Thursday, 14 July 2016

Camino Frances Day 11

The idea that I had only 80 kilometers more to go prodded me to wake up early. For this day I had planned to walk about 28 kilometers to reach Melide. I learned from Robi the night before through Whatsapp that his stop was Melide. He was now about a day’s hike ahead- I was resigned at this point to the fact that I would only be able to meet him again in Santiago de Compostela should he decide to stay there for one more night.

I left behind a pair of short pants whose buckle got damaged during the walk. Any other day, I would have brought it with me but in this hike where every ounce of load was crucial I had to make a tough call. I put it inside one of the drawers in the kitchen along with a pack of extra earphones  (the cheap ones handed out in Renfe trains), hoping a pilgrim could find them useful.

There were only 4 or 5 of us in the albergue. When I stepped out most pilgrims were still on their beds. Pilgrims do not say “goodbye” to each other. The greeting “Buen camino” served this purpose.

Though it was already half past seven in the morning, it was still dark. This time I made sure that I was following the right route and used my cellphone to shine on the path. The cobalt blue sky had a marvelous view of the moon and two planets forming a nice alignment. With the heavenly bodies behind the silhouette of an oak tree with sprawling branches, I was reminded of a line in Desiderata.

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. Therefore be at peace with God with whatever you conceive Him to be.”

I started the Camino with a lot of emotional baggage. I was hoping that the walk would clear my mind a bit and give me a glimmer of hope however my future would unfold. In the comforting chill of that breaking dawn, I felt a different kind of peace as if my burdens had suddenly become light.

I trudged for about 30 minutes, hoping to spot an open café on the next stop which according to the Camino app was 1.5 kilometres ahead.  To my dismay it was closed. Most likely because it was already off-season for hiking. The busy periods are actually July to September with the number tapering off in October. Some albergues and establishments no longer operate after October.

I trod on and my best bet was Eirexe which was 5.6 kilometers from Hospital da Cruz. The night before, Robi requested if I could pick the clothes he left inside the dryer of the Municipal Albergue in Eirexe. I told him that I would try my best as albergues aren’t open until after 1 pm. True enough it was still closed when I passed by- around a little over 8 in the morning. I was half-glad because it saved me the trouble of additional load. Sorry Robi.

Fortunately the bar right across Eirexe albergue was open so I finally had my much needed breakfast - a bocadillo de jamón, a cup of colacao and banana. I bought a couple of chocolate bars as takeaway.

The blisters on both feet had gotten worse. I winced for each step I made. It probably explained why I only took only a handful of shots along the way.

There weren’t any major architectural interests along the route. I passed by a cemetery which was called Cemiterio De Peregerinos. I wondered if it was named because it was along the main route of the Camino or because the graves were indeed only for people who had done the walk. There was not anything special about the graveyard yet I stood there for a few moments. Perhaps to pay tribute to brothers who have once followed the path- the same one that I now was taking. Or maybe a quick acknowledgement that we are all travellers in this world until death comes at our door. The concept of death seemed to be a prevailing theme in this walk.

As if fate, or the universe, or the Supreme Being or whatever supernatural force there was that could not be seen by my eyes, read the ramblings of mind, a sign flashed before me.

I knew Camino to mean the way. But it was my first time to read it in the context of the popular biblical passage.

The walk though painful was a bit manageable maybe because the blister strip given by the Dutch girl the day before was providing a good cushion. At least on my right sole. The other blister on my left foot was worsening . It has worsened from a mere annoyance to pain. It felt as if a stubborn corn kernel was stuck inside my sock pressing upon the sole of my foot every time I stepped.

Despite this I still enjoyed this part of the route heading to Palas Del Rei because of the archway that the phalanx of trees gave. Normally I would see the arch giving clearance to the vehicles. But in this region, the archway provided clearance to the pedestrians as well. Which made sense because the pilgrimage is a whole-year event, thereby the formation would naturally give way to the daily foot traffic.

After passing through one arch I felt an enormous sense of freedom as I saw a wide meadow and the next town that seemed to await my arrival.

Admittedly I was disappointed with Palas Del Rei. While the name meant “Palace of the Kings” I did not see any fortresses similar to the one in Ponferrada or eye-turning architectural structures for that matter.

As this day was a Sunday there were only a few restaurants available. I went inside one where a big menu sign outside indicated that they were serving “Bacalao Con Tomate”, one of my favorite Spanish dishes.

I paid around 16 euros which was a bit pricy by peregrine standards, but I thought that today was my splurge day.

I passed by a church and had my passport stamped. The caretaker asked me to sign in a log sheet. When he learned that I was Filipino he told me that the priest who was about to officiate the 12PM mass used to work in the Philippines. I decided to stay behind for a while, meet the priest and hear his mass. I was quite delighted to see two signatories on the sheet who also hailed from the Philippines. Sadly I never got to meet them on the Camino.

After Palas Del Rey I haven’t captured any interesting structure along the walk. The path would either be along a road or would cut across the fields under a canopy of trees.

Once I passed by a road with an ambiguous signage. I could not understand whether the sign indicated me to take the tunnel or the one ahead. Fortunately I took the one that lead underneath the bridge which thankfully was the right one.

I couldn’t recall if I stopped by any café in the afternoon but most likely not because it was a Sunday.

As I was entering the boundary of Melide a black dog accompanied me. It walked with me for about 10 minutes. I chuckled at the thought that it might accompany till Santiago. I don’t want to be overly dramatic about the whole but it felt as if my dad sent the dog to accompany me at least in this part of the walk.  When at last the dog stopped and stayed behind I felt sad as if saying goodbye to a friend whom I will never again meet.

I guess goodbyes are part of the rhythm of a pilgrim’s life, much like the next scene that greeted me. A pilgrim neatly placed a pair of worn out shoes at the foot of a cross in a town square. A tribute to a pair of companions who have reluctantly decided to stay behind.

I passed by several hamlets and an old bridge before reaching the town of Melide around 4:30. Robi recommended me to stay in a private albergue that offered a promo of 6 Euros per night  (which in summer was charging 10 euros). It was great place actually.

I had my dinner at a place that served Kebab. It was located a hundred meters away from the albergue. On the way, I started to hobble horribly once again. I walked 28 kilometers for the day which meant I had a little over 50 kilometers left to walk. The blister pad had served its function for the day and I had it removed. By now the two blisters on both feet had swollen.

Little did I know at that time that the blisters would unleash their full wrath the following day.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Camino Frances Day 10

The albergue I stayed had probably defective heaters (or they turned it off) because it was a bit chilly in the evening. Fortunately I was located toward the far end of the room so it was a bit bearable. My legs got sore again and Jeff was kind enough to give some ointment to apply.

While preparing my stuff that morning I chatted with Teresa, a middle-aged lady who also stayed in the albergue for the night. She reminded me of Laura Dern in Jurassic Park. Her brisk movements belied her age. We were the last two folks in albergue. She decided to stick around a little as she wanted to do some yoga.

I actually thought I had a great morning start. Wanting to end the day early, my pace was faster than usual- the full dinner and a good sleep had me recharged. The close call I had from the night before was now but a distant memory.

Because of my excitement to get on with my day, tragically I actually took the wrong route. I only realised that something wasn't right when after about 2 kilometres I still haven't noticed a single yellow sign or arrow. At that point that my gut feel kicked in. So I had to backtrack. I detested the fact that I lost some precious time and effort. It did not help that my leftmost toe was getting sore and I was developing a blister on my right sole. It was stupid of me to take the wrong route but in my defence I came to the albergue at night and I didn't realize that it was actually located away at a forked road away from the regular pilgrim path.

Regretfully I could not recall much of the walk in the morning because I tried to limit the number of shots I took along the way. I didn't want to run out of battery during sundown just when I needed light in the darkness.

I noticed along the way that some pilgrims left mementos of their dear departed ones behind. Presumably they dedicated their journey to their loved ones. I offered a prayer to my Dad. It now seemed ages since he departed. Although it seemed that I would occasionally feel his presence, like he was just from another town that I could easily reach with a phone call or a text message.

Through the course of my walk I have offered my rosary prayers to my dad, my family, myself and some friends who have shared their petitions to me through instagram. I found that praying the rosary (aside from being a form of petition) can make the travel time much faster. A round of rosary completing its mysteries can take me about 15 minutes or a kilometre walk more or less.

The previous three days had been quite cloudy so I was finally glad to see the sun shine again.

Pilgrim philosophy still abound. This was one of the few ones I had taken for the day.

The walk from Ferreiros, Lugo to Portomarin was rather boring. There weren't many pilgrim-friendly stops along the way. Which was why I was quite thankful to the owner of this place. He built a shed of sorts adjacent to his house. A note was posted " Feel free to use this space, but keep it clean so that the next pilgrim could also enjoy it".

