Thursday, 5 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 5

The road to Hell, my mother used to tell me, is paved with good intentions. I was probably a trial. The road back along the Camino appears to be equally paved. The date was the 15th and I should have been long gone, but I was having too good a time in Santiago and the promise of a free concert of the Monastery of San Francisco proved to be too much of a pull.

As it turned out, Sue and I almost didn’t get a ticket. But Sue is good at this type of thing and managed to finagle a couple of the last ones. “It cost me a book, but so what?” she said; and so we settled down in that wonderful courtyard listening to the Galician Symphony Orchestra playing Haydn and Mozart, and afterwards piled back to Sue’s temporary home for toast and cheese and rosé. I slept on a mattress on the floor and dreamt about the nearby river bridge, in Spanish.

And while we are playing with clichés, all good things must come to an end. Today is Friday 16th and I really must leave but not before seeing the Os Porteros exhibition at the Parador. This is the temporary exhibit of Cristina, Paolo Coelho’s wife’s paintings. At first I didn’t like then very much as they seemed a bit lightweight. But on the second pass I began to see things that I had missed the first time; things that showed that the artist did indeed know the Camino well.

And then I drove to Pico Sacro. I had been here two years ago but the top was so shrouded in mist that I could barely see where I was let alone what was below. Today I had a splendid view of Santiago in the distance: perhaps it was a view such as this which greeted pilgrims at the Monte do Gozo in days long past (as opposed to that awful albergue about which I have written much before). Pico Sacro is very important to the Saint James story, ansd so, from my point of view, quite possibly to the Priscillian story. It certainly is in the right place as this area was completely Priscillianist, as, in fact, was all of Galicia and many more places in the north of Spain, even into France. But the mountain is a sacred one and dates well back beyond the Christian era. It has been the subject of pagan rites for many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years and Doubtful Deeds have been enacted upon its top. Needless to say, I love this idea.

I had wanted to follow the Camino as far as Ourense as I would love to walk this one day, perhaps next year. Lots of fragrant eucalyptus and pine and that Eau de Galicia smell I adore. At Lalin I turned north to go to visit the albergue, maybe drop off some bookmarks, ask a few pilgrims how the route was.

There wasn’t a soul there and the gates were padlocked, well after a fashion. I pushed my way in and looked through the windows. Again, no-one. This might just be the Camino for the solitary walker who wants to remain solitary. (Rebekah of Moratinos was to tell me that no-one uses it because it is too far out of Lalin.)

Anyway, having deviated off the path I decided to continue on northwards to join the Camino at Melide. This was a mistake. Within ten minutes I was flagged down by a most officious Guardia Civil officer who looked at my papers and told me my safety check was overdue. I showed him a piece of paper that had my appointment on it. Oh no. Not enough. “I could have your car towed away”, he said.

I admit it. At that point I pulled the pilgrim card. I know. It wasn´t honest of me but I really do LOVE my car. He passed me over to another officer who was very sweet and apologetic as he handed me my 200 euro fine.

And to think I could have gone the other way! Oh well.

I stopped in to as many albergues along the Camino Frances as I could and most pilgrims told me the same thing: it was hot work, they had to leave very early to get a place, most of the time they had to wait because most albergues opened long alter they arrived.

If there is a logic here it continues to defy me. I wrote at length about this problem last year on the Galician part of the Portuguese route. Where the hospitaleros are “government workers” there seems to be a misguided attempt to save on their wages by making them work the minimum possible number of hours. And yet there are dozens of ex-pilgrims who would jump at the chance to volunteer in Galicia.

Boggles the mind.

I drove on through to O Cebreiro and compared to the sleepy little rundown village I stayed at in 2000, this was unrecognisable! Tour bus groups mingled with pilgrims and the restaurant prices were as steep as the mountainsides this once isolated village stood on. I handed out bookmarks. I have long since gotten over my temerity since everyone is delighted at having one as a souvenir, and they really are nice. (Should be one or two left in the Tourist Office in S de C if you are there.) Outside a souvenir shop, in slippers, sitting, is a man who has a semi-permanent air about him. I hand a bookmark to a pilgrim. Slipper man whistles and I turn round. He is looking very aggrieved and pointing to himself. “What about me?” I apologise profusely and profoundly and then he tells me to wait, and then reappears with a younger clone. “My son!” Here, have a bookmark. Then I am taken by the hand into the shop and introduced to the rest of the family. By now, I seem to have attracted attention and people are following me, ASKING for bookmarks.

What fun!

On the way down I decide to stop in to the refugio in Ambasmestas. Two or three years ago I did actually consider buying it as it was for sale, but realised that my destiny was in serving pilgrims in other ways (perhaps yet to be discovered). The hospitalero looked different from the one I remembered. From him I discovered that the owners had finally made the decision to sell (I know that they hadn’t really wanted to), and here was the new owner, Angel. I realised that it could have been me.

“Where are you staying tonight?” he asked. It was late and I hadn’t decided. “Stay here,” he said, “There’s no-one here tonight.”

And so I had a delightful, clean, and atmospheric albergue all to myself.
Well, me and the Siamese cat who slept on the bottom of my bunk that is.

Home Sweet Home!

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