Fog City Boy on the Camino Primitivo
Dublin, September 23, 2017
The respite in Lugo was a welcome break – an opportunity for recovery before launching on the final stages of the pregrenacion. Lodging was comfortable. Food was good.
While wandering the old town in Lugo, I crossed paths with two young couples I had met along The Way. Both had walked the Camino del Norte which originates at Irun (Spain) near Biarritz (France). It proceeds west along the coast with the Camino Primitivo serving as one of two traditional routes that eventually connect with the Camino Frances. I met the American couple (from the Pacific Northwest) on the Hospitales Route. I met the German couple (she from Poland) a couple of days later. Reunifications are one of the most rewarding elements of the Camino experience. Though you may only have known a peregrino for a day or so, you share a common bond that makes you “old friends” when The Way brings you together again.
Both couples had experienced a fully booked town when they arrived in Berducedo (where this en suite peregrino was disappointed not to have his own room and an unlimited hot shower). Both had walked on about 5 kilometers to the home of a generous woman who undertook to provide shelter and dinner to them and to other peregrinos who could find no other habitacion for the evening. The price? Strictly donativo. All four spoke of their experiences with gratitude.
The Way proceeds past the cathedral, through one or another arched gateway (there are alternate routes out-of-town), eventually crossing the River Mino and casually traversing the suburbs of Lugo.
As The Way moves from suburbs to rural venues, it is clear that harvest is coming soon.
The peregrino traffic on the respective Caminos increases upon departure from Lugo (Camino Primitivo), Sarria (Camino Frances), or Tui (Camino Portugues). Each of these towns is a gateway of sorts – a point where the distance to Santiago de Compostela is a few kilometers over the 100 needed to obtain a compostela – the certificate attesting to one’s status as a pilgrim and to the completion of the peregrenacion – upon arrival there. Many pilgrims begin their pilgrimage from one of these gateways.
I was particularly pleased to set out on the last 100 km or so because guidebook references made clear that most of the elevation challenges were behind me. That meant that I would be able to “step out” – use my full stride rather than taking “baby steps” as I had done so frequently in the days before. Baby steps were my safety measure when dealing with ascents and descents. I marvel at the 20 and 30-somethings who blithely stride swiftly up and down graveled byways, many without walking poles.
In time, The Way returns to its usual farm road/byway character. Entrepreneurs capture the opportunity.
The Way follows secondary roads but also diverts into wooded paths. I took a break in a shaded spot, only to discover a waymark monument with a statement by a Canadian peregrino who had recently passed by. Exactly why this location commanded the peregrino to jettison his boots is unclear.
But also there are enduring reminders of the faith.
The Camino Primitivo presents an assortment of challenges (elevation being one, as previously reported). One of those challenges is the paucity of facilities between Lugo and Melide or alternatively Palas de Rei where the Primitivo joins the Camino Frances for the final distance to Santiago. The distance from Lugo is 46 km to Melide with very few albergue spaces or other habitacion available. The peregrino must plan carefully!
My plan was to break the Lugo-Melide stage into three substages. I had booked accommodations accordingly.
Unfortunately, I missed the cues as reported in my guidebook marking the edge of town at San Ramon da Retorta (population about 50, not including peregrinos staying at the two alberques) – the intended end of my first substage. I had planned to call for a taxi there, return to Lugo for the night (I already had booked and paid for my hotel there), and return to San Ramon the next morning to continue on. But I blew by the town and found myself a long way out of town before I was forced to acknowledge that my plans were superceded by a new reality!
Having no other choice, I persevered.
About one hour and 3 km later, I came to Burgo de Negral, a tiny farming village (population 37) that formed around a pilgrim hospital established in 1223. Burgo also was home to several 30-somethings who might best be described as latterday Iberian hippies. I assign that description with affection. They were most kind to me.
They had a display of leather goods, simple jewelry, and other souveneirs of the Camino assembled by she who was the leader of the family assemblage. Fruit and beverages were available, as well as a selle for the passing peregrino’s credencial. Everything was offered donativo.
I collected the selle, made a donation, and explained my plight.
She who was the leather artisan and leader of the pack volunteered her brother to drive me to Lugo (there were no known taxis for miles around). “How much would it cost?” “Donativo,” was the response.
So I climbed into Alejandro’s very basic little car (not his real name), and off we went to Lugo. I arrived safely about 40 minutes later. Actually, he was a far more conservative driver than any of the actual taxi drivers I had engaged in Spain.
