18.11.16 – 19.11.16 Sarria to Portomarin 22.4km; Portomarin to Palas de Rei 24.8km
It’s easy to think that you must walk alone on the Camino, because your own pace is the one which allows you to remain comfortable and go as far as you want to each day. As it turns out, I discovered that it was not necessary. What a pleasure to find that two can walk in step with each other and both be comfortable together!
I witnessed pairs and triplets of friends who walked in time with each other for a while, and then separated, settling into their own individual rhythms.
I walked with 2 others, falling into step with first one, then the other. Sometimes I was alone with my thoughts, musings, or own quiet, at other times I sang with the other two, and we strode out together. This is how it worked: if one fell out of humour with the second, the third was there to allow the first to walk on alone and regain equilibrium, whilst keeping the second company, listening to their complaints and woes, and eventually enabling a new harmony to evolve.
When walking with a companion there was the pleasure of peaceful silence. Then again of conversation, of sharing music, or of gossiping about the walkers ahead. There was the telling of secrets – when looking ahead at the path it can be more tempting than when face-to-face. From profound to prosaic – from comparing notes of last night’s snorers, to the exchanging of intimacies – away from home it’s surprising what you can share with a stranger.
And you can haul each other up the slopes or through puddles if one is feeling weaker than the other. In the case of Portomarin, it was another of the long flights of steps at the last minute, on entry to the town, and then down again as the first hostel was not ideal!
On the subject of safety, I didn’t experience any bad feeling, only support and encouragement. People cooked together, shared food and news, advice, of course, and their stories. I heard tell of articles stolen from one woman, but wonder if they had actually been lost, because in the 700 km I was unaware of any such (difficulty). Whilst I was very careful to carry my passport, phone and money with me at all times, others around me (who were much more experienced Camino walkers) were very lax, leaving things in other rooms, for example, when they had a shower, and everything was always there when they got back.
Despite the late year, December in north eastern Spain saw lush landscapes with copious wild flowers
Spain seemed to me to be very safe; bus drivers weren’t hidden behind perspex screens with signs warning ‘passengers who attack our staff will be prosecuted’, as in Scottish buses. Money to be used for change when buying tickets was out on the counter for anyone to steal, but no-one did.
Men and women shared dormitories and often there were unisex toilet facilities. I was several times on my own in empty buildings, save the male hospitalier, and I never felt in danger, although I have always taught myself to think of what might happen and to be safe!
On the other hand I did not walk alone after dusk through forests with wolves, but a woman I met in Santiago reported that she had; and I met several couples who had walked at night, which was not something I fancied. I can understand the attraction, especially in the summer, as it would be cooler, and light until late, with only short darks. Plus the quiet would be fantastic. And the stars, oh the stars are amazing when there’s very little light pollution! You can see layers and layers of them, a true depth to the night sky which you can see in the Scottish Highlands, but certainly not in London or most of Edinburgh.
The next day I travelled to Palas de Rei. It was a journey of delightful countryside walking, coming across this beautiful, well-worn cross at the entrance to the Ligonde, a peregrinos’ cemetery.
Wide open, inexplicably orange, pathways, all but deserted although the ghosts of the 1000’s of summer walkers were all around me.
That evening I did have one very small incident. I was sleeping in a dormitory for 6 and it was full. I needed a break, some of that peace and quiet, after tea, and so I headed out to the town, downhill, for a wander around the admittedly dark and deserted streets. Within a short time, however, a man spotted me from the opposite side of the road and he started to follow me, to talk to me uncomprehensibly, and I didn’t get a good feeling. I hot-footed it back to the security of the hostel, and a most relaxing time on my bunk listening to music with my friend.
The hostel was ultra-modern, and as nowhere else was open it was very full. The other pilrims were very friendly, and although we were not supposed to cook, we all did. But we were not allowed to make our own breakfast and so it had to be paid for – served from a hatch, and much less satisfactory than the usual fare.
The next morning it was raining. Many of us waited before leaving, just in case it let up, especially as it had been threatened for days and, luckily, not materialised. But today it did, and oh, did we get wet!