The Camino Fairy made an appearance and brightened our slightly damp morning. We had met her a few times before, though we still have no idea where she is from or what her name was. She was The Happiest person we met on the Camino. This morning she was twirling around looking at the lovely view and exclaiming, “This is just breathtaking! I am so happy to be here right now!” She was like that each time we met her. Her exuberant attitude was contagious and we noticed that we were not the only ones to feel that way. She smiled at everyone and they smiled back. Their smiles remained even after she had passed us all by, twirling her way into the mist and fog.
We continued winding our way downhill until we reached Liñares, a small town that derives its name from the “lino,” flax, that was once grown here for the linen trade. Just as we entered town we passed by the Iglesia San Esteban, an old slate-roofed church.
Passing through Liñares after stopping for a quick breakfast at Casa Jaime, we immediately started climbing again. Nothing like yesterdays climb, but even the 100-meter ascent was uncomfortable on muscles sore from yesterday’s climb.
Reaching the summit of Alt San Roque, we stopped for a quick photo op with the peregrino monument. Tracy fighting the wind much like the statue itself does. The only downside to these beautiful, rugged mountains is that these are the tallest mountains in the Galician province and the first place winds from the Atlantic find any resistance. Unforested areas of the mountains get a bit windy. The trail flattened out for a bit as we crossed the top of the mountain and started our descent into Hospital de la Condesa.
We found later in the guidebook that Hospital de la Condesa was reputed to have had the earliest pilgrim hospital ever built on the Camino de Santiago. But it is long gone from this region now. Though there is a beautiful pre-Romanesque church, Iglesia St. Juan, built in the 11th century, and boasting a slate roof like San Esteban.
Leaving the small town, we paralleled the main road following the tiny trail on the opposite side of the guardrails before turning back into the hills and away from the freeway. Once we left the Senda, we started climbing again and about three kilometers later reached the highest point in Galicia, Alto do Poio at 1,335 meters/4,379 feet. Stopping for a quick espresso, we headed back to the trail happy that the weather was now clearing up and the sun starting to shine.
We hiked up and down for the next hour or so, each rise giving us beautiful views. Fonfria was a quaint little town, a typical Galician style village. Next we passed through Biduedo and again were treated to beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.
Leaving Biduedo, we started downhill again, but this time a sharper descent let our legs know that we had been climbing quite a bit the last few days and that steep descents are not always as pleasant as they may seem. Thankfully we reached Filloval and the trail flattened out a bit so that the descent wasn’t as steep, giving our tired legs a brief respite.
Filloval and the two other nearby villages are part of the original Camino trail. The corredoira (narrow lane walled in with granite) is not just for pilgrims and one must watch their footing here when it’s wet. The livestock that also uses this narrow corridor leave plenty of reminders that they have passed this way and one doesn’t wish to take a fall here due to a slippery, mucky surface.
This primitive trail is lined with large shade trees, oak and others we couldn’t identify, and was peaceful and quiet. We continued downhill until we reached Triacastela and found our way to the Xunta albergue just as we entered the town limits.
The albergue has 56 spaces and we received spots 47 and 48. By the time we finished our showers and headed to the other building to do laundry the hospitaliero was already walking out to the main road to hang the Completo sign. Our bunkmates for the night were Jeff and Sarah, a lovely young couple that we had met several days earlier. He is from Holland and she from Italy. They both speak English as well as their partner’s language. They are a cute young couple that we were pleased to get to know better. We also saw Doug and Stephanie, who were the last two admitted into the albergue before it was Completo. While we waited in the afternoon sunshine for our laundry to finish, we saw many more of our fellow travelers. Those who we thought were ahead of us were being turned away to find other accommodation for the night and we were again amazed that we were getting so much stronger in our day-to-day hikes that we hadn’t realized we had passed some of these people.
After finishing our end of day chores, we headed across the field to the main road where we had spotted a café/bar. Ordering our post-hike beers, we settled down to journal about the days hike and to update friends and family on Facebook. Once finished, Alan decided to take a walk into town and look for a Farmacia. He was in need of a better ankle brace, Tracy was in need of something for the constant heel pain at the end of the day.
