Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Day 25: What is this moisture in the air? Rain, you say?

Oct 11: I slept in late in the morning to give Amanda a head start on me, but she slept in late too. *sigh* I was a bit disappointed about her getting up so late since the weather forecast called for rain later in the afternoon and I wanted to get as much hiking in before the rain started. I'd have been happy to leave earlier myself except that I didn't want to leave Amanda behind. So far, it had yet to rain once in the nearly 4 weeks I've been on the trail, but we were in Galicia now. Rain was inevitable.

There were a lot of Camino walkers on the trail this morning. Herds of them! It was a sight to behold and reminded me of my days on the Camino Frances. How could this be the off-season?!

Early in the morning we reached a point where an entrepreneur set up a roadside stand selling pilgrim knickknacks and hot coffee and such with the promises of a free stamp. We stopped for the stamp and Amanda looked at the goods but elected not to buy anything. Probably because she didn't want to carry it. =)

Later in the morning--or maybe it was early in the afternoon--we passed another set of entrepreneurs. One of them played music on a guitar while a couple of others were selling necklaces and other knickknacks as well. It was on a dirt road, kind of in the middle of nowhere and somewhat of a surprise to discover.

While listening to the musician, a couple behind us caught up and passed us, both of them talking loudly into their cell phones which Amanda and I both thought was pretty rude, but we couldn't help but laugh because it looked oddly like they were talking to each other on the phone despite being just a few steps apart. We'd see the couple two more times later in the day, and while the man was no longer yelling into his phone, the woman still was. We never did see her not speaking angrily into her phone. Had she literally spent the entire day talking into her phone? What was so important that it couldn't wait until later? What was so important that she had to talk for hours on the phone? How did she keep her phone charged with all the use that it was getting?

Late in the day, we had a choice of routes that followed parallel to each other for a couple of kilometers. The main route followed a busy road while a nearby parallel route followed alongside a scenic creek. The creek option was about half a kilometer longer, and despite Amanda's sore feet, she decided that she'd rather do that. Which was okay by me--I preferred the non-road option myself! Although when I came through again in a couple of weeks, I knew I'd probably take the road option just to see something different. I can't help myself... I just like to see new places.

Loads of pilgrims on the trail! And a lot of them stopped here for a stamp and to perhaps buy some knickknacks that were being sold at the back of that crowd.

Amanda was limping pretty badly at this point. It was a shorter day than we had done yesterday, but the terrain was more rugged and making it difficult for Amanda. The air was becoming thick with moisture. Rain was imminent. You could smell it in the air, and I hoped we'd reach the end before it started. A light sprinkle did start. Not so much that I would pull out my umbrella, though--it felt more like a thick fog.

I decided to scout ahead and check out the trail. Figure out where we had to turn or not turn and how far we had left to go. At one junction, it wasn't well marked and I wasn't entirely sure of the correct direction. I took a guess and veered right, which curved under a big road. A good place for Amanda to stop for a rest out of the rain if it became necessary, I thought. I followed the trail some more, and it seemed as if it curved completely around in a 360 degree loop, and I was sure it would come back out at the unmarked junction where I had turned right.

But to my surprise--it didn't! Instead, it ducked under a railroad bridge--where the railroad came from, I had no idea--then intersected a road where I found a yellow arrow pointing in the opposite direction I had expected. What the heck?! How did that happen? Was I actually walking around in the wrong direction on the trail now?

I didn't have time to investigate any further. I needed to backtrack to the unmarked junction. If Amanda got there before I did, she might go in the other direction and I wouldn't know if she had passed me or not--or maybe she was walking off in the incorrect direction. I had already been gone longer than I initially intended and hoped she hadn't passed that junction yet. Or if she had passed it, at least made the same right turn that I did.

Amanda had, indeed, passed the intersection, and made the same right turn that I had, but she beat me to the intersection by only a minute or so. I could still see it from where we caught up with each other again.

I suggested we continue on to the bridge where Amanda could get out from under the light sprinkle, and I explained my confusion about what happened to the trail up ahead. She could sit down dry under the bridge while I scouted around to figure out what happened to the trail.

