Tuesday, October 8, 2013. I’ve been in Triacastela for two nights, one night in a bunk bed in the albergue and the second night in a private single room, to help my shin splints heal. I thought the good rest would surely work, but apparently my left leg has other plans. It wants to punish itself or me. But there is nothing for it but to walk. Before I head out the door of the Albergue, I look around to see if Bern, the man with the skin infection in his leg and foot, is out of his private room, but I don’t see him, and his door is closed. I will trust that he is being well-taken care of, and that his wife will make sure he gets safely home very soon.
After today’s walk through Sarria from Triacastela, I will be 62 miles (100 kilometers) from Santiago and I don’t expect anything to get in the way of getting my journey. But that brings me to a new issue.
For the past five and a half weeks, I have walked daily, with my pack or with half a pack, experimenting with the various shoes and sandals I have, sending back (or sending on) what doesn’t work, meeting people along the way, eating more bread so far than I’ve eaten in a year. I have gotten over any false or true modesty about bush bathrooms. I have said “Buen Camino” more times than I care to think about, wishing that I had a dollar for every time I heard or said that phrase, and I could have paid for this entire trip already. I have slept in rooms with over 100 people and in rooms with four or six. Occasionally I take a rest day in a private room with my own bath, no matter how monastic the furnishings. Shower adaptation has become a skill for which I expect a certificate in my next life. I actually don’t mind sleeping in a slot, even if it’s on the top bunk, though generally I prefer the “baja” arrangement, because I am so tired at the end of the day.
Throughout the weeks, that “tired” has gone from bone-numbing exhaustion to a rather energizing exhaustion, though that makes no sense generally. The “accomplished exhaustion” might be a better phrase. At the end of a good day of hard work and long walking, I expect to be tired, in order to sleep well so I can wake up the next day and do it all again.
I look at menus and think, “If I have to see “jamon” or “lomo” one more time, I think I’ll throw up or slit my wrists.” I don’t of course, because at least on the Menu del Dia, there are only so many choices, and one has to eat.. I have learned to choose among the options without “ham” overload. A salad or soup at least every couple of days breaks the hamonotony. Occasionally, I find eggs for breakfast, not dinner. More often now that I’ve learned to ask for them.
In addition, I have learned to fairly effectively reserve a room in my destination town each day, in Spanish, and make myself understood. Granted, my “Spanish” is some combination of pidgen Span-talian, but I seem to get the job done. We have all learned that with a few exceptions (and there are always those) the owners and staff at the endless bars along the Camino de Santiago respect us, want to help us, and know that without them, we would not be nourished on our journey. The thing is that not once have I thought, “I only have X number of days before I get to Santiago. Before I reach my goal.” Before I get to “the end”. But now I am getting close, and find myself trying to shake free of the “goal” thought that is creeping in.
On Day 38, it is nearly unavoidable to look at the map pages for the next five or six days and not see SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA at the end of the last one. It is impossible to plan reasonable mileage days and not know that at some point very soon I will have “reached the goal”. But “the goal” was to walk the Camino. Yes, that also means getting to Santiago. However, the old “life is a journey, not a destination”, at least for me, has become very literal in this case. Hard to explain, since people at home (and I would be one of them, I suppose, if someone else were doing this) will wait for the news that I “got there”.
The more I write this, the less I am making myself understood, I fear. Even to me. But I feel like I don’t want to know that I’m close to getting “there”. I want the comfort of thinking I can get up every morning, don my boots, shorts, shirt, little Sherpani pocket-purse (again, thank you, Santa Neil!) and backpack, grab my sticks and go, with only the next day’s map in my consciousness. And I know that won’t last much longer. I am still trying to avoid the daily acknowledgment, but it will get harder and harder to ignore those kilometer signs every 1/2 km, ticking off the distance to Santiago, Point Zero.
With that in mind, and in my effort to keep it off my mind, I begin today’s section of the journey. Again today there are two ways out of the beginning town. One goes to Samos, an extra 7 km out of the way and into more mountains than the other, to San Xil. I choose the latter. Under other circumstances, especially because of my thoughts written above, I might choose Samos. But I have a bad leg. 7 km. of mountain up and down with shin splints seems like a bad idea. I suppose if I really consciously wanted to drag things out, I would do this 5 km at a time, and let it take until Halloween. Stroll into Santiago in some sort of costume. But I will walk through San Xil and on through Sarria to Barbadelo. See what it’s like there.
Sarria is the town at which short-term walkers MUST begin in order to fulfull the minimum requirement for a compostela, the certificate one gets in Santiago for completing the Camino. So there will be a large influx of new (and fresh) peregrinos as I walk through Sarria. I decided to walk past Sarria, because I’m trying to stay away from the “end of this page” schedule Brierley and others set as a reasonable goal. The smaller towns before or after those “set-page” cities tend to have fewer (or perhaps just different) people than the bigger places. They often have very nice surprises in the form of smaller private albergues, and I’ve come upon some favorites in these mid-page towns and villages. So today my destination is Barbadelo and I’m going to take it slowly. Having a reservation makes it easier to take my time, with no fear that I’ll get to the only place in a village and there will be “no room at the inn.”
