Backpacking Teacher

Travel, teaching and things in between. Saigon is the focus for now.

Archive for July 29th, 2009

Day 28: Ferreiro to Palas del Rei

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Last night was tough going. While I was happy to have a roof over my head and a mattress, no matter how grubby, it did not mean a good night’s sleep was assured. You would think after 40km I’d sleep like a log but the midnight showering woman, the snoring choir and the frightening sight of another male face inches away from mine when I rolled over did, somehow, not induce sleep. This combined with a very cold night meant I slept very little.

I woke up, not grumpy, but not exactly overjoyed at having to walk over 30km today. After having spent nine hours walking yesterday I did not relish another eight today. Nonetheless I got on with it, shouldered my pack, ignored my newly created blisters, thanks to having to wear sandals and just got on with walking. It was eerily dark with shadows cast in all directions by my torchlight searching for yellow arrows. When light eventually arrived it remained filtered through a fog and mist that remained hanging in the air until well after 11am. I trudged on and after awhile my body took over and just began to walk while my mind wandered. I still wasn’t quite into the walk but I was ok.

After a few hours of mist walking and mind wandering I arrived at my breakfast destination of Portomarin. A beautiful river port city graced by a sleek bridge and nice old town it was a perfect breakfast destination. I was happily surprised to see my two Portuguese foot heeling friends there. I joined them for breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed their lively company. This despite the fact that their Camino was over, one of the girls’ bodies had given out and so they were returning to Lisbon tonight. Despite this they remained upbeat. When I left one of them described to me the wealth of emotions she had felt when reaching Santiago in a previous Camino. This, along with their interesting company, left me feeling reinvigorated and looking forward to the rest of the day’s walk. Once again the old saying about the Camino came true – when you need something the Camino delivers. I needed to be sparked back into life and so it was.

I climbed from Portomarin into the hills beyond. I walked through a beautiful forest of slender trees and forest ferns. From there the day slowly wandered beside a main road before crossing through country areas and up, down and around little farms and hamlets. In one such place I ran into some friends and walked with them awhile. Eventually it was just me and the Italian doctor walking together and we spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering into town discussing everything from the Camino, to Australia, to Rome to Silvio Berlusconi.

Eventually arriving in Palas del Rei at about 2:30pm I went to the first of two Albergues in town only to be told it was completo (full) an almost unheard of thing to occur so early in the day. I walked up the street to the other Albergue where I met a friend I hadn’t seen in over a week, we chatted and then I asked for a bed to be told by the hospitalera that I had just been given the very last bed. Whew, two nights in a row I’ve been lucky.

That evening I dined with Korean friends I hadn’t seen in ages. It was nice to see old faces in the sea of new ones. The Camino since Sarria is a far less pleasant experience. Large groups of Spanish people who walk small sections with little day packs and interact very seldomly with other peregrinos makes for a very different experience to the rest of the Camino where people took an active interest in each other. Even my Spanish friends commented on this saying they didn’t like the feel of the Camino since Sarria. It’s a pity but it is still part of the whole experience I guess

Tomorrow another longer day of just over 30km. After that it’ll just be two short days and I’ll be in Santiago de Compostela.

— Posted from my phone


Written by backpackingteacher

July 29, 2009 at 7:32 am

Day 27: Triacastela to Ferreiros via Samos

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I arrived exhausted. It’s been many weeks since I’ve been so tired I just have to sit on my bed for fifteen minutes or so before I even take off my shoes. Today I just ended a 40km walk. I hadn’t intended for it to he quite so long but such are the vagaries of life. By the end of the day the dirty mattress in a room full of matresses lying on the floor like some kindergarten sleeping room became an absolutely welcome sight.

The day started off with a plan to head to the town of Sarria taking the shorter route. However I unintentionally took the longer route via the monastery at Samos. I was not unhappy about this as the route took me through the narrow defiles and valleys of the forest covered mountain slopes and within a few hours I was looking down on this magnificent monastery at Samos.

From there the day turned English. A drizzle set in and cloud covered the sky, not an unpleasant way to enjoy a slowly meandering walk down the mountains. I walked through little hamlets, alongside gurgling rivers and along narrow roads covered in sheep and cow dung. The scenery included cornfields squeezed into narrow valleys and cow pastures perched on mountain hillsides. I drank my second morning coffee at a little mountain village as I watched twittering birds take part in mating dances on the village road.