This time, I headed to the end of the bridge and got back onto the surface streets where I quickly picked up the yellow arrows from the road walk we had chosen to skip and followed the streets around in a long U-curved loop that seemed to be following parallel to the trail I had taken earlier and wound up at the same arrow that seemed like it was facing the wrong direction. Now I better understood how the two separate trails merged on the outskirts of Pontevedra, and I followed the trail further to find out how far away a hostel or hotel was. We wanted whatever was closest at this point. Amanda was hurting, and the light sprinkle looked like it was just a taste of a much heavier rain to come. It was time to get off the trail!

I found a hotel a couple of minutes walk ahead. I hadn't made any reservations ahead of time so I went in to ask about availability and costs. They had rooms available, the woman told me, and the cheapest one was 40 euros. It was more than I really wanted to pay, but at this point, I was feeling somewhat desperate. It wasn't that bad of a price, though, since it would cover the cost for both of us and I said I'd take it--but I'd be back in 15 or 20  minutes. I had to get Amanda!

Now that I understood how the two separate routes intersected, I took the more scenic and marginally shorter trail back to Amanda and told her about the hotel ahead. We could probably be there in less than 10 minutes!

I led her back to the hotel without any further issues. We paid for the room, asked for directions to a nearby supermarket and were provided a wonderfully detailed map of Pontevedra along with directions to a couple of different grocery stores and the route through town. Then we headed to our room. Looking out the window, we saw that the rain had started coming down in buckets. A heavy downpour! We had made it to the hotel not a moment too soon!

It rained quite hard for a couple of hours, then petered out later in the evening and Amanda and I headed out to hit the local supermarket. We decided to buy dinner there and take it back to the room, so that's what we did and our day was over!

I just loved this wall of scallop shells!

My guidebook explained this stone bridge in Arcade crossed the Verdugo River and was built in 1795 over earlier foundations. It was also here that local militia inflicted a significant route on Napolean's troops during the War of Independence. History is all around us!

A local musician, singing for the passing pilgrims.
Amanda checks out the goods for sale but decides not to purchase anything. =)

That woman in purple shoes in the background.... she's the one that was talking angrily into her phone all day long. (You can see a blurry Amanda at the extreme top-right corner of the photo.)
Can you tell which is the flower and which is Amanda? I know, it's hard to tell the difference, but give it a try!
Amanda shows off just how strong she really is!
That bridge doesn't look very safe to cross.... fortunately, the trail doesn't cross it here! =)

This guy looks miserable! I think I found the problem. His pack is way too heavy! Good grief, it's huge!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Day 24: Getting Lost and Pilgrim Crowds

Oct 10: Once again, Amanda got another head start on me. I'd hang back in Vigo for the sun to come up before starting. Our plan was to cover about 19 kilometers today, although if Amanda was struggling at the end of the day, it would be possible to stop a few kilometers earlier.

So Amanda was off, and I followed suit about an hour later. This particular route wasn't marked, though, so we had to go strictly with the maps for navigation--which weren't especially detailed. It wasn't long before I suspected that I missed a turn somewhere. I wound up walking about a kilometer in the wrong direction before I reached a small creek near a towering railroad bridge which I could use as a landmark and confirm my location on the map. Argh! It was a scenic setting, but entirely in the wrong direction. I wondered if Amanda was having as much trouble navigating these streets as I was.

At this point, I could keep going in the same direction I was heading. Eventually, this road would merge with the route that I was supposed to be on and being so far out already in the wrong direction, I was tempted just to run with it and keep going until it reconnected with the trail. But I was afraid if I did that, I might wind up ahead of Amanda if she was walking slowly on the correct path and I wouldn't even know I was ahead of her.

So I decided to backtrack, eventually finding the alburgue that was supposed to mark my turn off the road. The alburgue was in a huge building--impossible to miss the building! But the sign that labeled the building as an alburgue was about two inches tall and easily missed--which is exactly what had happened. *grumbling*

The trailed turned up a tiny alley--I wasn't even sure if the alley went all the way through or dead-ended around the corner. It was a steep climb too, and with no arrows to follow, I got the sense that I was heading in the wrong direction again. Surely this couldn't be correct?

