Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day 15, Rua to Santiago

We finally made it to Santiago on June 7, greeted by a photographer, as well as many familiar faces from along the Camino. For many, the walk from Rua (view map) was less arduous than in the previous days -- perhaps due to the anticipation of arriving at our final destination.
On the way, we passed signs announcing our entrance into Santiago; sometimes they were simple roadsigns, but in one case, a last trail-marker appeared — quite ornate in comparison to the dozens we had been passing for weeks now . . .

Our first glimpses of the cathedral itself were not collective, however; as usual, most of us arrived separately, or in smaller groups. Yet upon arriving, it soon became difficult to judge exactly what we thought about our experiences throughout the pilgrimage. After my return to the States, for example, many people asked me the same question: "How was it?" — and I was not, and still am not, quite certain how to respond. Just as the Camino unfurled differently for each of us, I find it almost impossible to offer any sort of totalizing description to those who have not (yet) been a pilgrim. What can one say about something where every day seemed so similar, yet so different? — sometimes arduous and painful, other times leisurely and fun? I would argue that in many of our photos, the expressions on our faces do a certain injustice to the depths of our thoughts.

That day we attended the pilgrim's mass offered at the cathedral, where everyone was supremely pleased to discover that the giant censer at Compostela — the botafumeiro — was going to be set in motion that day. Taking several men to lift it, the censer is suspended on ropes in the center of the cathedral, right where the nave crosses the transept.:

It was such an amazing sight to see it swinging back and forth, almost touching the cathedral's ceiling.

The cathedral itself is a spectacular example of architectural layering. Since it has been in continuous use for hundreds of years, one is able to see several different styles present -- sometimes in the same general area: Romanesque (largely characterized by round arches, or half-barrel vaults), Gothic ("pointed" spires and lancet windows), Renaissance (squared-off, mantel-like embellishments above doors), and Baroque (swirling stone and metal, often decorated with cherubim) -- all intermingled with each other to form a timeless, yet time-indicative structure. Compostela is in many ways like one of the poplar trees found throughout much of Spain, in that one is able to see the newer "bark" growing right around the various, and older "carvings."

Example of Romanesque features at Compostela

Very Baroque!

All we could see of the Portico de la Gloria

After touring the rest of the cathedral (unfortunately, the Portico de la Gloria and its surrounding areas were closed for repairs while we were in Santiago), we had a wonderful last meal together at a local restaurant, O Gato Negro. Here are a few photos of what happened to our dishes of raciones:

... And finally, toward the end of the night, we partook of a local beverage in all its fiery goodness:
This drink, the "queimada," is made by continually stirring burning alcohol in this large bowl. Before drinking it, all the participants are given a print-out of an incantation of sorts. I won't include any of that here -- it is for you to discover, hopefully in person!


Day 14, Melide to Rua

Melide to Rua

Because our walk from Palas Do Rei to Melide was a relatively short one, Professor Gyug planned for us to walk a much longer way the following day, over 30 km to a hostel in a place called Rua. Most of us woke up very early, while it was still dark and we walked the first stretch of the Camino, off the road and onto a forest trail without much light guiding us.

We strained to see the yellow arrows for a short while. As the sun rose into its place in the sky the Camino began to come alive with its many wild sounds and the footsteps of other pilgrims. For me this day was filled with anticipation and mixed emotions. This would be our last day of walking before our march into the Plaza del Obradoiro, where Santiago’s enormous cathedral awaited our arrival.
The road to Rua was a mixture of roadside walking and trail-treking. It was a good example of the diverse terrain that the Camino is known for. We walked on dirt trails and came across a beautiful horse that walked up to us slowly and carefully popped its head through the barbwire fence that separated us on the trail from him among the trees. My friends, Scott, Mari, and I stood there for a minute and looked at him. We realized he probably wanted food, but we had none so we moved on.

The trail soon met the road and we walked through neighborhoods and past cars. There were a few bars along the way to grab a café con leche or some tea. Throughout the morning, we past many kilometer markers and each time we passed one it reminded us how close we were to the end. I know that many in our group were ready to reach Santiago, but if they felt any of the mixed emotions that I was feeling this particular morning, they might have also wished that the journey didn’t have to end so soon. Our group had been very strong thus far, and no major injuries had set us back. We were all sore, and tired, some of us ripe with blisters and others with sour joints and tendonitis, yet we had all made it so far and the thought of going back to our lives in New York and elsewhere for the rest of the summer were nestling their way into our minds. I began to feel reality and my usual urban existence closing in on me.

In one of the major towns we past through on our way to Rua a photographer from our university's magazine was there to take pictures of us for an article about our journey. He walked with us for a while as we exited the town and climbed up into the low hills where there were some incredible views of the valley below.

