DAY THIRTY SEVEN: 14 November 2012 from Portomarin to Palas de Rei
A bright blue day leaving Portomarin; there is 15km of climbing up from the deep cut of the Rio Mino to Sierra Ligondo. I stop for breakfast before I leave, lagging behind the eager morning pilgrims forging the path ahead. I have the silent blue morning to myself to take in crucerios and hórreos. The cross is a familiar pilgrim symbol, in contemporary Christianity a symbol of atonement that reminds Christians of God’s love in sacrificing his own son for humanityand represents victory over sin and death. All along The Way in the many churches there are crosses to bring us back to the contemplation of the spiritual path but I particularly love the many outdoor stone crucerios in the most unexpected places, carved out of their surroundings and set to the backdrop of nature. An ancient symbol that predates Christianity; it represented life and fertility in ancient Egypt and I like to think that explains their typical appearance on the hórreo. The hórreo is a fascinating structure common to both Galicia and Asturias; a granary for storing and ripening grain but most particularly corn in this part of the Iberian Peninsula. Although the word hórreo is derived from the Latin horreum they are believed to have Celtic origins. An early example of technological problem solving they were created to solve the fundamental issue of ripening and storing grain to ensure sufficient aeration and protection from ravenous rodents before the grain was ready for threshing. Although I saw the occasional conical thatched structure called cabaceiras the majority were like this one in the photo – narrow and rectangular. Common to all hórreos is the combination of an enormous slab of stone as the base with stone pillars as legs on top of which will be another stone to raise them from the ground. They may be wholly stone or more usually a combination of stone and wood with slatted sides to provide ventilation. To the untrained eye crude and unsophisticated but this design is remarkably effective at keeping rodents at bay. For the most part the hórreo has become a singular symbol of this part of Spain and although they could be perceived as redundant there was ample evidence that many hórreos were being used and if not were often well restored and took pride of place as an example of the unique culture here.
From Sierra Ligonde it is a reasonably flat hike to Palas de Rei. Perhaps it is the impending end of the walk but I find that I am more fit for the company of nature than the human souls that share my space. There is a big group of raucous male Spaniards, like the rutting bulls of a stag party rather than the contemplative souls of pilgrims. They are full of the joy and the freedom of being on this road together; rowdy and flirtatious I dont understand a word they are saying but wave and smile and quickly pass on. After this I guess it is no surprise to find the company of the two Joses and Rogelio quiet by comparison. They struggle with pidgin English but breaking bread together of cheese and dried beef in the lee of the ex school house and silent Municipal Albergue at Eirexe our shared humanity and our ability to laugh and banter is more important. Rogelio becomes 007 after a rather tangled explanation of his name. James Bond = Roger Moore = Rogelio! I am touched that they want to adopt me and party with me but there is a limit to my desire and motivation to navigate the language barrier. However they have brought to a place of smiling and the briar in me is tame with a little flowering.
I passed the Pavilion de Peregrinos coming into Palas de Rei, situated in a spacious woodland site it looks more like a family holiday park than a pilgrim refuge. The deck on the adjoining restaurant looked attractive for drinks in the evening gloaming but I am wary of the guidebook description of “3 cavernous dormitories packed tightly with bunk beds” and opt for the original “neglected but popular” hostel in town. Popular purely by accident of its location this has to rank as one of the worst hostels I stayed in on the Camino. It is the only hostel that I stayed where I didn’t get a hot shower and where men and women shared open toilet and shower facilities. It reminded me of one of those dreams that I am wont to have; where the toilet facilities are in a shared public space. Packed into a dorm with 9 men and one other women there were great shouts and uproar when either myself or J went into the bathroom area. In the end I ducked into another dorm where normal pilgrims were polite and snoozing and I had the showers to myself. With a little organization e.g. men in one dorm and women in another a lot of the chaos and distress would have been resolved. Of course that didn’t solve the hot water problem. It was hard to find a place to eat in this dead and alive town but nothing defies hungry pilgrims. One of the crew had lost his wallet so we all chipped in 2 euros a piece to ensure that he could eat and drink his fill. Out raucous Spanish boys were well oiled by the time we got back. I remember a rather energetic sign off to the night of repartee and jocularity across the language divide yet again. I may not have had much of a conversation with anyone today but my heart was lighter from laughter. Just as well as it was a heaving, creaking night of farting and snoring, fetid feet and smelly armpits. Ah the pilgrim life.