Written: Friday, June 1 @ 17:34
We haven’t been anywhere with an internet connection in a few days. I’ll have to start looking for a place somewhere along the trail tomorrow. We crossed the 100 km marker today and are staying at a hostel here at mile post 99,5 in the town of Mongade. Since entering Galicia, we’ve been enjoying the stone markers placed each half-kilometer showing our distance from Santiago. Our book jwarns us that we can’t completely count on them as the way has changed some in the past number of years, but they do create a certain greater sense of getting somewhere as we trudge along in hot and steamy days like we’ve had here the last two.
From the casa rural that Masi took us to a couple of days ago in Ambasmestas, we made our way past another “end of our guidebook page” milestone to Fonfria. We got a private room there in the local albergue, which had a few of those for a few extra Euros. We spent a delightful evening in Fonfria, opting to visit “la ultima casa” (the last house in the village), the only other restaurant in town that we saw advertised on the way in. We had an amusing time filming the view over our wine glasses on the table in the street outside the place as a string of about 20 cows were herded out of what didn’t exactly appear to be a barn across the street by a farmer taking them out to evening pasture. We’ve definitely entered farm country here and crossed from beef cows into mostly dairy cows in the last day or so.
At O’Cebreiro, the milestone town, we got a glimpse of how the Camino is changing as we draw closer to its ultimate goal. O’Cebreiro is a mountaintop town, famous for the 9th centuray church, the oldest extant church associated directly with the pilgrim’s way. It is also the burial place of Don Elias Valina Sampedro, a much revered person who is responsible for much of the trail that we have today and the originator of the iconic yellow arrows that we use to find our way. It is also a place along the Camino that is generally accessible to tour buses that come up with pilgrims who wish to see some of the important and classic sights but who will walk only the last 100 kilometers from Sarria.
Crossing through Sarria this morning, we saw the peregrino population on the trail at least double from what it has been. This is saying quite a lot, since way back where we started, we were seeing 200 or more pilgrims start every day. The popularity of this pilgrimage is growing such that over 150,000 people complete the way into Santiago to be given their compostella even in non-holy years. From this point forward, it will be interesting to see what changes happen on the Camino and in our own minds and hearts as we encounter more and more of our kind. We anticipate some challenges in lodging, but our first inquiry here in Mongade resulted in a nice little room with a bathroom shared only with one other room.
Our guidebook warns of the danger in falling into a sense of superiority over the shorter duration pilgrims who are only doing the last little bit. Being the son of a former truck driver, I likened it to long-haul vs. short-haul trucks today as we went through Sarria, picking up many more of the latter variety with much smaller backpacks, obviously healthier feet, clothes that didn’t look like they’d been hand-washed for several weeks, and a different kind of excitement in their eyes as they cast about for yellow arrows pointing the way. I believe these were more observations than harsh judgments on my part, and it made me mindful more of my own Camino and what I’ve experienced by taking the much longer route and time for this experience.
We have seen and experienced so many different parts of Spain in terms of landscapes and climate, ambience and people. We’ve moved from places we’ve stayed where proprietors have shown us to our rooms with no need for payment or even an inquiry as to who we are until sometime the following day to places where we present our passports and payment right up front before even being shown around. The stresses of the road and the logistics of living and getting our way through whilst struggling with being sick and having new blisters popping up right and left have provided new opportunities for learning to show kindness, patience, and all the other things love is supposed to be.
As I’ve said before, I have absolutely no real interest in the compostella of forgiveness of sins “due” to us at the end of this journey in Santiago. I don’t really understand the 100 km mark that the keepers of this tradition have specified as the necessary minimal starting point. I wish all pilgrims a unique and moving experience wherever they may start and whatever distance they may cover – whether long-haul or short-haul peregrinos. But I do think that it is two different types of experiences, both of which may be quite valid and important.
I’m hoping to learn the value of setting my feet into a long-haul experience at times, even when there is a shorter way. I’m pondering on where they may be other opportunities to do that in my life. I’ve been very goal oriented for a very long time in my life, and I’ve often come up with ways to cut a few corners and get to the goal a little faster. I think I’ve prided myself in this sometimes, thinking that it proved a different kind of point – not just that I could get to the goal but that I was smart enough to figure out a shortcut. But what might I have missed in that method? What could I have learned in both the steps I skipped and the process of doing all those steps? What other opportunities to take all the steps are likely to come my way in future, and how do I recognize and embrace the full way instead of the short way when given an opportunity?