Mi Camino Flashback: Day 1 – At Your Own Pace, Carry On

L1040388Sept 15, Sarria to Portomarin (23km):  “Are you able to walk 25km a day, m’am?” asked the tour agency politely. Think so. I can brisk-walk 5-6km easily in an hour. I have gone hours on end pacing floors and floors of a shopping mall. I’d spent 7-8 hrs walking around Orlando theme parks a-okay. So yes, 25k a day is not a problem, I said…

…BIG MISTAKE. It totally escaped the unfit sud that I am that the Spanish countryside may just be filled with undulating landscapes filled with steep slopes of all kinds. Technically I can walk 25km a day – but a rough countryside is a different story. On hindsight, I should have embark on a 10-day Camino, and walk at a leisurely pace of 10km a day instead. Looking back, it’s by the grace of God that I managed to do it in 6 days and survived!

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UPS & DOWNS: On Day 1, it didn’t take me long that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. The moment we kicked off from our hotel at 0745, the first route consist of a staggering long, steep flight of stairs. By the time I get to the top of it, I was totally out of breath. “Remember the sights!” I told myself. So as I huffed and puffed, I dragged my Leica to shoot the panoramic view of Sarria and the quaint 13th century Magdalena Monastery (above right).

L1040385Downhill was another story . Barely after the steep climb, came a steep downhill slope paved with loose pebbles (above). It’s easier on the lungs but not for a creaking knee that threaten to snap with every step. And with hiking shoes that is not totally broken in, what happens next is that your poor little piggies crashed against hard leather as you gingerly make your way down praying you won’t slip. In a word, it hurt. Like hell.

Throughout the trek ,I only have problems with the steep slopes (“Who doesn’t?”, quipped my guide Jesus) – whether it’s paved with pebbles, rocks, sand or tar. I couldn’t move faster on those, so I try and make up when on flat ground. It’s not a race I reminded myself, I just want to complete Mi Camino in one piece…

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PIT-STOPS & SELLO: Thank goodness that along the route you will find resting places such as cafes, restaurants, or albergues (dorm -like hostels). This is  where one can find the stamps ( or “sello” in Spanish) that one needs for the pilgrim passport or pick up a pilgrim scallop shell (above right). At our first stop at a cafe at Barbedelo, I caught up with two tour mates, sister duo Jacintha and Mary (one of four Marys) and found out I’m already an hour behind. The cheery ladies (2 of 13 Irish ladies on my tour) advised me to go at my own pace. After being assured by Jesus that I’m not holding up the rest, I walked at a pace I’m comfortable with and start having a longer look at the lovely scenery, unique centuries-old churches, and farm animals such as the cows and horses.

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GRUB & GROG: F&B throughout Galicia is good and reasonably priced. At our second stop at Ferreiros (13 km in), a meal of sausage, egg and wedges and two Cokes cost less than 5 euros; a 3 -course pilgrim set lunch cost just 9.90 euros. Coffee, from expresso to cappuccino, is great and the best beer is Estella Galicia, light and refreshing. Some albergues like the one above left left chairs and drinks out front without anyone tending, and any pilgrim is welcome to buy the drinks and have a rest before moving on, bless them…

FELLOW PILGRIMS: As we approached the tail end, two things kept me going – the thought of a nice hotel bed and shower, and everyone greeting you with a Buen Camino. One pilgrim who caught my eye was this smiley girl in purple with two pairs of hiking shoes hanging on her haversack. She walked with a spring in her feet and then minutes later I found her sitting on a stone wall (above right) and sketching in a book. A day later we would meet her again and learnt that she’s a new Zealander named Kiri (“but everyone calls me Kiwi!”) and she had been travelling more than 200km from Santiago. Friendly and chirpy, certainly one of the bright and shining stars on The Milky Way!

L1040450PORTOMARIN: The Medieval Arch Bridge  (above) is one of the most enduring sights I’ve ever seen. It means the end is near!! (Hallelujah!) Well, we still had to walk across that long bridge, climb another flight of steps (a shout-out to Macho Pilgrim who hi-fived me at the top for making it alive!) and walk a short mile to our Hotel Villajardin, which praise God has simple but clean comfy rooms, with good food and free Wi-Fi. It’s also just a street away from the town centre where you will find the other attraction, St Nicholas Church, and a host of eateries and shops selling  souvenirs, walking sticks and travel necessities. Upon arriving at 1530, I learnt from another Irish tour mate Mary (second of four) that I was merely an hour behind the last of them. The main thing, she said, was that I made it. Yes! 🙂

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THINGS TO NOTE:
1. Hiking shoes – According to Mary II, she went through 10 pairs before breaking-in the perfect pair;
2. Weak Knees – Bring knee guards, athlete tape (either Western or TCM types) for support; and muscle cream for massage; walking stick will be a big help, even a branch or staff;

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