Alan returned about 40 minutes later, pleased that the pharmacist was able to help with both requests. He went into the café to secure a reservation for the early pilgrims’ dinner and get himself a beer. While he was inside a local farmer was bringing his herd home from their daytime pasture. The small herd of about a dozen cows walked right past Tracy on the street in front of the café. Alan made it outside in time to see the last few cows pass by on their way home. The owner of the small herd was walking behind the last of the cows, about 3 minutes behind the cows in the front of the herd. We figured that they must make this trip every day and have little to no need for someone to walk in front of the herd to lead the way.
Sites: Iglesia San Esteban, a slate roofed church, Liñares; Iglesia St. Juan, 11th century, pre-Romanesque, also boasting a slate roof
October 1 | Day 37
Triacastela to Sarria
Stats | Hiked: 19.7 kilometers; Weather: rainy morning/sunny afternoon; People Met: 1; Time on Trail: 6h/30m
Route: 15 minutes. 15 minutes of heavy, heavy rainfall. If not for the rain jackets we brought we would have been thoroughly soaked. Of course, if we had lingered another 15 minutes over breakfast, we would have hardly gotten wet at all. We had already eaten a leisurely breakfast in hopes that the rain would let up, but when it didn’t appear that was going to happen we geared up and headed out determined that the rain wouldn’t stop our forward progress. We had yet to take a day off from hiking even with sore tired muscles, achy body parts or even blisters, so what was a little rain! Thankfully, once the heavy rain stopped the day turned out to be quite nice.
Talked with Peter and Marianna who had also stayed at the albergue last night in the room with Doug and Stephanie. They were in one of the rooms on the lower floor and had left the window open. The rain last night had gotten inside their room where Peter’s pack was stowed right under the window. His entire pack and all his gear got drenched.
Found out yesterday that we are definitely in cow country. Many of the small towns were a bit messy to walk through due to the over whelming amounts of cow poo. But at least the rain helped to dilute the mess a little.
We were heading to Sarria and were a little unsure of how the next week would play out for us. All of the research we had done said basically the same thing – 70 to 90 percent of pilgrims start in Sarria. We thought that would mean finding accommodations would be harder, that the trail would be more crowded and that we would have more difficulty finding seating at the small restaurants along the Camino. However, having never done the Camino we had no real clue what that might mean for us.
[We had decided before we started our journey that it would be a spiritual pilgrimage for us. In order for that to be true we had to have faith that there would be a bed for us at the end of each days’ hike. While packing her gear each morning, Tracy would ask a favor of the Blessed Mother if she wouldn’t mind letting Kiara sit with her in the sunshine, on a pink fluffy blanket (because they were her favorites when she was with us), to please give her a kiss on the neck (she used to put her nose up in the air and then her eyes would slowly shut as Tracy kissed her neck – she liked those kisses the best) and if it wasn’t too much trouble if she could assist us with finding accommodations that night. This would be followed by a thank you for the previous night’s accommodations as Tracy didn’t wish to seem ungrateful. Mary is said to be highly involved with pilgrims on Camino and has assisted in more than a few miracles and blessings, from large to small, have been reported by pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. We had not had any problems finding accommodations so far and, whether it was divine intervention, good karma or just good timing, we were grateful.]
So we left Triacastela having no real clue what might yet lay ahead in the days to come but hoping for the best and what we got was a torrential downpour that left our spirits a bit bruised . . . and damp.
Just a kilometer or so outside of Triacastela we found the most unusual pilgrims font. It is a large pool with a gigantic scallop shell, painted in garishly bright colors. There are seats built into the large retaining wall and a horseshoe shaped patio around the pool – yes, we took pictures! By this time the rain had already begun to let up and we noticed our spirits rising with the warmth of the day. So thankful we didn’t have to walk through a heavy downfall.
We passed through San Xil and over Alto do Riocabo without stopping. The 5.1 kilometers took us just over an hour. Our pace was improving, especially when going uphill. Another 4.7 kilometers got us to Furela.
