September 20, 2004
First first first of all we arrived today in Santiago. The last couple of days have been the biggest push with over 20K a day and sore feet/ankles as a result. But the first glimpse of the amazing-gorgeous cathedral, seeing the saint's remains and getting our Compostelas was more than worth the pain.
Back a little more to Gonzar - mostly because it underlines one cool point about these refugios. Though they're usually pretty dirty, there are mosquitos and flies (no screens on the windows and we've been near farms and cattle the whole camino), there's rarely hot water, and conditions are cramped - there's a real community feel to the place. When we were doing laundry things kept falling off the line due to the strong winds but whoever was nearby would pick the item up and put it back on the line. People all talk to each other - not knowing spanish well puts us at a disadvantage for longer conversations with most of the other peregrinos but there's usually still something. Whether it is trading of remedies for sore tired feet and legs, and just a sense of doing all of this together within our separate groups. Its really wonderful.
We've been steadily increasing our walking distances, started off with 13K for the day and are doing over 20 by the end. And before any of you say it doesn't sound like a lot remember that all walking has to be done by 1 at the latest if you want to make sure to get a bed at the albergue and that we've got backpacks on. Mine weighs less than 20 pounds but its still something especially with all the valleys we've been walking through.
Left Gonzar early to start out to Palas de Rei. More hills and fields but getting drier with yellow grass and pines along with what was before.
We got into Palas de Rei in the early afternoon and snagged the last three beds in one room (requisite tile floors but near the large windows overlooking the square. Alas it was a room full of abuelos (grandfathers) who were first scandalized that we wanted to stay in the room with them, and then completely horrified that one of us would have a bed that was next to a man (the bunk beds don´t have dividers between them but we're all sleeping in sleeping bags so its not as salacious as it seems). There was much discussion in Spanish as they tried to figure out a solution that saved things (our reputations? our souls?) We ended up with me on the top bunk across the room and SS the SS and Thali sharing a bottom bunk.
But that wasn't it for us with father figures - we'd decided that instead of staying at the albergue at out next stop we wanted to stay at a hotel. Looking at the guidebooks we found a listing for a hotel in Boente but no phone number. So we went to the bar and asked the owner if he had a phone book but since the town was in a different province than the one we were in he didn't but at this point he became concerned that we stay in a good place so took charge. He called information and got the number for the hotel in Boente and then said no he wasn't going to call that and that we should stay elsewhere that there was nowhere to stay in that town. We tried to explain that yes there was the guidebook said so and he even had the number written down in front of him but he was adamant immovable that we could not stay there - it was a deadly combination of father figure and machismo. Finally we said fine we'd stay in Melide and he calmed down, found us a hotel, a nice girl from the bar called and made our reservation and we snagged a good deal (about 35 Euros - the Spanish girl vs. English speaker price).
Dinner was similar guiding niceness - we never seem to bring the damn phrasebook with us to restaurants so its always a bit of a mystery what´ll show up on the plate for dinner. But the waitress drew some photos on the tablecloth and even posed in some goofy photos with us at the end of the meal. Palas de Rei also turned out to be the town that time forgot in terms of prices for goods. While things in Spain have been pretty cheap compared to Europe in general Palas de Rei was insanely so. We stocked up on as much trail food (water, fruit, nuts) as we could carry.
Then it was another night of restless sleep - the man on the bunk next to mine snored like an I don't know what (Thali said that even across the room with earplugs in she could hear him and I spent most of the night thinking of ways to wake him up without having to touch him). Got up early (with everyone rustling about there's no other time to get up) grabbed some coffee and started the walk to Melide.
Since we had until 4 to check into the hotel in Melide it was a slower walk. Lots of hills and fields, as usual. Stopped in one of the local churches to take a look and get a sello (the stamp you get in your credencial) and were treated to a long lecture on a Christ image in the church, served up in rapid fire Spanish that I only partly got. For those kinds of things smile and nod still seems like the best bet.
Getting into Melide and checking into the hotel was like a revelation. No bunkbeds, a room for ourselves, television - we watched BBC for a while and reveled in the the English after being in a sea of Spanish/Euskera/Gallego. Walked around the town for a while which was really beautiful. An amazing church with the usual round of gold plated creches, ornate decorated saint statues, and quiet calm. Sat down and had a cafe and watched the town - this was one of the few towns we've stopped at that pilgrims didn't overwhelm the rest of the town so we got to see average people just getting normal chores done.
Adapting to the spanish schedule has been hard (siesta, late nights), adding the peregrino one is just another layer. Up early, walk all morning, stop around noon, check into the albergue, claim a bed, do laundry, fight off going to sleep, have some lunch, mill around, think about having a coffee, mill around some more, go to sleep. Life has been reduced to basic needs - some food sleep, staying in good enough physical condition to keep walking. Its soothing.
Left Melide as early as we could drag ourselves out of the loooovely hotel beds, grabbed some churros on the way out of town and hightailed it to Arzua our next stop. We wanted to get there early since the next albergue after it was several kilometers past and so if we couldn't snag a bed in Arzua we'd be in trouble. The day was a not great one for hiking - a mist that turned to a slow coldish rain.
We got into Arzua at well before 1 (when the albergues open), stuck our backpacks in the queue and just sat on the curb in the light rain, later moving to put our ponchos as much over our bags as possible (though with all my clothes in ziploc bags my things stayed dry, if wrinkly).
Should get going here - Santiago is beautiful and interesting and there's much to do (a couple days here, the cross country train ride, half a day in Bilbao and then back to DC). Will try to finish up before I head back. Much love to all!
all text, images (except those noted) copyright 2002-2010 Moryma Aydelott.