It was a long day, but we didn’t push ourselves too hard. It was a pleasant walk and much of it was on a wide path like the one below. For much of the trek we could see for miles around us.

We past many farms and fields where men and women worked their land. Throughout my journey on the Camino I was impressed with the many elderly people working outside. We encountered many individuals working in their small gardens or cutting back their large fields like this lady (below) we past on our way to Rua. The presence of self-sustainability in the small villages we walked through was something that not only impressed me, but also reminded me that much of the world is not at all like New York City where we Fordham pilgrims call home. There are still places where people grow their own food and work each day at tending their land to feed their families. I found that this relationship to the earth is something missing for many people living modern, urban lives, including myself. As I walked I thought of the transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau who emphasized simplicity and the importance of man’s relation to nature. Emerson wrote in his book titled Nature that, “every hour and season yields its tribute of delight: for every hour and change corresponds to a different state of mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight.” I think many of us have lost sight of that intrinsic connection with nature, a connection that affects our state of mind and our senses whether we realize it or not.

When we passed the 20-kilometer mark we were exhausted and Rua lies on the 19-kilometer mark, and for me that last kilometer was a rough one because I was physically drained. The path left the main road and onto another trail surrounded by trees.

When we all finally reached Rua, we found that we were staying at one of the most comfortable places of our whole trip. There wasn’t much to do in Rua, but our hotel had a very nice restaurant and bar where we hung out, had some bocadillos and refreshments. The hotel had a large yard with a table in the middle of it so we got to sit out on the grass and talk as a group while our wet clothes dried on nearby clotheslines. It was a very relaxing afternoon and evening. Everyone went to sleep fairly early in preparation for our final day of walking. We were almost there and it felt great!


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Day 13, Palas de Rei to Melide

Melide was the largest city we’d seen since Astorga, and our arrival marked the last 60 or so KM until Santiago. The weather, for once, was pleasant with spotty sunshine as we ambled down the main road toward our hostel, a labyrinth-like building which extended downwards instead of up. From our window, we saw cattle, not an unusual sight even in close proximity to the city and a constant reminder of the path that lay before us. We circled the Igrexa de Santa Maria, a twelfth century church (the doors were locked) and toured the Igrexa Sancti Spiritus (fourteenth century). Later, when Jules and I returned to tour the town’s museum, there was a funeral procession at the church. I was struck by the sadness of the crowd that had gathered and was reminded that the churches, monuments, and even the trail itself, are integral parts in a town’s workings and that we as pilgrims are merely passers-by. That thought in tow, the museum was pretty incredible – four or five floors of art and artifacts from local craftsmen and artisans – cobblers, sculptors, seamstresses, blacksmiths. I think Melide was the one of the only towns to possess such a store of history – although the bartender at Portomarin was an historian in his own right. Perhaps it should have been one of our “goals” on the Camino to search out such individuals, or else, truly, the towns begin to run together.

Aside from the history, Melide was remarkable for its gastronomy: we supped at Pulperia Ezequiel, a famous pulperia – makers of pulpo, or octopus. I’d been a bit worried about this, feeling somewhat responsible for the enjoyment of pulpo, since it was “my” town and all, but I think overall it was a very interesting experience. We sat at long wooden tables with benches and ordered a half-dozen plates of pulpo. The pulpo-maker stood in the very front of the restaurant, where he would place the pulpo in giant copper pots, and then chop it up and serve it on large wooden platters with olive oil, salt, and paprika when it was done. I think the most arresting part of eating pulpo is the way the tentacles and the little suckers turn a deep purpley magenta, though the meat itself has a clean, sweet taste, and I think most everyone enjoyed a few pieces. As usual, Dr. Gyug was the most adventurous, and ordered “orejas” just because we didn’t know what they were. It was quite obvious when the plate reached the table that it was collection of pig ears, gray, nubbly, complete with bits of cartilage. I have to say that I didn’t try one, mainly because of the look on Kevin’s face when he choked it down, and even Dr. G said, “Well, these really aren’t very good” – though after finishing the entire plate!

I was in okay shape in Melide, although my toe had swollen to twice the normal size and was taking up too much space in my shoe. Jules and I, once again, experienced the graciousness of Spanish Spanish-speakers to our bumbling attempts to explain the pain in my fat toe (“That one just doesn’t look like the others,” said Freddy) at the pharmacy where I successfully procured some curious Ibuprofen in gel form.

We ended the day with a brief meeting outside our hostel where we discussed the return to the trail and enjoyed large frosty beers.

