October 7: Sarria
Our next stop should be O’Cebreiro, but there are no rooms available anywhere (we even try three towns before and after), so we opt to bus to Sarria. As the Camino gains in popularity, it’s becomes harder to be spontaneous. Then again, we could have followed the three pilgrims who left at 5am, walked in the dark for three and a half hours, then waited in front of the municipal albergue for two hours until they opened (they don’t accept reservations) and did make it to O’Cebreiro.
We are on the bus to Lugo, but the bus arrives late and we miss our connection. Rather than wait four hours, we find that there is a train leaving sooner and decide to walk over to the train station. Two women pilgrims from South Africa ask if they can tag along. Chatting with them in the bus station makes the time go by and we are soon on our way.
Hotel Alfonso IX can’t seem to decide if it’s a modern or an old world hotel, so it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a perfect day to sit on their outside patio right on the river and enjoy a glass of wine. We soon strike up a conversation with a pilgrim from Canada. This woman has grit; not only is she a single mom, she’s traveling alone and got bed bugs her very first night on the Camino!
A word here about bed bugs; we’ve heard a lot of horror stories along the way, but have never personally experienced any. When we travel, we are in the habit of checking every hotel bed, regardless of the hotel’s level. As soon as we enter the room, we strip the bed and check it from top to bottom, looking for any black dots. If none, we are good to go.
October 8: Sarria
First priority on our rest day is to get our laundry done. The laundromats are a pleasure to visit; clean, with bowls of hard candies, tissues and copies of the latest tabloid magazines for their guests. The magazines help us practice our Spanish, even though we don’t know any of the people that are featured.
One of the other pilgrims doing laundry introduces himself. He is a professor at the University of Alabama with a Ph.D in divinity studies and is taking a survey about spirituality while on the Camino. Would we mind completing a survey? We are happy to do it and it helps the time to pass quickly. He jots down his email and says he’d be willing to share his findings once the data has been analyzed.
October 9: Portomarín – 14 miles, 6 1/2 hours
Nothing like starting the day with a steep vertical incline, but we know we are headed to a breakfast of eggs, bacon and thick hunks of bread, so we power up and keep moving.
The path will be more crowded now, all the way to Santiago. Pilgrims that walk these last 100 km will also be entitled to a Compostela, the document of completion. We chat with pilgrims from Canada, Seattle and California and all agree that we can tell the newbies by their clean boots. Somehow, between the barking dogs, mooing cows and throngs of new pilgrims, we seem to lose the crowd, find ourselves all alone and appreciate the silence. The faint sound of bagpipes coming from the woods sounds magical. We come around a turn and in the middle of nowhere stands a young man dressed in traditional garb, playing proudly, for tips.
We are not enjoying crossing over this long bridge. The guard rails are very low on each side and we try to stay right in the middle, not looking down at the river below on the one side or the oncoming traffic on the other.
We are so happy that our hotel is the first one in town. Vistalegre is a brand new contemporary hotel, only four months old. Though it’s all white, the mix of textures (stone and tile) give it a sophisticated look and the sound of the water sculpture from the glass enclosed garden is a lovely touch. The rooms are not very big, but we vote the shower the best on the Camino.
Later, we run into an older pilgrim from Michigan that we first met at the beginning of the walk. He was initially so shy and withdrawn that we always made it a point to say hello and walk with him a bit. Now, here he was, greeting us heartily, laughing and chatting away. He introduces us to his new friend, another pilgrim who was about his age. It is wonderful to see them interact, despite the fact that neither one spoke the other’s language. It is said that the Camino provides and once again, it’s beautiful to see it unfold.