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The first day out.

After an inauspicious start yesterday which involved heavy traffic on the way to Stansted Airport and getting to the wrong gate for our flight, we’re finally about to start our long-planned Camino de Santiago. We arrived at our starting point of Sarria in the late afternoon – we flew to Santiago de Compostela, caught the bus from the terminal to pretty Roman Lugo, and then caught a train to Sarria, where I was excited to see other pilgrims on the same train. As we arrived, there was a party atmosphere in town: groups of young people were playing music outside their hostels, and other pilgrims were chatting and enjoying drinks in the sun. We quickly found our accommodation (we pre-booked Casa Barán which was right on the Camino in the old town in Sarria), had a delicious 3-course pilgrim menu with wine nearby, and headed to bed. By 11, the town was completely silent and still.

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Lugo, where we stopped on the way to Sarria.

I woke up a 6.15 when I heard talking in the street. I also heard what sounded like a taxi – plenty of pilgrims use a luggage transportation service to take their backpack from one stop to the next. I couldn’t get back to sleep. Breakfast was plentiful and delicious – we got talking to the waiter who brought us some local soft cheese from O Cebreiro as a treat, which we ate with honey. We also met some charming Nicaraguan women who we’d see again and again on the Camino – and finally in Santiago itself.

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The view of Sarria from our room in Casa Barán.

We made at late start, at 8.45, with our first stamps in our credenciales: I was worried when the man on reception at our hotel told us that the first stamp had to be from a church – but that the local church was closed until 11. He had some pre-stamped church ones in his desk, but as we’d already written our details in ours, he didn’t offer us one. Feeling slightly that we were off to a bad start, we stopped for a photo at the turn of the Camino out of town, and followed our first yellow arrow.

I needn’t have worried. On the outskirts of Sarria is an old monastery with albergue attached – and it was opening its doors as we passed by just before 9am. The older man inside happily gave us a sello, and invited us in on an impromptu tour with some other pilgrims. We left happier and continued past the cemetery and up the track, where we climbed a steep hill that had me seriously wondering if I was cut out for pilgrim life.

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Convento de la Merced, where we got our first religious stamp.

The weather was perfect for walking: misty and cool, and Galicia’s Celtic heritage really shows in the deep green of its hills and fields. We kept walking until about 12, where we stopped for a couple of bottles of Estrella Galicia and a slice of empanada at Casa Morgade, just before the 100km waymarker.  It was a relief to take my boots off, but I wasn’t really feeling in a chatty mood. Carlos was though, and he quickly made friends with an older Russian couple who live in Germany. They had walked all the way from León but were going slowly today as the man, Aleksander, had a leg injury.

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Green Galicia.

We put our boots back on, the sun came out, and we carried on refreshed. Despite suncream, we both burned – Carlos on his ears, me on the side of my back. I had on a new sports top with a cutaway design that I wasn’t used to: the exposed skin burned red and later peeled. We stopped briefly another couple of times – once at the farmhouse of an hospitable couple who provided homemade wine, buñuelos, and treats in return for a donativo. We got talking to a Mexican couple there (the man was recording everything including our conversation with a prominent camera on his backpack, which made me feel sort of nervous). The couple were in Europe for a friend’s pre-wedding party, and they’d already been to Madrid, Paris, and London – now they were on camino. I wish I’d got a stamp so I could remember where we were.

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Near the farmhouse – another stall offering refreshments in return for a donativo.

Sweaty and tired but still very much alive, we arrived in Portomarín in time for a well-deserved late lunch of wine, empanada, tortilla, and Santiago almond cake. Despite dire warnings along the way, we had no trouble finding a place to stay.

This was a feature of our time on the Camino – we were told almost everywhere that the next place would be full and we’d struggle to find a place to sleep, but we never did. We were also told in Melide that attending pilgrims’ mass at 12 would be impossible unless we arrived at 10am. I’m not sure where these rumours came from – canny private albergue owners or worried pilgrims? – but even though the route was busy because it was Semana Santa, there was plenty of accommodation everywhere and we were only turned away once – so we got a room in another place, 20 metres away.

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L-R: lunch in Portomarín; a pilgrim statue in the town; tasty treats at a farmhouse along the way; the 100km waymarker.

We got a simple room in Portomarín with shared facilities in Albergue Gonzar, near the bridge leading into town. We dumped our backpacks and went to explore the town and pretty local church. I bought a postcard, then we bought cans of Aquarius to drink in the little park overlooking the bridge in the sunshine as we watched the stragglers walk into town. We caught up with the Russian/German couple briefly, and headed to bed.