Camino Francés – Palas de Rei to Ribadiso to O Pedrouzo, Spain

20.11.16 Palas de Rei to Ribadiso 25.8 km; 21.11.16 Ribadiso to O Pedrouzo 22.1 km

It’s all about living without knowing what will happen. Whatever it is, walk through it.

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Another pretty Roman bridge in Gallicia

Down came the rain and…. . Two hours of heavy downpour in the morning meant very few photos for the rest of the day. However, it was a lovely walk through dark, pine forests, and open lusciously, green countryside, with a great deal of sloshing in the boot department. Plus, dripping sleeves, managing temperature control at the same time as trying to stay dry – one way and another it was a very different sort of a day than I had been used to.

Unexpectedly I stopped for lunch with a  friend, and was rarely so pleased to see a pizzeria and drink a warming glass (or 2) of red. The patron was understanding and provided newspaper as I disrobed and slowly stopped shivering. This simple kindness was particularly appreciated.

My feet were actually cosy, even though it was impossible to dodge the puddles, but it was overall more tiring, and so I arrived at the albergue (crossing the ancient 6th century bridge to the other side of the Rio Iso) with weary legs, feet and soul, and in a narky mood. The door was open but no-one was at home, literally. I phoned the number, and the van I had seen leave as I arrived, returned with the hospitalier. There was some confusion as to which hostel, because he had one in town as well, but here I needed to stay.

Of course being so wet, meant that I cooled down quickly, and so I was very pleased to find that the room had efficient heating and a hot shower. There was a communal kitchen, sitting area, and the eternal noise of the TV of course; and here were the two young Canadian girls again. They really had to make conversation this time – we had been sharing dorms, meeting up and separating, re-connecting and overtaking with desultory Buen Camino‘s for several days now. In fact, we even ended up sharing some food, and the presence of other previously wet walkers conspired to improve the atmosphere a little. There’s nothing like moaning about the weather for effective bonding!

I had packed some of the lunch-time newspaper in the bottom of my rucksack, for stuffing my boots at the end of the day. That turned out to be a lucky break, because it had soaked up some of the water which might otherwise have been absorbed by my only change of garments. There was still a great deal of rearranging of sleeping bag, walking clothes, and other soggy items on radiators throughout the evening, but they were all wonderfully dry by morning.

Which is less than can be said for the landscape: what a storm! It rained wildly all night, with thunder and lightening, and I suffered nightmares, wakened time and again, once by my own screaming. Despite being ready to leave by 8.30am, it seemed sensible to wait and see if it might stop before venturing out. It didn’t.

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The best walking companion

What is the Camino de Saniago de Compostelle like? Often it’s just walking. With a moment when the sun comes out and everything shines. Or you turn a corner and there’s a simple, solid, ancient chapel, right there in the middle of nowhere.

‘During that continuous but automatic effort of the body, the mind is placed at one’s disposal. It is then that thoughts can arise, surface or take shape.’                                                                        p. 157

Now I walked beside woods of very unpopular eucalyptus trees with chestnuts dotted amongst them. It was a rather bizarre idea of the Spanish government to plant 1000’s of them for the pulp industry, and they have proved to stop other native species and natural ground cover from growing well.

Unpopular eucalyptus trees
Unpopular eucalyptus trees
Wet pathways reflecting the forest
Wet pathways reflecting the forest

There were no vultures visible these days (see earlier blogs), only robins (les rouges-gorges); those little gardeners’ friends, hopping very close by the side of the path, fluttering in and out of the wet bushes as if they were following my progress, keeping an eye on me. The rain stopped by midday, and there was an open bar serving hot chocolate, but I felt colder and my feet were like ice.

O Pedrouzo is a largeish town, quite modern in places, and I stayed at a new hostel that evening, Crucero de O Pedrouzo, for 10 euros – all glass frontage and underfloor heating. Delicious! There was a bank with cashpoint, a choice of small supermarkets, and a hard-to-find, but worth-it bakery.

Once again I met with immense kindness. This time it was a woman who welcomed us at the entrance, and she took herself off to get mountains of newspaper and stuffed my boots for me, not just once, but again later, when the first lot had done its job.

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Looks yummy, doesn’t it?

The open plan kitchen/sitting/dining area made for easy conversation, and immediate friendships were springing up at many tables as we ate. There was a young, cycling Korean, unusually mixing with other nationalities; 2 men speaking English and playing draughts together, despite the fact that neither had English as their native tongue; the familiar Canadian pair once again keeping to themselves; and a charming Japanese couple. By the end of the night, we were making hilarious conversation in many languages, and we all went to bed with smiles on our faces.

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All quotes taken from A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros.

Camino Francés – Sarria to Portomarin to Palas de Rei, Spain

18.11.16 – 19.11.16 Sarria to Portomarin 22.4km; Portomarin to Palas de Rei 24.8km

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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!

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The Roman bridge of Aspera

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.

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Fragrant chestnut forests, not like the enduring manure/chemical odours as I walked for kms through the rural villages and farmlands of Galicia

 

 

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.

The first sight of Portomarin
The first sight of Portomarin

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!

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Characteristic ‘horreos’ where grain is stored for the winter

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.

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Romanesque church, Portomarin
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There were dogs absolutely everywhere, and, here, one had the sort of companion I did not!

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!

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100kms to go!

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.

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As a long-time allotment holder in Scotland, I was endlessly impressed by the ‘hueltas’, the vegetable gardens that bordered the roadsides in Spain

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.

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Wide open, inexplicably orange, pathways, all but deserted although the ghosts of the 1000’s of summer walkers were all around me.

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The good weather had to break occassionally!

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.

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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!