July 22, 2010 A Laxe to Ponte Ulla

After my super long day yesterday I was certain today would be a total drag. I woke up with the kids from the van saying “good morning” to me to practice their English. I thanked one of their leaders once again for helping make a place for me at the albergue and he told me, in Spanish, that he could tell I really needed one. I asked him how he could tell and he pointed to his eyes and drew his fingers down his cheeks then pointed at me. I hadn’t realized I’d looked so desperate, or that my tears (ahem, watery eyes) had been obvious. Yes, I’d shed some tears, mostly after my place at the albergue was assured. I’ve learned about myself that after 25-26 miles of walking I tend to get weepy. Oh well.

Soon Artur hunted me down and after some vending machine coffee we set out. We would walk together all 26 kms to our evening destination of Ponte Ulla.

The walk was through farmlands as well as one small city — Silleda. Not much to say about the walk except that we met about 40 Spanish kids who’re walking together, and Artur told me his battle story.

I learned a few day’s ago that if I could find the right question I could get Artur talking for hours as we walked and that I was always entertained by what he had to say. So we  talked about women priests, Americans, CS Lewis, great military campaigns, transubstantiation, etc. We marveled at an enormous bridge being built in cantilever fashion out over the river valley whose original bridge had given the tiny town its name. Before I knew it we were in Ponte Ulla, our goal for the night. We found a hotel with very inexpensive rooms and the owner agreed to do our laundry!

Here with us in a simple pensione were an English/ Turkish father and daughter and Kjell and Oddbjorg of Norway. We had a cervesa together then dinner separately. Then off to bed for the remaining 20 kms to Santiago. I will arrive 2 days ahead of schedule after a great Via de la Plata.

Can’t believe this camino is just about over. I’ll see how I feel Sunday before making a decision about walking to Finisterre. I’m already feeling a good sense of accomplishment and am  not sure I want to fight the inevitable crowds going to Finisterre. But we’ll see.

July 21, 2010 Cea to Oseira to A Laxe

Had one of the toughest days yet. The day started at the delightful little town of Cea. I’d had dinner last night with Ramon and Magdalena, two funny Spaniards. Then an English speaking Spaniard wanted to have a beer. So I got back in to the albergue around 10:30 and settled down in my top bunk.

I slept fine, but as usual too short because of the mass exodus from the albergue at 05:30. I finally dragged myself out of bed at 06:30 and hit the road 1/2 hour later.

Sometime before Oseira I caught up with Kristina, an older Polish woman, and Francisco from Portugal. Although they don’t share a common language somehow they’re stuck together like glue. Francisco has what the Bible would call a “withered arm” which means that besides his arm being small and not useful he can’t carry a backpack. Instead he has a suitcase on wheels – which must be an enormous challenge in these very rough paths. I also soon met Pascal and two Italians. We arrived together at the incredible monastery of Oseira. I attended 10:30 prayer office with the monks and some of this gang. If I were a multimillionaire I would buy these monks a new pipe organ to replace their cheap electronic. Other than the odd sounds of their organ the service was very nice. it was held in the balcony of the beautiful monastery church. The service was a half hour in length and afterward BrotherThomas, who runs the gifts shop, gave me a tiny painting of the face of Jesus.

Kristina, Francisco and I soon took off for the day’s destination, Castro do Dozon, about 10 kms beyond the 9km we’d already walked. I soon left behind the two of them and got in my walking groove, with this stretch pretty deserted since it’s a longer option to go via the monastery from Cea.

After a bit I saw the two Germans ahead — the ones I’d seen at the albergue with their young child in a stroller. They were clearly struggling on the rough path with their baby, Jacob, and his stroller. I helped them through the worst of it but left thinking they’d made a huge mistake to try this with the baby.

Given the extra time for the monastery I arrived fairly late at the day’s goal, only to learn that the albergue at Castro Dozon was full. Next albergue: 19 kms away in A Laxe. So I set out at 15:00 to walk the extra miles for what I believed to be a total of 37kms.

As the distance dragged on I was clearly flirting with my endurance boundary. Every step was painful and the goal seemed only slowly to get closer. I stopped to rest every hour, then every half hour. As I approached the albergue a van full of kids pulled up – the same kids from Lasa with the small backpacks. I couldn’t believe it. They were going to beat me to the last bed at the albergue. Sure enough, I headed to the door and a sign was already posted, “Completo.” I was stunned. I asked the hospitalera if she had any beds at all. She said no, though there were beds another five kms away. I was desolate, and sat down in the lobby of the albergue with a look of profound sadness on my face (i.e. I was almost in tears). But as we were talking the kids and their leaders from the van were listening. They invited me to stay with them in a backroom with mats on the floor. I enthusiastically said yes and they showed me the room, laid out my mat, and put the sheet on one for me. Some of the kids tried out their English a little on me to be friendly. End result, they get Saint of the Day in my book. I had become something of a curiosity for them and perhaps also an opportunity to express their Christian charity.

Since it was already 8:30 and the doors lock at 22:00 I set down my stuff and walked the .5 km to the restaurant. As I was finishing, who should appear but Artur of Estonia who had arrived at the albergue some hours earlier and already had a bunk. We briefly chatted before I headed to the albergue for bed. The hospitalera insists that my mileage today was actually 42 kms, and I believe her. I think this ties for my longest camino day yet, and I now know my limit — about 40 km, thank you.

Tomorrow Artur and I will head out at a reasonable hour to Ponte Ulla, an 18 km walk. I’m two day’s ahead of plan so I need to cool my jets in order not to arrive too early in Santiago.