The Way – part 15: Padron to Santiago de Compostela

You lift your foot and move a little ways in front of you, and you put it back down, lifting your other foot as you do so, and placing it a little ahead of the first foot. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat. And eventually you reach your destination for the day. It’s as simple as that. And as difficult.

Each day you get up. You get dressed. You rearrange what you’re bringing in your day pack. You make sure you’ll have enough water. You have breakfast. You start walking. Every day until you are done.

We are done.

We set off from the beautiful Pazo de Lestrove before sunrise, in the cool dark of morning. Breakfast, for a change, had not been as baffling as in recent days. There was tortilla da batata and Serrano ham, as well as the usual dessert items. And the coffee was good. We were in good spirits.

We walked quietly through the mostly deserted streets lost in thought. We passed through commercial areas, with butchers and fishmongers and green grocers still setting up theirs stalls. Disused factories loomed over the way, casting long shadows even without the sunlight.

Eventually, outside an old church, we bumped into a Brazilian couple we’d seen intermittently throughout our journey. We stopped briefly and chatted before we all moved on at our different paces. We would encounter them on and off throughout the day, but more about that later.

We spoke with some Irish perigrinos who were part of a larger group of 30 who were travelling together. We talked about Dublin, which I mentioned is one of my favourite cities.

“Yes, well. I can see that if ye don’t have to live there,” said one of them. I said that likely goes for everywhere. If you have to go to work each morning, and fight through traffic, it’ll take the shine off quickly.

There were cats everywhere. A couple of times we were able to coax one over to be petted. At one point we found a group of them in a carport, looking like members of a gang having a meeting.

“The old woman in number 5 has been putting out sour milk.”

“It’s time we sent her a message.”

During one of our walks with our Brazilian friends, we finally learned the answer to a mystery that had been confusing us since we began the Spanish portion of our Camino.

All through Spain we have seen small buildings, which looked like crypts or chapels, up on plinths. The buildings are almost always adorned with a cross. We couldn’t figure out if they were places to keep dead relatives, large shrines, fancy sheds – nothing really made any sense.

It turns out they’re for storing food, traditionally grain. The capitals on the plinths make it impossible for rats to get at the food, since even if the climb the plinths, they can’t walk upside down on the capitals. (I guess they don’t have squirrels in Spain.)

Getting back to the walk, though, there was a long, but thankfully gradual incline over the last half or so. Thankfully, the weather stayed relatively cool and overcast, which made walking easier.

Not easy, though.

There is nothing you can do to make 27 km easy. Unless it was all downhill and paved with Nerf. But that is not the case on the Camino.

We were thrilled each time a kilometre went by on the way markers. Twenty, seventeen, eleven, six. Single digits was the biggest thrill in that regard.

As we entered the city, we crossed paths again with the Brazilian couple, whose names I regret I don’t know. They were celebrating her 50th birthday, although as we told her she didn’t look more than 35. Together we navigated the streets to the cathedral.

As we entered the plaza, it was hard to believe we were done. More than 240 km of walking in twelve stages. We’d seen so much, walked so far. It was hard to process being done.

We walked to the accreditation office, where we were informed we’d have to come back the next day and take a number. A bit of a letdown, but there’s nothing much we could do.

We found our hotel – up a hill, of course! – and checked in. I admit, when I first looked at it from outside I felt let down, but that soon went away. It’s an incredibly modern, well-appointed boutique hotel. We have no complaints.

After showering, we did as much sightseeing as our tired feet would allow, and then went for tapas, before returning to our hotel.

And the best part is that our original Brazilian friends are here until tomorrow. It’s so good to see them again!

Tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll go get our credenciales accredited, and get our certificates. Then we’ll hang out watching the world turn from a cafe. Or two. Or… well, we’ll see. The forecast is calling for rain but I don’t care. We’ve got no place particular to go.

Pilgrimage

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in gods or spirits that are disconnected from bodies, or souls that survive after a person dies. I believe we are physical beings, with an all too finite span of existence, and that what many people call a soul is really just a part of mind or personality. Of course, I could easily be wrong about this, as is the case with any belief, but I haven’t seen any evidence or argument that has convinced me that I’m in error.

And so it may seem strange that I will be making a pilgrimage this year. Not just a journey that has personal meaning, but an actual pilgrimage. Later this year my wife and I will walk one of the several official pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela – known at one time as a ‘way of St. James’, as people once believed (and some may still) that the remains of St. James were located in Santiago. Leaving aside the vast amount of historical fraud associated with so-called relics, pilgrimages of this sort have been popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, and many people of more religious bent still embark on such journeys – and the Camino, in particular – for religious or ‘spiritual’ reasons. For me, however, this will be a very long walk through places I have yet to visit, where I hope to meet many people, encounter new foods and wines, new music and art, expand slightly my meagre linguistic capabilities, and learn more about myself.

I have long been of the opinion that walking has benefits that other forms of mobility do not. The physical benefits are obvious and well known – and something I can use more of in my far too sedentary lifestyle. In addition to those, walking (if done right) helps to clear the mind and improve our ability to attend to the world around us, in a manner that other, faster forms of travel preclude. The faster you move, the less you take in, and the less time you have to think about and absorb the information around you. If you really want to know a place, you need to walk it.

Before we travel to the start of our journey, we’ll spend more time walking in our own, more familiar environment. We need to get used to walking more than 10 km – usually 15 to 20 – every day, if we expect to be able to walk the 240 km route we have planned in two weeks. So, over the course of the spring and summer, we’ll begin walking more, building up to the distances we need to able to cover. In doing so, not only will our physical health likely improve (did I mention I spend far too much time sitting?), but I expect we will come to know our home town, and ourselves, in new ways.

If anyone has done a similar journey, please let me know about it in the comments. And if you’ve blogged about it, send me link.