Tuesday, March 11, 2014: Our first day as a ‘team’ began with a typical pilgrim’s breakfast: huge croissants and café con leche. Despite only meeting the previous evening, the five of us quickly fell into a routine of sharing our meals, conferring over the route for the day, and snapping an endless amount of selfies.
I’ve never experienced fog quite like the fog I encountered in Galicia that morning. It was like a veil of thick pea soup had descended on us as we slowly made our way to Portomarín. I’ve also never walked through such lush greenery before (aside from being in the Amazon when I was a kid, but that happened a lifetime ago).
As it exits Sarria, the Camino takes you through a fairy tale setting of hills and forests, with expansive views of the green valleys below. We passed through medieval looking villages, hiked over small streams, followed the route along crumbling stone walls, and even shared the road with herds of cattle. If there’s one valuable lesson we learned that day, it was to look where you’re walking. Those gentle dairy cows leave a lot of shit in their wake.
After a few hours of hiking we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant overlooking a field. As I mentioned in a previous post, there were many points along the Camino where I found myself being comforted by animals. This day was no exception. As soon as we sat down at the outdoor tables, this guy popped up on the stone wall surrounding the grounds, made eye contact with me, sashayed his way to my table and proceeded to make my lap his bed as I drank my coffee.
I had such a hard time letting him go once we were ready to leave. As I stood up he clung to me, put his paws on my shoulder and nestled his head in my neck. I have no idea if he was a stray or someone’s pet, but this little guy offered me a much needed dose of unconditional love, comfort and attention. I had a lot weighing on my mind this day, and he provided me with a mental break. He’s like a purring guardian angel for troubled pilgrims.
After about six hours of hiking we eventually made it to the hill-top town of Portomarín. Before I had left for Spain I did a lot of reading and research on the route and towns I’d be passing through on my hike. Portomarín is one that always stuck with me.
I learned that the original town was built many centuries ago, next to a Roman bridge on the Miño River. However, back in the 1960s a dam was erected nearby, forcing the people of Portomarín to relocate to the hill overlooking their town. The oldest buildings were dissembled and rebuilt, brick by brick, in its new, current location. To reach the new town you now need to cross the Ponte de Miño, an impressive bridge that towers over the original Roman construction. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see the remains of the first town while it rests in its watery grave.
After crossing this bridge, and might I add after a full day’s hike, you still need to face this flight of stairs to get up to the town:
It’s the ultimate StairMaster. I was cussing and cursing the entire way up.
It takes a short walk through town to get to the hostel, and once we arrived we wanted nothing more than to hit the showers. We were in for a surprise, however: pilgrim’s hostels don’t have doors on their shower stalls. So if you’re modest, bring a big towel to drape over the stall frame. Or, if you’re like me (read: a chicken shit) and didn’t come prepared, pick the stall farthest away from the door and hug the wall of that stall like you’re clinging to a cliff face for dear life. These were some of the quickest showers of my life.
That evening we ate at a restaurant with a view of the Miño, and went to bed exhausted but satisfied. There were quite a few other pilgrims in the bunks that night, and as I fell asleep I knew with confidence that I was going to be able to finish the hike.
***I just need to give a quick shout out to my girls Christine and Johana as some of their photos of our hike were featured in this post, plus there’s a few more in posts still to come 🙂