Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Camino Frances Day 9

Despite its limited capacity, the albergue in Triacastela managed to house several pilgrims from seemingly all walks of life: the German mother and daughter tandem whom I met in Trabadelo, the foursome group from US and UK whom I saw a day earlier at O Cerebro, an athletic Spanish guy with thinning hair who reminded me of Nicholas Cage and a lanky Singaporean who I met for the first time in this albergue.

The daughter of the German tandem I particularly remembered because she had a hard time communicating with the laundrywoman who only spoke in Spanish.  The old lady remembered during my registration that I spoke a bit of Spanish so she asked me if I could translate her thoughts to the German girl. Apparently the woman was telling the girl that their laundry couldn’t be fit in one washing (the downpour gave them a handful of wet clothing) and had to be split in two loads. I felt so proud that despite my Spanish A2 level I finally did a useful translation in real life.

I was fortunate that despite the rain, the clothes inside my bag were spared, thanks to the layer of garbage bag I used to wrap them, a trick I have learned from my mountaineering days.

I don’t recall the exact time I started my walk the following morning but I was one of the last ones to leave. A middle-aged guy was walking just a few steps ahead of me. When he saw me following him after a rather confusing fork, he turned back and told me that he was headed to the longer route. He pointed to the shortcut which was the one on my right. I thanked him. There must be something in the way I carried myself that instinctively told him I would opt for the shorter walk.  I took the short cut obviously.

The path did not have many signs, like the ubiquitous yellow arrow or shell mark, but since it was straight and did not have any forks, I knew that I was on the right path.

I was alone for about an hour, deep in my own thoughts when I got the surprise of my life. Out of nowhere a booming voice came about, “Buen Camino”. I was so immersed in the walk that I failed to notice a biker catching up from behind.
“Buen Camino” I answered back, nonchalant on the surface hiding the fact that he just scared the living daylights out of me.

Further on, what seemed like 2 kilometers, I saw the trail heading to a row of houses- the first sign of civilization after the fork. There was a wooden bench just at the entrance of the village. It was painted green, moist from the early morning drizzle and dew, blending well with a mossy tree beside it. It also served as sort of a fence because behind it was beside a gully traitorously covered by vines. My selfie stick accidentally fell on the clearing while I was getting an apple from my backpack. I crouched beneath the bench and reached out for the stick. A few inches further and it would have been down the deep gully, irretrievable.  I managed to recover it thankfully although my right forearm brushed against a thorny plant. It left some sort of a lump that still remained on the skin to this date.

Though I took a short cut, I failed to realize that the next convenient stop was in the next 7 kilometers. It was twice the usual distance of breaks between stopovers. I felt really disappointed when in one stop over where I was hoping to refill my water bottle, the only available faucet was not working.

Further on, I saw the tallest pile of rocks I have seen in this journey. I picked up a piece of stone and gingerly placed on top adding to its height. It felt like leaving a bit of myself behind. I regretted the fact that I placed a rather curvy stone which would make the attempt of the next pilgrim quite challenging. I won’t be surprised if the next person would accidentally destroy the precarious structure and I somewhat regretted for not thoroughly thinking about my action.

After a long walk through a muddy path and a left turn on a fork (which reminded me of a scene in Camino Portugues) I came upon a donativo stand which was a welcome sight in this part of the walk. I presumed the area used to be a shed for produce. There was ratty couch where two cute kittens were lounging. A chalkboard with writing “ Follow you heart , It is the one true compass” was leaning beside it, as if to remind the pilgrims of some truths that they might have forgotten along the way. Beside it was a small table filled with fruits, a thermos bottle, cups, biscuits and of course a small basket for the donation. I got a piece of banana and dropped a few coins. I was about to leave when Jenny, the owner came about. We chatted a bit. She gladly posed with her wares and then I said my good bye.

For some reason the next part of the walk reminded me of a road in Morong, Bataan,  a narrow dirt path and a private property on both sides mostly grassy fields with trees scattered randomly.

