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A Wonderful Walk and a Milestone – 24 September

2011/09/27

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Pintín to Mercadoiro

When I awoke this morning, I realised that this is our last weekend on the Camino. It seems a little odd to contemplate getting to Santiago and – perish the thought! – not walking any more. And a little sad. So I will just get on with walking …

We walked into Sarria from Pintín with some clouds overhead, and along paths and roads through the green Galician countryside. Once again, I reflected upon the way in which people have taken care of the earth in this area for hundreds of years, planting, reaping, cultivating the soil, taking care of their animals (all without the help of multi-national seed companies).

We saw a fire engine speeding past at one point – a funny, stubby little vehicle compared to British or North American appliances. As happens very often at the pace of the Camino, this triggered thoughts of someone, and time to expand upon those thoughts and reflect upon them. In this case, the person was my brother-in-law, who in a quiet way is always very generous and hospitable to us and our family, and while greatly appreciated, probably does not receive the expression of gratitude that he deserves. He is a good husband and father, and now a very happy grandparent. He serves the community as the fire chief in the town where he lives, which is why he came to mind. I have many thoughts and reflections like this along the way, too many to record all of them, and some too personal to post publicly. But it has been a valuable part of the pilgrim journey to have the time to contemplate the gifts that others can be in our lives, and have been in mine.

Sarria is a great little town, full of distractions and diversions. We had breakfast in a café where the proprietor was sufficiently patient with my lack of Spanish to understand that I wanted a roll filled with the enticing blue cheese in her display cabinet para llevar, to take away (for later) and make one for me.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed elsewhere on the Camino, all of the churches seem to be locked in the morning, and so we were unable to look inside any of the places that looked very interesting from the outside, including the monastery, Mosteiro da Madalena, even though a notice on its door says that it opened 20 minutes before we arrived.

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From Sarria, the Camino is pretty well uphill all the way for this day, although with only a few steep sections, and while this might seem counter-intuitive, the most comfortable mode of walking for us is a steady climb. After one steep climb, I paused for Kate, and a robin (English-style) flew down onto the path ahead of me to engage with an acorn. He allowed me to get very close, and was quite devoted to his task. I’m used to English robins being friendly to humans, but was pleasantly surprised to have this interaction with a Spanish robin. There is a lot of wonder to be found at this pace: looking up, looking around, or looking down (as I was in this case).

The trails and roads along which we walked were often shaded by trees that are mostly very old, and so the appearance of the sun in the afternoon was something pleasant, which is rather a contrast from the mid-afternoon heat in León. And although some of the walking is along country roads, they are largely devoid of traffic; and the trails along which we walk are manifestly very old, and well worn by the feet of many thousands of pilgrims. I found that this connection to those who have walked before (who knows, maybe even Francis of Assisi!) adds to the wonder of this pilgrimage.

Everyone walks their own Camino. We saw two young Spanish girls, who had evidently set out today from Sarria, walking along with music playing loudly – no privacy of headphones for them! We called them the Chicas Musicas and wondered how they would fare after two weeks. Of course, they will be in Santiago in a lot less time than that. We were told that Spanish students can receive academic credit for walking the Camino and receiving the certificate at the end. This explains a lot of the new, clean trainers (shoes, that is, not personal trainers) and shiny packs that we observed today. It is tempting to become smug and self-satisfied after completing seven times what those who start from Sarria will accomplish. It is a temptation to be resisted. People do what they can. We met a couple of German women today, a mother and daughter. The mother is very asthmatic, and is concerned about the hills. She took her time, and they managed to arrive at our albergue by the evening.

One of the young Germans, Erik, whom we first met in Burgos, came across us as we were finishing a short break to adjust shoes and drink, and asked whether he could walk with us. Although he walks faster than we do, the two girls with him apparently do not, so in the afternoons he walks ahead to secure accommodation. I was touched that he would walk with us: he is probably in his mid-twenties, and we are not, and his company was a gift. So we walked and talked, and as we did so, we came upon the 100 km marker by the side of the road. Throughout Galicia, there are markers every half kilometre along the trail, although there is some dispute about their accuracy in the context of the current Camino’s path. Nevertheless, we stopped and took a picture of the three of us at this milestone, and then revelled in the difference in perception possible at this point. Those of us who have now walked about 700 km see it as “only 100 km to go.” Those who started from Sarria today see it as something different. Erik stopped at Ferrerios, and we continued.

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After reaching the summit of our day’s journey, with some more spectacular views, this time over the rolling green hills to the west, ahead of us, we decided to stop in Mercadoiro, a hamlet with an official population of one. This is just 5 km before Portomarín, and we stopped partly because there are a lot more pilgrims along the way, and the larger centres can become congested, although we have yet to determine this for ourselves. As we discovered in Sarria, walking through towns in the morning means that the churches are closed, but since tomorrow is Sunday, we are hoping to find that this is not the case.

This has been a really good day’s walk. In some ways, I would have been happy just to keep going for another couple of hours – assuming the same terrain, which might be dubious. And my feet and my spouse would probably have expressed discontent fairly quickly.

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