Camino de Santiago Day Thirty: Sarria to Gonzar-Serenity

30 04 2018

We slept amazingly well in the large room of bunks at the monastery. We wanted to get an early start but found ourselves sleeping until 7! When we’d gathered our things we went to the kitchen to eat some of our snacks and found all the children in the school group getting ready to go. They were swarming the sink to wash their dish kits and drying them and stashing them in small packs to be transported to their next meal site. Their actual packs were all over the lobby and everyone was getting outfitted in their rain gear as we finally had a rainy morning after so many days of clear weather.

The noise was a lot for a non “morning person” like me but I got out my tray of boquerones (white anchovies in oil and vinegar) and started eating them. As the children filed out two older Spanish men came in. One introduced himself and then proceeded to tell me the health benefits of Herbalife for whom he is apparently a salesman. The other offered me some sliced pineapple and it was clear I could not refuse so I had a nibble he presented me off the fork he was eating from.

It was their first day, and the Herbalife guy kept showing the other guy all the gear he’d brought, much of it was these jars of protein powder and different sippy cups with measuring lines for mixing the protein shakes. I expected him to pull out a blender or a set of Ginsu knives and some Sham-wow towels too.

I wanted to be friendly but every few minutes he’d try to give me a mini sales pitch and even when I filled my water bottle he was pushing another scoop of powder pointing to the health benefits listed on the jar in small print that my bleary eyes could not read.

“Solamente agua, gracias” I said, only water, thanks. He slunk back to his friend to show him his new GoPro camera and take a selfie video. I wanted to scream, “I don’t need your protein powder guy, I’ve just walked for 29 days. Leave me alone!” Ugh.

We’d been warned that in Sarria there’s a confluence of pilgrims meeting up but additionally it’s the last big area where pilgrims can begin the Camino and still get the Compostela or credential of completion in Santiago. They have to get two stamps per day to do so. This means an influx of new people.

Despite this information we were ill prepared for what awaited just outside the door. We left in some light mist and headed towards the path to find streams of pilgrims. Huge tour groups mixed with smaller groups of four and six people that clogged up the narrow path making footing difficult as there we’re so many around. Lots would take photos in awkward places creating bottlenecks. their brand new rain pants went swish swish swish between their thighs and some wore light colored sneakers that they gingerly tried to prevent getting muddy further slowing this plodding herd.

We looked at each other in horror. What had become of our Camino? From behind we heard incessant chatter, a cacophony so loud it drowned out the birdsong. Those that used poles weren’t in our rhythm so we couldn’t find our pace and we had to look out for those whose poles were in their arms as they’d turn back to holler in the distance to their friends and almost take us out.

I couldn’t take it so I started making some strategic moves to overtake these people. Suzy and I put on our lightning Achilles feet and started smoking the small groups being sure to wish them “Buen Camino” as we snuck by in single file. At first we tried to politely say .”Permiso” or excuse me to warn of our approach but we eventually gave that up. These folks were just oblivious, just clueless or gabbing with their group in a line that completely spanned the trail. We trailed these types and when we found a window took our moves both from the right, the left and even the middle when we had to. The game was on.

After much maneuvering we found that the hill was making us way too hot in rain gear and other than some cloud and mist the rain seemed to have gone. We shed some layers only to find all the people we smoked rushing past us. When we shed some layers and got resorted we actually found we had to wait to merge back into the group and do it all again.

All of the things we could comfortably do this past four weeks became a challenge. Taking a photo meant that we’d have to merge into the herd again. Suzy has become accustomed to finding a discrete spot for a “pee-tour” when necessary but now it became impossible. We couldn’t blow snot rockets (I don’t anyway but…) and we couldn’t readjust our underwear. Everywhere seemed to have a line.

We trudged on incredulous about these new pilgrims with their clean clothing, their shoes not caked in mud and cow pies. Their fancy new feet and bright energetic smiles. I don’t think I was jealous but maybe jaded. Each day in a different Albergue for four weeks… the boring Africa hot days on the Meseta. All that we had experienced and seen, yet these people would do this trip in about five days, 100km or so.

We ran into the Bavarians from a few days ago, they’d gotten lost yesterday, like really lost, and were out of water so they’d gone to a house they found and asked them to call them a cab to Sarria. We griped with one another about the new influx of people and how the Camino had shifted its paradigm.

