The Road to Santiago.

November 11, 2002

Plaza Mayor, Portomarin.
Plaza Mayor, Portomarin

Portomarín to Palas de Rei

It was a bad night! I didn't sleep very well. My alarm went off at seven but I hit the snooze button and rolled over to try and get more rest. Soon, the activity of other pilgrims and the sound of zippers made it impossible to sleep so I reluctantly rolled out of bed. I acknowledged the others with an insincere, "¡Buenos dias!" (Good morning!)

Somebody asked if I had slept well and I answered in the negative. At this point, one Frenchman, who had lived in New York, said that he knew many Americanos but none who snored like el hombre de Boston (the man from Boston). The others all laughed in agreement. Christoph said, "No, it wasn't bad," because another Frenchman (why is it always the French?) would make clicking sounds whenever I started to snore and I would stop. I would stop? Of course I would stop! I would be awake! Not bad for them, but ¡muy terrible para mi!  (very bad for me!).

I wasn't the only one not feeling so good. Fiona, the English woman, had been battling some sort of virus and was still feeling queasy. I gave her one of my envelopes of a cold-prevention concoction. I figured, since it had a mixture of vitamins and minerals, it might help prevent dehydration.

It was raining when I left the albergue, so I went to find coffee and ended up at the same place I had dinner the previous night. The same man who served me at 9:00 p.m. was waiting on me at 9:00 a.m. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me. After awhile the rain let up and I decided that it was a good time to leave. I threw the pack on my back and said goodbye to everyone and left. In the street, I stopped to adjust my pack when I heard the man call out to me. It seems that I had forgotten to pay my bill — tengo vergüenza. (I'm embarrassed.)

As I walked down the main street to the camino, I caught up with Eduardo, my dinner companion from the night before. We found the flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) and started on the walk again. Suddenly, my heart sank. The camino went back across the river. This time it didn't go along the big bridge which had terrorized me so much yesterday afternoon. Instead, it went over a pedestrian bridge, which terrorized me even more! It was only a yard wide with handrails at waist level. But worse, the bridge surface consisted of metal plates, some of which were loose. I was convinced that it was designed for the average Spaniard, not some Yankee caballo (Yankee horse). I had images of plunging 90 feet to a watery grave — talk about your visualization!  
While walking with Eduardo, I found out why he was so proficient in English. He was an English teacher on sabbatical. It was enjoyable talking to him because I could ask him about the subtleties of the Spanish language that you don't find in the dictionary or textbooks. I am able to read newspapers, magazines, and Spanish translations of English/American novels. However, reading works by Spanish-speaking authors is more difficult because I don't know the cultural subtext and underlying imagery that enhances the meaning of the written word. Eduardo said he understood and had similar problems with English. However, I came to the conclusion that he had a very good concept of English language literature.

Before long, we were heading up the side of a hill. It's hard to maintain an active conversation while huffing and puffing from exertion, so we fell silent. I could sense that Eduardo was hanging back to enable me to keep up with him. I then stopped and told him that because of my heavy pack, going up an incline slows me down and that he needn't wait for me. He thanked me and picked up his pace. Just another example of Spanish courtesy.

Clay pit.
Clay pit

At the top of the hill, the camino intersected with the highway and went parallel to it for some distance. Soon I came upon a giant pit where clay was mined. The dirt was bright, brick red, an unusual sight. Approximately a kilometer further, I passed a ceramic factory that made bricks and roof tiles. Brick is one of the most common building materials in modern Spain, even used in single family houses. But you don't generally see the brick facing. This is because the bricks are covered with stucco. The bricks are not like ours. First of all, they're not solid, but rather fluted to reduce weight. Also, the brick's surface is grooved so that stucco might be applied to it. Thus, the most common look of houses in this area is white sides with red tile roofs.

Later the trail separated from the highway and wound up over a gently rolling landscape. The variation of terrain, interspersed with numerous little villages, made it a pleasant journey. I stopped and had lunch around 1:30. It consisted of a Galician soup followed by a beef stew. My blood tested low at 77, but since the meal included bread and potatoes, followed by a dessert of ice cream, I took eight units of Humalog insulin. I tarried awhile, reading the newspaper and catching up on the news about Iraq. I got back on the camino about 2:30.  

About 4:00, I stopped at a bar to get a cold drink. Inside were Christine and the French-Canadian woman with whom I had talked at O Cebreiro — the one who had had to walk in the dark. I asked them how far it was to Palas del Rei, which was my goal for the day. They couldn't agree as to whether it was 8 K or 9 K. Either way, it was at least 2 more hours of travel time. Every day the sun was going down earlier and earlier and I didn't want to get caught out on the trail after dark. So I started back on the camino and tried to pick up the pace.

I was making good time, averaging about 4 K an hour. Even though the weather was cool, I began perspiring quite a bit. Was I just hot or was I beginning to go hypo? Eventually I realized that I was weaving back and forth along the road while I was going uphill. If someone didn't know me they would think that I was drunk. Not having had a drink for several hours, I knew the truth — I was going hypo. I didn't want to take the time to stop and test my blood, but I could tell that I was pushing the envelope. So, as I was staggering up the road, I was nibbling pieces of chocolate. After having eaten a half of one of those large chocolate bars, I began to straighten out and also stopped sweating. As the sugar began to kick in, I was determined to reach Palas del Rei by 6:00 p.m..

At the outskirts of the city, high on the hill, I saw two windmills of the type that are common in the Midwest. Such windmills are used to pump water for cattle. Well, these windmills were pumping water, but for people not cattle. At the well head was a public water fountain, while further down the hill was a sports complex complete with soccer fields, handball courts, and a gymnasium. I'm pretty sure that these two wells were supplying the entire complex and perhaps some of the city's water needs.

The sun was beginning to set as I was entering Palas del Rei. I heard the church bells chime but was confused. It couldn't be six yet. I tried counting the number of rings, but couldn't determine the time — it seemed like a series of single strokes. Before long I realized what was going on. It was a funeral procession. The street was full of people slowly walking behind a hearse toward a cemetery. I just stood there with my hat off and waited for everyone to pass. Somehow the urgency I had felt earlier was gone.

I got to the albergue about 7 o'clock. When I checked in, I tried to negotiate a room by myself and explained that, "Soy un roncador." My appeal fell on deaf ears because I was told that I had to choose from one of three rooms. As I entered the first two I could see the faces of the occupants and I knew that they were praying that I wouldn't choose that room. The third room had Mikel and he was used to me. Besides, he had a pair of ear plugs. The two young Swiss girls with the piercings just smiled at me as I picked out my bunk. They obviously didn't have a clue.

Later that night I found a tienda (store) where I bought some oranges and chocolate in case I went hypo. I then found a farmacia (pharmacy) where I bought a pair of ear plugs. I wasn't about to lose another night's sleep!
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