DAY THIRTY SIX: 13 November 2012 from Sarria to Portomarin
Coming down into the gentle slope into Sarria I am guided in the darkness not by the inner light of my crystal gift from the alchemist but by the hard edge of tarmac of the road. Traffic is light and the moon is out to light my way. It is cold, damp and misty arriving in Sarria. The garish modern outskirts are harsh and unwelcoming. Quite a contrast to my afternoon of rural warmth and magic; Sarria is just over 100km from Santiago and 100km is the minimum distance a pilgrim has to walk to be eligible to receive a compostela or certificate of completion. As a result Sarria is a major starting point for walkers. I was aware of this but was not prepared for the number of pilgrims in town. Since arriving in at the threshold of Galacia I feel like I have entered a magic realm and my only companions; Kevin the medieval knight and Kath and Carolyn warrior queens from the Kingdom of Narnia. Now in Sarria I am being nudged out of this dreaming state. The modern hostel that the others are staying in offends my sensibilities, not least because I am shown into a room full of men with the word SNORE etched on their foreheads. I skulk off to the far less shiny Don Alvaro’s tempted by an evening promise of drinking around a pit fire out the back that doesnt actually materialise because these newbies are being far too sensible before their first day of walking. My room companion Rosa, is a hairdresser from Alicante. This is her second year walking the Camino from Sarria. She is bright, fresh faced, eager. This year she has the company of four of her male friends from Alicante. They are in the dorm across the corridor.
The cold fingers of a morning fog, wrap themselves around me as I leave town. Now that I am on the downward stretch of this long walk I am torn between wanting it to go on forever and wanting it to be over. I am not looking forward to the busyness of new pilgrims, their excitement of beginning set against my confusion and grief of finishing. I meet Rosa and her friends en route and there are happy gatherings of ardent walkers wherever there is coffee. I skirt around these shiny happy people and walk alone with my jumble of mixed emotions and my hotch potch of thoughts climbing upwards to Alto Paramo before a steep descent to Portomarin. It is a warm and sunny day, comforting fields of late Autumn cabbage gone to seed and the spectacular broad, deep cut of the Mino river. A dam was built across the river to create the Belesar reservoir in 1962 flooding the original town. Key historical monuments were moved to higher ground and a new town was created. I had thought that I might walk beyond Portomarin but the long haul over the bridge, seeing the majesty of the stairs up to the repositioned capela de Santa Maria de las Nieves and the welcome of the Mirador Bar sealed my fate. Over lunch I am mesmerised, calmed and energised by the unending flow of the Rio Mino below. I have a coaching session later that evening so my priority is to find a private room with wifi. Portomarin is ghostly quiet, it could be a film set, handsome stone colonnades, neat shops and tidy buildings; too tidy, too neat. Like a middle aged woman who has had a face lift – looking good but somehow not looking right.
Over the last week or so I had noticed Ultreia or Ultreya graffiti-ed along the way and had received at least one email from my fellow pilgrim Canadian Heather with the exhortation to Ultreya! Meaning to keep going or onward it was an appropriate rallying call this close to the end of the walk. At Albergue Ultreia I found just the room I was looking for. In fact I had a choice of three; a double room, a twin room and a bunk room. All on the top floor of the hostel; clean, bright, modern, colourful, spotlessly clean and supervisied under the motherly eye of Maria Carmen. I eventually settled on the twin room and caught the last warm rays of the late October sun on the west facing terrace. After I finished coaching I headed down to the Mirador for a late supper overlooking the moonlit river where I found my young pilgrim friend Kevin slipping into the quiet of this peaceful evening over a balloon of Cognac. He had all the gravitas of a lawyer or a banker. These are the days my friend……..