A little further I thought about the Alchemist, a book written by Paulo Coelho who got the inspiration after doing the Camino. No surprise here that the protagonist of the book was named Santiago. The universe somehow read my mind because around a bend I saw the sign of the Alchemist.

I passed by a herd of brown cows grazing on an elevated clearing. One cow was particularly close to the fence- a thin wire actually, am actually surprised how it can contain the cattle when they could easily sneak out if it wanted to. The cow stared at me and I intently stared at her and we had a staring contest that lasted for about a minute. She did not remove her gaze and for a moment I got a bit self-conscious. I saw the number tag on both her ears and somewhat pitied it.

A strange thought occurred. There I was staring at the creature taking a pity on her fate. She will live her life within the confines of the fence, her days determined by her master who one day would just will just randomly pick a number which will turn out to be hers.

I was wondering what was going through her mind.  Maybe she was thinking” Poor creature, another aimless wanderer. He pities me when I in fact pity him for his meaningless existence.”  Perhaps in her own mind I was the poor creature.

The view of the farmlands gave way to a wider clearing. It signaled that I was entering once again the town center. The sight of wide plains appeared as though it welcomed me with open arms, as if it was waiting for my arrival. “What took you so long?” I played the music player on my Samsung phone and the songs shuffled. My spirit got a kick when my favorite Travesuras played. It somewhat brought things to perspective because the song had always reminded me of my one-year study in Spain. A chapter of my life that would soon be coming to a close.

This walk was supposedly a final hurrah to end my journey in Europe. But deep in my heart if I had to be honest I would want to be part of that world.  There was a part of me that wanted the walk to be a bit longer if only to feel the magic of Europe.

I kept on playing the songs on my phone to keep me aware of the distance I have covered so far. I estimated that about fours songs on my list would more or less make me travel a kilometer.

The music gave sort of the push that I was in high spirits the next hour or so. The only downside was that I never took much photos along this path.

I could not recall now how I ate for lunch in Sarria because no photo was registered on my phone from 12:53 PM to 2:23 PM. Maybe I stopped by a Café shop and ordered for Jamon Serrano which had always been my choice whenever I got forced to stop by in a nearest available bar.

Sarria would have been a more interesting town if I had the luxury of time but I was determined to cover as much distance as possible. Roby was no longer in my mind as his distance apart was already a day’s walk worth. At this point I was resigned to the fact that I would probably just catch up with him in Santiago should he opt to stay for a day more upon arrival.

I met the Singapore guy who stayed in the Triacastela albergue. He gladly obliged when I asked him to get a shot of me with a Sarria landmark in the background.

A little half past 3, I was headed out of Sarria. I saw a road sign that said that the next town would be around 8 kilometers away. I figured that in about two hours I would reach an albergue.

This was a wrong assumption. The distance in the road indicated the distance if one travelled by the main road. The pilgrim’s path because it was winding was much much longer. And to my horror, it was already sundown when I realized I still had 3 kilometers to cover before the next albergue.

I was scared because I was alone, my phone was draining and I was walking in a creepy wooded area. I was embarrassed to admit to myself that though I was relatively religious I was still scared of the thought of walking through the woods alone in the dark. It did not help that I kept on hearing a moaning sound (perhaps from pigs and cattle) in the background. In the growing darkness it can assume the form of a hideous monster. I prayed the rosary hastily. I offered a prayer that I get to the next albergue soon. Fortunately I got to see an American couple. I asked if they are stopping at the next albergue and if I could join them. The lady was kind enough to offer an apple. Which was timely because I was getting hungry already. My last shot was at 608 PM of a landmark indicating that Santiago was “merely” 100 km away.

It was dark already when we reached the Calvor O Lugo albergue. I was pretty  sure I would have missed it, if I were alone because it was located 100 meters off the path.  I was thankful to have met the American couple.

