íStage 32 – Sarria – Portomarín
Total Distance – 22.4 km (13.9 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 23.9 km (14.8 miles, accrued ascent 300 m = 1.5 km)
High Point: Cruce at Momientos at 660 m (2,165 feet)
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Please note that some names may be in Galician – you’ll now it when you see it.
Sue and I arrived in the early evening at Sarria (pop. 13,000) and we lost no time in finding our hotel, the slightly off the beaten track but very modern Hotel Mar del Plata. As we walked to our hotel we noticed that some streets were cordoned off and had wooden bicycle ramps (for jumping) snaking through the narrow streets. There was a BMX freestyle jump competition taking place right in the heart of Sarria! The atmosphere was festive and the competitors were getting a lot of “air” out of their jumps because the course started at the higher part of town and the downward slope made for some very high and fast jumps!
When we were recommended the hotel we had been told that the restaurant in the hotel had some excellent food. That night we found out that indeed excellent it was! The next morning at breakfast Sue told me that she wasn’t feeling well and we decided that I would go ahead on foot to Portomarín while she would sleep in and take a taxi later that afternoon. We were concerned about the large number of peregrinos we expected to compete for lodging from Sarria onwards so we decided that we could take advantage of the situation by having her book our rooms when she arrived.
I was to be on my own for this stage and started walking at about 9:00 a.m. As I entered the old quarter and climbed up the rúa Maior and made my way to the higher part of town where the Mosteiro de Madalena is located, I sensed the “Saturday Morning in the Park” atmosphere that made Sarria a starting point for many. The signs also reminded me that this was not a new concept since Sarria had been a major medieval center of the pilgrimage route. The people and the language being spoken left me in no doubt that I was in a Celtic Galicia.
That morning in Sarria I also saw something that I had never before witnessed on the Camino; large families walking together. I felt like I was in an outing in the park. Of course this new presence was due to the fact that Sarria was the starting point from where you could get a credencial by completing the 110 kilometers (more or less) to Santiago. I was immediately conscious that I would see more peregrinos today than I ever did.
As I arrived at the higher part of town I was able to enjoy the view from above even though there was a slight chill in the air.
Although I was walking alone there were many others just starting their Camino.
I remember thinking at the time about how green everything was and how excited the children were to be starting their camino. I was in good spirits and buoyed by the excitement of others around me.
After going under a modern railway bridge, over the train tracks and through forested trails it was soon time for a rest break and luckily for me I stopped at the beautiful Casa Barbadelo which is a first-class rural pensione/albergue. Since I only stopped there for a snack and a cup of coffee I can’t tell you much about the accommodations but if the setting was anything to go by they must have been excellent.
The full name of the village of Barbadelo is Santiago de Barbadelo and this village was the site of a monastery in 874. Only a 12th century church, the Iglesia de Santiago survives. It was outside of Barbadelo that I met a Spanish family that consisted of two grandparents walking with their grandson and his new wife. I found out that the happy couple had just returned from their honeymoon in California! The gently rolling and green hills along with the quaint and very Galician stone houses formed a perfect backdrop for this lovely walk.
As I write this I realize, now in retrospect, that so much happened on this stage to me and that I saw so many things that were new to me on this day. Some were funny, some were sad reminders of loss but all were a part of living our lives.
A short while after seeing this church I was reminded of the love and faith that we have for each other by these poignant and makeshift roadside memorials.
One thing about the Camino is that it teaches you that whatever happens to you, you must move ahead. As I said a prayer for those that had lost a loved one and for those that had died I prayed that they may have been able to move on with their lives as we peregrinos moved on the road towards Santiago.
At the next village I got to, just at end of this road, I saw a very interesting dog that enjoyed lying in wait for we unsuspecting peregrinos and barking at them to surprise them. It was a little game that the dog played, probably everyday of his life and hundreds of times!
I left my mischievous friend and walked toward the Miño valley where the ancient town of Portomarín was located. The town was a strategic location because of its bridge that spanned the Miño river and most probably for this reason was a Roman outpost. We know of a 993 AD document that calls the town Villa Portumarini and most surely it was always garrisoned, once by the Knights of Santiago. In medieval times it was and important commercial and military center. In the 19th century the nearby town of Lugo eclipsed Portomarin and the commercial significance of the town deteriorated. By 1956 a nearby dam to provide hydro-electric power was under construction and the resulting reservoir flooded the town and the major structures of the town were numbered, block by block, removed and rebuilt on a new site. This is the site of the present-day Portomarín. Eerily, somewhere submerged in the reservoir are the remains, houses and streets, of the old Portomarín.
An interesting thing happened to me on the outskirts of Portomarín. I was walking, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the self-proclaimed Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker briefly introduced himself to me. He was a skinny bony man in his 50’s who claimed to have walked the Camino 50 times! As he walked past me I didn’t believe his claim and was to meet up with him later.
As I was walking across this bridge I noticed that peregrinos were walking up a steep stairway, with ridiculously narrow steps, at the end of the bridge. I also noted that it was dangerously steep and that I was also dangerously fatigued at this point. I figured out that you could easily bypass the stairs by walking up the street that took you to the same place. What was I to do? My brain must have not been working real well at that point because I thought to myself that going up these stairs must be some sort of peregrino ritual and that I would hate myself if I didn’t go up them. The rational side of my brain was blockaded somehow because I didn’t think of the fact that I would have hated myself even worse if I made a misstep and fell down the stairs, hurting myself and probably ending my camino. As I walked toward the stairs I felt a sense of foreboding but also determination. What was I to do?
As you probably guessed I went up the steps. My reward for such a stupid act was the look on the self-proclaimed Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker’s face when he saw me right behind him. It said to me, “How the hell did you keep up with me the Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker!!?” My second reward was a cold beer that Sue had waiting for me on the patio of the Café/Pensione where we were staying. I wish I had a picture of me drinking that beer and of the face of the Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker!