Friday, June 23, 2017

Day 38: The Spiritual Variant

Oct 24: Checkout time for the hostel was an astonishing 8:00 in the morning—long before sunrise! The sky wouldn’t start getting light for an hour! I lingered in the hostel until 8:30 along with a few other slow-moving pilgrims. Eventually, I was the only person left which kind of made me feel exposed as a couple of workers started prepping the hostel for the next night. They never asked me to leave, but I decided to wander outside and kill time until 9:00.

Today would be an exciting day because I’d be getting off the Central Route and veering off onto the uncharted Spiritual Variant. Okay, perhaps it’s charted somewhere, but it was somewhat of a mystery for me. I knew absolutely nobody who had ever done it, and the only map I had was the most primitive of maps. It showed the trail in relation to the shape of the landmass along the Atlantic Ocean, but it included no roads, no nearby towns, no elevation profiles or anything else of use. Basically, it was a list of landmarks I would pass and the only distances displayed were how far it was between the two (and only two) hostels along the route. All of the information on the map could have been squeezed into a chart that would have fit on one side of an index card with zero loss of information and still have enough space to write the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner.

Without good information about where I could resupply or how often I might find cafes or restaurants, I decided I should carry enough food for the next three days. Just in case. I probably wouldn’t need that much, but better safe than sorry!

So at 9:00, I showed up at the supermarket and did some grocery shopping. It would have been nice to get there earlier and do the shopping while waiting for sunrise, but the supermarkets didn’t open until 9:00. I couldn’t do it earlier.

I did my grocery shopping, and then hit the trail a short time later under the brightening skies. I passed all sorts of pilgrims stopped at cafes drinking their cafe con leches while walking through Pontevedra. I took the direct route through town this time having already explored the off-trail sights the previous time I passed through with Amanda.

And by 10:00, I reached the junction for the Spiritual Variant. I took the turn and never looked back.

The trail crossed over a couple of highways on bridges, then headed up and over a small hill then into the town of Poio on Pontrevedra Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The views were great! Both high on the mountain looking over the valley, and directly on the coast overlooking the bay.

Just before reaching the shoreline, the trail passed next to a school, and the young kids were outside goofing around in the  playground. When they saw me walking down the trail, a bunch of them huddled near the chain link fence separating us yelling, “Hola! Hola! Hola!” They were so adorable! They seemed so excited to see me for some inexplicable reason. I’ve passed by playgrounds before, but this was the first time that I became the center of attention. They reminded me of puppies in a cage trying to get attention. I greeted them with an “Hola!”

One small girl asked me (in Spanish, of course) where I was from. “Los Estatos Unidos!” I replied. She seemed puzzled by the answer, as if she had never heard of the United States. Maybe she really asked where I had started and I misinterpreted her question. It would have been very hard to walk here from the United States, after all.

As I rounded the corner and left the playground behind, the kids all started yelling, “Adios!” and kept waving at me. Very friendly bunch of kids! I replied with, “Adios!” as well and waved goodbye. It didn’t really seem like a good idea for me to stop and start chatting with a bunch of young children so I didn’t linger, but a part of me thought it might be fun and interesting. But… someone might get the wrong idea about me and I figured I had better not linger.

Just as I reached the beaches of Poio, an older man called out to me and asked me to hang on a moment. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me at first. “Me?” I signaled. He nodded affirmatively. I hoped I wasn’t in trouble for getting those kids all excited.

But no, we wanted to give me two large (empty and unused!) trash bags. “Por que?” I asked. Why?

He answered in Spanish saying something about using them to sleep on. Or maybe to sleep in. I wasn’t entirely sure. He didn’t know any English so I didn’t understand some of the subtleties of his Spanish answer.

Then he told me a long story about—as best as I could understand it—that he used to live in Argentina but had been repressed by the government, and now he was 72 years old and living in Spain. The rest of his story mostly went over my head. I understood many of the words, but I couldn’t fit them together into coherent sentences.

After about five minutes of trying to tell his story, and realizing that I wasn’t understanding most of it, he finally let me go on my way and parted with a look of immense disappointment in me. On the plus side, I now had two very large trash bags and no idea what I’d do with them.

I continued my walk, stopping a short while later at a cafe in Combarro for lunch and a rest. So far, I hadn’t seen a single pilgrim on the trail and I wondered if I might be the only pilgrim currently taking the Spiritual Variant. Not only had I gotten away from the hordes of pilgrims on the Central Route, but I found a trail entirely for myself?!

But no, while at the cafe, a couple of older women carrying heavy packs and trekking poles stopped there. They had pilgrim written all over them. I introduced myself and they introduced themselves as being from Switzerland. They spoke enough English to get by—we could communicate—but it wasn’t great.