By Allie

Day 12, Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Day 11, Sarria to Portomarin

The ascent into Portmarin was not nearly as rigorous as the description I had given my fellow peregrinos based on the available information from Our trek over the Rio Mino (or the Belesar Dam) was immediately followed by a moderately brutal staircase; then we were in paradise.
We spent an unecessarily long time choosing a restaurant (because there was only one kitchen in all of Portomarin, as we would soon discover) at which we enjoyed a mediocre multi-course mid day meal (or menu del dia).

In a stroke of luck, Professor Gyug and I wandered into a bar with a particularly informative bartender, a Portomarin native. He showered us with books discussing the history of Portomarin. It was there that we discovered Portomarin was home to a factory that makes the best and most important of the much beloved Tarta de Santiago. I suddenly felt rejuvenated and excited about my presentation of Portomarin.

For our tour of the town, we met outside the Church of San Juan, which is basic Romanesque style and designed to function as both a church and a fortress. We explored the church, soaking up all of its architectural features differentiating it from the other churches we have seen along the camino.
Afterwards, I invited all of the willing peregrinos on an adventure to the Tarta factory. The majority of the group was enthralled and gleefully followed my lead. We walked into the ¨factory¨ (which appeared to consist of a woman with a cutting board) to whom I declared ¨tenemos que mirar around¨ (with the necessary hand motions). She didn´t respond. We then filed out in a cloud of shame and disappointment.
Despite the mishap, we had a wonderful day in Portmarin. According to Kevin, the weather was comparable to that in California at this time of year. We basked in the sunlight outside of our albergue, entertaining the possibility of swimming in la piscina or kayaking in the Reservoir. Instead, we ate more and went to sleep.


Day 10, Triacastela to Sarria

Today we walked 17K to Sarria. Compared to all the other days today's walk was quick and easy and we made it to town before the Menú del Día was served. The walk to Sarria wasn' that interesting, just flat which was greatly appreciated. Once we were fed, rested, and bathed, we took a tour of the city. Sarria ia special because it is 111K from Santiago and the last town pilgrims can begin to walk from in order to receive the Compostela. We saw the Church of San Salvador. Built in the 11th century in the Roman style, a crowned figure is carved above the side door and his hands are blessing all those who walk by.
We also went to Sarria's most important cultural attraction- el Monasterio de la Magadalena. Built in the 13th century it has Roman and Gothic influences. The monastery was founded as a hospital by Italian friars for pilgrims then turned into an Augustinian monastery.
After our short tour we went to the supermercado and bought food for dinner. The albergue in Sarria was one of our nicer stops. There was a kitchen and big tables for group dinning, so we had a very nice community dinner. Lots of jamón, queso, pan, and vino tinto- the staple diet of all peregrinos. After dinner we sat outside and played a few thrilling rounds of mafia. When we couldn't stay awake any longer we went to bed and prepared for another long day of walking.

Buen camino!

Day 9, O Cebreiro to Triacastela

"... it’s very psychologically archetypal, my fascination with the mystery of fog."

My perspective on the day, from my journal:

"Today consisted of a surreal hike out of foggy mountain land.  It was actually really beautiful! To be able to stand on a mountain crag and imagine what lies before and below you, because you can see absolutely nothing, is a wonder to behold! Just eerie fog wrapping around you, playing with you...

Never have I been in a fog so thick. And never have I actually seen a fog ROLL IN AND EAT THE ENTIRE LANDSCAPE RELENTLESSLY. It actually curls like a tidal wave up a hillside and swallows everything. Today I witnessed a town evaporate before my eyes in a minute, and telephone wires extending into nothingness. It’s purely amazing.

What the fog held: Like out of a child's book, it's up to you to fill in the rest!
My walk out of foggy nothingness towards foggy nothingness reminded me of Augustine’s concept of time…that both the past and the present do not exist, and that the present is every dying. You can only see what you are passing through, and the rest is unknown. Unlike time, however, approaching cars were still detectable to my keen ears; since I like to live dangerously, I was usually walking in the middle of the highway :O  – but what I was REALLY doing was cutting the most direct path up the mountain, so whenever the road wound around a slope I stayed as straight as I could to shave off meters. Camino cheater! Or just a daredevil. :)

Anyway, on the road I was able to romanticize about the cowbells I heard from never never land, far out of eyeshot. I love taking pictures of livestock! I got a picture of a cow that I plan on blowing up into a poster for my dorm room.

Emily, to complement my sentiments about time and space, raised the provocative point that walking through fog forces one to embrace the immediate present and what is directly in front of one. I agree with her wholeheartedly, but I’d like to add that the fog also adds to the wonder of the future. Contrary to what others have felt, I don’t believe that the fog makes the walk any longer. If anything, it felt shorter today because walking became an adventure of the mind as well as the body."

Me and St. James braving the cold mountain air!

Much Love from the Camino!
Joseph Robert Bertino