Stories that take you on a journey

Camino Francés – Walking in Galicia – Part 1/2

“If you chase anything in life, chase the things that get you excited about living. Chase the things that give you hope, happiness and a glimpse of a better life. Chase the things that make you want to be a better person. Chase the things that inspire you to think, create and live joyfully. Chase the things that reinforce in your soul that you can make a difference. Chase the things that make you want to transform your heart from selfish to selfless. When you chase that kind of storm you are chasing rainbows.” ― Shannon L. Alder

Day Thirty-two:  Liñares – Triacastela (Casa Ogla)

After settling into our dormitory at Linear do Rei, I strung up a line from my bunk across to the window and secured it close to the radiators, to dry out our damp clothes. The heating, despite multiple requests from ourselves and other pilgrims, remained off. Thankfully, somewhere in the night, perhaps when the temperature plummeted to 3o and rainstorms buffeted the albergue, the heating came on and our clothes finally dried.

Day 31 – view from Linear do Rei Albergue windows.

Tony and Julie, our Canadian friends, were also staying here. We managed to get a table for five in the common area, shared our food, and swapped camino stories.

I woke up with the desire to resume walking. Those thoughts were dashed the minute I rolled up the blind. The view was obscured by mist. Another storm passed over, the hail-like raindrops fell violently against the panes and shattered my yearning to walk. Despite the weather conditions, Den was eager to walk across the mountain plateau then clamber down the slopes, through hamlets, into Triacastela. Tony and Julie, on the other hand, were not.  Pam and I shared a taxi with them for the descent into Triacastela.

From a cosy corner of the only open café, bar-restaurant Xacobeo, we watched the locals head into the large dining-room for Sunday lunch, as we waited for Den to arrive. Xacobeo sat in the centre of town. Our lodgings for the night though were on the other side of Triacastela, off a side road, then along a narrow paved country track.

Olga opened the door, donning an apron, and an air of busyness. She had the warmth of my grandmother and possessed the tech skills of a millennial.  Taking her smartphone out of the apron, she directed her welcome spiel in Spanish into the microphone. Google translate broadcasted her message to us in English. Then Olga hurriedly ushered us into our room, the honey-coloured timber ceiling, was echoed in the headboards, the green and gold abstract bedcovers resonated with the view from our window. The en suite bathroom was large and also had a view over the surrounding countryside.

Opposite the cafe was a laundromat. Wanting to give Den and Pam some “alone time,” a scarce commodity on the camino, I offered to head back into town, to do the communal laundry. Once the washing machine was underway, I went across to the café. My Australian friends Hilary and Francoise, were at a window table, taking a break, from memory they were en-route to Samos. They were drinking hot chocolate. It was so cold outside that I bought a cup of what looked like 100% silky-dark melted chocolate.

Early evening, the three of us returned to the Xacobeo for dinner. Thankfully we had the foresight to book for dinner, earlier in the day, as every table in the dining room was occupied.

 Day Thirty-three:  Triacastela (Rest Day)

We were one day away from Sarria, a significant starting point of the Camino Francés, as such we were expecting an influx of pilgrims on the track. For time-poor pilgrims who desire a compostela (completion certificate), Sarria is the ideal starting point as it ticks the requisite of walking 100 km to the Santiago de Compostela cathedral.

The increased people on the way, plus the seasonal closing of privately-run establishments, was also likely to cause accommodation issues. Although booking accommodation is counterintuitive to the spirit of the camino, not having a bed for the night, especially with the diminishing daylight hours, often overshadows the day.

While I was open to the idea of continuing as a small camino family,  I was undecided on which route that I wanted to take after Triacastela. The northern variant goes via San Xil, and the southern variant passes the town of Samos and the Monasterio de Samos, an enormous monastery that interested me. After reading the route notes, I decided that I wanted to walk the picturesque route via San Xil. There were other considerations.  While we had outfitted ourselves with thermal gear, neither my sleeping bag nor their medium weight silk liners were suitable for zero overnight temperatures. Also, my towel option, a summer sarong, had lost its appeal. Staying together would allow us to go a bit more upmarket with our accommodation and book a room with three beds, sheets, blankets and towels.

Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago guide book suggests taking five-days to complete the  Sarria to Santiago de Compostela stage. However, as four of those days are more than our ideal mileage – twenty kilometres per day – we opted for six-days of walking. Our last day on the track to Santiago de Compostela would be 10 km allowing us plenty of time to get our compostela certificates. We locked in the accommodation. I also booked my accommodation in Santiago and my train trip back to France.

Mid-morning we popped down to the village to the physiotherapist, Marina Rivero Gayoso at Fisioterapia Triacastela clinic. I booked a massage at mid-day, and Pam took the slot after mine to have a foot consultation. We then went for coffee and a wander around the town.

