Sunday, September 27, 2015. Breakfast is the usual, but I’m ready to walk after nearly three days rest. Ria and I each pack our groceries because after the village 7 km. from here, there will be nothing, nothing, nothing. This will be fairly common for several days. Carry your food, sleep somewhere, buy groceries for the next day if you are lucky, etc.
So when I get to Vilar, with its promised bar (and albergue for those who need it), I see Ria at a picnic table, eating part of her food, and a few thirsty pilgrims hanging around the door of the bar, which is “CERRADO”, closed. One woman wails, “But I NEEDED a Coke!” And I, the no-soda person, thinks, “Perhaps there IS a god, and she doesn’t WANT anyone to drink that crap.”
I sit with Ria, have half of my peach, and start the walk again. Up a forest road, a gentle slope, so beautiful. At the end of the path, I’m on a road again, probably the N-634, which seems to show up everywhere. And there at the intersection is a village sign, “San Vicente” and a bar. Open. (There must be dozens of San Vicentes in Spain. I’ve already encountered three of them. Like “Springfield” – Vermont, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, etc. – in the U.S.)
I walk in and immediately know I’ve missed a turn. First of all, my book says nothing about San Vicente, and though the book can be wrong, it usually mentions every little burg, especially if there is a bar. And there is no one even resembling a peregrino in the place. If I hadn’t missed a turn, this little room would be loaded with those pilgrims who wanted something at the last bar. I get my water, pay my Euro and leave, headed west on the road. I ask a construction worker whether this is the Camino He nods and gestures in the direction I’m heading. So I walk. Eventually, west will do it. And though my book map indicates that we don’t actually go to San Vicente, it IS on the map, and not out of the way, unlike Cudillera exactly a week ago.
Ahead of me is a man, with backpack, standing on the side of the road with his boots off. As I approach him, he says he has “lost” his daughter. Ria had told me about a German couple, father and daughter, whom she’d met several times, and this man tells me he was the person who waved goodbye to us this morning from his window at the Hotel RosMary. His daughter had taken a little 2 km x 2 side trip at the closed bar, so she could visit an organic farm she wanted to see. He said he would go on, since his feet were really hurting and he didn’t want to add 4 km. to his walk.
He tells me his pack weighs more than 15 kg., which means it’s a bit less than 35 lbs. I ask what he brought that he now wishes he had left at home. He begins the list . . . two towels (one microfiber and one regular towel, which never dries), five sets of underwear, tops and bottoms, and he goes on. We talk about being “my age”, and he tells me he is 63. I feel pretty good about that, at nearly 69. At this point, his daughter emerges from the “correct” trail, bouncing downhill, across the road, and to her father’s side like a tall, lithe mountain goat She consoles her father and tells him they will find him a bus in A Ponte, just down the hill in a little village. Since it’s the way we’re all supposed to go, I follow, though they are gone as they turn a corner and I see no evidence of any bus stop in this spit of a community.
I follow the shells and arrows, and now I see a road that strikes dread in my heart. Remember my book . . . ? Well, today it says, “A strong ascent follows.” Yessir, yessir, three bags full . . . make that a dozen bags full. These authors are minimalists in their descriptions.
What is ahead of me is a climb at maybe 35 degrees. I just folded my napkin to the proper angle and I think that’s right. 45 degrees? Neil says I would fall backward if it were really 45 degrees. Whatever . . . 30 degrees? Show up in my spot and see how your geometry works. For nearly four hours. It is endless. Well, not really, but I see no end in sight. Again. Climbs nearly 1200 feet in about 2 miles and it takes me more than 3-1/2 hours to get to something that resembles “rolling hills.” But now a different part of my feet and legs are tortured, and though I’m rewarded often with beautiful scenery, after awhile it’s just a joke. I make myself stop, take my pack and shoes off, dig out some of the groceries I brought and make myself a sandwich. Eat the rest of my peach. And a plum. And drink lots of water. And pee. And put the shoes back on, pack on back, sticks in hand, and journey forward. Up.
