October 20th (Sunday) – 11:15 pm
Albergue Aqua, Portomarin
Today’s Walk: Sarria to Portomarin

Hard to believe, but today J’Nell and I begin the last 100 kilometers (62 miles) to Santiago.  We’ve been walking westward on the Camino for more than five weeks now, and I’m not ready to contemplate the end.

Most do this last leg of the journey in 5 days, but we’re taking six. Beginning tomorrow we break the stages into shorter chunks to get off the main starting/ending points in the book. We hope less crowds that way.

Sarria is where many people actually start their Camino because you need to traverse a minimum of 100 kilometers to earn your Compestela, the church’s official recognition of completing the pilgrimage.  From reading the guidebooks and talking to others, the trail is supposed to get a lot more populated at this point and we’ve been warned to mentally prepare for it. 

The books also implore you not to think less of anyone starting now, no matter how long you’ve been walking.  Though not looking forward to more people, I certainly would never disparage any pilgrims.  Wherever your journey begins, everyone walks their own Camino and we’re all part of the ancient tradition.  Both J’Nell and I are very lucky to have had the time and resources to start way back in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. 

Though the trails are supposed to swell with people today, last night in Sarria there weren’t any more pilgrims than we’ve been seeing.  Maybe since it is so late in the season, I think, it won’t be that bad.

Nope.

We leave around 9:30 am, and starting at this hour we normally won’t see many people until the afternoon.   Not today.  There are lots in front, and just as many behind.  And of course, every one of them have just as much of a right to be on the Camino as we do.

Leaving Sarria we meet a very sweet couple from Mexico around my age who are excited to begin their adventure.  They are doing the Camino, touring more cities in Spain, and then will go to Italy.  That’s an awesome trip, and happy to meet and chat with such fine people.  They take our picture at the Sarria sign before setting out, and we do the same for them. From there I think everyone starting now are just like this couple.

On the trail the day starts sunny with that mystical fog we’ve been seeing drifting through the mountains.  The Camino looks much like yesterday, with the forests, green fields, mossy stone walls, and mountains in the distance.  But there is sun and we are dry!  I have a greater appreciation for our good weather after walking 7 hours in the rain yesterday.

The first town we reach is Barbadelo, and I read it has one of the most enigmatic churches on the Camino.  Dating to the 12th century, from outside I admire its Romanesque architecture and cool stone carvings on the entrance.  But unfortunately it is closed . . . how’s that for enigmatic?

After a late breakfast we encounter a cute black cat on a roof, and the way the street slopes upwards, it is almost at eye level.  The cat comes right up to me and leans in so I can pet it.  When I stop the cat nuzzles up to my hand for more affection.  We will continue onward, and will also see donkeys, sheep, and a herd of Longhorn cows.

About five and a half miles from Portomarin, we are about to get on a dirt path when hundreds of high school kids, some singing loudly, descend from the hill.  They are gaining on us fast, and we stop to let the ones belting out the unrecognizable tune pass.  But turning around, the group seems never ending, so we keep on walking and are absorbed by them.  Even knowing they have as much right to be here as us, it’s such a jolting change to what the Camino has been these last 5 weeks.

We spy a bar just off the left of the road with a patio overlooking the lush valley, and eagerly stop for a beer.  The sun shines, the view is outstanding, and this is a perfect spot to let the hordes of kids pass us by.  I love finding these tucked away gems.       

But dark clouds drift our way.  It begins sprinkling, then pouring, and J’Nell and I decide to wait it out while listening to acoustic covers of popular songs in English on the stereo.  We hope it will pass quickly, but it’s darkness all around us, and we order another beer.  Maybe twenty minutes later it seems to be lessening, and we don on our packs, our double ponchos, and get back on the Camino.

Just steps from the bar it begins pouring, the heaviest we’ve seen on the whole trip.  But what makes it all worthwhile is being passed by a group of sheep and cows being led by 2 women and 2 dogs.   We had to move over to the side of the road for the convey, and it is comic relief while being drenched.

Our sunny oasis from the singing kids turns stormy!
The hardest it rained on us up this point, and hilarious to be caught in this convoy of animals

After an hour of hard rain, the skies lighten.  We have about 45 minutes left to walk, and cross our fingers it will stay dry.   We come down into a valley and see that Portomarin is perched on another hill.  On the Camino you are always going up and down, but at least the rain stays away.

If this were sixty or so years ago, we wouldn’t have had to walk up that hill to reach the town.  Portomarin, dating to its medieval days, was built right on the river. However in the 1960’s, the dictator Franco decided to dam it and make a reservoir for power.  This would put most of the place under water, so the residents came together and relocated the whole town uphill!

