Thursday, 16 July 2015

Santiago Calling - Part 4

Long Days & The House Below The Mountain – Sarria to O Pino

Day 9 - Sarria to Portomarin: 24.42k / Ascent 666m / Descent 710m

Today, in a way, marked the start of the final section of the Camino for us. After more than four week’s walking, we would finally pass the "100k to Santiago" mark, the minimum distance a pilgrim has to walk in order to qualify for a Compostela certificate. Because of that, the route from Sarria is much busier as those who simply want to “get the T-shirt” join in!

Leaving Sarria - a good likeness of a pilgrim, plus a mural

We left a little later than usual. Our stocks of plasters and tape had run seriously low, and I needed these to keep my feet comfortable. So we popped into the Farmacia for supplies (I have never seen such a large collection of foot- and leg-related products in one place in my entire life!) before setting off in earnest about ¾ of an hour later than usual.

No wet feet today 

The time didn’t matter too much as we were not committed to a long day, and it was still cool and overcast as we put the town behind us. Like yesterday, we would be threading a line between a sprinkling of small villages and hamlets using green lanes and quiet roads.

Typical of the area, a horreo is used to keep potatoes or corncobs dry

Soon, we stopped at a donativo café for a stamp, and got bound up with the large group of Germans. A short burst of speed meant it didn’t take long to extricate ourselves from the tangle, and although we have very much enjoyed meeting people along the way, we just seemed disinclined to mingle with a big, self-contained group of 25 or more.

Galician piper en route. Traditional Galician music is
Celtic in flavour, and not dissimilar to Irish music

Somewhere near Leiman, we took a coffee break at a roadside bar and rested for a few minutes. Then on we went, through another clutch of little villages and hamlets, where rural life seems to be tootling along regardless of the Camino or the outside world. Near Morgade, we passed the 100k-to-go marker post, which gave us quite a psychological boost. All of a sudden the end was within reach, and it didn't seem such a huge undertaking. Though it had taken over four weeks' walking to get this far, we were in the final furlong with the finish line in sight.

At the 100k-to-go marker post

We took another quick drinks break at Morgade, and again carried on, this time heading for Ferreiros. By now, we needed a proper stop for food, but good seats out of the sun were hard to find. However, a handy wall and a shady tree presented themselves somewhere, I think, near Moutras, and we lunched royally on bread and brie and cherries and dried apricots.

Galicia is renowned for its network of green lanes

The remainder of the day’s walk comprised the descent towards Portomarin, with first the town and then the reservoir coming into view as we passed through yet more tiny hamlets. Eventually, we came out on a larger road that swung round to deliver us by the bridge across the reservoir. A set of steep steps led us up into the town.

Crossing the bridge to Portomarin

We went for a quick wander round town before dinner, and bumped into a few familiar faces. To me, Portomarin had a slightly down-at-heel feel about it – an almost seen-better-days faded glory. On our last trip, we had met a pilgrim who said it was her favourite stop on the Camino when she had walked it on a previous occasion, with a lively fiesta and a good atmosphere. Funny how perceptions can be: we were looking forward to the stop, but found it a wee bit subdued and a trifle sad if truth be told.

Day 10 - Portomarin to O Coto: 34.57k / Ascent 980m / Descent 874m

An early breakfast set us up nicely for the first of two longer days. When planning our itinerary, we chose this split for two reasons: partly to have some longer, more challenging days, and partly to get away from the "Brierley" guidebook stages everyone else uses, in the hope of avoiding some of the busier stretches.

View over the reservoir, Portomarin

As has been mentioned elsewhere, we had planned a mix of shorter and longer days in our itinerary. Whilst averaging about 27.5k (16.5 miles) per day, daily distances ranged from 19k (11.75 miles) at the lower end to 40k (25.00 miles) at the upper.

It was coolish and overcast as we set off at about 7.30am, heading back through town to re-join the Camino, and climbing out of the reservoir basin. Eventually, Portomarin receded behind us and we were out in open country.

Elaborate horreo showing typical features of cross
at one end and decorative finial at the other

To help cope with today’s 21½ mile stretch we had decided to adopt a fairly rigid plan, splitting it into four sections of decreasing length, separated by a reasonable break. This pretty much worked out fine. The first part was predominantly uphill - not steep, but definitely noticeable – with the route more or less keeping parallel to the C535 road. We ate up the distance at a steady pace as we passed through Gonzar and Castromaior before taking a coffee break at Hospital de la Cruz.

The next stage was supposedly about 9k to Airexe, and although all went well, we found the distances were a bit skewed and we ended up passing through the village much sooner than expected. So we carried on to Portas where we had a lovely stop - drinks and ice cream/apple pie - at the Alien Ant Farm (the Casa de la Formica, I think it was). It was a quirky place for a stop, and ideally situated at a little beyond the half way stage.

Wildlife at the Casa de la Formica

We continued, through the village of Lestado (sounds like the villain in a Gothic horror novel) where we passed a lovely-looking B&B (with slightly off-putting name of the Casa Rectoral) and on through Pallas do Rei, the traditional end of stage stop.

Templar cobbles, Pallas do Rei - a town
with a strong military past

Once beyond Pallas do Rei, we had a quick break for bread and cheese. Almost everyone had stopped in town, and we now had the Camino pretty much to ourselves. We crossed a partially made new road that started somewhere away to our right and ended very abruptly in the middle of nowhere a few metres to our left. Perhaps one day it will be completed.

 Outside the albergue at San Xulian.
In the Galician language, the Catalan
 "J" is replaced by an "X"

We had a final stop of the day at the beautiful albergue in San Xulian do Camino, and chatted with a Canadian girl we had seen off and on for the last week or so. Then we traversed a further 5k of quiet countryside before reaching our overnight stop at the Casa de los Somoza in O Coto. 