Out of Combarro, the trail climbed steeply up a very tall mountain that seemed to have no end but plenty of false summits. I didn’t mind the workout, but it had me huffing and puffing a bit! It was well worth the effort, however, because a couple of the viewpoints near the top were absolutely drop-dead gorgeous! WOW! One particular viewpoint I declared the winner of “best viewpoint of the entire trail.” I stopped for about 10 minutes at the viewpoints admiring the views and taking photos, thrilled to death to be here. I was so happy about taking the Spiritual Variant! And—so far, at least—it had been very well marked so following it without a map or guide wasn’t a problem.

I arrived at the first alburgue of the Spiritual Variant in the small town of Armenteira. When I arrived, the doors were locked and nobody was there. A note on the door said to contact a person at a cafe in town, but I wasn’t sure where the cafe was located (I hadn’t seen any!) and I didn’t really feel like walking anymore. Or I could call a certain person at a certain phone number, but I didn’t have a working phone so that wasn’t an option.

I knew the two Swiss women were somewhere behind me, though, and I hoped they might get there soon and have a phone that they could make the call with. In the meantime, I could sit around relaxing and reading my book. I also wrote in my journal to get that out of the way while I had nothing better to do.

About an hour later, though, the Swiss women still hadn’t showed up and I was getting itchy to get inside. There were some construction workers out back doing something, so I walked over to them hoping they might have a phone I could use to make the necessary call and asked them, in Spanish, if they could help me get into the building.

One of them led me to the front and showed me a hidden crevice with a key! I used it to unlock the door and returned the key to its hiding hole. Awesome! I never thought to search the area for a hidden key. I could have gotten in an hour earlier had I known about it earlier.

The hostel was a simple place and considerably smaller than the ones on the main Camino route that everyone else was walking. I set my pack down and decided the first thing I’d do is take a shower.

While I was finishing, I heard other people enter the hostel. I assumed it must have been the Swiss women I met earlier, but it wasn’t. The new arrivals were two young Italian girls, led by the hospitalero that had let them in. The hospitalero seemed surprised to see me. “How did you get in here?” she asked me in Spanish.

“Llave!” I answered. Key! I made hand signals trying to explain that I used the hidden key outside.

“Ahhh!” she nodded. “You are clever!” I don’t think she realized that the construction worker behind the building actually showed me the hiding place and had assumed I found it on my own, but that distinction seemed too difficult to explain in Spanish so I didn’t try to correct the impression.

The hospitalero gave the three of us the official tour of the alburgue and I got the code to log into the wi-fi connection. We paid the fee and the hospitalero left to go back to the cafe or wherever it was she had come from.

The two Swiss women showed up a short while later, and that would be it. There would only be five of us in the hostel tonight—a small, humble gathering of pilgrims and a fresh change of pace from the packed hostels with several dozen people the last few nights.

The hostel didn’t have a kitchen, so I cooked dinner on my soda can stove. I could have gone into town for dinner which the other pilgrims did, but since I was already carrying three days of food unsure of when or where I could resupply on the Spiritual Variant, I wanted to eat the food in my pack to lighten my load.

And that was that! Life was good!

They have to install speed bumps because pilgrims keep speeding too fast down this road. *nodding*
Veering off onto the Spiritual Variant!

Surrounded by death!

So adorable! The Spiritual Variant would have been worth it just for these guys! =)

I didn't know it when I took this photo, but a whole bunch of kids were about to line up along this fence and wave hello to me! =)

Beautiful ocean views! The Spiritual Variant has it all! =)

On the other side of the bay... that's Pontevedra where I spent the night.

This little goat was just wandering down the street. Cute little fellow! =)

This particular viewpoint--I'm declaring it the best viewpoint of the entire trail! The photo doesn't really do it justice, but it was awesome!

Wild horses!!!!

This hostel wasn't much to write home about, but there would only be five of us in it tonight. Very cozy! =)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Day 37: Retracing my steps

Oct 23: During the night, a terrific storm hit the area. Heavy rain pelted the roof, lightning flashed through the windows and thunder shook the very foundations of the building. It was quite exciting, and definitely a good night not to be camping. The storm passed, though, and by morning, the skies were mostly clear.

But it was still dark. I woke up and was packed and ready to leave by 8:30—the official checkout time for the hostel, but it was still night outside without even a hint of the sunrise. Despite it being the official checkout time, I lingered not wanting to leave until the sun actually rose and the skies brightened. I might have felt a bit out of place if I were the only pilgrim lingering late, but about a dozen other pilgrims seemed in no great hurry and seemed to linger as well. I’d wait until we were formally thrown out or it got light outside—whichever came first.