But the narrow alley kept going, eventually reaching a small, pedestrian-only bridge over a set of railroad tracks that gave me some sense that maybe I really was going in the correct direction after all. But dang, this section of the trail was seriously steep! If Amanda found the turn and had gone this way, I knew she'd be cursing the steepness of the slope.

The trail then passed a busy highway--another good sign--and up to a smaller (but still busy) road where I finally spotted a yellow arrow. YES! The main coastal route (which is well-marked) was supposed to merge with the path Amanda and I were on, so I had reached the merge! I was back on the main coastal route and now I had arrows I could follow the rest of the day making navigation much easier.

I was ready for a break at this point. It was stressful trying to navigate my way around the complicated streets of Vigo with nothing more than a bad map and my wits. But Amanda was ahead somewhere, and considering how much trouble I had following the trail, I was a bit concerned that Amanda could have gotten as lost as I had. I wanted to find her and make sure she was okay.

So I kept going. The route for the next dozen kilometers was almost entirely and completely flat. It was so flat and the curves in the trail so gentle, I strongly suspected that it might have been an old railroad that had been turned into a walking/biking path, but that was just a guess on my part. I picked up speed and covered ground rapidly. The views were wonderful, overlooking high above the Vigo estuary. A very pleasant section of walking.

About a half hour later, I found a message that Amanda had carved into the dirt with my name which made me feel a lot better. I knew that Amanda was still ahead of me, and if she had gotten lost coming out of Vigo, at least I knew she had found the trail eventually and now had this well-marked, flat trail to follow the rest of the way into Redondela.

And another half hour later, I finally caught up with Amanda who had, indeed, gotten as lost as I did while leaving Vigo. It sounded like she created her own path to the main coastal route after missing the same sneaky turn that I initially did. She had been frustrated and annoyed at the lack of marking and the steep climb to our current location, but she had done it and succeeded.

We walked the rest of the way into Redondela together. Redondela was a turning point for us on the trail for it was here that the Coastal Route merged back into the Central Route. By the time we reached where the two trails merged, Amanda was exhausted and her feet hurting, so we stopped at a nearby restaurant for snacks and drinks.

Amanda ordered the octopus--disgusting little creatures that she enjoyed having a slithering tentacle hanging out from her mouth just to gross me out. I ordered the croquettes.

We had made pretty good time despite our getting lost earlier, and so we had a solid hour or two that we could rest at the restaurant. I required a minimum 1 hour break for Amanda to rest. We still had another 3.1 kilometers to do to reach our goal for the day, and I knew the rest would do Amanda well. And since we had the time, I was going to make sure she rested.

Our location was convenient since we were able to watch the pilgrims from both the coastal and central routes walking into town and during the next hour, we were astounded at the huge volumes of people walking in from the central route. Dozens of people passed us. Sometimes in large groups, and sometimes just one or two people walking by themselves. In the one hour we had been sitting there, I saw more pilgrims walk by than I'd seen on this entire trip so far!

"Where did they all come from?" I asked Amanda rhetorically. "This is the off season! It's October for God's sake!" By comparison, we didn't see a single pilgrim walk in from the coastal route during that timespan. The central route, clearly, got a lot more traffic than the coastal route.

A lot of these people, we also knew, were hurting. Limping badly, clearly suffering from blisters and other ailments. It wasn't a surprise. Many of them had probably started the trail just a day or two earlier. Most people who walk the Camino de Santiago do the absolute minimum distance required to get a compostela in Santiago--which requires 100 kilometers on foot. For those hiking the Portuguese Way, that means starting in Tui, Spain, only about 30 kilometers away. I'm sure several of the people who walked by started in Porto and locations between Porto and Tui, but statistically, we knew that more people start in Tui than in any other city along the path. Which is kind of ironic considering Tui to Santiago was completely in Spain. Not much of a Portuguese route for those people!