The Singaporean guy who was in the Triascastela albergue was one of the occupants of the albergue. I invited him to have dinner together at the adjacent bar. Dennis, I finally got to know his name.

It was bit chilly outside but inside the albergue the heater gave us a good place to sleep. I slept in no time. After travelling for 9 days, only a hundred kilomters separate me from my destination.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Camino Frances Day 8

The stop in O Cerebro in hindsight was the most picturesque. I wish I had spent more time basking at the magnificent view from the mountaintop. But I guess at that time the weariness from walking for 7 days had taken its toll; all I wanted was to just rest whenever I could.

I went to the chapel to offer some prayers and bought some post cards. Instead of eating dinner at a bar, I just decided to buy some ready to eat meals from the convenience store. Two packs of cold pasta and hard boiled eggs.

The municipal albergue in O Cerebro would have to be the best in terms of the view and design. The only downside was that its kitchen did not have any utensils - as if sending a message that cooking is not allowed.

The sleeping area was rather spacious and I thought it could probably sleep a hundred. A German pilgrim was looking for a partner to split the cost for his laundry. Fortunately it was my schedule to have my laundry done so I volunteered. The Laundromat required 3 euros for washing and 4 euros for drying - this was the normal rate for all albergues.

I stepped out of the albergue, a few minutes before 8am  the following day. It was a little late than my usual time although I didn't mind because it was still a bit dark.

The howling of the winds which might be normal in the area reminded of the typhoons back in my country.  The path was quite easy to follow as it just snaked through the woods and slowly descending.

It was still foggy in the morning and once again the lake scene of the Friday 13th came to me playful mind.

A cloud of fog came rolling though the hillside, I wish I had taken a video of it.  It was furiously streaming down the hill, like water cascading through a waterfall.

The scene from the mountainside was reminiscent of the path from the day before. Up in the distance I saw fields of green and brown.  

An hour of walking later I came upon a clearing with a prominent statue of an old man his right hand clutching a walking stick and the other hand holding the brim of his hat on the head. The pose was such to depict of a pilgrim battling the strong force of the wind. I was in Alto de San Roque, one of the highest points of the walk. The howling of the wings seemed like a storm was raging. I lingered a bit longer than usual just admiring the view - and took more photos than usual.

Along the way I saw an unusual sign. I was not sure if there actually was a place called “Sexo” (it means sex in Spanish). Probably a place for the nymphos? I chuckled. Or maybe the place was actualled called Seixo and the vandals did a convincing job by erasing the "I".

I stopped upon a coffee shop where a group of americans and British where also having their dose of hot coffee for the day. I recall the group staying in the same albergue in O Cerebro. Lo and behold I got to see O ren again, the Irish guy whom I first encountered in the albergue in Rabanal del Camino. I asked for a shot for posterity. He seemed like an interesting fellow. But sadly that was the last time I ever saw of him in the Camino. Maybe he finished it early. Maybe he chickened out. Or maybe he stayed a couple of days in one of the stop. But I pray that whatever purpose he had for the walk, he got to achieve it.

An hour of walk later the weather had turned bad. It was almost zero visibility and there was a heavy downpour that I was forced to take shelter in a bar by the mountainside. I recall this part because I was having some sort of a tiff with someone in WhatsApp.

The rain petered down after about ten minutes. I walked again, my feet was now soaked from the rain. Although I brought an umbrella with it was no match for the strong rain. My pants were already wet. I was now ruing the fact that I did not bring waterproof boots for the walk. The rubber shoes I brought worked fo me in the Camino Portugues, but it did not give comfort in this rainy scenario.  This was one of the most uncomfortable walks I have on this Camino.

Further I saw this Romanian girl ( I can’t recall in which part of the walk I first met her actually) but she said in a mocking tone. “People told me the camino should be fun. Well with this rain, fun it is”. There was hint of resignation in her voice but I knew and she knew that the only way to get through this undesirable situation was to get going and finish the walk.