We stopped in Furela at a little restaurant made from the front parlor of someone’s home with seating on the front patio and a large shed built as an outdoor patio. The owner’s had two dogs, both of whom were very, very friendly. Parked alongside the roadway was a tour bus – great more tourists – but the elderly folks on the bus were quite nice if not a bit comical. Two of the elderly ladies from the tour bus were sitting at a table behind Tracy (petting the dog at her feet who was begging, ever so sweetly, for more ear scratching) each of them dressed in hiking pants and t-shirts with running shoes on. Each of them carried with her a small backpack, the purse style that was popular in the States for about 10 minutes. Each of them had in her mini backpack a book, a water bottle and a cell phone. Each of them was complaining that the Camino was “damn hard work.” Tracy was giggling when Alan came back with lunch. He asked what was so funny but she just motioned over her shoulder to the ladies and shook her head, nearly at the point of tears as she listened to the two ladies.
“Anne, I never would have come on this trip if I had realized that there was this much walking to do.”
“I know dear, this is damn hard work. I don’t understand why they don’t let the bus park closer.”
“Anne, believe me, I’m not getting out of that bus again today. Why look at me, I’m just exhausted.” (It was just after 11 a.m.)
“I know what you mean, all that climbing up and down, up and down. Thank goodness for the handrails.” (At first Tracy thought she was talking about all the hills but she was actually talking about climbing up and down from the bus!)
Tracy had just about lost her brain having to listen to these two old gals, containing the laughter was becoming very difficult. The conversation between Anne and her friend had been hilarious.
Leaving Furela, and the two friends, we hiked through Pintin, Calvor and San Mamed del Camino. If we hadn’t been intent on making Sarria then San Mamed would have been a great place to stop. There was a great private albergue with a dormitory as well as private rooms, the grounds were immaculate and the area was wooded, lush and quiet. Even walking through this area was lovely.
We continued on and hit the outskirts of Sarria passing through small hamlets such as San Pedro do Camino, Carballal, then passing by the Sarria Camping place then onto Vigo de Sarria. We found a small café just as we hit Vigo de Sarria and stopped in for a cold drink. The server brought us an appetizer with our drinks. We opted to remove the sardines from the appetizers and hoped that she wouldn’t be insulted, but they are one of the few things that neither of us really cares for.
Getting through modern Sarria to the historic district was fairly easy. The path was clearly marked and the direction of the lines of the scallop shell pointed you in the right direction as you moved through the city.
After a brief stop we hiked the last kilometer to the historic district finding that the last part of the trail was a set of steps called Escalinata Maior. These medieval steps lead up to the top of the hill and the historic district. We found the Xunta albergue just around the corner and were lucky enough to get two of the last few beds available.
We showered and did laundry, meeting Alex (Barcelona, Spain) who was just starting his Camino. Alex was a nice young man and we chatted with him briefly while he waited for his clothes to dry.
After we finished laundry we headed back down the Escalinata Maior looking for Peregrino Teca. It is one of several outfitters in town and we were hoping to find some socks in Alan’s size. Alan had left two pairs of his hiking socks in Ponferrada that terrible morning after Tracy’s phone was stolen and we left in a hurry. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything in his size.
Later that afternoon we ran into Jeff and Sarah, our bunkmates from Triacastela, and took a few photos with them.
We found a table at the bar at the top of the Escalinata and were enjoying a beer when two young locals on bikes came to play near the top of the stairs. At first we weren’t sure what they were doing riding in tight circles at the top of the stairs. Then, all of a sudden, one of the kids (the one with the helmet) turned his bike around and headed straight for the steps and didn’t stop. Another patron of the bar jumped up and rushed to the top of the stairs to check on the kid. Thankfully the kid made it to the bottom of the stairs safely but both of us were a little shocked at the idiocy of the child. His friend, obviously the smarter of the two, stayed at the top of the steps and just shook his head. Tracy wanted to tell him that he needed smarter friends.
We ran into Enzo and Elena as we were sitting down to dinner, they were headed to the market up the street for supplies. We hadn’t seen them in a couple of days and were happy to see that they were still keeping pace with us. Elena, as always, was elated to see us and gave both of us a big hug in greeting. She remains to this day, one of the sweetest people we met on the Camino.
Some days we don’t see anything of much historic value on the trail, but every once in a while there is something like Escalinata Maior. A flight of stairs that most people wouldn’t think much about, but as you walk up and realize that all the pilgrims before you have walked up these same steps. You notice the smooth edges of the stones in the middle of the stairway. It takes but a moment to realize that they have been smoothed by the thousands of pilgrims who have climbed them. Just a set of steps that pilgrims have climbed for hundreds of years, and now you are one of them.
