Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Camino Frances Day 12

The albergue in Melide was one of the best I’ve stayed in this Camino - yet I experienced the worst night there. It was because of the rowdy guests from another room. They were bantering way past midnight and one lad went inside our room to hide from his friends. This despite the lights out already. It went for about 3 times until an exasperated German lady gave a scolding and rose off her bed to lock the door. I’ve heard that Spanish pilgrims tend to be a raucous bunch but what happened that night was definitely over the top. I wished that the incident were more of an exception than the rule for juvenile Spanish pilgrims.

The albergue had two floors, I hobbled down to have a glimpse of the kitchen in the morning. With only limited choices in the vending machine, I decided to just take my breakfast on the first bar along the way, which in hindsight was a bad idea -the next bar had I checked the app was 5 kilometers away.

I referred to the Google map to seek the exit from Melide. After passing by several narrow streets I finally found the side road designated for the Camino route.  Robi was about 25 kilometers away. I proposed that he walked a shorter distance that day so I could catch up with him on Day 13 and we could walk the last leg of the Camino. The plan was for us to meet up at O Pedrouzo. This meant that I had to walk 33 kilometers for the day, a little more than my usual daily average.

My blisters had gone much much worse now. The day before I can still fool my mind to disregard the pain. But this time around, the pain kept on hounding me. Incessant, unyielding, seeking attention. Every step was excruciatingly painful. If only cutting off my feet was an option. The morning was chilly yet perspiration beaded on my forehead. Every godawful step required willpower. Maybe the pain would go away. “It’s all in the mind, I challenged myself”. And yet it didn’t.

Emotional pain was one thing. Experiencing physical pain was an entirely different matter. I would have chosen emotional anguish over deep-seated physical pain any time of the day. Every step was tormenting, yet I know that each one will be bring me closer to salvation. “Only two more days to go”, I coaxed myself.

My pace was slower than usual. A couple of pilgrims overtook me. I didn’t mind. I just needed to survive the walk that day and it would soon be over.

Pained, hungry and exhausted, I was so glad to see an unmanned fruit stand in the middle of the woods. After what seemed like ages,  finally an available food supply. It’s signage” El Pequeno Oasis” was apt. I got two bananas and an apple, and dropped the appropriate amount on the coin box. The fruits alleviated my hunger but not the pain of the damn blisters.

Thirty minutes later I spotted a coffee shop. Normally I would have gone ahead already but I thought of giving myself a cheat break if only to have a break from the painful walk.

I was glad to meet David in the cafe, a Mexican roommate in Melide albergue. His route was the Camino De La Plata which was the first time I heard about it.  The route he followed was mostly for nature-loving folks as the path were in the untouched parts of the Asturias region. I would eventually learn that this path was one of the most challenging Camino routes.

David seemed fascinated by a beehouse in front of the cafe; he took a picture of it with his handy digicam. I asked him to take my photo with my reliable phone. He went ahead after he had his breakfast. I lingered a bit to massage my soles. By now my blisters had grown into big bulging bubbles. If I had only a sharp safety pin with me I would have gloatingly pricked them if only to avenge for the suffering they had brought me.

The foursome group I met in Triacastela, O Cerebreiro (who also stayed at the Melide albergue upon my recommendation)  took their breakfast at the shop. The British guy noticed my pained look and offered a blister strip. I used to think he was haughty but his gesture totally debunked that. I profusely gave my thanks. I plastered it the wrong way though and so the walk was still painful when I resumed.

The next two hours had been pure torture. I did not pause to take any pictures along the way. My mind was just set to reach Arzua, eight kilometers away which had a pharmacy. I was dead set to buy blister strips and ibuprofen.

Around 1130 I paused at a clearing just after I ascended a path. Each step felt like my foot was being stabbed. I was longing to see Arzua already. A pair of pilgrims who were Asians passed by, they looked familiar although I can no longer which part of the route I have met them. I asked if they knew how far Arzua was. They must have sensed the look of desperation on my face and asked me what was wrong. When the guy learned about my blisters he offered an ibuprofen tablet. I ran out of water already (maybe that explained why I felt so exhausted) so I just swallowed the tablet. I took a photo of the exact scene so I would not forget that point of the walk where I almost passed out.

I never got to see the Asian guy again. I wished I did. I owed him that painkiller he gave me. It did alleviate the pain. After 30 minutes I have finally hit Arzua. I immediately went to the pharmacy and brought ibuprofen and blister strips. I grabbed a liter of water, bread and salchicon from the nearby supermarket and sat on a bench. While I took ibuprofen only half hour earlier I took another tablet. I decided that extra dosage is needed to counteract the torture.

Miraculously the pain subsided and I was on my way again. I was surprised to see David on the path again. I got ahead of him earlier because he was taking his time in taking pictures of the surroundings (this explained why he perhaps took the Camino Primitivo. This route meets Camino Frances in the Melide to Santiago leg). I asked him to take a photo of me. Surprisingly the shot captured a smile that belied the ordeal I had earlier that day. As David’s pace was faster than mine I bade him farewell with the usual “Buen Camino”.

I passed by a house where some thought-provoking quotes were posted. I took some shots. At this point the foursome group caught up with me.

I passed by a phalanx of pines trees that looked creepy even in mid afternoon. If I were a horror movie director this would definitely be one of the shooting locations.

At 330 I stopped by a road-side café. There was a weather-beaten old man with a black dog and a peculiar pilgrim passport. Instead of the usual stamps he had signatures of pilgrims- he had done the Camino a couple of times already hence was no longer interested for the stamps. Pleased to know that I came from the Philippines he asked for my signature.  He had not gotten any from a Filipino before. I was pleased to oblige.

According to the Google map, Pedrouzo was still 8 kilometers. It would be past 4 pm soon and I was aware of the risk of being on the road during sundown. But I needed to catch up with Robbie who already sent me a Whatsapp message that he had already checked in at a municipal albergue in Pedrouzo. He actually placed some of his stuff on a bunk across him to reserve it for me.

I saw that the last leg for the day would fall along the highway, so even if I failed to reach the albergue by sundown, there would still be light from the road. So I violated my 4 by 4 rule and went on.

The thought of meeting Robi soon, made me walk faster, the blisters still hounding but the pain had subsided considerably.

Thankfully just as the last thumbnail of the sun disappeared on the horizon I found the albergue.

I was overjoyed to meet Robi again. I never would have thought that I would catch up with him again and yet there we were reunited in O Pedrouzo. We had pizza, fries and beer to celebrate our reunion.

At the end of a challenging day we had only 20 kilometers left to walk.

Santiago De Compostela was now within our reach.


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 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 with each step I made. It probably explained why I only took 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 so 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 made a step.

Despite this I still enjoyed this part of the route heading to Palas Del Rei because of the archway that the trees flanking the road 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 me till Santiago. I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this scene, 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.