Sarria, Portomarin, Sarria, Lugos
I was so tired that I slept well, but Iris didn’t sleep at all because of the snorers. She eventually left the dorm and went to sleep on a bench in the dinning area, but didn’t get any sleep there, either.
Everyone was up and packing before dawn. Looking back I know why, but at the time I thought, “This is crazy. What happened to sleep? What happened to ‘this is not a race?”
Iris and I talked about whether we should go on. She was in very bad pain. She wanted to go on to the next (very small) town, hoping to find a female GYN physician there who spoke English. If she gets to the next town early, finds the right physician, she can get her GYN at home on the phone with this physician and order a urine test to see if she has a kidney stone.
I thought, “What sense does this make?”
Sarria was a town small enough not to have direct bus service from anywhere but it did have a hospital. The next town of any size, but much smaller than Sarria, is Portomarin. Portomarin is 23 kilometers away. This is further than we had ever walked in one day, and Iris was already in great pain. If she made it, there was very little likelihood of her finding any doctor in the town, much less a female GYN who could speak English.
She was talking about getting her physician, back home, on the phone. Under normal circumstances at home she could not ever get him on the phone. Why does she think that today will be different? Furthermore, the likelihood of Iris having kidney stones was slim and irrelevant. If she found out that she did have kidney stones I didn’t know what she was going to do about them.
This all seemed to me to be some contrived fantasy world that I could not subscribe to. Yet, I was powerless to do anything except follow Iris on this Quixotic quest.
We started. After a block we found an open grocery and stopped to get food. Then we hiked uphill out of the town.
Along this road we could tell something was different. This was a different Camino de Santiago than we had been hiking.
There were crowds. Large crowds.
The road sloped uphill out of the town and then down into a valley, along a wooded area and a stream through a set of overpasses where the highway left town. Along the way there were people, groups of people, walking behind us and in front of us. We were used to having the trail to ourselves especially in the morning because we left so much later then everyone else. Hikers from the other albergues would not catch up and pass us until mid-morning. But now there were groups of people walking together.
There were youth groups and elderly groups. There were people walking alone, and in pairs. They were thin and they were overweight. There had hardly been any overweight people along the trail – none at all, until now. Most of these people had daypacks, not the fully loaded burdens that we had or were used to seeing on the trail. Where were all of these people from? Where were they going?
The trail followed farm roads through wooded areas. Every kilometer or two there was a little hamlet with an albergue. We stopped at a café and mini-mart crowded with pilgrims and tour busses about mid-morning and used the bathroom and bought some groceries. Pilgrims were sitting around talking and eating breakfast. Where were they from? Did they walk here or get here on a tour bus? It did not look like the sort of place that a tour bus would take you.
Some of the trails were so crowded that we had to go single file in a line of hikers. There were two detours, one by a road and one through the woods. Both were due to construction work on a couple of bridges. We passed and ancient stone trail marker indicating the distance left to Santiago – 100 kilometers.
Resting places, cafes, bars, and coin operated vending areas were frequent on this part of the trail. And there were tour busses at many of them apparently letting pilgrims disembark to get their credentials stamped or perhaps letting them off to hike a ways and then picking them up again.
Iris was not in a good mood because of lack of sleep and pain. She was seriously upset at the tour busses and the day hikers. These “cheating” pilgrims were going to get the same certificate as she was and she did not like it.
She was even more upset that I was not offended at this injustice. I said that I didn’t care what other people were doing. I was only interested in what I was doing. If the world wanted to reward these “cheater” pilgrims, I could not do anything about that. I wasn’t doing this for a certificate anyway. She was furious at my apparent lack of agreement with her opinion and would not even speak to me for a while.
Portomarin was marked on our chart as 23 kilometers from Sarria but the trail markings put it at 29 kilometers so there was some discrepancy. Iris was in pain and expecting to get help in Portomarin. As a result, long after we thought we would be there we were still hiking.
The trail was long and hot. Poromarin was not where we expected it to be and the two detours that we had taken extended our walk probably by 4 to 6 kilometers.
There was some hard up and down hills and our backpacks felt heavier all the time.
There were tour busses and lots of bikers. Day hikers were strolling and laughing. The scenery was beautiful: rustic farms and fields and woods.
We were very tired. Iris’ mood was very ugly and she refused to speak with me and refused to walk with me. She kept telling me to move on ahead of her but I didn’t want to let her out of my sight. I half expected her to just lay down somewhere and give up.
We finally found Portomarin down in a valley, across a lake that was made when the Rio Mino was dammed long ago. Across the metal bridge the first indication of the town was the long and very steep stairs from the valley up to the center of town. It was very depressing to look up at after we had walked all day. Iris and I were not walking together and she was not speaking to me. She must have been in intense pain and, if this was like other days, she must have had to use the bathroom very badly.
