We have now been on our pilgrimage for five full weeks. The time has flown by and we are now only a few days away from Santiago. It is hard for us to grasp that this will all be over soon.
For the past two days we have been hiking through beautiful rolling countryside and passing through a string of small farming hamlets – often right past small family farms redolent with the wafting odors you would expect from stables housing cows. We have seen many small herds being shepherded by the owners and the working dogs – usually German Shepherds – that are ubiquitous in this role. While we were warned about these country dogs, my experience has been to find them either not interested in us or actually quite friendly.
We have also had rain for the past two days. Yesterday the rain was fairly light but it lasted almost until 2 o’clock. Today the rain let up just before noon, but it was quite heavy at times. But, with the proper rain gear, it’s not all that bad walking while wet. And, in spite of the rain and the wafting odors, the scenery continues to deliver the most delightful vistas so far on our pilgrimage.
Our destination for yesterday was the medieval city of Sarria. Since this is the last major pilgrim-oriented city before the magical 100 kilometer marker required for pilgrims to earn their Compostela certificate, many new pilgrims have joined us on the Camino and there were many more albergues available in this town. I was actually expecting many more new pilgrims than we finally saw, which is a blessing in itself. And the remaining towns should have many more available beds, designed to handle the added pilgrim traffic especially during the peak summer months.
Sarria had beds for a couple hundred pilgrims distributed among about 10 separate albergues. We decided to pass by most of the more commercial albergues in the center of town favor of an albergue located on the far side of town which was associated with a convent – the Mosteiro de Madalena. It had 90 beds available and we felt it would not be full up (“completo”.) Well, it turns out that only 6 pilgrims (ourselves included) spent the night in this modern, beautifully outfitted albergue and we had the place to ourselves. What a treat! We also had dinner at a recommended Italian restaurant which was a nice break from the Spanish cuisine we have been eating for weeks. There is nothing wrong with the Spanish cuisine. It’s just that the 10 euro pilgrim menus that we order from all seem to have the same 4 or 5 dishes available for pilgrims and it gets a bit repetitive. This was a nice change of pace. And the house made sangria was absolutely delicious.
Today we continued on to the town of Portomarin. The way passed through many more small farming hamlets and followed country tracks through the woods and besides intensely green pastures. At the entrance to the town we were greeted with yet another steep set of steps (46 according to Clint’s reckoning) – a fine welcome to this wet and rainy town! We saw many of the new pilgrims but also saw the familiar faces of many of the hiking partners we have been traveling with for the past few weeks. Our cadre of friends has been anything but static. New friends sync up their hiking with us for a while while others drift away to follow their own ways, mostly due to differences in walking paces and distances walked each day. But, it has been fun to see the same people and commiserate with them since they are in the same boat we find ourselves in. For instance, at dinner last night we saw no less than five couples that have been hiking with us. And all of them came over to visit with us for a while. It is a wonderful small family. Tomorrow we continue on toward Santiago. The forecast is for clear skies and we are hoping for the best.