Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Camino de Santiago, Day 30: Pintín to Portomarín

"I'm impressed with us," I crowed to Marian as we crossed the Miño River bridge into Portomarín this evening.

"I am too," she answered. "I'm proud."

We could have coasted into Santiago. There have been times in the past few days when I was ready to mail it in, my mind already turning toward home. Instead, in the past two days, we have put the hammer down, covering 63 kilometers (nearly 40 miles). Today, the weather even cooperated. The soaking rain of Galicia held off, and a couple of times this afternoon the sun rewarded us briefly, illuminating part of the landscape in a heavenly glow. There are always clouds here, but sometimes the sky peeks through.

Also, I bought myself a third pair of socks, which I'm using only to reward my feet at rest stops. No way am I putting these soft, dry beauties inside my boots anytime soon. They'll come out smelling like dog.

Early this morning, Marian said she wanted to make a point of visiting more churches between now and Sunday, our projected arrival day in Santiago. This was a beautiful thought. The problem with it was, most churches on the Camino are closed. Every village has one, amazing evidence of the onetime spread of the faith, but priests are no longer around to keep them open.

Then we walked into Barbadelo. We had been reading about this village for two days, because it has the most overpromoted hostel on the Camino, with advertisements posted on trees and stone walls as much as 40 kilometers back. We passed the hostel without stopping, but then we neared the Igrexa de Santiago on our left. (Igrexa is Gallego for Church. Gallego is the language of Galicia.)

From a parked Volkswagen on our right, a short elderly man walked slowly toward us. He looked like Doc, or maybe Sleepy, one of the dwarves in "Snow White." He asked in Spanish whether we wanted to see the church, and Marian answered in Spanish that we did. It occurred to me only later that he had been sitting in his Volkswagen waiting for likely church visitors, a sort of one-man Chamber of Commerce for Barbadelo.

Doc led us through a gate in a stone wall and into the cemetery adjoining the church. It was a Spanish-style cemetery, though usually you see them enclosed in small, rectangular walled cities of their own. Here the cemetery seemed effectively to enclose the church. In these Spanish cemeteries, all of the bodies are aboveground. The older burials are in stone mausoleums with family names on them. The newer ones look like drawers in a morgue, with a family name at the top of a stack, and the name of an individual on each drawer below. Everywhere there are flowers and photos and other touching mementos of the departed affixed to the mausoleums and drawers.

We followed Doc into the church. It dates from the 12th century but only one side and part of the altarpiece are Romanesque. That's because part of the church collapsed about 300 years ago, and the reconstructions were in the baroque style of that era. So the windows on the left side of the simple nave are rounded Romanesque windows, while the ones on the right are not. The altarpiece includes two figures from the Romanesque period, Santa Lucia and an image of the Virgin. But the two Christ figures and the flanking icons of Saint James (Santiago) and his brother, Saint John (San Juan), are baroque. On the right side of the nave is a grouping of three icons that all appear at the front of my church at home: the Blessed Virgin Mary flanked by St. Anthony of Padua and a tender St. Joseph, holding the Christ child in one arm and his blooming staff in the opposite hand.

Doc explained all of this and more, then invited us to sign his guestbook while he stamped our Camino credentials with the sign of his church. Before we left I dropped a couple of coins into his basket.

We walked on through the afternoon, seeing the Camino blossom anew around us. Sarria, a town we passed this morning, is the last place a walking pilgrim can enter the Way and still qualify for his compostela, the diploma of the Camino. We encountered a large group of Spaniards struggling through their first day and possibly unaware of the blisters they will discover in the morning. And I met two Brits from an organized tour that is doing "Camino highlights" for six days, from Astorga to Santiago. The seventeen participants are dropped at a starting point each morning and sent off on a 10k hike. Their lunch is ready and waiting when they arrive, and then they are bused to another starting point for their afternoon jaunt. At the end of which, a hotel room is waiting, along with their luggage which was bused ahead for them.

We finally arrived in Portomarin in time for showers, a brief rest, and dinner. And wonder of wonders, we even got our laundry washed and dried for 10 euros. We were starting to get a complex about our smelly clothes.

I had hoped that by pushing hard the past couple of days we might begin to catch up with friends with whom we had started the Camino four weeks ago. And this has happened. Before dinner, I saw Mike and Bernadette from Perth, Australia, and I stopped them for a chat. Later, Marian and I enjoyed a group hug with Suki, a Korean lady we first met in Navaratte. Then we had a second Navarette reunion when Hubert and André (aka Gimli the Dwarf) walked into my field of vision. We had already ordered pizzas by this time, so the two Belgians sat at our table for a drink before moving on.

I confirmed with Mike, Bernadette, Suki, Hubert, and André—all five of them—that they plan to attend the noon mass for pilgrims at the Cathedral in Santiago on Sunday. We hope to be there too.

[NOTE: This series of posts on my Camino continues here.]

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