The road out of Portomarín.
A shorter day today as we put an extra day in our itinerary, worried we wouldn’t be fit or strong enough to complete the final 113km Sarria – Santiago de Compostela stage in the recommended five days. So we have six days’ walking, which makes things easier.
It gets light much later in Galicia than at home in the UK or further along the coast where Carlos’ family comes from: the sun doesn’t rise here until around 8am in April, although it does stay light until well after 9pm. There’s talk in Spain of changing the clocks so that they match GMT, as this would better suit Spain’s geographical position mainly west of the meridian. The slightly out-of-sync timezone affects Galicia the most, being so far west, and in fact we catch a short TV programme looking at the debate about why Spain should switch to GMT while we’re on the Camino. Either way, it makes early morning walking difficult, and we see pilgrims’ torches lighting the way as we look out from our window in Portomarín at 7am.
We grab a quick breakfast in the bar at the albergue and I have toast with olive oil and tomato, a typical breakfast of the Spanish south, which Carlos is embarrassed to ask for as it marks us out as tourists – as if my heavily-accented Spanish didn’t do that already. Incidentally, we’ve both made promises to do things we know we’ll find hard this week: Carlos isn’t eating any meat, and I’m not speaking any English.
A pilgrim cross with offerings (and rubblish).
As we leave town I’m in good spirits as I slept better, and I’m full of breakfast. It’s misty and cool as we climb up into the hills into the woods, and Carlos tells me legends about witches (meigas in Galicia and brujas elsewhere) and spirits (duendes) who supposedly live in the woods in his native Cantabria. I’m learning plenty of new vocabulary: the wood of oak trees we’re walking through is called a robedal. A little later on we follow a yellow arrow pointing across farmland, indicating a camino complementario, or scenic route/detour through Gonzar. These “complementary” routes often lead to churches that the main Camino passes by. We see the church – sadly locked, as others have been – but grab a cafe con leche in nearby Casa García. We’re the only pilgrims present and I want to relax, but the sun is getting hotter and it’s time to move on.
Next, we go through tiny Castromaior and I want to stop for a drink in the appealingly-named Hospital da Cruz, but its one bar is shuttered and its albergue is slightly out of our way. Instead, we push on to Ventas de Narón where we grab a bocadillo de tortilla de atún (sandwich with tuna omelette) and a bottle of Estrella Galicia each. Sadly, I leave my turquoise fleece top on the back of a chair, and although Carlos phones the bar later there’s no sign of it – it’s lost to the Camino. A little later on, as the heat is getting intense and we are both suffering, we spot a plain black scarf made of light material at the side of the road, dropped or discarded by another pilgrim. Carlos was able to use it to protect his neck from further sunburn, and I hit on the idea of wearing my buff like a Muslim woman’s headscarf to protect my neck and shoulders.
A well-earned bocadillo and a beer in Ventas de Narón.
We found our first rural church open as we were leaving Ventas de Narón, attended by a blind man whose hand I guided to stamp our credenciales. He shook hands with us both and told Carlos to buy me a beer later on. In the afternoon, we see a medieval pilgrim cemetery and the house where Philip II stayed on his way to A Coruña to catch a ship to England to marry Mary Tudor. We also see more horseback pilgrims.
A medieval pilgrim cemetery.
The views from the top of this hill (almost) made it worthwhile climbing it in the heat.
Sunset in Airexe.
Finally, after a further climb rewarded by lovely views, we stop in tiny Airexe (population 35). We walk first into the municipal albergue, but there’s no attendant and we feel uncomfortable just grabbing a bunk in the dormitory without speaking to anyone first, so we go to the private Pensión Eirexe where we get a comfortable double room with sink and shared bathroom for just €25. We have our laundry done and relax with another beer at the bar opposite. We walk around, but there’s not much to see: a locked church, a few stone houses, an old cruceiro. We walk back down the hill to a bar we passed and have a pilgrim menu for dinner. As a pescatarian/vegetarian the pilgrim menus aren’t always ideal, but bars always seem willing to prepare me egg and chips as a main course when I ask politely. After, we talk to the older man who owns the albergue where we’re staying. He’s always lived in the area and he says when he was a child the pilgrims who passed all used to dress in brown robes, like monks.