Alejandro with broken English and I with broken Spanish talked as best we could. He communicated that he thought the Primitivo was more difficult than the other Caminos. I indicated agreement. He said that he had biked the Camino Primitivo at some point in the past. We arrived in Lugo, I made my donation, he was cordial and returned home.
The next day, there were no busses that would get me to Burgo de Negral. But the information office at the Estasion de Autobuses in Lugo directed me to a regional line that would get me to Guntin, a substantial town in the general vicinity of Negral. “Take a taxi from there,” was the advice. Ok. Today is a short day (because yesterday was longer than intended). Let’s give it a try.
I enjoyed the ride through rural hamlets, eventually arriving in Guntin. I exited the bus, collected my mochila, and looked for a taxi stand. To make a short story shorter, there was none, but the operator of a Repsol (petrol) station called a friend who had a local delivery service who was willing to take on the challenge of getting me to Negral. He only got lost once, but eventually – after receiving directions from a resident farmer – deposited me in the Bergo de Negral across the street from a Camino waymark.
I made a point of calling on my latterday hippie friends who were glad to see me. I was glad to see them! We all embraced, and I continued on The Way.
About 5 km farther along the Way, the path leads through the farming town of Ferreira. The Way crosses a Roman bridge part way through the town.
A little farther along The Way, there is a small parklet off to the side of the road. A stream has been channeled through it and a monument commemorates a local benefactor and hero.
The next morning, I came upon a very welcome sight – a small cafe/bar that was not reported in either of my guidebooks (published in 2013 and 2015, respectively). The Camino infrastructure continues to evolve!
[Strong advice to future peregrinos: Never rely on a guidebook more than one year old if you can avoid it. The Caminos are always changing.]
I had the breakfast sandwich – very welcome after the inadequate Continental breakfast that was offered at my lodging that morning. A Camino McMuffin?
The establishment was run by a cordial woman whose dress, carriage, and visage suggested she might not be a Spaniard. Another peregrino placing an order asked her, hesitantly, if she spoke English. She responded, “I’m Irish, but I speak English.” Several peregrinos present chuckled at that.
So, paying for my cafe con leche and Camino McMuffin on the way out, I told her that one week later I would be in Dublin. What should a peregrino do in Dublin? “I suppose you should sip a pint of Guinness!”
I told her I would, and have followed through on the promise!
Melide is 53 km from Santiago. It is the point of convergence between the Camino Primitivo and the very heavily traveled Camino Frances. There were peregrinos everywhere! Many albergues were there to house them. Many bars available to help them relax. A pleasant fountain graces the town square.
A cruciero welcomes the many peregrinos passing by and reminds them of the origin and purpose of their peregrenaciones.
By this time I had caught up with the German couple. I spotted them as they proceeded through town, I hailed them from my comfortable seat at a cafe. We acknowledged each other and compared notes. They were planning to continue another 6 km that day (it was early evening by that time) to Boente where there were two albergues that between them could accommodate 76 peregrinos – and hoped to complete their travel to Santiago the next day
That would be quite a long day, indeed! [Do the math: 53 km – 6 km = 47 km * 0.62 = 29.14 miles.] But, intrepid peregrinos that they are, off they went. I returned to my lodging and got a good night’s sleep.
From Melide onward, I was (largely) repeating several days I had walked in 2015 when I walked the Camino Frances. “Largely” because the Camino is always being rerouted for various reasons, one of which is peregrino safety. The many involved jurisdictions want to encourage visitors to walk the Camino. Among other things, that means keeping them off the highways and other primary thoroughfares.
The province of Galicia, within which Santiago is situated, hosts vastly more pregrenios than any other jurisdiction. The Junta de Galicia has appropriated over €500,000 for improvements to the Caminos that traverse Galicia. This includes improvements to drainage, construction of new sendas (track separated from thoroughfares) and waymark monuments and an occasional placard affixed to a wall.
The waymark monuments are noteworthy because they include a single incised (carved) arrow painted yellow indicating the direction of onward travel, and an incised “signature” logo of Galicia (painted black) at the bottom attesting to the authenticity and implicitly the validity of the waymark. These new (or updated) waymarks have been strategically placed at virtually every junction or crossroads on The Way in Galicia where a peregrino could get lost or be uncertain about The Way. Older waymark monuments apparently have been sandblasted to achieve the same “carved” and painted signatures.
The particular design is important because the carved arrow cannot easily be tampered with as is the case with a simple yellow arrow painted on a rock or other surface. That carved arrow, in accounting lingo, constitutes a good control mechanism.
I wondered whether the new waymark monuments would supplant the need for the ubiquitous yellow arrows that guide peregrinos on other parts of The Way. I think the answer is “no.” This collection is in Pedrozo.
