O Cebreiro – Triacastela – Sarria – Portomarín – Palas de Rei – Arzúa
This has been a wonderful pilgrimage. All the more so because it had the purpose of walking on behalf of those who couldn’t this year. The prayers, hopes, wishes and intentions which have been emailed to us have provided much food for thought on what has proven to be a quiet and serene journey from Saint Jean Pied de Port. There have been many days on this journey where we met no other pilgrims for hours. That was to change as we entered Galicia.
I mentioned last time that during the walk up the hill to O Cebreiro we had met more and more people; pilgrims on foot and on horseback, plenty of day walkers, and a farmer casually riding uphill on a horse with no saddle, as if it was a comfortable armchair. He was happy to pose for a photograph.
The route has been so quiet we weren’t used to this many people, and it got busier in Cebreiro which had many visitors that Sunday afternoon. We went along to the Pilgrim Mass and there were about 20 other pilgrims there. Stephen was invited to give the blessing in English at the end.
Next morning we were out early and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk to Triacastela. At times all around there were vistas of Galicia. More pilgrims started their Camino in Cebreiro and that night there were maybe a dozen pilgrims in the excellent Complejo Xacobeo hostel and albergue. We met up with a Dutchman we had encountered limping with bad blisters way back in Calzadilla de la Cueza. He had gone to hospital, had them dressed and after resting got the train to León.
Next morning we set off on the route via the magnificent monastery at Samos. This proved to be the lesser walked path as it is longer than the other option. Soon the monastery loomed into view, then it was onwards through forest paths beside bubbling streams. This route may be longer but it is much more beautiful. At the point at which the two routes come together before Sarria I encountered the Dutchman marching along to the rhythm of his walking sticks. His pack was enormous and his boots fit for an Arctic expedition. Blisters were inevitable I’m afraid.
The last time I was in Sarria I felt lost in a sea of pilgrims who filled the city. This time as I entered I walked past “cerrado”, “closed” signs in the windows of albergue after albergue. I checked into my hostel to find I was the only guest that night. Next morning on the way I estimated that there were maybe 100 pilgrims walking. That’s my estimate but we’ll find out on Monday how many register at the Pilgrim Office!
I have mixed feelings about this Camino coming to an end and each day I’ve been dawdling, resting more and chatting with others more that I would normally – now there are more people to chat to. The routine now is that Stephen Quixote often reaches the destination long before little Sancho arrives. What strikes me each day is the speed at which some people walk – especially those starting in Sarria. Since León each day two Spanish lads, Nacho and Danny, have passed me with a “Buen Camino”. I call them the saunterers, they carry their packs with ease and seem to stroll along, as Joyce Rupp would say, “in a relaxed manner.”
Not so the pilgrims leaving Sarria. Mostly in their 20s and 30s they set out in pristine hiking gear, some with enormous rucksacks and all with determination. I’ve watched it time and again. Yesterday leaving Portomarín, on that long 8 km haul up to Gonzar, a lassie in a fluorescent pink jacket led the charge. I could see her away at the top of the hill, when I was still at the bottom, but up I went following the bright training shoes, the day glo socks in all colours, and those with rucksacks and the majority without. I imply no criticism. We are all pilgrims, and before the end of the second day all of these new people are starting to greet each other as they pass, to find out where each other come from and to practice their English on me. But rushing through each day has consequences.
I remember in the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago seeing pilgrim after pilgrim arrive crippled with tendinitis and blisters, walking in flip flops because their swollen feet wouldn’t fit in walking shoes. “I’ve only walked from Sarria,” they would say, to which I always replied, “there is no “only” about it”. With the crowd over these last days I’ve been trying not to be the know-all, but to gently suggest that everyone slow down, enjoy the scenery, have a rest and a coffee. This year there is no race for beds. Angeles, a new friend from the birthplace of Cervantes, is fully signed up to the take your time model.
Of everything that has been the biggest blessing of this pilgrimage – taking our time, even with two or three long days, not seeing each other for miles, chatting to locals, lingering to take in a landscape, sometimes just lingering.
I’ve been asked: Are the pilgrims different in this time of the pandemic? Are they more serious minded? My answer is that I don’t think so but I wonder if there being many fewer than normal we have all been able to see each other more clearly.
With only 40 kms to go I have mixed feelings. After sleeping in 31 different beds I’m dying to lay my head on my own pillows… But not quite yet, this is too good. Just a wee bit more. I’ll see you all on Sunday in Santiago!
With love from Arzúa,