{camino day 42} sarria to portomarín & ruminations {week 6}

I left my alberque at 7:30 but stopped at a cafe in Sarria for two fried eggs, bacon and cafe con leche. I felt quite heavy by the time I left at 8:00.  I walked past the 13th century Igrexa de San Salvador, or Church of Saint Savior, with its Romanesque tympanum over the main door.  Then I walked by the Mosteiro da Madalena, engulfed in darkness.  It was originally from the 13th century, later falling under Augustinian rule.

I crossed the río Celeiro over the medieval Ponte Áspera, or “Rough Bridge,” which describes its coarsely cut stone. Then the path carried us between a river and railway before crossing under a road viaduct to cross a stream.

We climbed through ancient woodland till we reached Barbadelo.  At Casa Barbadelo, I bought a colorful shell bracelet like Darina’s.

I walked in the rain again for much of the morning, mostly through forest paths lined with moss-covered stone walls.

Sarria to Barbadelo (Vilei) (3.6 km)

I stopped briefly at the Igrexa de Santiago de Barbadelo and its adjacent cemetery.  This 12th century Romanesque temple was once part of a monastery. The original monastery in 874 housed both monks and nuns. In 1009, it attached to the Monastery of Samos. By 1120, the monastery was for men only and supported a hospice.

The capitals of the temple doorway were decorated with scenes from the Bible and of the daily lives of the people of Lugo during the Middle Ages.  The cemetery surrounding the Barbadelo church had 5-6 stories of rectangular burial niches, similar in construction to hórreos, that circled the church like a fortress wall.


Igrexa de Santiago de Barbadelo


Igrexa de Santiago de Barbadelo


Igrexa de Santiago de Barbadelo

In the small “cow towns” along the way, I passed small herds of cattle and pastures, with birch, oak, and chestnut trees scattered here and there.  Small hamlets consisted of loose assemblages of rambling houses, often cobbled together with tractor sheds, hen houses or barns, and storage rooms. Next to every house was a garden of greens.  The smell of dirt, cow dung, grains, and chickens permeated the air.  Many houses had hórreos, or raised granaries, nearby. I was told many of them have ancient fertility symbols on top.

Barbadelo (Vilei) to Cruce (2.4 km) to Peruscallo (2.9 km)


Barbadelo to Cruce


Barbadelo to Cruce


Barbadelo to Cruce


Barbadelo to Cruce


Barbadelo to Cruce


Barbadelo to Cruce






fern forest

I stopped to warm up with some Galician soup at at a crowded cafe, Mirador da Brea, in the town of A Brea.  This time it was made with kale rather than cabbage.

I continued through Morgade, past a stone chapel, and then down the track through the Ferreiros stream.  The earthy smell of cow dung hung in the air, and the ground was often wet underfoot.  It was a landscape of stone walls, moss and ancient trees.

Peruscallo to Morgade (3.1 km)


Galician soup at Mirador da Brea

We climbed up narrow pathways with large granite slabs, laid so pilgrims could walk above the water level, up to Ferreiros, which means “blacksmiths.”

The Church of Santa María de Ferreiros has hints of Romanesque decoration and a double arched tympanum. The church once maintained a pilgrim hospice, which has since vanished.

Morgade to Ferreiros (1.4 km)


Morgade to Ferreiros


Morgade to Ferreiros


Church of Santa María in Ferreiros


Church of Santa María in Ferreiros


Church of Santa María in Ferreiros


Church of Santa María in Ferreiros

Finally, we began a descent into the río Miño Valley and into the tiny hamlet of Mercadoiro.  We found more moss-engulfed walls and emerald forests with wildly twisted trees. We ascended and descended several times over several kilometers, and then descended sharply until we reach a spot where the landscape opened up.  There, we found views of the valley along with the town of Portomarín.