I saw a sign indicating I had still 140 kilometers to walk. I don't recall already the sights along the way. Maybe because I had to hold my umbrella the whole time hence I was not able to take many pictures. The path would occasionally turn muddy and I abhorred it when I slosh my shoes across the mud. I recalled the advice of Christian (the pilgrim I met on my first night) to avoid getting my feet wet at all times. Oh well it was too late to worry about it now.

We have a saying in the Philippies “basing sisw”, wet chick and that was how I exactly felt.

I did not encounter any bars along the way that I finally had my lunch at half past 2. I ordered a hot serving of pasta Bolognese. Oh God that was perhaps one of the best pasta I have tasted. Or maybe it was just that feeling of being secure inside a warm bar while the rain was hammering outside.

If I had it my way I would have wanted to stay longer in the bar but then I knew I had to get going.  Around 3:18 PM I was along a steep sloping path when the winds have grown to its full might. It was so strong my umbrella was almost twisted by the its strength. It was no longer wise to have the umbrella open lest it would be mangled by the wind. So instead I made a makeshift raincoat by tearng holes on the garbage bag I brought, it was my most unglamorous moment but then at that time it was the only way not to get drenched. That had been my firsthand experience of the harsh Galician climate. Now I truly understand what they meant.

Fortunately at 4 PM I came upon Triacastela. Because I was so wet I decided to stay in a  private abergue. 

That was the worst walk for this camino.

Around 447 PM I saw a rainbow outside my Albergue. Perhaps it was an indication that the worst part was over.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Camino Frances Day 7

The albergue had a fully furnished kitchen so for the first time since the walk, I cooked my own meal- spiral pasta, chorizo and Italian sauce, stuff I bought from the neighborhood mercado. The food did not taste as awesome as I would have expected –perhaps it lacked parmesan cheese? - but considering that I was in a countryside of Spain it was already admirable.

There were only 2 rooms in the albergue which was on the 2nd floor of a bar. Each room had 4 double deck beds. I occupied the bottom bunk near the door. The guy who occupied the bottom bunk across me noticed the way I hobbled so he shared some stretching exercises. He experienced the same thing in the early part of the camino. Eugene was his name, from Gerona. I somehow remembered him walking by the other day in Ponferrada.

I prepared a hot choco for myself in the morning and ate the leftover pasta from my dinner. I had some small talk with a mom and daughter from Germany who were on their second day of the walk.

It was a quarter before 8 when I stepped of the albergue, but it was still dark.  The path all the time seemed intuitive but it went directly into a highway without any sidewalk on either side. I thought I missed a turn somewhere but I did not recall seeing any yellow sign for the last kilometre or so. Since I was not so sure I retraced my steps. I think went back 2 kilometres before meeting a pair of pilgrims who told me that I had the correct route all along. Crap. Whatever headstart I had that day was gone. I felt like banging my head for the wasted effort and time.

It did not help that by then it was raining steadily. My feet was already getting damp and that was the last dry pair of socks I've had.

This was probably the worst part of my camino in terms of signage. I took a shot of this to warn future pilgrims to take note of this place so they won't get lost. Though it didn’t appear like a path, it actually is and the pilgrim is just expected to walk on the side of the highway. A bit unsafe if you think about it.

I made a stop at La Portela de Valcarce to massage my feet and wait for the rain to stop. It didn't. I had no choice but to trudge on. The weight of my backpack it seemed had gotten heavier though the days. I saw the German mom and daughter passed by and made a stop. I was wondering if the mother was already having second thoughts of finishing the Camino.

The rainy weather exacerbated my already surly mood. A scene of a pumpkin head, the iconic reminder of Halloween reminded me that this part of the world was influenced by the US or wherever the Jack O’ Lantern originated.

I saw some cows grazing on the fields, the sound of their bells was a welcome break from the monotonous sound of my footsteps and the dragging of my walking stick. There was nothing much fancy along this part of the route and judging from the photos I took ever since I left Trabadelo there weren’t really much noting.