Despite knowing that we were joining back on the busier Central route, both Amanda and I were surprised at the hordes of pilgrims walking into town. It was still the off-season, after all. At least we thought it was the off season.

When I took the train back to Porto then followed the Central Route back to Santiago again, I'd become one of these people. I figured I'd be back in Redondela in about two weeks, perhaps eating croquettes at this very restaurant and watching pilgrims walk into town. I wondered if there would be a noticeable decrease in pilgrim numbers two weeks later. I kind of hoped so. I liked company--but I liked it in moderation. Hoards of people don't excite me.

In any case, after Amanda was well rested, we paid our bill and continued through town, eventually reaching a hostel a couple of kilometers out of town. Amanda and I were stunned to discover that the hostel was almost entirely devoid of other pilgrims. The room could hold 24 people, but there were just five of us staying here--which included Amanda and myself! The other three included a couple from Germany who we would see somewhat regularly the next few days and an Australian that we never saw again after tonight. Where did all those other pilgrims we saw going into town go?! How busy does this trail get during the busy season?!

I had told the others that I might be there again in a couple of weeks since I planned to go back to Porto then walk to Santiago a second time, but the person running the hostel told me that that would not be an option because they were closing for the season on the 15th--less than a week away. I'd have to stay at some other hostel on my next trek through.

Not a big deal--plenty of other hostels were around--but it was something of an eye-opener for me. This really was the off-season. Things were closing down. Hostels were mostly empty--despite the hoards of people we saw walking into town. I had a hard time imaging what it must be like during the busy season!

The hostel allowed us to have our clothes washed and dried, and Amanda wanted to get her clothes washed for the first time on the trail. I figured I may as well too. After 24 days on the trail, it was about time my clothes were washed. So we had our clothes washed--all except for the ones we were wearing, of course.

The hostel also had a pile of brochures available about the Spiritual Variant. My guidebook showed a small offshoot of the Central Route up ahead on the trail on a map showing the network of Camino paths throughout Europe, but it had no information about the route and I didn't think much of it. Until I found this brochure about the trail. It showed distances and the locations of two hostels along the route. It showed where the Spiritual Variant veered off from the Central Route, and where it would merge again even further up the trail. And one segment even had a boat ride!

Amanda wasn't interested in doing it. She was focused on Santiago now and had a schedule to keep. But I'd be passing through again in a couple of weeks. I could do the Spiritual Variant the second time around and see some new places instead of repeating two days of walking. Yep, I just added a new route to my hike. In a couple of weeks, I'd hike the Spiritual Variant. *nodding*

Being well outside of Redondela's town center and far from restaurants, Amanda and I got the pilgrim dinner provided by the hostel where we chatted with the other three people in the hostel for much of the evening before calling it a night.

I didn't realize it at the time, but later--when I took the train from Santiago to Porto, I'd have to switch trains here in Vigo at this train station. So about a week later, I'd be at this very location again! Only for an hour or so to switch trains, though.
Halloween seems to be a big deal in Spain!

It somehow seems... insulting... that they'd use scallop shells (the symbol of the Camino) as ashtrays here.

It was upon reaching this creek with the impressive railroad bridge that I knew I had missed my turn in Vigo and had to backtrack more than a kilometer back to the trail.

I hate when that happens. *nodding*

It's a waterfall! Woo-who! I would have liked to take a break here, but I was still trying to catch up with Amanda at the time. (Later, she would tell me that she did take a break here. Rub it in, why don't you?!)
Gives new meaning to the term "rockfish", eh? =)
The views of the Vigo estuary once we reached the top of the trail were awesome!
The trail was also absolutely wonderful. No cars, well-marked, easy to follow and flat as a pancake!

Fun with food! =)


Camino shells for sale

Watch out for speedbumps!

Amanda thought about replacing her trekking pole... but no, she'll stick with what's working!
Our hostel for the night!
Our bunk beds for the night! =) I took the top bunk and Amanda took the bottom one.