Ferreiros to Mercadoiro (3.4 km)




Ferreiros to Mercadoiro


Ferreiros to Mercadoiro


Ferreiros to Mercadoiro

I stopped for an orange soda and a bag of chips at Mercadoiro.  Some Gregorian chants and Loreena McKinnett-like music were playing there.  It was a beautiful setting but awfully crowded.

We passed a stone marker that showed we had 100km more to go to Santiago. Finally, around 1:00, the sun broke through and it warmed up as we made our way to Vilachá, a farming town.

There were a ton of pilgrims on the path today.  A lot of fresh faces and too many groups chatting away.  The most annoying were some Spanish high school students yapping and playing loud music.

Mercadoiro to Vilachá (3.1 km)

After that, I stopped at a little roadside shop with a lot of painted shells outside.  I bought a pair of earrings, shampoo and a Kit-Kat bar.

It was a half-hour from Vilachá to Portomarín, downhill and mostly on paved roads. To get into town, we crossed over a very high and long bridge over río Mino.  It looked like some ruins were beneath the bridge. We climbed a majestic flight of steps under an arch, into the pretty porticoed main street, rúa Xeral Franco, lined with shops and cafés and leading to the central square, Praza Conde de Fenosa, the lifeblood of the town.

Vilachá to Portomarín (2.2 km)

Portomarín once sat on both banks of the Miño River and was an important commercial and military center. During the Middle Ages, it sustained several pilgrim hospitals. The town withered in the 19th century with the rapid growth of nearby Lugo.  When the Embalse de Belesar Dam was built in 1956 to provide hydroelectricity for the region, major monuments in the town were removed and relocated to the west side of Miño gorge. The move was complete by 1962.

My arrival in Portomarín was at 4:30 – so late! I checked into Aqua Portomarín.  I had reserved a bed in the albergue, but I asked if they happened to have a private room.  They did!






my private room at Aqua Portomarín

After showering and doing laundry, I met Darina at an Italian restaurant at 6:00. I enjoyed tortellini with spinach and cottage cheese, accompanied, as always, by wine.

While at dinner, Ricardo, who was rakishly handsome for a man of 69, with dyed black hair, gave everyone who would listen his advice about the Camino. He said he was born in Spain and lived in his grandmother’s house right beside Santiago Cathedral until he was four years old. He said the pilgrim mass is a big production with the butafumiero and is at 11:00 a.m. every day (It’s actually at noon, and they don’t swing the butafumiero at every pilgrim mass unless someone pays for it). He said he biked the Camino because walking it wasn’t good for your body.  He complained that everyone wears bad shoes and their feet turn in or turn out.  He said it was good for my body that I sent my pack ahead each day.  He was so full of advice!  And so knowledgeable since he lived in his grandmother’s house in Santiago up until he was 4 years old, some 65 years ago!

After dinner, Darina and I went to the pilgrim mass at 7:00 at the austere Romanesque church of Igrexa de San Juan / San Xoán (also Saint Nicholas).  This temple, known in the past as San Xoán Hospitalarios church, was moved when the Belesar reservoir was built and the old village was flooded. It is one of the most extraordinary Romanesque monuments on the Camino de Santiago.

The temple, founded in the 12th century by the Military Order of Santiago’s knights (Cabaleiros de Santiago), is crowned with four defensive towers and crenelated battlements, making it resemble a castle. A scene of the Annunciation is represented on the north side entrance tympanum, and the south wall entrance is richly ornamented.  The church has a single barrel vaulted nave and semicircular apse and prominent rose window.

It was a lovely mass and some of the school kids we’d seen earlier on the way (those I’d been annoyed by), sang several songs during the service and also did some of the readings. Their presence brought the service to life.  There were five priests in attendance, and I took Communion.  I felt bad that I’d been so annoyed by the students earlier.