We found a cafe and opted to stop but it looked like apres ski at Heavenly in Tahoe, it was Sunday granted. Suzy went in to get coffees for us and wait in line. To our horror as we sat there hoards more pilgrims were flooding in. The coffee line grew… the plates and cups stacked up and the line for the bathroom grew to about thirty people. There were no tables but we found some chairs. No joke tour busses began dropping off more people to make part of the walk no doubt. It was all just a bit much for us. Remember we have seen very few people this last four weeks! Even in big towns we are used to less humanity. It was honestly daunting. I felt completely off kilter.

No bathroom stop here for me so on we went until miraculously we came across a bar that looked empty. We walked in and I ordered a beer as Suzy ambled toward the aseos (bathroom). Immediately the owner hollered to her, something like, “Can I help you? Where do you think you’re going?” It was in Spanish of course. Suzy replied that of course she was going to have a beer too and he begrudgingly allowsd her to access the bathroom. I followed her soon after worried that the teeming march of pilgrims were on our heels.

As we sat there pilgrims would come in the door and peer around and make a run towards the back where they knew the restroom was and each time he’d thwart them and send them along if they didn’t buy anything. It was a really nice bathroom after all and it is appropriate pilgrim etiquette to at least buy something to use the facilities. Some young kids clearly desperate for a toilet scraped together enough for a coffee. Two people in Busch Gardens blue ponchos were dismissed back out the door. the scene was pure comedy. The surprised faces of each pilgrim caught trying to make a run for the restroom had us snickering.

The two older local men at the bar also seemed to be silently enjoying the scene, drinking their beers. The female owner came out to ask if they’d like a pintxo, snack free for buying a beer. The big guy to our left said yes, tortilla. He must have been a regular because she screamed at him something along the lines of “Do you think I’ve got time to make tortilla for you and your (insert expletive).”

She, Natalia, came out with a plate of warm slices of bread each with a great piece of sausage on top. She presented one to each of us. It was just what we needed.

A very old pilgrim in a Crocodile Dundee hat sauntered in and ordered warm milk. Natalia had to go get it and it came in tall jars that had photos of a structure we’d seen along the way. She told us these are the traditional storage units for corn. The milk was not homogenized so she had to shake it up a lot to mix it.

The owner finally shut the front door to stop the deluge of pilgrims but they still trickled in and out constantly. It would have made me crazy too, we began to understand their initially brusque welcome.

The man to our right grabbed a second pintxo off the plate so Natalia gave him another beer and poured another for the other guy too. To the guy on the right she said, “Would you like another pintxo?” “Quieres otro pintxo?” He said, “Que?” “Quieres otro pintxo?” “Que?” He again replied. Finally in exasperation she screamed “Quieres otro pintxo?!!??!?”

We burst into laughter.

She stormed over to guy in the left and asked him if he’d want another pintxo and he said, “Si, tortilla…” saucily. She turned on her heel and off to the kitchen. She returned soon and presented him with a plate. On it was a kitchen ticket that said “tortilla” with a toothpick thrust through it. We were bent over howling with laughter, all the stress of the morning released as we cried and laughed.

We headed out again through some rain once more and went on and on. I’ve gotten adept on the downhills and despite the rain they weren’t too slippery so at times I took off on my “goat feet” planting each pole ahead of me strategically and scampering down the hills. Suzy followed a little back behind me.

We didn’t stop again until a fork in the road before Portomarin where we needed to make a choice and saw Richard coming up behind us. He filled us in on the progress of some of our other friends from before. We headed right on an easier path and he and his friend headed left. We approached a huge river and noticed the squall just minutes before we were pelted by rain and wind. We were only in shirts so we quickly got our rain gear on just in the nick of time as the storm opened up above us. No where to hide we made our way to a narrow sidewalk with the large river flowing below and traffic to our left. The big wind was pushing me from the side, as if someone was pushing my pack and trying to throw me down. Some gusts came from the other direction. I just kept looking at my feet on the slippery surface and praying, this kind of bridge gives me some pause even under normal conditions, but with the driving rain? I looked ahead once to only see a huge set of stairs I’d need to climb when I got there. I eventually made it but it was scary.

Portomarin is stingy with their yellow arrows so we got turned around before heading back out of the town. Then another ascent through some beautiful mossy woods, then an area of windswept fields and finally some scary witchy woods, some burnt trees and lots of quartz boulders scattered around. It was eerie the trees cried and screeched in the wind. It was a bit scary.

We finally got to Gonzar and were welcomed into a stone house with a wood burning stove. We had a great pilgrim welcome and a peaceful evening.

it took a lot to regain serenity today. I find you must do what it takes to create your own peace. You must extract yourself from whatever makes you full of angst. Build your own place to be quiet and peaceful. Find serenity in your heart.

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