By 11 am, I entered Ruitelan. I have traveled only 9 kilometers since I started, which was absurdly slow. I was still sore from the fact that I wasted precious time earlier when I retraced my steps. I was irritable because my damp socks were a bit uncomfortable.

I think I had read earlier in the walk that the next part would be ascending. So I made an unscheduled stop right before the start of the incline.

I saw again the green-eyed guy who slept across my bed in Rabanal Del Camino. He joked that he’ll probably just take a cab from there because of the weather.  I learned he was Irish, that explained his sense of humor. I can't recall it now his name but it sounded like Oren.

On the way I saw this defunct Laundromat now serving as a flower bed. A weird thought occurred to me. Our bodies will definitely serve a different function when we die, fertilizer for the grass and the wildflowers. For some reason this walk made me contemplate more about death.

I had to look at the app to estimate where the next stop would be. Somehow now I was more concerned of arriving at the intended destination that I failed to totally immerse myself in the present and enjoy the journey for what it was. But I know that it is different now viewing the whole experience  through the photos from my phone and in the comforts of my home rather than being there, having the raw feeling of the weight on your shoulders and your aching body that longed for a good relaxing rest.

The Camino is a great opportunity to meet random strangers. People who would most likely appear in your lifetime once. A point like intersection of two lines in a space.  Then each one moving on to their disparate destinies.

But I saw this message of one pilgrim scribbled on a stone. I presumed he was hoping against hope that the intended recipient got to read the message. Perhaps they met earlier along the path or engaged in a chit-chat at an albergue. Perhaps destiny intended them to be just random passers by in their own stories. And yet now this pilgrim was exercising his will to ensure that another encounter would happen again. Perhaps fate could bend its will for their paths to cross again?

I took a photo of this moss that seemed to be out of place amidst the decaying brown and yellow leaves. It might die in a week or so as it lay on the path of trekkers. It just seemed out of it place, so exquisite yet so fragile. Part of me was somehow mourning that its beauty alas would be fleeting. 

Before I got on any more sentimental (I guess I would have to blame the bleak weather for that) I came upon a bar in La Faba. It was past 1 already and the next major stop was still 4 kilometers so I decided to have my lunch here. The bar only served vegetarian dish and since there were no other bars in the area I decided to settle with crepe with cheese and basil. It was not bad actually despite the lack of meat. Like any cool hippie vegetarian bars this one is replete of its words of wisdom to share. Though I am not sure of its translation in English the quote on the door reminded me to enjoy the magic of the moment.

The view after La Faba was surprisingly majestic. The rain has stopped for a bit so I was able to get a lot of panoramic shots. I was already back to my jolly self in this part of the walk.  A Spanish pilgrim (if I recall correctly he was from the Andalusian region) so I asked him to take a shot of me.

I passed by a couple of farmlands each with a herd of cows with bells on them. I noticed a tag placed on each ear of the bovine creature, identifier for the owner I presume. Do they know which one is due for slaughter based on the tag number? I had a weird thought. Does our Supreme Being also assign us a tag number watching us from a distance. Each of going about our daily routine oblivious to the watchful eye. And then one day the Almighty just decides ok Number 2323 you're time is up.

A quarter past three I finally passed by the boundary of Lugo and Galicia. A colorful marker stood to signify it. I could hear the rumbling of cars from just above ahead signifying that I was nearing a town center.

I reached O Cebreiro at half past three. This was probably one of the majestic views I've had of the walk. The stop was a town nestled atop a hill with an almost 360 view of the surrounding villages. Its structures are built of stones to withstand the strong winds and the biting cold. Judging from the howling of the winds I could only imagine how harsh the winter might be on this place.

There was an air of melancholy about the place, I was almost enticed to settle for good and abandon my intended destination.

I felt like I could hear the booming voice of God from the expanse that seemed to swallow me.

And though I only travelled about 19 kilometers for the day I decided to stay at O Cebreiro for the night.