Sites: Scallop shell font near Triacastela; Escalinata Maior, medieval steps used by pilgrims for centuries, Sarria
October 2 | Day 38
Sarria to Portomarin
Stats | Hiked: 22.4 kilometers; Weather: overcast; People Met: 3; Time on Trail: 8h/15m
Route: We left Sarria a little early. We had both slept well and decided to start early as we would be traveling through well lit streets for the first bit of today’s hike as we left Sarria. We hadn’t planned on the trail taking a sharp curve, heading down a steep street and almost immediately heading off into the woods. The trail through the woods was dark but we managed to get past most of the trees without falling down or worse.
The first open area we came to was at the train tracks. The first time we had to cross them without benefit of a pedestrian overpass or underpass, but in the early morning there wasn’t a train passing so we were safe enough.
On the opposite side of the tracks we started climbing again. It was starting to get light. Not sunrise exactly, but the pre-sunrise lightening of the sky. We were able to make out the shapes of the trees that helped guide us while traveling in the early morning.
We eventually came out of the more heavily wooded area to a small town called Vilei where we joined the road and footing was a bit more reliable. Just a kilometer or so past Vilei was another town, Barbadelo, where we stopped for coffee at a private albergue. It was a beautiful location; they have a small dorm with 28 beds and 10 private rooms in a converted 17th century farmhouse. In addition, they have a small restaurant with a grand patio set up with plenty of seating. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and maintained. They even had on some soothing music, which was playing softly in the background.
Alan had ordered us each a cup of café con leche and a croissant as a quick breakfast, but we stayed a while, enjoying the morning. A gentleman seated at the table next to us was chatting with Tracy about having done the Camino in his youth. Just as he was excusing himself two more hikers came up to the patio and said hello. Lori and Dee (Canada), two friendly gals who were just starting their Camino in Sarria. Dee had never hiked before and was already showing signs of exhaustion, or maybe it was just jet lag. Lori was carrying the largest pack we had seen on the Camino so far. She had none of the high tech gear we were now used to seeing. Her backpack was an older backpacking pack frame style and her sleeping bag had to weigh 10 pounds by itself. She looked at Tracy’s much smaller backpack and asked if we were taxi-ing the rest of our gear. Tracy told her “Nope, this is it.” Lori smiled and said, “I should have bought new equipment, this is the stuff I use in Canada, but it might be too heavy for this trip.” Dee said that she was already wishing she’d left half the stuff at home. The three gals chatted for a while about equipment, clothes, how much they each brought, etc. Both of the Canadian gals told Tracy they were a bit jealous when they started discussing the weight of each backpack. At 7 kilos (15.4 pounds) Tracy’s was lighter by half than what Dee was carrying and a third of the weight Lori was carrying. The gals finally finished their break and headed back out, we finished up our breakfast and did the same. Lots of climbing ahead of us today.
The remainder of the morning went pleasantly enough, though there was lots and lots of climbing. But we were so much stronger now than when we had started 37 days earlier. The hills, though still challenging, did not slow us down too much. We cruised through Rente, Cruce Baxan, Cruce Leiman and reached the 100 kilometer marker just before A Brea and the 99.5 kilometer marker just before Morgade.
In Morgade we stopped for lunch. The harried café owner thought Alan had ordered a coffee instead of a soda. Although Alan corrected him, the man argued over it anyway wanting Alan to pay for the coffee he had prepared. Alan didn’t feel so inclined. He paid for the drinks he had actually ordered and for the bocadilla sandwiches of bread and meat.
This had been the ONLY time we had any problems with anyone while on Camino. In fact, we think it was the first instance since our arrival in Europe in April, 2013. We were both taken aback with the behavior, it seemed very odd to both of us. Figuring that it was a busy day and there were a lot of customers (and there were LOTS) the café owner was probably just having an “off” day. We finished our meal while chatting with three nice ladies from Ireland who had also just begun their journey in Sarria.
So far we hadn’t noticed a 70 to 90 percent increase in pilgrims, but we had noticed that there were more people at the cafes and bars along the trail. We had also noted a few other things. The noise level had increased slightly. There were more people who didn’t wish you a “Buen Camino” when you offered it to them as you passed them. There was a frantic vibe near the sellos (stamps) as newer pilgrims rushed to any available sello stand.