Simple wooden horreos

We were very surprised at just how much traffic had dropped off after the regular end-of-day stop - something we really appreciated compared to the generally busier mornings – and would recommend the idea of getting out of step with the conventional end-of-stage locations for anyone seeking solitude on the Camino.

On the way to O Coto

We found our digs quite easily, directly opposite a dimly-lit, cramped grocer’s shop whose proprietress, a plump, aging lady, was persuaded to part company with a kilo of cherries.

The Casa de los Somoza. Apparently this translates as
"the house below the mountain".

The Casa de los Somoza was lovely. Although we struggled to find the hosts at first, when we did so we received a warm welcome into their beautiful home.

Hallway, Casa de los Somoza

After a long day on the trail, we took our time over the wash and brush up routine, thinking dinner was any time after 7.30pm. Turns out it was actually, it was AT 7.30pm, and by the time we got there we were late! We were having a communal meal with the other diners, a small group of travelers who were all doing “the last 100k”. They’d booked individually and met for the first time on the trip (like Ramblers or Walks Worldwide, I guess): couples from Oxfordshire and Guernsey, two women friends from NY and a Dutch/NZ couple. It was a lovely, convivial evening of chat and good humour, uplifted by a great meal (soup/salad, meatballs, cake) and undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip.

A slightly sozzled 11.30pm bedtime was perhaps not the ideal preparation for our longest day on the trail, but hey ho!

Day 11 - Ocoto to Rua Opino: 40.36k / Ascent 1044m / Descent 1231m

Today Missy G's was celebrating a big birthday, so for a present I thought we’d do one of the longest walks we’ve ever done – a whisker over 25 miles. With a long way to go, we had wondered about getting a really early start and skipping breakfast, but a combination of things - good food and good company being just two - decided us to enjoy the breakfast on offer and start a bit later.

Section of Camino on the way to Melide that my parents walked in 2007

Our plan was again to walk the morning session with other pilgrims, then carry on into the afternoon when most had already called it a day. Setting off at about 8.00am, it was ideal for walking - cool but not too cloudy – and we made good progress towards and through Melide (including the short section my Mum and Dad had walked when they visited the area in 2007).

Birthday Girl on a bridge

Melide was quite a pleasant town compared to some along the way, although a bit of minor route finding was needed to get us through it on the right track. Soon, though, we were well on the way to Boente where we stopped at a café for a coffee and a comfort break.

Passing the 50k-to-go point

The next section comprised a series of rollercoaster climbs and descents through woods and villages, cutting a swathe across the grain of the land. Along the way, we passed the 50km-to-go marker, and eventually crested a final hill into Arzua, a fairly uninteresting town that was another stage end according to Brierley but only a lunch stop for us.

We were due another break, but the first few cafes looked somehow uninviting. So we pushed on along the main street until we hit lucky and found a delicatessen selling artizan cheese and charcuterie, so we had our lunch there – a hot chorizo and cheese sandwich and a glass of something fizzy (beer) for the birthday girl. Who says we don’t celebrate in style!

Aged, air-dried and tasty, and so is the ham

I'm fascinated by food shops, especially those devoted to local specialities or artisan products. So I was in my element here: as well as a whole range of charcuterie, there were plenty of local cheeses on display including the distinctively-shaped Tetilla cheese (Tetilla meaning small breast in Galician) which is a particular speciality of Arzua. 

Local cheeses, including the distinctively-shaped Tetilla

We chatted briefly with the Las Vegans we'd first met at O Cebreiro and a few times since (well Gus anyway, who was meeting Bruce later) before moving on. Leaving Arzua, we again found that we’d left almost all the other pilgrims behind. The walking was lovely as well as quiet, with lots of cool, fragrant eucalyptus woods to walk through. However, with a further 18k to do before the finish, we needed to push on. We took another break at Calle – the bar sold its own pilgrim's beer, but we stuck to soft drinks and got another stamp.

It was now past mid-afternoon, and the final 10k of walking took us through more eucalyptus woods and tiny villages – very peaceful and really lovely in a pastoral kind of way. These quiet times spent walking together, often in companionable silence, proved very relaxing in a meditative kind of way. In contrast to last time when I spent a lot of time pondering all sorts of things, I was quite clearly conscious of NOT thinking about things.  

We stopped to eat some cherries near Salceda. With just 3k to go, we passed through Santa Irene on the main road - not an especially pleasant place, and slightly confusing due to a lack of decent signage. We bumped into the old Italian chap who we’d seen on several occasions. He was struggling to find the way to his albergue: we offered to help, but his stylised map didn't correspond with our stylised map, and we couldn’t quite work out where it was. Turns out he wasn't too far away anyway.

A final couple of kilometers spent swapping from one side of the road to the other finally brought us into Rua and our hotel - the O Pino – which was quite a pleasant sight after 40k of walking. We checked in about 6.30pm, had a rest and cleaned up, then went down for dinner – a very nice meal that was only slightly spoilt by a large group of rowdy American women who spent the entire three courses squawking at each other.

Hotel O Pino (photo from hotel website)

Never mind. An early night beckoned, in preparation for the final day into Santiago.

Although the prospect of a long day had seemed daunting this morning, we were fit and prepared, and had really enjoyed meeting the challenge of 25 miles on a 50th birthday. Both physically and mentally, these longer sections – four in all over 30k, and one over 40k – had at times required application, but we had intended to test ourselves against the trail.

Over the last three days, we had walked around 100k, met some great people, enjoyed busy and quiet times on the trail, passed through innumerable villages and hamlets (many of whose names remain unknown) and got a feel for the real, rural Galicia. But tomorrow we reach Santiago and achieve a goal over two years in the making. No doubt, it’ll be an emotional day.

No comments:

Post a Comment