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! =)

1 comment:

Karolina Śmiech said...

Beautiful views today, indeed! :-)