Igrexa de San Juan


Igrexa de San Juan


inside Igrexa de San Juan

On the tympanum of the south door are two figures, one carrying a book and one a crozier, flanking San Nicolás.


the south door of Igrexa de San Juan


Igrexa de San Juan

After dinner, I ran into Janice from San Antonio and the three New Zealanders (mother & two daughters), and Ellen from Germany who informed me she was feeling better after having been sick several days.  Darina and I wandered around the town, doing some window shopping and exploring the few shops that were still open.




pilgrim statue in Portomarín



As of this day, I had five more days to walk – 94.7 km (58.8 miles) – to Santiago.

Ruminations {week six}

The walk: During my sixth week, I continued to descend from the highest elevation on the Camino at Cruz de Ferro into the El Bierzo region, a transition area between Castille and the green-forested Galicia. There were plenty of steep and gravelly climbs and descents for the next seven days, during which time I crossed into Galicia. The architecture was changing, with slate buildings replacing tile, and wooden overhanging balconies reflecting the timber-producing landscape. We passed through many forests: birch, oak, and sweet European Chestnut with spiky yellow balls.

I passed through a series of tiny towns I called “cow towns,” where small herds of cattle grazed in pastures.  Small hamlets consisted of loose assemblages of rambling houses, often cobbled together with tractor sheds, henhouses or barns, and storage rooms. Next to every house was a garden of greens.  The smell of dirt, cow dung, loamy grains, and chickens permeated the air.  Many houses had hórreos, or raised granaries, nearby. I was told many of them have ancient fertility symbols on top.

I explored the magnificent 12th century Templar Castle in Ponferrada, the capital of El Bierzo, where I found beautiful illustrated replicas of Templar and other religious texts and a fabulous exhibit about the Middle Ages.  When leaving Ponferrada, I got lost, which was disheartening. I kept thinking about my problems, so obviously I hadn’t left them behind at Cruz de Ferro. I walked through suburban landscapes with minimal charm. With 10 days left to walk, I felt deflated, exhausted and close to quitting. I guessed this was life in microcosm: sometimes you don’t feel like going on but then you must, so you do.  Of course I could have quit, but wouldn’t that have been foolish after making it so far?

One saving grace was a beautiful little church in Fuentes Nueva, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion.  There, I stopped to offer prayers and was bowled over by how pretty it was inside.

All over the Bierzo countryside were buzzing electric wires, as if some strange spirit was speaking from above. I was in a Zen frame of mind and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  The El Bierzo landscape was stunning, even in the rain, with its rolling hills covered in vineyards and white-washed houses surrounded by loblolly pines.

My friend Darina, who kept steadily one town ahead of me, recommended I take the alternative route out of Villafranca del Bierzo.  I lingered in town to charge my phone and see if the rain would let up. It did, so I climbed steeply up the scenic route, Camino de Pradela to Vista.  The whole alternate path turned out to be along the top of a mountain, and then, after a near eternity, a steep descent.

The views were stunning and it was exhilarating walking on a mountain path rather than the roadside route, which I could see below in the valley.  For 10 km, I didn’t see a soul in front of or behind me. A couple of times I worried I might be lost, but then magically the yellow Camino arrows appeared, easing my mind.

Soon, in every village, cows greeted us with a boisterous cacophony of mooing, lowing, and bell-ringing. We crossed officially into Galicia, leaving behind the autonomous region of Castilla y León. We walked through gorse and scrubland along a stone wall, with stunning and sweeping views of the mountains. Galicia is reminiscent of Celtic lands, with its lush pastures grazed by cattle, with sheep, pigs, geese and chickens foraging among them. It is known for rainshowers (chubascos), thunderstorms (tormentas) and thick mountain fog (niebla) due to its mountains being the first thing in 5,000 km that the Atlantic’s westerly winds hit.

We climbed steadily to O’Cebreiro, which sat at the top of a mountain where the wind howled and where I could see two valleys, the one I left behind and the one into which I would descend. The views were magnificent. The town was full of traditional mountain dwellings of pre-Roman origin called pallozas, built in circular or oval shapes, with granite or slate walls and thatched roofs.