We walked up the steps and gradually into town and into mobs of people. We wandered around town for what seemed like hours asking at every bar and every albergue about a place to stay. The town was completely booked – there were people in the streets, tour busses, large and small, everyone was having a good time in the bars and restaurants.
At one albergue a young Spanish man who spoke excellent English was sympathetic to our plight. He had hiked the Camino before from St. Jean and recognized our problem. He pointed to his wristband. It had some sort of symbol on it and he explained to me that this year everyone in Spain wanted to hike the Camino to get a certificate because it was the Holy Year. That was why all the tour buses and hikers. They all had to hike the last 100 kilometers in order to qualify for the certificate, and this is where it all started. We were not going to find anywhere to stay for the next 100 kilometers all the way to Santiago. Everything was booked.
We were told that pilgrims that had no place to stay could find a spot on the gymnasium floor and share a toilet with 100 other pilgrims. One sympathetic bartender tried to find us a place to stay with some residents on the outskirts of town. Another albergue manager called around trying to find us a place at a hotel or albergue. No luck.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and we had already walked about 25 or 28 kilometers and I knew that Iris was not well. I did not know what to do. Stay at the gym? Stay with strangers in their home? Take a taxi to the next town?
Gonzar was the next town; about 8 kilometers away and the map book said it had two albergues and a hotel. We decided that if there were this many people at Portomarin maybe there were less at Gonzar. I’m not sure if that logic was sound, but we decided to hike on. (Taking a taxi would have been cheating.) If we took our time we might still get there before dark and it looked small enough on the map so that we would not have a hard time finding a place to stay.
We hiked down the steps into the valley and then, of course, the trail led uphill out of the valley and along a major highway. It was a good trail, through woods and fields. It was very beautiful even along the highway where the woods were close along the road. Iris thought that there were bear in the woods and after hearing some shrubs shaking she would not even walk on the trail preferring along the road. She had to use the bathroom, but she would not go into the woods because of the bears.
Her pain was very bad and I offered to carry her pack and she yelled at me for that. At about one kilometer from Gonzar she collapsed on the trail and said she could not go any further. She was seriously upset at me and nothing I could say was the right thing.
I was really at a loss as to what to do. Flag down a car? Leave her there and hike into town for help? Just lie down for the night?
Anywhere else on the trail at this time of the day there would be no other hikers around. However, we were on a different Camino, now.
Two German guys came along, a father and son, I think, and they spoke English and we talked with them about the crowds. They were upbeat and nonchalant. If there were no accommodations, they would just sleep on the ground outside. They were making about 35 kilometers a day and at that rate they could just hike through the throng and make it to Santiago in three days. No problem.
We could not do that. We needed a place to stay. We needed bathrooms.
A young Spanish guy came along. He spoke English and, coincidently an older Spanish pilgrim came along on a bicycle. He spoke no English. We talked to the young guy and he asked the bicyclist to send a taxi back for us when he got to Gonzar. They were both friendly and sympathetic and very helpful.
What seemed like an eternity but was probably a short time later a taxi came by and we loaded our gear into the trunk and asked him to take us back to Sarria. That was pretty much our decision to quit. From Sarria we knew we could get a bus to Lugos and from Lugos to Madrid and the plane home.
We retraced the entire day’s walk in a very short time. It was depressing and Iris and I were not speaking.
The taxi dropped us at the bus station in Sarria a few minutes before it closed for the day. We used the bathroom and I bought tickets to Lugos on the last bus of the day. It arrived a few minutes later. The last time I was in Lugos I remembered seeing a fairly nice hotel only a half block from the bus station so we walked there and got a room for the night. The night clerk wanted to practice her English and we talked to her and the hotel manager a while. The manager was very proud of his town and told us where the old town wall was and where we could go shopping in the morning.
I got Iris settled in the room and she did some basic laundry in the sink while we tried to figure out a way to dry it. There were no laundry facilities in the hotel nor in the city for that matter. We had asked the hotel clerk and the manager. Laundry facilities must not be something that has hit this area of Spain.
While unpacking Iris hit her head on a cabinet and the vision in her left eye was blurry for the rest of the evening.
I went out to find an Internet connection. This was a fun experience, roaming at night through the city. The hotel clerk and the bar keepers all described the same place just “down the street” and I eventually found it – a 24 hour, mini-mart/copying/phone and Internet service place run by a couple of teen-agers. It was a very bright, two-story oasis in a dark and dirty section of the city. I went on-line and then by phone I changed our airline reservations with Iberian Airlines. My original flight had been round trip to and from Pamplona and now I was not only eliminating the Pamplona-Madrid flight, but also changing the return dates to the day after tomorrow. Although it took a while, this all seemed to go all right. Little did I know.
I also went to the bus station and researched tickets to Madrid. I was mostly interested in the times that the busses left Lugos and chose one that left at 12:15pm. I should have also looked at the length of the bus trip because the bus I chose got in at 7:33pm and there were schedules where the duration was much less.
We went to bed without speaking much.