In the town of Sarria I stopped for awhile to take a break and chat to a fellow peregrino. We talked for simetime but with only 26km under my belt my day wasn’t done yet. In Sarria things got busy. This is a common starting spot for the Camino as it is just over 100km from Santiago and the pilgrimage compostela (certificate) is only given to those who have walked at least 100km.

I can see why this part of the walk is popular. It is a gentle undulating walk through small little farmlands. Most of the walk is on country roads or lanes often surrounded by short, moss covered rocky walls. The last section of the road was over stones poured over hot tarmac an unpleasant walking track. In the distance I heard gunshots most probably from the local hunting club who’s trophy shots I saw hanging on a pub wall that night. By this time of day my legs were going fine but another blister was developing and my back was beginning to ache from a back weighed down with my boots. My body was telling me to stop.

I eventually arrived at my destination, the little hamlet of Ferrerios only to find the solitary Albergue full. This is the first time this has occurred to me but is something I’ll have to plan for now since so many peregrinos have joined since Sarria. Luckily a little further on a local restaurant had a sign out the front “dormit gratis” … was I happy. It turned out it was just a dirty stained mattress on a floor in one big room with many others but for me it was fantastic.

The place is full with many others like me who have been surprised by the Sarria joiners ability to fill up Albergues quickly. From now on my plans will ensure that I have nearby backup towns to go to if an Albergue is full or just to go to major towns. The afternoon was spent chatting over beers and the world’s largest bocadillo (baguette sandwich) which was the size of my forearm. Tomorrow my day is either 26km or 33km, depending on accommodation. A good day’s walk, I feel like I earned my stripes today.
— Posted from my phone.

Written by backpackingteacher

July 29, 2009 at 3:04 am

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Day 25: Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro and into the province of Galicia (the home stretch)

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The day started cold and misty as we slowly made our way through the mountains. Today is the dreaded walk to O Cebreiro the steepest mountain climb since the Pyrenees, the last real physical challenge before the home stretch (150km) to Santiago. It was also my most favourite walk to date.

It was cold and the mist hung off the mountain sides. Peregrinos thrust hands into flimsy fleece jackets and walked steadily upward. Every hour or so a mountain town, made of rocky stone houses clinging to mountain sides, would appear and we would inevitably stop for a warming cup of cafe con leche or morning croissant. The little towns reminded me a lot of Darjeeling, all mountain towns seem to have a similar character.

On the walk we were joined by many new walkers and the path, in parts, looked almost crowded. Passing cars, of which there were many, would often toot horns and I wondered why so many people were around. It took a look at my watch to tell me it was a Saturday and the reason for all the busyness. I wouldn’t have had a clue what the day of the week was otherwise. I know dates because I started July 1st and each day of July corresponds to the equivalent number of days I have travelled for. I don’t know days. It’s a great feeling of freedom not to know or care what day it is.

The walk wound up, like a corkscrew, into the mountains steadily getting higher but not proving too onerous. The sun began to break through the mist and soon enough a clear blue sky and warm sun took over the day.

I walked past flowing rivers, listening to cowbells ring and watching butterflies grace the air before me. One town, La Faba, proved a hard slog to get to as the path suddenly turned steep and rocky. An hour of this saw me gulp down my Aquarius when I arrived at La Faba whilst enjoying the goings on of the hippy commune opposite. From La Faba it was more of the steep rocky ground and I stopped for another drink at the little pub playing Celtic music. A short, sharp walk later and we were standing before the outstanding views of O Cebreiro. Stupendous, magnificent, looking into the valleys below with winding pathways, little villages and farmland being worked on. The town itself is a delightful little touristy mountain village with a mixture of weekenders, cyclists, a wedding party in all their finery and peregrinos in their grubby overwork, underwashed walking gear.

Today’s walk was picturesque, varied and, at times, challenging and overall one of the finest walks of the Camino. I’m glad I didn’t miss it and my blistered foot still let me make the walk.

The Albergue, though big, is clean and efficient and has the best view in town. I sat down outside worried that my heel that was beginning to look quite bad and it was beginning to concern me when two Portuguese girls came to my rescue. Psychologists working in an intensive care unit of a hospital they took one look at my heel and declared a course of action. Dousing my foot in some red solution purloined from a hospital they had soon set my mind at rest as infection, not pain, was my biggest cause of concern with my heel. They also give me some anti inflammatories and we exchanged peregrino chit chat as these two confident, friendly and efficient women fixed my foot. I was grateful for their concern, help and confidence. I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow in terms of covering the wound but for now I’m much more relaxed about the problem.

— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

July 29, 2009 at 2:14 am

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