Thursday, July 2, 2015

Amigos on Camino -- Day 5 Portomarin to Ventas de Naron


Follow the Camino, our Camino travel agency,  had furnished us with daily walking notes which had brief descriptions of the route i.e. villages, points of interest, rest stops, etc.
The Amigos thus had a daily ritual at breakfast -- we'd read the  notes for the day to get an idea of the length and difficulty of the walk we were about to face.
Day 5's walking notes ominously mentioned lengthy uphill climbs through the course of a 12 kilometre walk.  
Time to talk like a drill sergeant  to the calf muscles and hamstrings ... "You can do this guys!"





To rejoin the Camino from Portomarin, we followed the main road out of town and descended to cross the Rio Mino via a different bridge from the one we had used to enter the town the day before.


This is the start of the uphill climb with a marker that states that we are just passing the 89 kilometre point.  Can you see how the road starts to climb just after the trees?  While this was not as steep or rocky as Day 3's climb (forever etched in my mind as "Spain's Revenge") it was challenging because of its length -- over two kilometres of steady and  ceaseless climbing.


 We finally got a break from walking uphill by leaving the forest and moving on to the dirt "sidewalk" right beside the national highway.  We would be meeting up with this cemented road throughout the course of today's walk.  I did not like walking by the national highway -- it felt artificial and completely off the Camino environment.




I did love walking through the forest paths.   The trees provided shade, the air was cool and fragrant and there was time for quiet reflection as I slowly made my way.




We passed through a picnic area where benches and tables were ready for pilgrims who wanted to stop and take a snack.  During today's walk, there were no cafes or albergues for a stretch of seven kilometres -- quite a distance to go without any reviving cup of hot cafe con leche.



We finally made it to Gonzar,  where there was an albergue -- ole'!  Since it was past noon when we straggled in, we had quite a filling meal.  Hamburguesa, huevos con jamon and yes, sausages too.  
We needed all that oil and grease to fuel us for the five more kilometres we had to go through.



We did a quick detour to check out Gonzar's church of Santa Maria but it was closed for the day.



Pilgrims leave many mementos on the Camino.  Some of them are just graffiti, some  are messages to friends e.g. "Hans, meet me in Palas do Rei!" and there are some that are so interesting you just have to stop and look.  This one was a heartfelt and sincere thank you letter to the Camino -- for blessings received.


Just a kilometre out of Gonzar we faced a straight and steep uphill climb through the village of Castromaior.  Just as we were about to walk up the incline, we saw this little arrow on the road, carefully made of stones,  pointing the way.  A sign from San Santiago to his Amigos -- vamos!



Midway up the steep road,  I looked back to see how far we had gone.  It had been a cloudy afternoon but at that moment I saw this giant hole in the clouds --  I half expected to hear a booming voice say "What are you doing, just standing there?! Walk!!!"




And so,  walk on we did.  Towards the top of the slope, we saw this sign written on the road -- "Animo" -- a perfect excuse to stop and take a celebratory photo for finishing this challenging stretch of the Camino.



Dark rain clouds had started to follow us -- and even the air smelled of impending rain.   Would we make it dry to Ventas de Naron?  We were back on the hated highway paths -- the only good thing about this was that it was level, and thus relatively easy to walk on.


Along the highway, some lovestruck peregrino had risked life and limb by spelling out, in almost same sized and same coloured stones the message  "Tina Te Amo".  I hope that a passing bus did not flatten him as he worked.


The end destination was near!  We passed the 78.5 marker along the town of Hospital da Cruz.  We  had merely  a kilometre and a half to go.


Raindrops started to fall and ponchos had to be taken out.  But one last group photo before we crossed the highway via the  overpass.
If you are interested in how this walk turned out -- the rain started to fall in earnest and we certainly got drenched -- just 300 meters from Ventas de Naron.
I like to think of it as a baptism of water and blessings from San Santiago!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Amigos de Santiago on Camino -- Day 4 Morgade to Portomarin

On our fourth day of the Camino, I felt that I had gotten into my natural groove of walking -- slow but very  steady.  After three days of daily 10 kilometre walks, I felt that my body had started to get used to this pace -- however it sometimes asked me "What, where are the malls? Why aren't we stopping to shop?"



But I did stop -- and quite frequently too.  I stopped to catch my breath (particularly when going uphill), I stopped to take a drink of water and yes, I most often stopped to take pictures -- of the scenery, but once in a while of myself.






Today's  walk would take us 10 kilometres, from Morgade to Portomarin.  We started by following  this winding country path that slowly and gently sloped uphill.  We saw another quaint stone chapel by the roadside but like some of the others I had seen, this was closed and seemed to have been unused for quite some time.  


I would have wanted a sello from this charming stone church surrounded by the village cemetery.  Checking my walking notes, this is probably the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Mirallos.






The gate was open so we walked through the cemetery, peering at and reading the names on the graves and the tombstones.



