The Road to Santiago.

November 10, 2002

A bridge too high.
A bridge too high

Sarria to Portomarin

In the morning, I woke up feeling great. I had gotten a good night's sleep due to the fact that I had been in a small room all by myself. My good fortune was due to a thoughtful hospitalera. As I checked into the albergue, I asked her, "¿Tiene una cama lejos las otras? Soy un roncador. ¡La gente no le gusta a me!" (Do you have a bed far from the others? I'm a snorer. The other people don't like me.) She showed me to a small room on the ground floor that was used for sick or invalid pilgrims. If such a person didn't appear by 7:30, I could use the room. Not only was it isolated, from the others, but also it was well heated.

Since I had had a good sleep, I decided to get an early start. This meant not waiting for breakfast spots to open up. As I started to leave, I was joined by Mikel, the man I had walked with into Ponferrada. As we went along, I learned that Mikel had walked the camino before, back in 1999. He said that there were many pilgrims walking then since it was un año Jacobeo (a year when the Saint's celebratory day, July 25, occurs on a Sunday) and that it was often difficult to find rooms in the albergues. I wouldn't want to be on the camino with so many people because part of the attraction for me is the chance to get away from crowds and to be alone with my own thoughts.

After about three hours we came to a small bar/restaurant which was open. We went in for coffee and perhaps breakfast. The waitress was no muy amable (not very pleasant) and obviously not happy about working on a Sunday. We didn't even bother to order breakfast. After a cup of coffee and a cigarette (for Mikel-not me!), we were on our way. As we came out of the restaurant, we met two men and a woman who were walking together. The woman, Fiona, was from England, while the men were Spanish. One, Eduardo, was from Bilbao in the North, while the other, Rafael, was from Valencia on the East coast. Rafael was pushing his bicycle. When I asked what was wrong with the bike, he said nada (nothing). At that point, I realized that he was walking for the company — feminine company!

Ever since I entered Galicia, there have been hitos (milestones or kilostones??) every 500 meters, each inscribed with the remaining distance to Santiago. Ten kilometers before Portomarín, we came across one that I felt was worthy of a photo — 100 K. At 25 K per day, that meant I was four days away from Santiago. It is mind boggling to think that the same distance would take only an hour and a half by car!

Eduardo at 100K.
Eduardo at 100K
About 4:00 p.m., I spotted the whitewashed town of Portomarín. It was on the hill on the opposite side of the valley. I groaned because it meant that I would have to climb another hill. Then I spotted a bridge and felt relieved. Beneath the bridge was an embalsa (dam) which created a large lake that filled part of the valley. As I crossed the bridge, I made the mistake of looking down. It had to be at least 90 feet down!! My vertigo started to kick in. I turned to head back when I saw Eduardo, Fiona, and Rafael coming down the slope. I couldn't let them see me like this, so I turned back, stared straight ahead, and walked briskly forward.

When I got to the other side, I came to a steep set of stairs that had three tiers up to the town. Is my fate in life to always climb upwards?
Iglesia de San Nicolas
Portomarín is an interesting town because it consists of almost all new buildings. But the plaza mayor (main square) and the iglesia (church) are medieval. How can that be explained? Well, the old town of Portomarín is under the lake down in the valley. But before the dam was completed in 1966, the façades of the major buildings around the plaza were saved and transported to the present locale. Even more amazing, the entire Iglesia de St. Nicolas was disassembled, stone by stone, and reconstructed at one corner of the plaza. You can still see the individual numbers on each stone.
Stone by stone.
Stone by stone
In the early evening I found a bar that had Internet connections. I read my email and answered some of the more urgent ones. Later I had a glass of wine with Christine, the French woman. I decided that the bar wasn't the type of place that would have good food, so I left to look for another place for dinner. I asked Christine if she wanted to join me, but she politely declined citing other plans. I found a bar that posted a pilgrim's menu. As I entered the dining room, I saw Eduardo sitting by himself and he invited me to join him. We had a pleasant meal and talked about the types of cuisine found in various regions of Spain. I mentioned that I enjoyed the torta de Santiago (almond cake) which was famous in Galicia. The waiter then informed me that almost all tortas de Santiago sold in Spain were made right there in Portomarín.

After dinner, Eduardo wanted to find a bar with a TV. He was a soccer fanatic and his team, Bilbao, was playing that night. When I got back to the albergue, I found a small group sitting around the dining room table drinking wine. Not wanting to appear unsociable I joined them for a few glasses. Somehow the discussion got around to the United States and the various cities that the others knew about. They were surprised to learn that I had once spent some time in San Francisco. I mentioned that I was an aging hippie. This thought seemed to amuse them. Suddenly a joint appeared from somewhere and started to circulate around the table. I took the obligatory hit and passed it on. From then on I declined, using my various medicines as an excuse. The real reason that I abstained was that I didn't want to get stoned with strangers, in a strange place, and, most importantly, in a strange country. I went to bed with a clear head — I must be getting old!
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