Given the racket outside last night, we were up and on our way by 4:30 am. We half expected that by leaving this early we would be hiking alone in the dark, as we had done so many times before now. However, we soon found ourselves in a mass of pilgrims, all leaving together. I guess we left Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port at a similar hour so many days ago.
Other changes were immediately evident aside from the number of hikers leaving town. As we walked we passed dozens of Hertz vans loaded with or preparing to load pilgrims and their luggage. We also began to encounter tour buses and taxis waiting at all the points where the path crossed roads to pick up tired hikers. Perhaps most stunning were the sheer number of pilgrims travelling in groups and wearing matching Camino tour shirts, very large shells, and occasionally carrying gourds on their hiking sticks. The albergues, bars, and hotels we passed today also seemed to be much more mainstream and commercialized - many of them purporting to offer an "authentic Spanish experience" or "authentic Camino experience". As a result, for people who began walking in Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, Paris, Berlin, Moscow or father afield, today represented a transformation of the Camino experience that felt a lot like going from a pilgrimage to a Niagara Falls tour group.
I do not intend to in any way judge or diminish the experiences of people who choose to begin their pilgrimage in Sarria. I realize there are time, money, and physical constraints for many that do not allow them to spend five weeks on the trail. I also understand that for some those five days stretch their personal comfort zones to the limits, and I realize choosing to begin in SJPP was in some ways equally random. I applaud the efforts of anyone who sets out on their own quest. However, our experience of the trail today was nothing like it has been. Pilgrims and their needs seemed to be at the centre of everything, leaving little room for anything else, and as we are mentally preparing to conclude our journey, it is hard to transition into this new way of being. It is particularly difficult to watch some of the new pilgrims treat local Spanish people and other hikers with an air of superiority and arrogance, sometimes directly announcing that they deserve a certain level of respect and admiration because they are "real pilgrims." What do they think the rest of the people hiking on the trail are?
Along the way we also began to see more of the Spanish Horreo. These are historical granaries that are built of stone with tile roofs, raised off the ground by pillars in order to stop rodents from eating the harvested crops stored inside.
We enjoyed a break for cafe con leche and pie at a roadside bar with fellow pilgrims in Ferrerios, and took yet another break in Villacha to simply enjoy the moment. By this point the number of items with shells on them had become a little daunting - garbage cans, toilet paper, Coke machines, sewer covers....
For most of the day, the path continued on past beautiful open pastures, and along stone walled lines of trees.
At noon we met a man who has lived as a pilgrim and now wanders the Caminos of Europe with his donkey - a beautiful and humbling sight.
Dauntingly the Camino markers now described the distance left to Santiago with a precision of three decimal places, and they occurred with depressing frequency. When we passed the well photographed 100 km marker it was covered in graffiti and inscribed with the location.
Warm from our hike, which had taken us into the afternoon's rising temperatures, we checked into the first residence we came to on the main street, the Albergue Pasino a Pasino. This residence features a large communal kitchen and eating area, comfortable hammocks in the backyard, and relaxing small semi-private rooms with between 2 and 4 bunks. We were give a room containing one bunk bed and one single bed. As a result, we shared a room with an Australian lady who we had often seen and only briefly talked to over the past several weeks. Once shown our room, we performed our usual routine of showering, doing our laundry, and heading out into town to explore.
As night settled on Portomarin we wandered back to albergue and were struck by the huge number of moving trucks and tour buses which now lined the main square , all unloading huge amounts of luggage and pilgrims. We walked past this chaos and attended the pilgrim mass from 8-9, soon after which we were back in the albergue writing post cards, updating the blog, and preparing for our hike tomorrow to Palas de Rei.