While the Camino is certainly vibrant and very much alive -- death is also present along the way.  Aside from the roadside cemeteries there are instances where I saw small memorials to people who had passed away.  I do not know  if they died doing the Camino or if a pilgrim  was walking in their memory.  
This cross was a shrine to a young man named Thomas whom someone must have loved very much.  Other pilgrims continue to keep this shrine alive by placing fresh leaves, flowers and even stones on the cross, in Thomas' memory.



You will never get lost along the Camino.  Aside from following other pilgrims, you will see these omnipresent yellow arrows which are found just about anywhere, even painted on stones on the ground.  They can be very useful particularly when you come to a junction.




We had started the day's walk at 99.5 at Morgade and at the hamlet of Pena dos Gorvos I stopped at the 96 km mark.  While we had walked more than 3 kilometres, there were still 7 kilometres to go.  Sometimes I try not to look at these markers -- on particularly challenging days, my body would sometimes scream at me "What?!  We aren't even halfway there yet!"




Thankfully,  we caught up with the rest of the Amigos when they stopped at this most welcoming little albergue in the village of Mercadoiro.  I  would have wanted to try  the hammock but another peregrino had beaten me to it.


The resident cat looked at us calmly and did not even  budge from his comfortable perch.


The view from this albergue was just gorgeous -- lots of trees, gently sloping green hills -- it was just so idyllic.  The cool breeze helped revive us all.



During the break, I took the chance to take a photo of my little "henro" or Japanese pilgrim on the low stone walls of the albergue.
I found him in a store in Mt. Koya - san , the most sacred mountain for Buddhists in Japan,  and had brought him along for company.  He dangled from my trekking pole, his little bell tinkling softly as I trudged along.   This Camino is as much his as it is mine.



The albergue served "real" food in this lovely al fresco setting --  and it was not limited to the usual bocadillo, empanada or chips.  We shared an order of chorizos al vinagre or chorizos cooked in vinegar.  With large chunks of bread to sop up the delicious tart sauce with, it was a most delicious mid-Camino snack!   Where was arroz when you wanted it?



 With the chorizos properly disposed of, it was time to move along.   Passing through another small village with old stone farmhouses, I was surprised to see this dog followed by a herd of cows, walking stolidly behind him.


While cows are fixtures along the Camino, this was the first time I saw them herded along by a dog.  This dog was just so smart -- he shepherded his flock through, passing by excited pilgrims, all snapping their cameras, without even a glance nor a woof.
He was so focused on his herd and ran from front to back, making sure not one cow was left behind.  He was truly an example of the "Good shepherd" taking care of his "flock". 



Uplifted by that little gift of "grace", my steps became lighter as the Camino continued through straight country roads.  We passed by scenic farms enclosed by low stone walls,  overgrown with weeds and wild flowers.


The Camino gently wound its way through meadows and grasslands.  Farm houses were few and far in between.  Most of the day, I walked without seeing any one other than fellow pilgrims.
And since I walked so slow,  we would just exchange a "Buen camino" before they quickly disappeared from my view.



We finally came to this wide open field where we could see Portomarin in the horizon.  So near yet still so far.



It was a long and steep downhill descent until we finally caught sight of the bridge leading to Portomarin.


The approach to the bridge is well signposted.  Arrows point to Portomarin,  an important stop along  the Camino de Santiago.


The bridge into town is long, wide and high above the river.  It was a pleasant walk from end to end - the Rio Mino flowed green and clean below us.


At the end of the bridge is a tall stairway that was part of the original medieval bridge that used to cross the river.  The Portomarin we see today is a relatively new town as the old one was submerged under water when the Rio Mino Dam was created in 1962.
Everyone had to move to higher ground and all the old houses and buildings were completely submerged.


While one can go to the centre of town using the roadway, it is traditional for pilgrims to climb these steep steps called the Stairs of the Lady of the Snows.   The view from the top is exhilarating -- specially as it signals that we have all arrived safe and the day's walk is done.



This is the ancient church of Portomarin, the Iglesia de San Nicolas. It is one of the most unique churches I have seen -- appealing in its compact simplicity.
This church is the original structure, dating back to the 12th century.   Each piece of brick and stone was painstakingly and lovingly taken apart and rebuilt on this spot, when they submerged the old town in 1962.


Later on we would have the chance to hear mass at this church.  But for now, it was time for the Amigos to again celebrate the end of another day's walk.


There was a platter of pulpo Gallega to be shared with the Amigos and just for me, an ice cold bottle of cerveza Mahou.    Vale'!  I am ready for Day 5!




Friday, June 26, 2015

Amigos de Santiago on Camino -- Day 3 Sarria to Morgade


Day 3 of our Camino happened on June 12, coincidentally Philippine Independence Day.  It seemed both ironic and appropriate to commemorate it in the (ex) Motherland.



