After leaving Palais del Rei it happened to be a Sunday and Sundays are different from the rest of the week on the Camino. Many of the services we rely on are closed on Sunday in this part of the country. So there won’t be two breakfasts for us today, no wonderful rest over café con leche and no socializing until we find an open cafe. When we finally find something open we ordered double of everything because we weren’t sure if this would be our last refreshments until supper.
Spain is beautiful and gritty all at the same time. The hills, farmlands and ancient forests are peaceful and spiritual but there is also inspirational pilgrim graffiti scrawled all over the place. Some pilgrims seem to really enjoy reading and photographing the various tags and motivational sayings but I prefer not seeing it. Call me old-fashioned or closed minded but it’s not my thing. My daughter loved reading all the messages so it might be a generational thing.
Many of the kilometer signposts are missing the actual plaque that lists the kilometers .to Santiago. To me this is vandalism and the person who removed the small plaque, possibly for a souvenir, is only hurting the local Camino Associations that have to raise money to replace it and all the pilgrims following the person who stole it.
Sundays also bring out multitudes of bike riders. They are everywhere and are speeding by us slow walking pilgrims. Some are just exercising on the hilly paths and some appear to be pilgrims because they are carrying a lot of gear. They are racing up and down the dirt Camino roads and I was terrified we would be hurt. When the bicyclists are out in full force us pilgrims have to remain alert or risk colliding with the bikers.
The wonderful old town of Portomarin is a joy to visit for a pilgrim. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants, discount and grocery stores and plenty of places to hang your laundry to dry. The town’s square includes the Church of San Juan, a building that is both a church and a small castle. This town is packed with road-weary pilgrims enjoying the fine outdoor cafes which surround the plaza. If I could have stayed for an extra night just to relax and soak in the Camino vibe I would but it was time to move on.
The next day was a blur. Pilgrims were everywhere on the trail, lots of small villages to walk through and unrelenting heat. Busloads of pilgrims from all over Europe, Asia, and South America were now on the way heading to Santiago. At one point we were walking with two young men from Korea when one mentioned they were from North Korea. What a wonderful experience for my daughter to realize that not everyone from North Korea hated Americans. They were wearing expensive Patagonia clothing so I assume they weren’t typical citizens from DPRK.
Hundreds of Spanish school children are now on the Camino on school field trips. They were singing songs, laughing and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. I felt sorry for my child because she clearly did not fit in but this was to be expected because she was walking with her mom and they were with their classmates. But she did not seem to mind and she received lots of second looks from the teenage boys but she was too young to notice.
We saw more than 1 family today pushing baby strollers up the steep hills and through the rocky paths. These baby stroller-pushing families should be awarded a medal, I know I would never be able to do it.
After about 7 hours of walking, we arrived at the town of Palas de Rei. After some searching, we realized our lodging was located directly over a noisy bar. In fact, I had to enter the bar to obtain the keys to our room. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the room was spotless with cute twin beds and extra soft blankets in the bureau but the windows opened into a nondescript courtyard. I ensured the door was locked at all times and since there was no lobby I was not 100% comfortable staying there with my daughter.
This town was my least favorite place on the Camino, but it could have been because we were now just plain tired and worn out. In my opinion, there was nothing exciting or interesting about this place and the highlight was watching the local children riding their skateboards in the towns’ square. The Camino route in Palas dd Rei is on a steep paved hill and although the population is 3,500 it seemed more industrial than rural to me.
We ate supper with an atheist Pilgrim we briefly met the night before. She was from the UK and she despised the United States, the United Kingdom, and all other wealthy nations. Her goal in life seemed to be lecture everyone she met and ensure they were as miserable as she was. At one point she told me her husband had left her and I have to admit I couldn’t blame him. I quickly realized I did not want to spend one more minute with her, so I bought her a glass of wine and made up a story about needed to go make a call and we parted ways.
After a long, peaceful week on the Camino we felt part of the Camino family. We knew what we were supposed to do and say to everyone, and most importantly what to expect each day. Get up, walk, eat and rest, nothing more, nothing less.
Once we arrived in Sarria, Spain the atmosphere quickly changed and the peaceful calm of the previous trail was gone. There were pilgrims everywhere and they looked clean and energized with their sparkling new clothes and equipment. Sarria, Spain is the starting points for most pilgrims walking the Camino because the final 100 kilometers it is the least distance you can walk and still qualify for a Compestela once you arrive in Santiago. It was exciting to see so many new faces and groups but I was a little melancholy that the experience as I had known it, was over.
We stayed in a new albergue called Albergue Puente Ribeira in Sarria, right on the canal that runs through the Camino area. We loved our albergue because it was near all the action including a street fair and many restaurants. Puente Ribeira is super clean, modern and had several washers and dryers so we were able to sanitize our disgusting clothes and towels. Here is the website and I do absolutely recommend this place.
My clothes were falling off me because I lost weight from the heat and longs hikes so we stop by the local Rhodani Sports Store and bought new trail pants and shirts. Yea! The store was well stocked and the prices were similar to REI or Dicks in the US but they did not have a lot or any XL women clothes so I bought men’s clothes. Here’s the website:
We enjoyed some seafood and rice at one of the many cafes along the canal and then retired to our much-loved room to prepare for the final 100 kilometers of our Camino.
The next morning, we departed our albergue and jumped right back on the Camino which was located behind our albergue. All the additional pilgrims ensured the peacefulness and serenity of our prior days had disappeared, but it wasn’t unexpected. We had been warned the most people start their Camino in Sarria and it was true.
We wandered through beautiful hills, forest, and some older farming villages. We peeked into some of the open barns to gaze at enormous cows and enjoyed listening to the roosters trying to wake everyone up. Although the Camino had now changed for us it was still a simple place.
This day was long but it was relatively flat. After lunch, I swore we had walked at least 30 miles but it was probably only about 15. Today’s endeavor just would not end. Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore we approached the River Mino and the Camino trail went over the bridge over the river. Portomarin was our final destination for the day and it was just on the other side of the bridge.
Walking over the bridge was the most frightened I was our entire time in Spain. It was built high above the water and the cars sped by us pilgrims. I thought for sure we were going to get hit and tossed straight down into the River Minho. Looking back at the pictures it doesn’t look so precipitous as I remember but I guarantee you if you are the least bit afraid of heights you will not like anything about this bridge. Funny, but my 12-year-old wasn’t concerned about the terrifying bridge in the least. She was singing along with her music and devoid of any fear. Silly girl.
After timidly crossing the bridge we then faced a steep set of stairs up into Portomarin.
Will we ever finish this ‘easy’ day?? The stairs were a beast but the view the entire up is stunning, so we took our time and just kept climbing. Unfortunately, after climbing the stairs and entering this charming town we discovered this town was built on a steep hill and the main church and our lodging were at the top of this hill. Somehow we made arrived at our Refugio and were happy with our accomplishments.
Portomarin was definitely one of our favorite places. The main plaza has great restaurants where pilgrims congregate to socialize and discuss the day’s events.