We expected to see a pilgrim “rush hour” leaving Sarria this morning and were surprised that it was not busy at all. Sarria is just a little further away from Santiago de Compostela than the required 100 km a pilgrim needs to travel on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, without vehicular backup in order to receive their Compostela. Sarria is where many people begin their journey.
Here is how it all works. The credencial or “pilgrim passport” is the modern equivalent of the letters of safe-conduct carried by medieval pilgrims that permitted them passage through the different kingdoms through which the route passed, as well as granting them exemption from tolls and certain other fees en route. The modern version is a document printed and issued to anyone making the pilgrimage. Pilgrims have their credencials stamped at least once each day at points all along the route in order to certify that their journey meets the conditions required for the granting of the Compostela. Upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela, pilgrims present the completed credencial at the pilgrim office in Santiago and may then qualify for a Compostela certificate.
Probably most of the new pilgrims just starting their journey today from Sarria got a head start. We woke up after 8 o’clock and had to pay a visit to the bank machine before leaving. It was another beautiful, sunny day and an equally beautiful walk, spread between peaceful tree-lined country roads and natural pathways lined with stone walls. We passed through many small villages that seemed to blend seamlessly one into the next.
We had two reactions when we came the 100 km stone marker: “Great! We are only 100 km from Santiago!” and “Oh no! We are only 100 km from Santiago!” Now in Mercadoiro we are down to double digits with just 98.4 km to go. We’ve got to make the most of these final kilometers, because who knows if we’ll ever have an opportunity to do this again. Time to slow the pace?
We reached quiet little Mercadoiro and decided to stay. It has an official population of – one! There is just an albergue here with an adjoining cafe-restaurant, a big yard and patio with tables and umbrellas – a pleasant place to relax.
The private rooms at the albergue were full but we were given a room with three sets of bunk beds and a promise that we would be the only occupants. It sounded good but it was also a bit strange. The stone building was cold and stuffy. One room with bunk beds led to another room and a stairway to the upper floor where our room was located. The showers were peculiar, but then many showers have their idiosyncrasies. The place would do for a night.
As soon as we settled into our six-bedded room, we went for our cerveza, but with a bit of a refreshing twist this time: “cerveza con limon.” Who knows what brought about Dave’s “Camino moment.” Maybe it was a combination of the meditative Indian flute music, the warm sun, the soft breeze blowing autumn leaves off a nearby tree, and a second cerveza con limon. Anyway, we are going to be hearing that music a lot at home, to be sure!
A communal meal was served to nine of us (plus one puppy) who are staying at the albergue. We are all English-speaking except for a French woman. She walked from her home in France and will have walked 1,000 km by the time she reaches Santiago. A young girl from Italy adopted the cutest little puppy on her journey. Sometimes she has to walk extra kilometers to find an albergue that will accept the puppy. Four Americans came from Alaska and Washington State.
I especially enjoyed talking with Vesna, a Canadian woman from Toronto who came from Croatia when she was a child. Her grade four French was enough to include the French woman in our conversation. Vesna said she is enjoying the Camino now, but said she hated the Meseta and nearly quit walking the Camino at that point. Everyone she has met so far said they loved the Meseta, Dave and I included.
Vesna said her daughter would be horrified by how unfashionable her mom is now: no makeup, wearing layers of droopy shirts that have been washed and wrung out too many times. I offered to trade my layers of droopy clothing for hers, but she didn’t take me up on the offer. Mine must be uglier!
Hopefully we’ll keep up with some of these new faces and see them in Santiago when we arrive next week. Not long now! Boo hoo!