Day 23: Sarria – Gonzar: 19 miles
Sunday, October 2, 2016: Departed: 8:45am, Arrived 4:45pm
Kim read our guide book out loud last night, warning us about the stage ahead. The warning was not one about the conditions of the Camino, but the condition of our attitudes. It warned us not to be condescending nor snobby about “our” Camino as we walked alongside the increased numbers of weeklong pilgrims and package groups who start the Camino in Sarria to complete the minimal requisite 100k. It was a fair warning. Since we had the private room, and a breakfast included, we slept comfortably in, ate, and were on our way later than normal. This meant we were behind the surge of pilgrims, and upon rejoining the Camino, and walking at our quick pace (we estimate around 3 mph) we were promptly passing them in droves. We’d get ahead of a cluster of them, thinking we might be in the clear, only to find more clusters of them. When I needed to pee, it was a challenge to find a private gap in the procession to do so. On most other parts of the Camino outside of towns, I just look ahead and behind to make sure there’s a comfortable distance, and step off to the side and do my business. There was really nothing wrong with this new swarm of pilgrims; they chatted pleasantly among each other or kept respectful in the silent procession, so I commend them for making this their vacation, but the increased number of them, along with some of the villages pandering to them in more touristy ways, did make it feel like we were on a different Camino. I scanned the faces, hoping to see a familiar one in the crowd, to help link us to where we’d come from, but there were none.
At least the Camino in this stretch was very scenic, not so much in distant views, but how it wound along stone walls and ancient trees through pastoral villages. A sense of mystery was added by a lingering mist all morning. We hopped off the Camino to go get lunch Portomarin. Nearly every day, we’ve gotten for dinner the “pilgrim’s menu” or “menu del dia” – A set price meal that comes with a choice of first course, second course, desert, and bread and wine, for usually around 10 euro. Feeling hungry, we did the menu for lunch. Most other days we had only gotten tapas, snacks or small quick plates for our lunch, so we can keep moving, and save dinner for our big meal. But feeling that we, particularly me, were not nourishing ourselves properly during the day, we’ve been trying to eat more solid lunches lately. So today we did the “menu” for lunch. Portomarin is pilgrim hub town where many stop walking and stay the night. We got back on the Camino to continue to an intermediate town and cover more miles. This 5 mile stretch in the afternoon had much less pilgrims on it, which was refreshing.
We arrived to Gonzar and promptly secured bunk beds in a large, but very clean, rustic dorm at Casa Garcia. We promptly showered and did a load of laundry and hung them on the line to dry in the remaining sunlight. It felt kind of good to be back in an albergue – while it’s full of pilgrims, I wouldn’t call it the impersonal pilgrim factory, and the pilgrims staying there were of the type we’ve seen before – individuals, couples and friends doing the Camino, more self-sufficiently, not part of a packaged group. We were also pleased to finally see a familiar face – a young German guy who we met only a few days ago, but who started the same day we did in Saint Jean. And then to our even greater pleasure, we found our friends Magnus and Roxanna in this same small town (staying at the Municipal Albergue) and for the third night in a row, had dinner together (another “pilgrim’s menu”). We laughed about the oddness of the day among the hordes – we were probably only minutes apart the whole day. They also started in Saint Jean the day we did, but first met them the 2nd day, and overlapped with them since. It looks like we’ll be finishing in Santiago the same day as us, so we look forward to crossing paths again and hopefully seeing them among the even greater bustle at the end.