I recall staying in the shed a bit longer because I had to massage my feet. I couldn't recall if I stopped for coffee along this route because I couldn't find a single photo in my camera. Most likely I just took my coffee in the albergue.

I must admit that at this part of the walk, my passion has wavered. I wanted the walk to be over and move on with my life. Why did I embark on this journey? The answer seemed to be crystal clear at the start of the walk. But at this point the harsh realities of the situation has muddled whatever sense of inspiration I’ve had. Admitted I was not in the proper mood for contemplation. This graffiti I saw scribbled on a gray rock wall reminded me to enjoy every bit of the journey despite the pain.

The town of Portomarin was a sight to behold. It appeared to be a island surrounded by a river, although it only created that impression because the body water somewhat snaked around the landmass. I could just imagine the military advantage it had during the times of war in the past. A steep stairway welcomed me as I entered the town. Despite my tiredness I ascended as if to pay homage. I settled in a nearby park after buying some stuff in the supermarket. Watching the view of the river and the town on the other side, I enjoyed my humble lunch- the usual pan and salchichon. I decided to withdraw additional money so I asked for the nearest bank. If not for the Banco Santander which reminded me of my bank in my University in Murcia I would have felt that I was in a different country.

The church of Portomarin looked like a fortress. Its architecture I would learn later on is of Roman influence. It had a simple rose window and and intricate archway, typical of the churches in Spain. I would gladly go back to Portomarin and spend more time exploring the city if given another chance in the future.

I continued on and took another bridge on the way out. In hindsight I should have brought more items in the supermarket because the next stretch was actually 8 kilometres long without any shops along the way. I was actually getting thirsty and madly looking for water source when I bumped upon two pilgrims who were taking a rest perhaps longer than usual. I envied them because they were not pressed by some deadline. For me my deadliest deadline was actually the 14th because I was set to fly out of Madrid on the 15th. I still had a lot of buffer actually but still I wanted to be back to Madrid early. When the pair learned that I was thirsty for the past 2 kilometres they offered water from their bottles. The lady (I believe she's Dutch) offered a blister strip noticing the way I hobbled.

I thanked them and continued on. Every time I stepped with my right foot, I grimaced in pain. The blister was getting unbearable and another one was actually developing on my left sole.

Further on I came finally upon a shop. Two Asian folks came by and they reminded me that they were the ones who took my photo with the colourful field on the background several days back. I knew I just had to have a selfie with them. Regretfully I never got their fb profiles so that was the last time I saw of them.

I had a chat with the bar tender. As I was in my philosophical mood I threw the question to her as to why people had to suffer and do the walk. Her response was the one I was expecting. Nonetheless it felt validating hearing from her.

I asked if she ever did the Camino. "No I haven't" was her somber reply. I could see a tinge of envy in her eyes. All her life she probably just watched the pilgrims stop by at her bar and move on towards their desired destination. "Maybe someday if I find the reason to do the walk, I will", she added with a sense of hope.

I do hope that she would get her reason - be it physical, emotional, spiritual or cultural. Aside from the bar tender in Foncebadon, she would be one of the bar tenders I distinctly recall.

According to the Camino Pilgrim app there should have been a restaurant at Goznar which was the next major stop after PortoMarin, but it was closed.

I tried my luck at Hospital da Cruz which was 3.8 kilometres further. Only the albergue was open and no restaurant was available. As it was already half past 4, I decided to just check in. (There was no one in the albergue at the time I came in so I just helped myself and sent an SMS to the number indicated on the cork board).

Because of the incident the day before I now applied the 4 by 4 rule which was to check in the nearest albergue within 4 kilometre radius by 4 pm.

The two pilgrims who offered me water, checked in that afternoon. They haven't had any good meal since all the restaurants were closed along the way. It was an opportunity for me to repay their kindness. Though I only had a half bar of bread, a handful of salchichons and two apples, it was enough to assuage our hunger for the night.

Teresa the lady from the albergue in Fererreios came in around 8pm. She narrated how she got lost in the dark. It was a good thing a farmer spotted her and brought her to the albergue. I shuddered at the thought of getting lost in the darkness.

Admittedly it had been a relatively tough day for me. Although I was bit hopeful to end the journey on a high note since I only had a little over 80 kilometres left to walk.

Little did I know that the pain brought about by my blister that day was just a preview of the suffering I still had to endure. 

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.