There is a pathway around that back of the village, which leads to the parish church and cemetery. The morning mist hung like a veil over the mountain range; its silvery glow highlighted the woodlands foliage, deep forest-green through to russet tipped leaves. I braved the cold, damp air, sat on a bench seat, in a dreamy mood and admired the landscape.

When I arrived at the clinic, I asked Marina if she would tape my foot after the massage. She expressed reluctance, stating that it would not fix the underlying issue. After our consultation and the massage, which released all the tension and stiffness in my lower back and calf muscles, she relented and taped my foot. I assumed her change of heart had to do with my walking plan, which included porting my backpack, reduced daily mileage and lots of rest.

We then took ourselves off for a big lunch. The highlights of the day – roast vegetables, including, asparagus – then finding my favourite Camino Portuguese walking snack, Vitalday at the local tienda. We returned to Casa Olga with breakfast food, cheese and crackers, and walking snacks feeling refreshed.

Day Thirty-four:  Triacastela – Sarria (Albergue San Lazaro)

Den and I left around eight o’clock. Pam felt her foot needed another day of rest, and had opted to take the bus from Triacastela to Sarria.  Even though Den had scoped out the start of the northern variant track yesterday, locating the way-marker in the dim early-morning light was a challenge. Once the crucial marker was sighted, we headed off to the right, alongside the Rio Balsa, into the hamlet of A Balsa, then began the woodland ascent to Alto Riocabo  (910 m).

Our descent was made on a new woodland path, water-logged verging on muddy terrain. We passed a gallery and café, with a signpost saying “closed for the season.” The track bends, then dropped down, opening out into farmland. We stop to take photos of a ploughed paddock littered with pumpkins, then moved across the track to view piles of stones guarded by two stone statues. Around the next corner amongst a dozen or so narrow-trunked trees, was a stone circle erected on a flat paddock. It had an air of reverence and reminded me we are walking in a region with deep spiritual roots. Galicia origins are Celtic “[l]egend has it that the ancient Galicians sailed from the north-west coast of their land, to settle in Ireland” –

As I trailed behind Den down the mountain slope, absorbing the view, rolling moss-green hills dotted with coppices, paddocks defined by stone-walls, my breathing relaxed. It reminded me a little bit of New Zealand, then as we crossed the road and we entered a narrow country lane shroud in mist, I found myself back in England.

The path was flat, devoid of rocks and jagged stones, such a joy to stop focussing on every footstep. We continued, into the mystical haze, dew-drops landed and settled into my beanie and gloves, it penetrated through the fibres, the flesh of my fingers, and lastly the bones. Ahead of us, was a sign for Casa do Franco, a café-bar a few metres down a slip road. We had walked over 10 km, ready for a stop and it turns out our first tasting of the famed Santiago cake – tarta de Santiago, (cake of St James), is an almond cake or pie. The café was empty. With the owner’s permission, we draped our damp outerwear over the radiators, which of course were not on. Much to my surprise, he slipped out the back and turned them on.

Both routes join at the small hamlet of Hospital, then continue on a straight path adjacent to the main road into Sarria.  Somewhere along this stretch, we marched by the 120.067 km way-marker. On the outskirts of Sarria, we stopped at a sportswear shop, as I wanted a waterproof pouch for my passports. While exchanging money for goods, we got talking with the owner. She was unhappy about the weather conditions, which according to here were January, not October temperatures.

We traipsed through the modern outer-suburbs of Sarria, crossed over Rio Sarria, then made our way up, what seemed like a hundred steps, into the old quarter of the town. The main street felt deserted less touristy than I expected. This quarter seemed to have retained some of its mediaeval heritage; perhaps it was that vibe that sent us off down the steep paved streets to do a tiki-tour around what appears to be its centre, Parque do Bosque, before stopping for a drink. It was around mid-day, and Den was anxious to meet up with Pam, so we headed back past Parque do Bosque, down through an established suburb to San Làzaro. Pam was settling in as we arrived. However, our packs were still en-route. Staying in an albergue set into stone cliffs, in these unseasonal chilly conditions, suddenly didn’t seem like a great idea. Thankfully the owners had an oil heater, turned on, in our stable-like room, which consisted of a bunk, single bed and bathroom sink.

At the back of the property, the large living room with a flued gas fire surrounded by a tan buttoned leather suite, wooden chairs and sofa and a few randomly place rattan table and chairs, seemed like a great space to hang out in. We found blankets, made mugs of tea and managed to stay warm, as the stone walls were absorbing most of the heat. Later on, we walked down to a local bar for dinner. I had a pizza, a welcome, change from the typical pilgrim meal. On the way back, we stopped at the supermarket for breakfast provisions.

