We have 58 kilometres remaining to our destination in Santiago. Today we walk from Portomarin to a town called Palas de Rei, a distance of 27 kilometres adjusted for the climb. When we begin at 8 a.m. there is a ground hugging mist that does not burn off until after 11 a.m. That makes it a comfortable day for walking but also one of limited visibility.
Rain and green hills
With its frequent rainfall and green hills, Galicia is often compared to Western Ireland. Indeed, Galicia does have a Celtic heritage of which its inhabitants are proud. A good number of people here speak a Celtic tongue called Galega and many of the street signs and buildings are written in the language as well. For example, the word for church in Spanish is Iglesia but in Galega it is written Igrexa.
We walk in paths beside fields and pastures where cattle and sheep are grazing. The asphalt and dirt roads often have a generous remnant of cow shit on them because farmers use the roads as they prod their cattle along them from one field to another. We pass through the main street, sometimes the only street, in villages, peering into the barns and sheds of the residents as we pass. What must it be like for them to have 200,000 strangers wander through their small villages every year between April and October?
Martha and I have developed a routine on the Camino. We arrange our packs as soon as we get up then search for breakfast. That usually consists of coffee and some kind of bread, and freshly squeezed orange juice if we are lucky. We walk for a couple of hours and then stop (or at least I do) for another coffee at one of the cafe-bars that exist in villages along the way. This is an opportunity for a bathroom break as well. By about 12:30 or 1:00 p.m., after about five hours of walking, we stop for a sandwich, called a bocadillo. It might be ham and cheese or egg with cheese, always served on a baguette. We order sparkling water to wash it down. We do eat a lot of bread along the pilgrim trail, all of it using white flour.
We reach our destination by about mid-afternoon. Today that is an albergue called San Marcos in Palas de Rei. It was opened in 2013 and it is impressive, offering cheap accommodation for those prepared to sleep many to a room — in this case 58 beds in 7 rooms. This albergue also offers some private rooms as well for an added charge, and it is in one of those that we have booked.
Laundry and booking ahead
We spoke to an American woman recently who did all of her booking for Camino accommodation on line before she left Florida. We weren’t that organized. Of course, many people who walk the Camino stay each night in albergues where they share accommodation in large dorms with many others. In these cases, it is usually not possible to book in advance. There is some debate about whether staying in private rooms, even if they are in albergues, violates some principle of the Camino. That is a discussion that is of little interest to us.
Once we are registered and installed we take showers and then Martha hand washes laundry. We, like almost all pilgrims, use polyester or nylon fabrics for our clothes. They are lightweight and wick away sweat but you also stink by day’s end. They dry quickly when washed. While Martha does laundry, I use the cell phone to book accommodation for the next day or two. With this work done we may nap briefly if it has been a tiring day.
When we have completed our errands and rested, we go to check out the town and look for dinner locations. Many bars and restaurants have three course pilgrim menus – an entree, main dish and dessert along with bread and a choice of wine or water. The food is always plentiful and usually the wine is as well. This evening they provided a 750 millilitre bottle, which was more than enough for both of us. We gave the last of it away to people at another table. We are not people for whom food is a major concern in planning our travels. We do enjoy delicious food but find that the best place to ensure that is in our own kitchen at home.
Mass and blessing
We have also been attending pilgrim masses which occur almost each evening in towns along the way. We see some of the same people repeatedly at the masses. Tonight, for example, there is a young Lebanese woman and another Hungarian woman both of whom we have encountered previously along the trail.
Then it is back to our room to read and send some email. Often the promised Wi-Fi does not work but my cell phone plan for Spain includes the use of mobile data and usually that service exists. Then it’s time to sleep, since tomorrow’s walk will soon be upon us.