To rub salt into the wound, the Amigos were all dressed up in our Visit Philippines Year t-shirts (given by my kind clients at the Tourism Promotions Board).  With the vivid colours of the Philippine flag, we all shouted "Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!"


Not content with that, how about a selfie for these indios Amigos.  To make it even more significant, we had our American Amigo raise the (selfie) stick to take the photo.  Take that, (ex) Mother Spain!



Picture taking done, we started the walk out of Sarria, passing by these murals depicting scenes from the Camino.  Sarria is a crucial leg of the Camino as it the starting point for the minimum distance you need to walk to be able to qualify for your Compostela.  It is about 112 km from Santiago.



The Atenean Amigos saw this sign for a Cafe Ateneo across the street and just had to stop for a photo.


We passed through the still quiet streets of Sarria, going through narrow uphill roads lined with stone houses, most of which catered to the pilgrim trade -- there were albergues, pensiones, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops ... but there was no time to stop, we were barely in to the first few hundred meters of today's walk.


I should have seen the continuous uphill climb out of Sarria as a foretaste of things to come.



The winding road levelled out at the top of the hill where this stone tablet marked a look out point. 


We got a wonderful view of Sarria from this vantage point.


When you do the Camino, do not miss the Convent of La Magdalena, which you see just as you leave Sarria.   It dates back from the 13th century and now houses the Order of Mercedarians.
It's a good place to stop and get a sello, just ring the monastery bell and the kind monk will open the massive doors and let you in. There's even a small store where you can buy Camino souvenirs (yes, trust me, the Amigos did some shopping).



The Camino then took us down past the town cemetery and a little bit further away from the  bottom of the hill was this lovely Romanesque bridge that spanned a small stream -- of course no one could resist such a photogenic spot.



But now... aha!  (ex) Mother Spain had something up her sleeve for the Amigos.  
After silently witnessing that earlier bit of flag waving and "mabuhay" yelling, she got back at us by serving up the hardest uphill climb I had ever faced.  
It may look innocent in the photo above but trust me, I was just too dazed  to take any photos on the climb up.  The steep path, uneven because of rocks and loose gravel was just a few hundred meters long but it certainly felt like it went on forever and ever.  I had to step very carefully and make my way slowly lest I trip and fall.



My leg muscles and I were shaking with relief when we finally got to the top.  This serene wooded path greeted us, signalling no more climbs ... at least for now. 



After that horrendous trudge up the slope, we were back on even and level paths.  Low stone walls overgrown with moss and these pretty little flowers took my mind off the discomfort that the climb had subjected me to. 



As I would continue to see in the following days - the Camino provides an abundance of mixed experiences -- after a bout of tiring physical challenges,  moments of beauty and quiet grace would follow that would thoroughly cleanse and refresh both body and soul.




The Camino asks that you stop, look up and around and enjoy your lovely surroundings.
There are many unique and interesting structures that mark the Galician part of the Camino.  
This is a horreo or a storage facility for grain.  Usually they are marked with a cross on top.  
While I saw some that looked really old,  I did note that many new homes now have replicas of horreos in their front yard.


Just 4 kilometres into today's 11.5 km walk, we passed by this old Romanesque church in quiet and sleepy little Barbadelo.  This church dates back to the late 12th century and is built along austere and simple lines.


The Amigos were fortunate that the church was open when we passed by so we were able to get our sellos.  The church is dedicated to San Santiago -- you can see him, in pilgrim garb on the left side of the altar.  Again, I saw this as his sign of his comradeship with his Amigos.


Like most churches we passed, Santiago de Barbadelo is surrounded by a cemetery.  These stone crosses have borne witness to the cycle of life and death in this ancient Galician village.


After Barbadelo, we walked through more country paths,  passing through small villages and utterly deserted but charming walkways such as these broad stones that crossed a small creek.  
The thought of taking off my socks and letting my feet relax in the cold water did cross my mind.


Our goal for today was Morgade which at this point was still a good five kilometres away.  


To keep ourselves  from giving in to tiredness and fatigue -- we would break into song but somehow we could never go beyond just a few stanzas of the lyrics.


The Camino marker states that we are at the 102 km point -- Morgade was at 99.5.
We were just 2.5 kilometres away!


Aside from Day 3 being Philippine Independence Day, it was also a Friday and the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  We saw the 100 km Camino marker where someone had carefully placed a photo of the Sacred Heart of Jesus amidst some stones and pink flowers.
O sacred Heart, O love divine -- keep your Amigos close to thee!



We got a much needed second wind of strength and finally reached the end of our 11.5 kilometre walk.  Casa Morgade, a converted stone house was our end point.  They serve food, drinks and snacks to tired and hungry pilgrims.  We definitely qualified on both counts.


I was too tired to eat but not too tired to savour a cold glass of Mahou draft beer -- along with a small packet of chips, it was fortifying after that long walk.   Salud to the end of  day 3 of our Camino!