Such wonderful green meadows, though, in amongst the eucalyptus groves, like something out of Heidi, not like the regular meadows. Like finely groomed ski hills in the summer. I have pictures but they look nothing like the slope I see in real life. When things finally begin to flatten out, there are my cows and horses again.
And as a aside, why is it that I am tempted to take a photo of every cow, lamb, dog, cat, horse and donkey I see on the hillsides? I’ve taken plenty of them, but don’t need one of every single swishing tail and gnashing jaw, head down in a trough of water, a pasture of grass, a bale of hay, or just nibbling one another, swishing flies away with their various tails.
My book says I’m supposed to get to VillaMartin Pequeña and then VillaMartin Grande, and then to the Albergue in Gondán (as opposed to Gontán, which will come two days later). Oh, one more thing . . . the book says there IS an albergue in Gondán and that sometimes it is closed. Great. But Ria and I have already checked and in 2km more there will be another town with only a bar and an albergue, San Xusto. There’s our plan. And we know what planning does sometimes.
When I get to VillaMartin Pequeña, there is a map . . . and a poster ad for a taxi. I say no to myself re the taxi, since Gondán is so close . . . about 5 km. I begin to walk toward the VM Grande. Then I call Ria to check in. She has tried to text me twice but I didn’t get the messages. She tells me Gondán’s albergue is abandoned today, and the San Xusto albergue is closed for bed bug fumigation. She is heading to Lourenzá. 11 km down the road from me. That would take me at least three hours of walking, perhaps four, depending on the hills. And it’s 5:00 p.m. already. I can just imagine dragging myself into Lourenzá in the dark. I call the taxi. I make a reservation where Ria and others already have a bed waiting. Hostel A Union.
The driver asks where I want to go. I tell him and he frowns. “Hostal A Union no good. Peregrinos don’t like. You should go Casa Gloria. You want me to call?” I tell him my friends will be at the Union. He shakes his head as if to say, “What a pity.” But he pulls into a lot across the road from the “no good” building. I ask him to call the Gloria (he has driven me past Gloria on the way to “my” hostal. The person on the other end of the phone tells him Euro 35 with breakfast. I tell him it is “tropo caro, ” Italian for “too expensive”, but he does understand.
I see the room they want to give me at the Hostal A Union, and it looks like a room in a bad nursing home. A window with frosted glass, and a bedspread from your great-aunt Millie’s trousseau. I shake my head.
When I ask if there is another bed where my friends will sleep, she takes me to the other side of the building, where the bedrooms all share a bath . . . four bedrooms, but two or three beds in a room, and they are full. I tell her I might go to the Casa Gloria. Immediately, she brightens. She does have another private room on the other side, just down the hall from the first place she showed me . . . but of course it’s Euro 30, not Euro 25. I’m tired. “Show me.” And she does. Bright, a window looking out to the town. I nod yes, leave my pack in the room, do the paperwork, and order a glass of wine.
I’m sitting at a table outside when I see Ria crossing the street a half block away. I raise my sticks, as she does when she arrives first at a place. And as she approaches me, I see three women behind her. Two I don’t know and the third is . . ERIKA! Big hug! I meet Nicoletta or Nicolina (Dutch) and Jessie (German) with a body full of tattoos. I’m used to that . . . both of my sons have girlfriends with beautiful tats and Jessie are beautiful, too.
Visiting is short because I’m tired and so are they. I head up to “my side” of the building. I’ll see them in the morning.
P.S. Apparently much later, a woman does arrive at around 9:30 or so. She got to Gondán and then San Xusto and it was already getting dark. She began to think about where she could sleep for the night. A corn crib? A cow trough? Under a tree, wrapped in her sleeping bag? Clutching her pack, sticks in hand for defense against something? Those are the things I imagined as I walked up that hill. Would I get there? Would the albergue be open? Etc.
Fortunately, a man at the bar in San Xusto drove her to Lourenzá, though I don’t know where they found a bed for her, when the woman told me that side was “completo.” And I was already asleep by that time . . . grateful I was not sleeping in great-aunt-Minnie’s room. And I’m very sorry I didn’t take a picture . . .