Day Thirty-five:  Sarria  – Portomarin (Casona de Ponte)

Yesterday afternoon the hospitalero gave us a local map, on which she drew our route back to the Camino Francés. It was a short detour, a few hundred metres down the street, and a left-hand turn along a track. This path comes out by a small bridge, that crosses a river then enters a forest pathway up the side of Peña do Cervo. Having scoped out the yellow arrow markings last evening, the three of set-off, under a fading night sky and ended up on a motorway junction. With dampened spirits, we retraced our footsteps and were soon joined by a few travellers who pointed out the way-marker on the side of an angled wall.

Once on the tarmac laneway, our spirits lifted. It was a pleasant walk alongside houses, then small factory-like buildings. Darkness engulfed us, after we crossed the ancient stone pilgrimage bridge, Ponte Áspera, and entered the earthen forest track, which ran alongside the railway line. The sound and motion of a passing train, and the low hanging branches of the forest trees, combined with my furtive imagination, once again had me questioning the sanity of walking at this time of day. Once we crossed the railway line at Santi Mihcaelis under a road viaduct, the track opened out, allowing the light from the waning moon to illuminate the way. The scene ahead of us looked magical in this light, a winding stream, with large flat stones, which we walked over. Unfortunately, this light was too dim to take photos. We traversed another ancient woodland path, exiting at Vilei into the hamlet of Barbadelo, as daylight was breaking. We emerged from the stone houses and stone walls of Barbadelo into farmland. It was a pleasant uphill walk, with panorama views of the surrounding valleys, and few pilgrims until we reached the crossroad at Baxán. We piled into the nearby café, Mercado do Serra, for our early morning coffee break.

We rejoined the Camino Francés, walking passed a compound of donkeys, on a tree-lined dirt track, crowded with pilgrims. The open, mostly tree-lined trails undulate across the mountain ridge to the high point of the day Alto Momientos, 660 m. Before, the summit, was the other highlight of the day, passing the 100 km way-marker.

Another requisite of receiving our compostela is the collection of stamps, in our pilgrim passport. From Sarria, this changes from at least one stamp (sello) to at least two stamps every day.

Somewhere passed the hamlet of Ferreiors we walked past the 100 km way marker, sadly covered in graffiti, by pilgrims who decided they needed to leave a permanent mark of their achievement. We stood by and watched other pilgrims take photos of this significant moment, before recording our memory. Then set off to find the 100 km stamp in the hamlet of A Pena.

Towards the end of the first steep descent to Portomarín, we rounded a bend and saw a flagstone courtyard with white umbrellas tables and chairs. I wandered in and checked out the menu and quickly secured one of the last remaining tables. The menu looked incredible. I settled on a goats cheese, crispy onions, mustard and honey bocadillo, and Kas to drink.

The last hamlet of the day was Vilachá, stone cottages built up to the edge of the road, and another highlight of the day, a witch on her broomstick hanging onto a wrought-iron balcony, ready for flight.

Just beyond Vilachá lies Rio Miño, and the modern long bridge Ponte Nova de Portomarín. We stopped to consider which of the three options we should take to get to the bridge. We choose a slightly longer, less steep route, that bought us out abruptly onto the main road along the narrow gorge of the Rio Miño. On the other side of the bridge, we climbed ancient steep pilgrim steps, which led us into the lower end of the town. After those enforced days of rest, my body believed I had finished with the madness of walking every-day and was on the verge of staging a sit-down strike, at the top of that staircase.

After a shower, I soaked my feet in icy cold water, then massaged them with arnica cream and rested.  Restored and revitalised, we all felt up to exploring Portomarín. We wandered up to the main cobbled street and ambled down the flagstone paths beneath the broad stone colonnades, which flanked both sides of the road. We were in search of the restaurant recommended to us by our host at Sarria, O Mirador. I think we were all slightly relieved that it didn’t open until 7 pm, as it was very upmarket, and we definitely were not feeling up for the part.

We found a delightful small café style restaurant, attached to a nearby albergue and close to our home for the night. My first course was goats cheese salad: pinenuts, fancy lettuce leaves, chevre goats cheese with balsamic dressing was followed by  –  grilled octopus and sauteed potatoes.  I had never eaten such tender and succulent octopus (pulpo) before.

It had been a lovely day, the forecasted rainfalls never eventuated, even though heavy dark rain-clouds loomed closeby all day. After dinner, my personal clouds of fear started to deplete our joyous day. Our hospitalero suggested we make our way out of town, in the morning, back down pilgrim steps, turn right and continue onto the bridge over Rio Torres1. Visualising negotiating that staircase, triggered the memory of dimly lit stairs and final days on the Camino Portuguese. I panicked, deciding that I would walk back up through town and meet Pam and Den later.  Knowing my story, they proposed a different scenario – I would walk between the two of them, one hand on Den’s shoulder, the other on the stone wall. I was deeply touched and gratefully accepted their offer.

1 Reference: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago – Camino Francés. John Brierley. 17th edition published in 2020.



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