It was 33K to Sarria and James’ dad, Graham, was scheduled to arrive there by bus sometime around 18:00. Along the trail there were rolling, green, fenced pastures with lots of cows. Each cow had a different sounding bell. When they walked and grazed it was a musical chorus. The cows all looked very healthy and well fed. I spent some of the time looking at signs and learning new words. We passed a marker that said we had 138K to go to Santiago. Looking at my chart it read that, at that time, we were 33K past the summit at O Cebreiro, and should be around 110K to go to Santiago by the time Graham joined us. The last five days have been quite long and we’d passed through many small Spanish villages, picturesque areas and seen memorable sights.
Graham was scheduled to be in Sarria that evening and we wanted to get the miles down to just over 100K. At 100K you can get a certificate that proves you have done the Camino. Our sheets showed that in the last five days we’d put 163K behind us.
I remember when I was race walking and doing 20 and 50K races. 20K was good with 50K being long and not much fun after about 35K. That hasn´t changed, the only difference is we´re going somewhat slower and carrying a lot more weight. After 30K+- my feet begin to complain and much beyond that they´re hammered. Self massage is a good thing to know, so is how to take a quick power nap in the afternoon. I find the first 3-5K in the morning, and if I stay too long for lunch or a break, are quite difficult. My knees have to get warm all over again before I can get back up to speed.
James and Donal had adopted the modified racewalk on the downhills. It´s a jog with bent knees and you let the hill carry you down and instead of hammering the joints you float down. You have to be aware of where you´re putting your feet because a loose stone can set you on your backside.
On the outskirts of Sarria, Donal and I sat down by a cement wall to wait and see if James would show up before too long. Neither of us were long on patience and after a few minutes we decided not to wait and continued on.
We met a man on our way into the city of who had walked 2500K from his home in Belgium. His final destination was Santiago de Compostella. He looked pretty road weary and we didn’t walk with him for long before leaving him behind. We were solidly in the Galicia region now and lots of the signs were spelled differently but pronounced the same. X’s replaced J’s and some towns had 2 different names. It had been that way, 2 different names, in the northern parts where there was a lot of Basque influence, especially around Pamplona.
We got to Sarria at 4:00 and as we topped a flight of stone steps we saw a person who James and Alain and then the rest of us, had seen off and on, since the beginning. He told us the alberque was just down the street and on the left. We went down, checked in, found the showers were cold and that there wasn’t any room for James or Graham. After the cold shower we gathered up our gear and went looking further. James had given me a bed sheet that he had bought 2 of and I’d put it on the bunk when we checked in. It wasn’t until the next day that I remembered that I’d left it when we decided to look for other options.
Donal waited at the top of the stone steps in case James showed up before I got back and I went up the street in search of better housing.
I found one, almost new, clean, a little high priced but didn’t have cooking facilities. They had their own restaurant and everyone I saw there, when looking at the rooms and restaurant, looked like tourists with backpacks. As stated earlier, a lot of people only walk the last 100K, a lot of people. One way to tell those who’ve been on the Camino for some distance is to look at their socks. If the socks are close to the same color as the trails have been for the last few days or weeks, it’s a pretty good bet that the person is a pilgrim and not a tourist. With the limited amount of washing machines available, as often as not, socks are washed out by hand with minimum amounts of soap, usually hand soap. If you saw someone with nice white socks it was probably an indication that they hadn’t been on the Camino for long. Another way to tell is if the person is wearing a shirt or blouse that’s starched and/or pressed. No one has access to an iron or ironing board in an alberque and if they did after a week or so, who cares.
Down the street 1/2 block was just what I was looking for, I remember the name as being Las Blasones. They had a room with 4 beds, it had a private toilet, was at the end of a hall , they had a washer and drier, a clothes line in the sun, a big dorm downstairs and a complete kitchen. To top it off the lady was very nice and said she would hold the room for us. I offered to leave a deposit but she insisted it wasn’t necessary. I left my backpack and went back to where Donal was waiting. Just as I got there James was coming up the steps.
I asked if James had made contact with his father and he had. Graham was do in Sarria at 6:30. Donal and I had showered, cold, at the other place before deciding to leave and while James showered we scouted around, found a supermercado and got the makings for dinner and breakfast the next day. By the time James was finished stashing his gear and showering we had dinner under control and well on its’ way. We had eaten by the time Graham showed up. We asked Graham if he had eaten and he said he was going to order something at the cafe/bar next to the alberque.
Graham had met 2 women from Sweden on the bus who were going to walk from Sarria to Santiago and had invited them to have dinner with him/us. We all had a couple of beers while their dinner was being prepared and we dodged cars coming down the narrow street. The street was busy, only wide enough for one car at a time and with tables and chairs it was close quarters. I had chosen to sit away from the traffic lane but one of the ladies from Sweden had to move her chair a couple of times so cars could go by.
While we were sitting there I began to get the impression that Graham wouldn’t be someone I would want to spend a lot of time around. He saw everything as a negative and I try not to structure my life that way. I really can only remember a few times on the rest of the trip when he said anything upbeat, or upbeat without a disclaimer attached. My mother was like that. She would make a comment like, “ It’s a really nice day, but it will probably rain or the wind will blow later.” Nothing could be good and stay that way, there always had to be something hanging on the end. Maybe she was just covering her bases and didn’t want to be wrong in case whatever it was, did change.
Somewhere along about this time I began to notice that there were people who we’d see leave in the morning, then pass them while they sat in a cafe drinking coffee and run into them again, drinking coffee at a cafe when we got to town. If that only happened once, one might be lead to think they’d missed some of the arrows and walked a straighter line on the roadway. But, when it happened quite frequently it became apparent that they had taken the roadway, but not on foot. One person in particular stands out in my mind, a taxi driver from London who always seemed to have stories about the walk, none of the sweat stains the rest of us had and hadn’t walked passed us on the trail. He was sitting at the top of the steps when we got to Sarria.