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Day 1 of Our Camino: Slow and Steady Does It

April 8th, 2017 · No Comments · Pilgrimage, Spain, tourism, Travel

(Above, clockwise from top: Admiring a huge and ancient tree; distance markers scrawled on a bench; the official markers, noting correct direction and kilometers left before Santiago; Taking a break in a farmer’s outbuilding. The sign hanging, above, invites pilgrims to rest as long as they keep the area clean and tidy.)

This may be Day 25 or 26 for the hard-core Camino de Santiago pilgrims who started back in France, but for those with less time or a more acute awareness of their physical limitations … it is Day 1.

And the most memorable thing about it?

We made it the 15.4 miles from Sarria to Portomarin. Without aid of car, bus or other wheeled conveyances.

And we are declaring victory … at least for one day, here in northwestern Spain.

A weird day to walk 15-plus miles through the back roads and lanes of rural Spain; it was barely 50 Fahrenheit when we set out, at 9 a.m., and we were a bit bundled up because of that. But by noon the sun was out and getting strong on its way into the mid-70s — and watching the pilgrims shed their clothes was like a slow-motion strip-tease.

A sweater off here, a coat off there, the lower halves of zippered pants relegated to the backpack.

In a classic case of unplanned camino solidarity, we immediately got lost trying to leave town. That cost us about 25 minutes and some early vim and vigor, but eventually we climbed up the stairs past the old church and up into the green hills.

It was a day marked with outstanding, almost dreamy scenery here in the northwest of Spain.

About every 100 yards, while we were near the tops of ridges, we could stop and say “wow, look at that” at some other endless vista of green spread out around us. Eventually, we stopped taking pictures of it.

We encountered traffic on the road, which we expected. These are school holidays in Spain, and several groups of kids caught us, fell behind, passed us again …

Smaller groups of Spanish teens were common, with many of them seemingly oblivious to the quiet and contemplative part of the pilgrimage. We were glad when the half-dozen guys with a boom box playing Spanish hip-hop took a break. We never saw them again.

Almost half of pilgrims these days live outside Spain, and almost half of all pilgrims are women. Women seem to make up a significant percentage of the plus-60 crowd; we never saw anyone on the road who looked like a 60YO male.

One of us dashed ahead, in the trek, getting 15 minutes ahead early, then 20 minutes at the end.

I made a strategic decision and chose to just amble along throughout. Did it help? Well, I made it.

And perhaps by going the slow and steady way (hare, meet tortoise) I was able to carry my increasingly stiff and achy body into Portomarin, an interesting town of about 2,000 which was drowned by the creation of a lake, about 50 years ago, and was rebuilt on higher ground.

Along the way, we got a sense of how villages come along much more frequently than they did in earlier stages of the 30-day Camino Frances.

Lots of hamlets, sometimes just two or three buildings, often with at least one of them catering to the camino crowd with drinks or food, or a sight of a renown chapel in a little town where a wizened man collects small donations for pilgrims who come to admire the colorfully painted saints behind the alter, such as Saint James — patron saint of this pilgrimage.

The same shrunken elder also will stamp our “pilgrim passports” — meant to show we actually followed the trail. Some stamps are works of inking art — such as the knight on a rearing steed put in our books at the little church.

We broke for lunch at about 1, in a little town about two-thirds of the way along the 27 kilometers we would need (when factoring in ascents and descents) to get to Portomarin.

The Pilgrim Lunch at Ferreiros was a scant nine euros (about $9.50) and included Galician soup, a big egg-and-potato tortilla and a piece of fruit.

We caught up to our speedster at lunch, and had a Coke and a local beer and sat in the sun while we slowly ate.

The rest of the way in was a chore, because we had done a walk about equal to anything we had ever done, and because the final quarter was almost totally downhill. (What they say about the difficulties of descents is true — it is harder on lower-body joints than any ascent.)

The walk in to Portomarin was one long vista of springtime regeneration. Wall-to-wall green, except where flowers interposed their gay blooms. We enjoyed it, but perhaps not as much as we would have if were not close to physical collapse.

The final 200-300 steps into Portomarin are difficult, for those who are aching and inching along.

The bridge across the reservoir is handsome but it is also long, and at the far end awaits a stone stairway of 58 steps (you must be kidding me) in two flights before the pilgrim is actually in the city — which is built on hills.

This after nearly six hours on the trail.

But we made it to the little hotel near the (typically) interesting town church, which is an interesting blend of church and fort.

The hotel where we are staying has big and airy rooms, a view of the lake, and is still cool from the winter. After a shower we felt like new! Almost.

(Still looking enviously at the automated foot massager, just down the hall — five minutes for two euros.)

If we do not make it to Santiago de Compostela by “legal” means … that is, if we fall out from injury or exhaustion … well, we will always have Day 1.



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