[We had to start getting an additional stamp at Sarria. It is required from Sarria on to get two stamps each day as proof that you are walking and not just driving to each town and collecting stamps. When we first read that before we left we thought it was odd that someone would actually just collect stamps all in one day and “pretend” to be making a pilgrimage. However, at our albergue Sarria, a taxi driver came inside looking for the sello at the reception desk. His fare needed a stamp for their credential but they were not staying at the albergue. We were extremely disappointed to see that. We decided to get the additional stamp when we stopped for lunch so we wouldn’t forget. And, well, it kept us from having to deal with the flocks of pilgrims trying to fill their entire credential with stamps in five days. Ours were nearly full getting one each night from our albergue, but we’d been on the road awhile.]
We left Morgade and just at the edge of town found the 99 kilometer marker. This felt like a real milestone for us. The 100 kilometer was cool, people had painted it and left little stone blessings there, but for the two of us the under-100, 99 kilometer, marker felt more poignant somehow. We knew we were getting close, but suddenly we were 99 kilometers from Santiago and it felt awesome. Tracy got emotional every time one of us mentioned Santiago, more from a “ready to go home” perspective than anything else.
Just beyond Morgade we found the little town of Pena. There is a brand-new albergue there. Recently opened by a young couple (she’s Japanese-American married to a Spaniard) with an adorable daughter. They had the BEST burger on the Camino. We stopped even though we had basically just had lunch, but the description on the signboard sounded so good, Tracy said that we just needed to stop anyway. It was the smartest decision ever. Galician veal, hand-ground and mixed with spices and herbs, grilled and put on a croissant at Tracy’s request (rather than the crunchy style French bread) with lettuce and cheese. It was delicious. The young lady also offered us New York style cheesecake, but neither of us could eat another bite.
We continued on feeling full and sassy making Ferreiros in about 20 minutes then on to Mercadoiro about an hour later. We stopped at a private albergue’s cafe for an espresso in Mercadoiro because it was a bit chilly and we were ready for a break. We ran into Peter and Marianna and Enzo and Elena too, both couples were staying at the albergue. Peter had managed to dry out nearly all of his gear.
While sitting at one of the outdoor tables we watched as a young lady brought her salad out to one of the tables and set it down. Realizing that she had forgotten the salad dressing, she got up and went back into the café. While she was gone one of the cats got up on the table and started eating her salad. We laughed and laughed, didn’t ever think that a cat would eat vegetables. The cat seemed to like it just fine.
While we were chuckling about the cat it started to sprinkle. Not much, a drop or two on the table was all we noticed. Alan got up to bus our table. Tracy was adjusting a bootlace. A group of six at the next table started to panic in the “rain” and all dove into their packs for their ponchos. We left the private albergue laughing out loud. One, it was barely raining. Two, every last one of them had to remove the rain gear from it’s package and take off the tags.
We traveled the next five kilometers in no time, we had passed the summit of the mountain we were on and were on the downhill side. Just as we were arriving into Portomarin we noticed a VERY tall bridge. Some of you may not know this, but Tracy is terrified of heights. Praying under her breath that we would be heading to the much shorter bridge just a few feet above the water level, Tracy was greatly disappointed to find that not only was she going to have to cross the bridge, but that it was a very long bridge as well as tall. With no way out of it, she started out slowly then once the sickly feeling set in and her legs started shaking, she nearly jogged the remainder of the way across. Though the albergue was just short walk from end of the bridge, she had to sit down for a minute to calm her nerves.
The albergue was very, very nice for a single room dorm with 130 beds. It was clean, quiet and the other facilities were also nice. They had multiple washers and dryers which we were needing more and more while in Galicia – think Seattle-style weather – not a lot of line drying happens here. Met a nice lady, Mary (Canada) who was hiking alone. Don’t remember exactly where she started only that it wasn’t in Sarria.
We had dinner that night with Doug and Stephanie who we ran into while making dinner reservations. We were about 92 kilometers from Santiago and we had met them leaving the train station on Day 0.
Sites: Cows, lots and lots of cows
See a complete list of our day-to-day Camino experiences.