Over the next three days, I walked in tandem with a peregrina from North Dakota. This was not her first experience on the Camino and would not be her last this year. She had injured herself during her first peregrinacion and completed it on crutches! That’s commitment!
In Boenta, the Igrexa Santiago welcomes pilgrims and offers a selle for their credentiales.
Other experiences along The Way from Arzua (where the Camino del Norte joins the Camino Frances) to Santiago:
A monument to a chicken graces the small plaza before the town hall in Arzua. (This is new since I passed through in 2015.)
Also, a barracks to the Guardia Civil, a paramilitary force with a complex history in Spain.
There were many cyclists along The Way. All were friendly, but alas, not all warned peregrinos on foot of their often high speed approach.
The monument identifying the outskirts of Santiago cheered all peregrinos passing by. This is where I left Elizabeth’s rock in 2015.
From here, it is all downhill!
The plaza before the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is as grand as I remember it from earlier visits.
The parador in the plaza.
Having had a day or so to reflect, here are my thoughts.
First, I was somewhat bemused and somewhat disappointed to observe peregrinos with earbuds in place proceeding along The Way. How can you be in the moment, how can you reflect, how can you have a religious or spiritual journey listening to something that takes you out of the moment. I don’t believe they were listening to Gregorian Chants or the Missa Solemnis.
And to add injury to insult, I observed quite a number of peregrinos holding their cell phones and actually carrying on extended cell phone conversations as they marched on. They were in their own moment, but it was not a moment on The Way.
Second, I was disappointed to observe that virtually all waymarks from Melide to Santiago had been “annotated” – to employ a term that gives too much credit to what, in fact, is simple graffiti.
Further, the “distance to Santiago” plaquards previously glued to an inset into the waymark monuments had all been removed. As were some of the ceramic conchas. I believe they were taken as souveneirs, rather than removed during the Galicia improvement process because they might no longer have been accurate. Some of the ceramic conchas were partly in place, a corner broken off, suggesting that it had been broken when a collector attempted to pry it off the monument.
So it seems that with the astronomical increase in the popularity of the Camino, and with the saturation of the experience with young people with characteristic exuberance, the quality of the experience has changed in just the four years since my peregrenacion on the Camino Portugues (2014). This should not discourage the gentle reader from walking the Camino. After all, in times gone by peregrinos encountered robbers and other brigands as part of their pilgrimage. Know that you make your own Camino experience. It is yours alone.
In Santiago, my Map App was unavailable because my cell phone was out of battery. Eventually I was directed by kindly merchants to my small hotel in the old town. There I discovered a new kiosk. . . central to a new-to-me business model . . . and cousin to the ubiquitous ATM.
Call it an ADCM – automatic desk clerk machine. Upon confirming your identity by scanning your passport or national identity card, and confirming your reservation, the ADCM vends a keycard that admits you to the property and to your room. The property in fact has an on-the-property desk clerk/manager during the morning and afternoon. Then the ADCM takes over! Actually the device is feasible for this property because the owners have five other properties in Santiago and several have all night desk coverage. Those non-automatic desk clerks can rush to the guest’s assistance if the ADCM is recalcitrant. Time marches on.
The next morning, I was up early and presented myself at the Pilgrim Office well before it opened at 8 am. I was third in line, received my compostela swiftly, and set out to enjoy the city. It was bustling with peregrinos arriving in large number, and others setting out for Finesterre and Muxia. And gaggles of tourists alighting from luxurious tour busses with guides leading them through the old town.
I attended the pilgrim mass at the cathedral. (There is one at noon each day and one at 7:30 Friday evenings.) The cathedral is undergoing external and internal reconstruction. As in the past, it was standing room only. The organ is an awesome instrument, and a work of art in its own right.
Even so, the mass included the swinging of the giant incense burner – the Botafumeiro. I did not photograph it this year, but see FCB #10.
I found a quiet chapel in the cathedral and lighted a candle for the late wife of a good friend. She was also my friend.
And outside, I looked for someone to take my picture with the cathedral in the background.
I waited for a time, and happily, I saw the Polish girl walking into the plaza. She was pleased to capture an image of me at our common destination. She was headed home that evening. I asked her to greet her friend for me. He was going on to Finisterre the next day.
I was sad not to see the others with whom I had walked in tandem. But all were off to their own adventures and, after all, so was I.
Hard to say. Perhaps another walk in the UK? The Camino Ingles? The Camino Portugues along the coast? Or somewhere in Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Chengdu or Tibet? Time will tell.
With that, I’m headed home. Thank you for following these chronicles. I’ll post again next year.
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