Leaving O’Cebreiro, I walked under a painterly sunrise of rich corals; the whole sky was a rosy unfurling.  I was overwhelmed by the dramatic beauty along the ridge top, through a path bordered by Scotch broom and wild absinthe. Green pastures and small villages dotted the valley below.  I descended slowly through the “cow towns,” with lackadaisical cows grazing and mooing amidst heaps of cow pies.

I encountered days that were alternately foggy, damp, drizzling, and outright raining. Through it all, it was cold. We were greeted by roosters cockadoodling and chickens clucking and pecking. The path often ran through deep, leafy chestnut forests and gullies with babbling streams. The constant fog, rain and mist carried intimations of sprites and witches, in which Galicians are said to believe.

I reached Sarria, a bustling modern town with a population of 13,500; the town has become a major starting point for pilgrims with limited time but who are anxious to get the pilgrim compostela. Starting in Sarria just covers the required 100km to the cathedral in Santiago. In Sarria, I expected to find the town bustling with new pilgrims, but at least in my walkabouts, it seemed like a ghost town; the melancholy pilgrim mural on the Igrexa de Santa Mariña wall magnified the town’s gloomy aura.

In Mercadoiro, I found Gregorian chants and beautiful music that hinted of Loreena McKinnett in a cafe.  After Sarria, the numbers of pilgrims on the path increased, stealing the quiet I’d enjoyed for so many days.  There were lot of fresh faces and too many groups chatting away.  The most annoying were some Spanish high school students yapping and playing loud music.

On that same night that I encountered the annoying Spanish students, I attended a mass in Portomarín with Darina. It was a lovely mass in which those same Spanish school kids sang songs and did some of the readings. Their presence brought the service to life.  There were five priests in attendance, and I took Communion.

Eating, drinking and shopping:  At a café in Ponferrada, I had lemon beer and mushrooms sauteed in garlic with bread to dip.  For dinner that same night, at La Taberna de Ra, I enjoyed grilled asparagus and Brie, which was delicious, along with some wine. Then I went to the same restaurant I’d been to earlier for avocado, tomato and smoked salmon tapenade, along with another glass of wine.  Nearby, I happened upon a souvenir shop, La Cueva de la Mora, where I bought three scarves. 🙂

When I went to dinner at a restaurant Darina had recommended in Trabadelo, Gastropub – El Puente Peregrino, I ran into Greg and Sean, who were staying in rooms at the restaurant.  I enjoyed vegetable curry with rice and goat cheese yogurt with honey and walnuts and we talked about the Camino.

In Vega del Valcarce, where I bought a rosary from Silvio’s Casa del Rosario.  He told me it was amethyst. I cut my finger and he taped it for me and wished me a Buen Camino.

In Ruitelán, a quaint hamlet where San Froilán had a hermitage, I took Darina’s advice and stopped at the first café for lentil soup with vegetables for an early lunch. I was surprised when they brought me an entire pot of soup, and I tried to eat as much as I could!

At one pilgrim meal, I had scrambled eggs with mushrooms and shrimp, green beans, mashed potatoes and chocolate flan. Of course, red wine accompanied the meal.

I enjoyed many a steaming bowl of traditional Galican soup, caldo gallego, with kale and potatoes, red wine, and crusty bread.

In Furela, I ate a cheese omelette (French-style) in an unheated open air garage.  It was utterly bone-chilling and miserable.  The cafe was the only place in town and was overflowing.

In Sarria, I had dinner with my friend Darina, having toast with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, a caprese salad, and a vegetarian burger, which we split.  At an Italian restaurant in Portomarín, Darina and I enjoyed tortellini with spinach and cottage cheese, accompanied, as always, by wine.

