June 12, 2011 Mercadoiro to Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Entry to Portomarin -- low water reveals older bridge into town.

Walked the 6.7 km to Portomarin and there saw Heidi, Beata and Joy of Australia. Went into church for sello when opened at 10:00 then stood with the three to visit and there had unusual experience of receiving sudden flood of unwelcome advice: “A Camelbak is no good, it gets dirty” (Beatta), “It holds too much water; you can die from drinking too much water” (Joy), “The pretty shell from your wife is too heavy to carry” (Joy), “You need to press the 4-leaf clover you were given or it will turn brown.”

I decided my response would be to receive last bit of advice, but in response to Joy give her a hug to let her know I loved her even though she was “having a bad day.” Couldn’t help but think that a trio of people such as this gave Shakespeare his idea for the three witches in Macbeth. Ah, after three caminos I’m becoming too proud.

Left Portomarin (and the three women) and walked with Jacqueline at Austrian pace straight to Palas de Rei. Found place at private albergue that was rabbit warren inside and headed to church for Pentecost evening mass. Agreed to meet Stefan of South Africa, also in town, for dinner and discussion. Dinner with Stefan and Jesús of Pamplona at restaurant above albergue. Great to see Stefan again and to enjoy his teasing and passion. Off to bed after texting Sebastian and Catia and Andreas and Luke/Rocky our whereabouts.

June 11, 2011 Samos to Mercadoiro

Jacqueline, a blur from behind, as I usually saw her. Walking the "Austrian pace."

Left the Samos monastery albergue and had toast for breakfast across the street. Then walked without yellow arrows from memory out of Samos. Somehow many of the directions from/to Samos have been intentionally obscured by someone. Met Oussie of Hungary at the option (i.e. the fork in the camino) and she suggested the longer route via woods and farms to Sarria. She gave a four-leaf clover she had found as remembrance. Very sweet girl; one of those camino people I wished I’d spent more time with.

I took her route and enjoyed the beauty of green. Many ups and downs, though. Then finally hit road to Sarria. Met the older Brazilian couple at coffee (remembered them from Foncebadon) who mentioned that Alexandre was behind them. Continued to Sarria and met mother/son duo — Deirdre and Patrick of Ireland. Patrick is moving to Seattle in October to work for Microsoft. Debating about living in Redmond, Bellevue, or Kirkland. Asked at albergue at top of stairs for cell phone store to recharge phone with money and waited at Movistar store for probably an hour during lunchtime to be helped. Put 30€ on the phone.

Left Sarria and walked with So. African man, part of a larger So. African group, to Barbadello where I was delighted to meet Jacqueline. Walked with her to Mercadoiro, just shy of Portomarin. Opted to stay at Mercadoiro for total kms of 32.5 that day. Nice dinner with Sven and Britta of Germany, then drinks with Heidi, Beata and a Dane. Lots of laughter, with Beata constantly apologizing for her German and me teasing Dane for actually being Dutch. This is a nice albergue, with a sort of ramshackle layout but rooms no larger than 5-6 beds, each room with stone walls.

August 22, 2008 Portomarín to Eirexe

Pressing on through her pain, Gail was now becoming a hero. While she walked and while she rested she thought through her own medical diagnosis of what was happening (she’s boarded as an internist as well as an anesthesiologist). Each step felt as though there was a rock between the bottom of her foot and her boot. The pain became excruciating and it was only later that she decided it was probably an less common form of plantar fasciitis in which the forward section of the plantar fascia is inflamed. Once again I offered a taxi for Gail. Once again she was insulted and refused. Bless her heart — she was going to brave out the entire walk!

On the other hand, I was in great shape and thoroughly enjoying each moment of this walk. It was an enormous gift, after all, the completion of a plan I’d had for years, one that had suffered a setback in June with my mother’s illness, but one that was day by day coming closer to fulfillment. We were just a few days outside Santiago now and I longed to visit this city on which I’d long set my sights.

The one thing the that was also clear, though, was that my secondary goal of walking to Finisterre would probably not happen. I’d arranged our flights for what I thought would be an adequate time to include a 3-day walk to Finisterre after Santiago, but I hadn’t taken into account what our actual pace would be. And recognizing the pain with which Gail was walking I felt a walk today to Ligonde/Eirexe would be about our limit. This would stretch our Santiago arrival date out far enough that we would miss the three days necessary to walk all the way to the coast. I was sad, but I also began to recognize that I might walk the camino again sometime in the future, in which case I would add Finisterre on at the end.

We left Portomarin sometime well after Christian, Carol and Jake. With a modest goal of 17 km I reasoned that we could sleep in and give Gail some time to rest. So we set off through the small farms and quiet towns in this stretch. Arriving in the late afternoon at Eirexe, a tiny settlement with only a cafe/bar and a restaurant with a small hotel above, I arranged a room in the hotel. We enjoyed a very quiet night in this fairly remote area, surrounded by the green of the nearby pastures and no road larger than the camino as it ambled along between the two buildings.

August 21, 2008 Sarria to Portomarín

By this time the effects of the walking were taking a toll on Gail and I was puzzled about why she wasn’t feeling stronger the farther we walked. Gail was complaining of extreme pain in her foot and she was walking very slowly with a barely noticeable limp. I offered to call a taxi and meet her at the next day’s goal, Portomarin, but Gail was insistent she would walk it — and a little insulted that I’d consider calling her a cab. We both recognized, too, that, if Gail didn’t walk the last 100 km from this point on, she would not qualify for the compostela, the completion certificate at the arrival to Santiago.

So we set off from Sarria, stopping regularly at sites along the way to take photos. Over the next km we saw a Dutch man whom we’d met climbing to O Cebreiro, and we spent a lot of time with Christian, an Austrian man who wanted to practice his English and who was delightful company. We also met an Austrian woman who spoke only German and her daughter who spoke English well. Also we met two young Swedish men who wanted to celebrate the birthday of one, so they’d bought two boxes of wine and were carrying them to share with pilgrims along the way.

I usually walked with Christian, pausing each time Gail was out of sight behind us and then allowing her to catch up. At one point just before Portomarin Christian and I were deep in conversation and missed a yellow arrow. Gail called to us from behind and let us know we’d missed the turn.

We walked down into the valley where the town of Portomarin had originally been — it had been moved in the 20th century when a dam had been built, creating a reservoir over the town’s ancient site. We crossed the new highway bridge high above the lake and climbed up into the new town on the hillside above, noting the Romanesque church that had been moved stone-by-stone from below to the new town. Gail sat on a bench in the square while I hunted with Christian for a hotel room. When we got to the room Gail collapsed on the bed. I told her to stay put and I would bring her dinner. I found a restaurant, explained in Spanish that I wanted a dinner to go, brought it to her, then returned to the restaurant for a meal with Christian, Jake and Carol who’d by now met each other. When I returned to our room Gail had fallen asleep with the dinner half finished beside her. I lay down next to her, hoping her camino would become more joyful in the days ahead, but thankful that we could be here together to experience these days of walking the Camino de Santiago.