We left Trabadelo and walked along the Río Valcarce. It’s a beautiful river, not terribly wide, and very twisty. We must have crossed over it nine or ten times.
The countryside in that valley, and the villages we passed through, were very attractive. Of all the places in the world that I wouldn’t mind living, this valley has been added to the list. There was the river and trees and meadows, and in the villages there were large vegetable gardens. There were cats and cows and dogs and horses. It seemed a peaceful and beautiful place.
After we passed through the last lovely village, we left the road for a very muddy path that rose steeply into the hills. As we went on, the mud became interspersed with rocks, which made the going for me even slower. I sent Ian ahead to the albergue in La Faba to make sure we got beds, because they didn’t take reservations.
Throughout the day, so many people asked me if I was all right. When I was almost to La Faba, one man encouraged me by saying, “Just a little farther!” And I did make it. Finally.
The albergue did not serve food, so we went a short way up the street to a vegetarian restaurant where we had delicious crêpes. We also made reservations to have their communal dinner.
Communal dinners are always better than eating a pilgrim menu in a café because you get to socialize with pilgrims from all over the world. The conversation is funny and interesting, and the food is usually a lot better.
The next day, we started for O Cebreiro. The trail was more of the really steep rocky stuff. The difficulty of the trail was offset by the beauty of the surroundings: green and cool and leafy and quiet. A man and his two sons passed me struggling up the hill. They offered to carry my backpack for me and leave it at the top of the hill. I thanked them for their kindness and went on while they arranged things between themselves. They passed me a minute later, carrying a walking stick between them with my backpack hanging from it like a deer caught while hunting.
Half an hour later, I caught up with Ian, who was waiting for me. He said he’d seen my backpack go by. We found the backpack on the outskirts of O Cebreiro, not much later. They had left it hanging on a fence post with a note saying the owner was coming to get it.
In O Cebreiro, we saw the monument to Don Elias Sampedro, the modern-day restorer of the Camino. He passed away some time ago, but his legacy is celebrated every day by pilgrims who follow the yellow arrows along the Camino.
Then it was all downhill to Triacastela.
Our next goal was to reach San Mamede do Camiño, a small village before Sarria. We walked through a lot of shaded, wooded areas with many ferns and creepers. At times the path was muddy, and for a while we were walking through shallow rivulets that ran anyhow down the road. Ian said it felt like we were going through South American jungles.
Eventually, the forest gave way to farmland that was much less shaded, interspersed with the occasional small village.
The albergue in San Mamede, Paloma y Leña, was new and quiet and probably my favorite. Once again, we had a communal meal with 18 of us at the dinner table. There was lentil soup, salad, Spanish tortilla, really good vegetable quiche, bread, water or wine, tarta de Santiago, and fruit.
Ian sat next to a girl who is part of a group riding horses to Santiago. They started in Roncesvalles and do about 35 km a day. They ride six days and then give the horses a day of rest.
At breakfast the next morning, Ian made friends with the albergue cat. He thought it was a nice break to have the cat sit on his lap while looking out at the misty morning.
Back on the road, we crossed an old Roman bridge on the outskirts of Sarria. It fascinates me to see these old bridges and roads and churches and think of all the many people who have been there before, some of them more than a thousand years ago. For me, it’s a kind of time travel.
After passing through Sarria, we noticed a vast increase in the number of people on the trail. It stands to reason, though, since Sarria is the starting point for everyone who wants to do the minimum qualifying 100 km, which was apparently a lot of people.
When we got to Barbadelo, the first albergue we passed was full. We also saw a shop selling cheap trinkets and souvenirs, including an outfit of a brown robe, a wide-brimmed hat, and a staff so you could look just like a medieval pilgrim. From now on, we would have to focus more on the uplifting aspects of the Camino and ignore the plentiful crowds and commercialism.
We had heard about the possibility of rain at any time in Galicia, but so far, the weather had been fine. The next morning, though, there was heavy mist as we passed through more little forested areas and farmland and tiny villages. We heard cows and roosters and pigs and a very vocal donkey.
At one point, when Ian had gone on ahead, I was leaving a village by way of a narrow lane that went through pastureland, when I heard a woman shouting behind me. I looked back and saw her waving me over to one side of the lane to get out of the way of some cows she was driving. I plastered myself against an ivy-covered rock wall, and here came the cows – about fifty of them. It was sort of the opposite of running with the bulls: standing still with the cows. A little ways ahead, there was a gap in the stone wall leading to a pasture and she drove the cows in there.
As I walked on, I heard the sound of a bagpipe. At a wide spot in the lane, there was a Galician piper in traditional costume. Several pilgrims had stopped to listen to him, including Ian. It was fascinating to hear him play and reminded me that Galicia has its roots in Celtic culture.
We spent the night in Portomarín, a town on a hill above the Río Miño. The river is very wide here, having been dammed somewhere downstream. In fact, the original town of Portomarín is underwater. Some parts of it, like the old church, were moved up the hill stone by stone. The remains of the original town can be seen beneath the surface of the river when the water level is low enough, but it wasn’t low at all when we were there.
Our path the following day lead once again through fields and forest and farmland. We came to the site of a castrum on a nearby hill. The ruins there have been dated as being used by three different groups (Celts, Romans, and I don’t remember) between the 5th century BCE and the 1st century CE.
Later that day, as I was shuffling along the road, a woman came up and said she recognized how I was walking because she had tendinitis the first time she did the Camino. She said she did her first pilgrimage when she was 60 years old and at a low point in her life. She took 100 days to do it. Now she guides tours of the Camino. But, she said, speaking of things not working out the way we expect or want, we have to be humble and give up on perfection.
She gave me some homeopathic remedy which I rubbed on my legs. I appreciated her stopping and talking to me for a few minutes.
“I’ll send prayers for your legs,” she said.
We reached our albergue in Ventas de Narón. It was good to arrive and get some rest.
The next day our goal was Palas de Rei. There was a long downhill stretch. Ian had gone ahead and I was apparently struggling again, when two Spanish women came up behind me.
“How’s it going?” one said.
“So-so,” I responded.
“Do you need any help?”
“Hmm, I need a taxi.”
They laughed. I was gratified; I had been waiting to use that joke for two days.
Then they offered to carry my backpack down the hill. When we caught up with Ian, I thanked them for carrying my pack.
“That’s what the Camino is about,” said one of the ladies. “That’s the Camino. Thank you for letting us help.”
We ended our fourth week by stopping at the albergue Mesón de Benito in Palas de Rei. It was run by a very kind and funny man named Manuel. It also served the best arroz con leche for dessert, which I thought was a delicious end for the fourth week.