Camino Superhighway

Some pilgrims started walking from France and Portugal or further, but you’re telling me the ones who started a hundred kilometers away in Sarria end up with the same compestela completion certificate as everyone else? From “20 Truths About Walking The Camino de Santiago”, Rachel Ruecker, July 2015, via FB.

Camino Day 29, Jueves 8th Octubre. 689 klms. Portomarín, Lugo, Galicia, España.

Regrettably for the first half of today’s walk I was consumed with dark thoughts.

An unintended but quite possible consequence of today’s post is that I will tread on some toes.  For the past month I have written this blog to record what I have seen, thought about and felt, firstly as a record for me and then for the (hopefully) interest of readers.  So it would be inauthentic of me to change the basis of my record just because of the potential for offence. Offence isn’t my intention, but may be an outcome.

So, here goes … but first my favourite photo for the day.
I had seen pictures of mushrooms this colour before, but always assumed they were artificially coloured. Not so – these were magnificent (and probably deadly).

I had been well forewarned about the increase in pedestrian traffic on the Camino post Sarria, and I genuinely thought that I was mentally prepared for it. Wrong.

I have become very used to the relative peace and solitude of the recent weeks. Never alone, but never (well, very rarely) crowded. Now I am introverted by nature – which I take to mean that I draw my energy and reserves from within, or from a few, and certainly not from crowds. I know and am perfectly comfortable with this side of myself. Crowds actually have the opposite effect on me – they drain me of energy.

Which is why the group of school kids I wrote about a few days back got under my skin. But they were just the warm up act for today.

In addition to the many others who started at Sarria, for most of the morning we were surrounded by a group from Germany. My estimate was that there were 50+ of them. They all wear a yellow scarf to add their tribal mark (although as we arrived in Portomarin I noted that they had changed them into yellow caps).

One of their leaders wears his scarf around the cross he carries.

Each to his own. (Although I did think that his mate jumping the fence and swiping some apples off a tree was a tad contradictory. I’ve taken figs and almonds off “wild” trees actually on the path, but have never jumped a fence. See, I said I had dark thoughts.)

The spontaneous friendliness of days past seems to have lessened also. The German group happily stick to themselves, no “buen caminos” or “buenos dias’s” or the like (not that I was going out of my way, I’ll admit). J did have a brief chat with one woman, who told us that they were a group of, wait for it, 450 people, and that “83 of our young people are being confirmed in Santiago”. I don’t think that all 450 are all together at the same time (they are travelling in swarms of between 25 and about 80), but clearly at some point they must all congregate. I was later told that the total number is 486.

So that’s dark thoughts (rant?) part one. Part two is even less “reasonable”, but it’s been a real thought and feeling; so here it is. I’m not walking the Camino to obtain a Compostela. Indeed, it would be hypocritical of me to expect one, and I will happily accept the secular certificate in whatever form that comes. And yet I find myself annoyed at the notion that walking just 100 klms of a fundamentally much longer and deeper journey qualifies one for some form of “equal” recognition. Especially when, as is the case with the German horde, one is transported backwards and forwards by bus, carrying minimal gear. I fully recognise that this is “my shit”, as they say, and it still plays to some deep seated notion of fairness of mine. I should say that it wasn’t just the German group who pressed this particular button of mine. There were any number of people strolling along, relatively backpackless, collecting sellos for their Credencials(*) to ensure that they qualify for the all important Compostela. Again, I acknowledge that this is my stuff to deal with, and yet as I experience this behaviour I still feel a degree of unjustness.

[* a Credencial is a document which is rooted in history. Initially issued to medieval pilgrims as a document to authenticate their pilgrimage and to authorise the various churches along the way to give them safe passage. It was “stamped” by the various churches to prove that they had undertaken the journey. The tradition continues today. All albergues, churches, hotels, cafés, bars etc have their own stamp (sello in Español) which they place in your credential. A Compostela will not be issued in Santiago unless you present a suitably authenticated (stamped) credential.]

And yes, I recognise that everyone walks this walk for their own reasons, and it certainly isn’t up to me to judge people’s motivations. But …

I’m not sure what I can do about this (in myself that is). I’m not sure if I want to do anything about this. I’m am hoping though that in recording this it will lessen the dark thoughts. We’ll see, stand by …

Now all this said, the first half of today’s walk was in low cloud/mist, and quite pretty. Then about midday the sun came out, and it was glorious to walk along in bright, warm, still sunshine, and admire the world. (By this time we had left the swarm somewhere in our wake, and J and I walked along quietly together as we had for much of the past month, and my heart was pinker.)

The walk across the bridge into Portomarín is spectacular. A few photos of the day follow:

Perhaps I should take note …

Along the path

Into the mist

Pretty Galicia

Which witch?

Scallops of many colours


Old and new

The old town of Portomarín (pre 1960) from the bridge

Not far now …

Iglesia San Juan, relocated brick by brick in the 60s when the old town/valley was flooded to make way for the hydro dam.

Very pretty town this. Shame about the hordes.

The afternoon we stopped for a beer and dos cafés con leche at a place half-way up the main street, then went and found our digs for the night, scrubbed up, and then out to the local flash bar/restaurant for a vino tinto, after which we were joined by Melie and her boys for dinner.

Just as we were leaving dinner 3 buses disgorged a swarm of some 150 people – confirming the decision we’d all already made to leave early tomorrow and stay ahead of the pack.

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