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.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Camino Frances Day 6

I was really famished when I checked in the night before. There was a bar in the albergue although they had limited items on the menu. I settled for a serving of croquettas de jamon and 20 cL of Cocal Cola. The bill was expensive by peregrine standards though I didn't mind because of my hunger. The chef was having a siesta so I had to wait till 6 pm to order my meal.

There were only two other people in the dorm. I am pretty sure they were a couple for they shared the same bed and had sex a couple of times in the evening. As long as they didn't make too much noise it was no skin off my nose.

I stepped out the following day around 7 am and it was still dark. Almost every albergue has this one way door where pilgrims can exit the following morning upon checkout without the need to wake the receptionist. (Some albergues have only part time people manning. They come in around 1pm to issue the receipts and stamps and leave around 8pm)

The early morning chill was biting and it was drizzling a bit so I opened my umbrella. Except for the occasional whir of car tires passing by, it was just my footsteps that broke the morning silence. A haunting silence that would set my mood for deep contemplation.

Eventually the concrete turned into a country road signalling that I was leaving the town centre. Against a dark setting, my playful mind conjured scenes from old horror movies. One part seemed like a scene from Friday the 13th , I wouldn't be surprised if at any moment the eerie-masked maniac Jason would pop out, wielding a machete.

Dark clouds were swirling ominously up ahead and I was worried that the rest of my journey will be a rainy one. I took a shot of the background and I couldn't believe that I have been through those mountains the past few days.

I must admit that at this point my energy was sagging. I was beginning to question my stamina to make it through the endeavor.  When I started this Camino I purposely did not announce it in Facebook. I thought it would be embarrassing to do some explanation to my friends if in the unlikely possibility I would chicken out along the way. I did post occasional photos in Instragram though. At least in this platform I did not have much followers so the reputational damage would not be too hard should I indeed call everything off.

It was a good thing I actually stopped at Camponaraya because the next town with an albergue was about 6.7 kms. It would have taken past sundown had I trudged on the day before.

I was still about 2 kilometres away from Cacabelos town centre (the next major stop from Camponaraya) but decided to stop by a big waiting shed that greeted me on the town's boundary.  I removed the shoes off my feet to massage it. By now my socks were getting damp because of the wet ground. I had to remind myself of a pilgrim's warning not to get my feet wet as it would be a prelude to blisters. I pressed the soles of my feet on the cold stone floor of the shed. God, it felt so soothing.

There was nothing fancy about the waiting shed though I particularly remember this stop because I took a shot of this worm. Travelling mostly solo for the past few days made me more philosophical than usual. I was wondering at the pace that the creature was moving, how long would it take it to reach Santiago de Compostela. This creature had no idea whatsoever of the worms from the garden in my hometown. I sort of pity it in a way.

I thought that just like this worm we humans might not be aware of other intelligent creatures in the fringes of the galaxy and beyond. And that we could spend a lifetime searching but we wouldn't find them. That somehow made me sad.

I looked at the sign that was posted along the way, the names at that time were meaningless.

The town marker indicated that the next stop Pieros was about 3km, which at my current pace would be achievable in less than an hour.

I stopped at the next available bar to have my usual bocadillo de jamon and cafe con leche. After 6 days of travelling the bars had now become ordinary for me and  if I didn't take any interesting snapshot I would no longer remember which one it would be.

For a sleepy town that perhaps only has less than a thousand inhabitants, its churches were surprisingly ornate.

I might have passed by a couple of churches Cacabelos but sadly I couldn't recall much about it right now. I feel kind of guilty that I recall more vividly encountering a supermarket. The past two days (starting from Dia De los Muertos) were holidays so there was barely a market with an extensive selection that was open. So when I finally found one, I could not contain my joy. I bought a pack of chocolate biscuits-Filipinos !, some energy bars and a pack of Salami as my protein source.

There was a slight ascent on the way to Pieros. I met a pilgrim who was on his way back to St Jean Pied de Port. That meant he had been walking already for 900 kms. He was kind of reluctant when I asked if I could take a shot of him for posterity.

There was not much to see in Pieros but I was just contented that it had a water source, so I paused for a bit on a nearby bench and then I went on.

My spirit was somehow lifted when this magnificent view of a field full of colourful leaves welcomed me at the park of the ascent.  A trio of hikers from Hong Kong passed by so I requested them to take a shot of me with the plantation in the background.

The rest of the journey was a bit wet. It was drizzling now and then and I had to bring out my umbrella to ward off the rain drops.

I can't recall exactly now how I motivated myself to continue on but it was around half past 12 when I reached Villafranca del Bierzo. Judging from the number of establishments I knew that it was one of the major stops but because of my hunger and my tiredness, I was not able to explore much of the area. I decided to treat myself that day so I order a full set menu for lunch capped off with a glass of wine. 

I shudder at the thought that this was the stop of Robi the day before. Our gap was now almost 20km so I was already giving up on the idea that I would ever catch up with him. My main concern at that moment was to finish the camino.

Around 120 PM I stopped to massage both of my feet. Both my small toes are now starting to get sore, my leftmost  toenail turning purple already.

I continued on despite the mounting pain in my toes. I saw this monument of a pilgrim, St. James perhaps and my mind was brought again to the situation to continue with my journey.

After the town centre the path lead me to a side road that snaked around a mountain.

Yet again I encountered another tribute to a pair of fallen comrades.

Despite the somber mood I couldn't help but chuckle at the peregrine self-deprecating sense of humour as evidenced by this hastily scrawled graffiti.

The past few days were really cloudy and rainy so I was kind of happy to see my shadow in the late afternoon.

The next 8 kilometres or so were mostly along the road beside a mountain

By 4PM the path went to a country side where rows of thick-trunk trees lined the path. I was somehow curious to see some trees with the initial "JG" painted on it. These are my trees I joked to myself.

My shin splint was once again acting up. ( Looking back, I think the effect of the Ibuprofen has worn off). I decided to stop at Trafadelo for the night. 

For Day 6 I walked a total 23.3 km. I knew that there were interesting sights that day but by this time, the only thing that ran to my mind was just to reach Santiago safe and sound.