It is dark again as I leave Triacastela and I join other walkers who are trying to be sure they are walking the option they’ve chosen, rather than the one they mistakenly follow. “The woods are lovely dark and deep . . . ” and once I see a sign for direction San Xil, I relax into my walking pace. More than half a dozen little spots along the way will afford me the opportunity to refuel my water bottles and my cafe con leche fix, with other no-service tiny hamlets scattered among the ones with any evidence of commerce.
The mist is rising slowly through the mountains, through sheep meadows, through hay-cribs. These cows have their own breakfast bar, a type I have not seen before. Very fancy and efficient, I’d say. The walk is an easy one, though the elevation map indicates a breast-like bump from Triacastela to Furela, a 300 meter climb. Nice and gradual, up and down. And I amble through it, along with the small streams of other walkers. Today the faces are less familiar, perhaps because when I choose to spend an extra day somewhere, the familiar walkers are mostly past me by the time I begin again.
I turn a corner and there is traffic coming toward me. Black and white traffic, and one of the “vehicles” stops and stares right at me. I stop and so does she. We stare at one another for a minute or two. Then she decides I’m nothin’ much, and ambles around me and past, with her black and white buddies. These are the surprises I like most. How many photos do I have of a cow or a bull or a horse or a sheep looking directly at me, asking what in the world I am doing messing up their serenity on any given day.
Is this the same day I see an old woman in a farm yard, sleeping against her shepherding hook, with four lambs lying down in a semi-circle at her feet ? Certainly these scenes are intermittent in this land of Galician farms.
The air is thick with the smell of vinegar, wet hay, cow manure and a tinge of some flower aroma I almost recognize. Even when the mist from the morning has lifted, a wetness permeates even the brightest sunlight. I am constantly sticky, though the temperature might anywhere from the mid-50’s early in the morning to the mid-70’s by the middle of the afternoon. It is the wetness that heats things up and cools them down, creating a chill near sunset. It is that wetness, hot and cold, that makes a good shower and a long-sleeved shirt feel so good before dinner. It will have to wait, that sensation, but it always comes at the end of the day, no matter what or where.
Most everyone I see passing me is planning to stay overnight in Sarria. I’m so glad that’s not my target. The “arrows” in Sarria are very subtle scallop shell tiles on the sidewalk, and heading out of town, I miss some of them and then don’t see them anymore at all. Walking into the center of the contemporary part of town, I look in a direction that just doesn’t seem right, and ask a teenaged girl how to get to the bridge.
She appears confused, as though her whole life is lived in only three or four blocks, and after a great deal of thought and consultation with my map, she points me in the opposite direction from where I was headed. At least she has some sense of how wrong-footed I had become. After a half mile or so, I begin to see pilgrims heading where she pointed, and I think I am back on the right track. Then I begin to see the sidewalk tiles again, but I lost them for longer than I want to think about. Again, something like life. How long does it take before you sense you are not on the right track?
Now that I am over the bridge, this is what greets me. Complete with yellow arrows every dozen steps, as though you might be looking for an escape hole in the wall before you reach the top. Seems cruel after a day’s walk, and the photo doesn’t even show how many SETS of steps there are here. I think I counted somewhere over seventy steps. You can see the end, w-a-a-a-a-y up there past the yellow building near the upper center.
I see “the other Neal” just as I reach the top, and ask, “Hey, there, how are you doing?” A friendly, rhetorical question, and he grimaces and says, “Oh, maybe half . . . ” and disappears into a bar to get something to eat or drink. That will be the last time I’ll see him for about 10 days, and he won’t be too happy even then. But there’s a very friendly crowd of new faces at a table just at the top of the last flight, and they applaud my effort at this late hour.
I’m tempted to sit with them for awhile, because their food looks really good, but I know I have about 4-5 km to walk before I arrive at my Albergue/Casa Barbadelo, so I push on. The path is easy, gorgeous, winding here and there, but not up and down. I see by the map’s diagram that it is climbing, but it doesn’t feel so bad to me. Up is better for my leg anyway, and it seems to be working itself out, at least a bit.
The Galician landscape just mesmerizes me, and late afternoon light does wonders for an already luscious emerald countryside. I begin to see signs for a variety of albergues in Barbadelo and wonder when mine will show up. Just at the soonest-edge of town, I am welcomed by this sight, and know that sheer luck made me choose this one. Since it is a “casa” as well as an albergue, it has bunk rooms and hotel rooms, in addition to a full restaurant ad lovely setting. I check in, find my bunk room, in which I am (so far) the sole inhabitant, and clean up quickly before walking back out to this beautiful patio and ordering a glass of vino tinto, red wine. I even have two glasses and some cheese and bread. I’ve drunk so little wine on this journey, but tonight I will relax and then have a good, a real, dinner. Delicious soup, a small salad, baked chicken, and home-made dessert.
When I go back to my room, there is a young couple across the room, getting ready to go for a walk (yes, I know . . . ). By 8:30 p.m., I’m in bed, and I don’t hear them return. A good day, all in all.