People I met: On this section of the Camino, I met Greg and Sean, high school math teachers from British Columbia, Canada.  Later, I met Beth from Canberra.  She was the same Beth that Greg from British Columbia had told me he’d “really connected with.” Beth had interests of her own; she was to meet a British guy named Pat in Sarria.  She had met him earlier in the Camino and he’d had to leave for a portion of the Camino.  They planned to walk to Santiago together from Sarria and then travel to Portugal together.  She started her Camino on the same date as me, September 4.

Many times I encountered Daniella from Bulgaria, who lost her 5-year-old son to cerebral palsy, and her partner Sean from England.  They both lived at that time in Cyprus. Daniella always seemed full of energy, with her black and white striped shirts with patterns on the front and plastic flowers in her hair.

At Biduedo, I met Susan from Littleton, Colorado and Mike from Prince Edward Island, Canada.  Susan was a nurse practitioner and had never been married.  This was her third, and final, section of the Camino; she did the first two stages in 2016 and 2017.  She and Mike were having beers together.

I also met Janice from San Antonio, who worked in law enforcement and homeland security. She lost her husband six years ago; he had died in his sleep, unexpectedly. She was still grieving over him. After the pilgrim mass in Triacastela, Janice put a locket on a figure of Christ and took a picture.  The locket held some ashes from her best friend’s only daughter who was killed in a car accident at age 24.

In Furela, I chatted with Fatima from Switzerland, who only spoke French.  She and I had been passing each other for many days, but since we couldn’t speak a common language, we always said “Hola!” to each other.  Each time one of us bypassed the other, Fatima said, “Hasta luego!”  Seeing each other again and again came to be expected and cherished.  She had been walking since August 3 from Mont St. Michel to Bordeaux, where she took a train to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. She had been walking from there.

On the rainy walk into Sarria, I met Laurel from Boise, Idaho. She had recently quit her job as a social worker dealing with disabled people and was trying to figure out what to do next.

My friend Darina happened to make it to Sarria, as she had taken the detour route to Monasterio de Samos and had spent the night there. She had been walking steadily one town or so ahead of me since we’d last met, so I was happy to have our paths converge again.  While at dinner, we met three New Zealanders who were starting their Camino the next day.  Stella, the mother, was walking with her two daughters Emma and Laura.  They were all super friendly.

While at dinner in Portomarín, Ricardo, a rakishly handsome Spaniard of 69, was chock full of advice about the Camino,  And so knowledgeable since he lived in his grandmother’s house in Santiago up until he was 4 years old!

I continued to run into Sheryl from Seattle, and the husband and wife she was traveling with, Sharon and John.

What I loved: Several times, I was put in a room with four or five beds but no other roommates. These were some of the most surprising and welcome treats.  I loved meeting up with Darina again periodically.  I also loved taking the alternate route out of Villafranca del Bierzo over the mountains, with no one in sight for miles.

What I hated:  The municipal albergue in O’Cebreiro, Xunta, with its 104 beds, was disheartening: cold showers, an unwelcoming receptionist, people herded about like animals, beds crammed together.  It was the worst of the worst, as far as albergues.  I decided then and there, I would avoid any more municipals if I could help it.

On the home front. In Cacabelos, I was surprised by a call from my loved one.  It was a day when I had been thinking so much about him. He told me he loved living with his older brother, loved the house and yard, liked his job and the people, except for the time had to give up to be there, and how he was sorry (for what, he didn’t say).  He told me he loved me.  He wanted to take off four days to drive home from Colorado, so he could pick up a lot of his stuff like his pressure cooker, etc.  He wished me a good walk.  It was a very nice talk, and quite coincidental – just what I needed to cheer up.

My daughter wrote me a nice note of encouragement on Instagram: “I’m sorry you had a rough day Ma.  You’re doing great and I’m so proud of you.  Keep it up <3.”


*Day 42: Monday, October 15, 2018*

*38,879 steps, or 16.48 miles: Sarria to Portomarín (22.7 km)*

You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:


On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.

This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Sáo Brás de Alportel, Then and Now.