By 9:00, the sun had started to rise and I felt it was time to get going. They didn’t have to throw me out after all. =)

I'm still a little surprised at how much Halloween stuff I've been seeing in store windows.
Today, I’d be hiking along the same stretch I walked with Amanda twelve days earlier between Redondela and Pontevedra. I knew this section. I knew there was a pop-up business on the side of the trail that sucked in pilgrims with the promise of a stamp then tried to sell them coffee, scallop shells and other trinkets. I wondered if the guitar-playing fellow would still be out there on the trail, playing his guitar while his buddies sold their trinkets to the passing pilgrims as well. Those particular people seemed more spur-of-the-moment kind of people. That first pop-up business seemed well established with a sign and everything to suck in pilgrims.

I was a little disappointed when I passed both of those locations, however, and neither of them were there. All of these pilgrims walking by, and nobody around to hawk their trinkets. Maybe it was considered the off season, but these people were missing some significant business! The trail was packed with people! I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if over a hundred people would walk by today. I would be surprised if less than 50 people passed by during the day.

I planned to stop at the same cafe in Arcade that Amanda and I stopped at 12 days earlier, but they too were closed. It seemed like all the businesses on the trail had closed down. The hostel where Amanda and I stayed at had also closed for the season on October 15th. The trail was closing down, but there were still so many of us on the trail. It made me wonder how crowded the trail might have been a month or two earlier!

In any case, I stopped at a different cafe in Arcade for a break. The bottom of my left foot was starting to get a little sore, so I looked at the bottom of my shoe to investigate the problem when I noticed that there was a small hole in it. Not because something punctured it, but just because I wore it completely through! The only thing between my foot and the ground was a sock and the shoe insert! When I took the shoe insert out, I could actually poke my little finger through the hole at the bottom of my shoe. It was just a tiny little hole, but it would undoubtedly get bigger and I expected that a shoe liner and sock would eventually wear through as well.

It was a disturbing development. I had been planning to throw away the shoes at the end of my hike anyhow since they now had about a thousand hiking miles on them. I used them along the entire C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage. Then I used them along the entire length of the John Muir Trail. Then I used them walking from Lisbon to Santiago, and now from Porto to my current location. They had a lot of miles on them and they were ready to be retired. But I was also less than 50 miles from the end of the trail in Santiago. I really didn’t want to buy a new pair of unknown, untested shoes so close to the end of the trail. Maybe they’d hold together just long enough to get me to the end of the trail. Maybe….

I continued on, and the sky started filling with angry-looking clouds. The weather was taking a turn for the worse, but I hoped the rain wouldn’t start until I was done with the day’s hike.

Late in the day, the trail split into a road walk and a pleasant creek-side walk. Amanda and I had done the pleasant creek-side walk the last time we went through so today I decided to do the road walk for a change of scenery. As I walked past the junction, a couple of pilgrims pointed to the arrows pointing to the creek-side route suggesting that I was going the wrong way, and car pulled over seemingly wanting to help and suggested that the creek-side path was the much nicer alternative.

“No!” I said, “I know what I’m doing! I did that route last week, and it is indeed wonderful! But I want to see something new today! I’m taking the road! You can’t stop me!”

The road was considerably less scenic, as I knew it would be, but I’m glad I took it anyhow. I saw new statues and houses that I hadn’t seen before. The last ten minutes of the day, the rain finally started. It was a drenching downpour, a heavy rain with large, fat raindrops that pounded heavily on my umbrella. At least the road walk wouldn’t be muddy like the creek-side walk probably was.

Ten minutes! I shook my hand at the heavens. “You couldn’t wait for another ten minutes?!

I reached the alburgue at the edge of Pontevedra, just across the street from where Amanda and I stayed at a hotel during our last time through. It was 1:00, exactly the time when the alburgue opened its doors to pilgrims. Two other pilgrims were already there when I arrived, so I was the third person to check in and scored myself a bed at the corner of the room. A prime spot which minimized the number of people around me. =)

I had covered a short 18.2 kilometers—a nice break after three consecutive 30+ kilometer days. And now that it was pouring rain outside, I was glad to finally use some of my banked miles to take a short da. Now that it was going to rain the rest of the afternoon, I had absolutely no desire to walk anymore.

I took a shower then got online, and in the late afternoon during a short break in the rain, dashed outside to grab dinner at a restaurant before heading back to the hostel for the night. I had to walk back in the rain again, but that was okay. I brought my umbrella just in case, and it wasn’t far. By the end of the night, over 40 pilgrims would be spread out across two rooms. The hostel wasn’t at capacity, but sheesh! There were a lot of people around!

Such a cool display of scallop shells! =)

This is the Ponte Sampaio over the Verdugo River. The bridge was built in 1795 over earlier foundations, and it was here that local militia inflicted a significant rout on Napoleon's troops during the War of Independence.

Kind of a creepy thing to see on the trail....

I think I confused these two pilgrims when I told them to go left then I went straight on an alternative path. =)

How can a pilgrim pass by this cafe without stopping?! =)

The Spiritual Variant looks like fun! =)