The beautiful 12 century Iglesia de San Nicolas, which looks as much like a castle fortress as it does a church, was completely disassembled and reassembled stone-by-stone by people of Portomarin. It’s a massive building and it’s miraculous such a feat was done.   It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve heard the Camino.

After checking into our modern albergue and showering, we tour the church and have dinner at O’Mirador.  We order an ala carte cheese plate, pimentos, garlic shrimp, and a pizza.  It turns out to be too much food, but we are hungry and it is delicious.  With a bottle of wine the bill will be 55 euros, the most we’ve spent on a meal since Paris, but well worth the splurge.  They give us a window seat looking out onto the valley during sunset, with fog rising to our right, and it is a terrific dining experience.

October 21, 2019
Today’s Walk: Portomarin to Os Valos

Waking up, it is once again very tough to leave a warm, cozy private room when you look at your phone and see it is barely 40 degrees outside.  From our window, we have a nice view down to the river, and watch hordes of people leaving town while we get ready.  At 9:30 am we’re out the door, and it is cold, overcast, foggy, but no rain!   After re-crossing the river we climb up a hill with a nice view of the mountains in the distance, and the fog has a prehistoric feeling.

We follow a highway for a mile or so and pass an abandoned factory.  But soon we are back on a more secluded trail, with the fog drifting against the mountain backdrop.  We stop at Hosteria de Gonzar, a café/restaurant where everyone is stopping, for a great cup of coffee and an outstanding egg and cheese sandwich. There we meet Mabel, who is 92 years old and is walking the Camino by herself!

A little while later we reach the turnoff for Castro de Castromaior, a 2,400 year old Celtic ruin site that was only recently discovered in 2004.  How can you pass up to see (for free!) something that old and not in a theme park setting!  Yes, you have to ascend a very challenging hill, and the ruins are up yet another hill, but it’s just a short detour off the Camino.

But no other pilgrims join us. J’Nell and I spend about thirty minutes there, and we’ll only see a German couple with their kid who park their car and walked up to it.  Being at this site is so special, ambling through the stone wall maze, and gazing down on the ruins from above on the hill that surrounds it.  Awe-inspiring thinking that I am in a place almost as old as the pyramids!

We are able to connect to the Camino from the ruins, meaning we don’t have to go back down and retrace our steps. If I breezed on by this amazing site in order to save time, I would have been very disappointed.  I feel grateful I got to experience the history and beauty.   

After walking with some nice open spaces and views of hills and forests, J’Nell and I go back close to the highway.  Eventually we cross it, turn right, and then head along a country road to Ventas de Naron. There is a tiny church, Capella a Magdalena, that was built by the Knight’s Templar using stones from a Pilgrim hospital. Some stones still have Templar engravings on the! The guy inside giving out the stamps is partially blind, and is a bit of a character.

J’Nell and I continue down the country road with only two cars passing us, and there are tall trees and huge puffy clouds. After the intense rain, this is wonderful walking. We also, after passing a cafe that is packed, seem to have the Camino, other than the cows, to ourselves.

We stop and admire Cruceiro de Lameiros, an interesting 17th century cross that has Jesus on one side and Mary on the other (with building tools carved on the base, as well as skull and crossbones on the other side).

As we approach Ligonde, it begins to hail.  Pebbles of hail plink off us and you can see them on the ground before they melted.  Time to find a bar.

There’s one as we reach the town, and we go inside with only about 45 minutes left of walking in the day.  It is a cool local’s hangout, and the beer is delicious.  We are getting ready to leave, and that’s when J’Nell spots Jeremy through the window! 

We had last seen him and Butterfly in Leon, and so amazing to run into our friend randomly!  He comes inside and we have a beer with him … and then another.  He mentions that he had walked with Mabel earlier in the day, the 92-year-old we saw in Gonzar!

We all walk down the road together, taking sips from Jeremy’s wineskin he bought way back in Logrono at the festival.  Another huge high school tour group absorbs us, and that’s when Jeremy speaks a great, unexpected, and wise take on the influx of people on the Camino.  He says by the time he reached Sarria, he was feeling a bit worn down, and the energy of the people starting jump-started his enthusiasm.  I would keep those thoughts with me the rest of the way on the Camino. 

It rains off on as we walk, with more hail, and J’Nell and I reluctantly say adios to Jeremy when we reach our stopping point of the day at Hosteria Calixtino in Os Valos.  Our friend, like most pilgrims, is continuing further along.  Bummer to be parting ways with him, but we know we will soon meet up again in Santiago!

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