Sarria and Portomarín

Thursday, May 22

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In Galicia, you could be forgiven for believing in magic. Here in the hills and forests with ancient, fat-trunked, gnarled trees and paths lined with moss-covered stone walls, there must be sidh under the hill and faerie folk beyond the veil.

We stayed in bed a bit later than usual in Triacastela. It’s easy when the sky is gray and heavy and raindrops are falling lightly. After breakfast we set out in the rain and the cold.

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We met with Fabrizzio, Kasumi, and Virginia along the way. The forest formed a tunnel around us, dark and damp. At the front of the line I slipped on the wet slabs of granite below our feet, but caught myself. We passed farms with bulls in brown and white — one, standing above me and to the right in a field I couldn’t see from my place on the path, held eye contact with me eerily as he munched. Fabrizzio made jokes about elves in the forest.

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Fabrizzio

When we came across a sign for a bar we made a slight detour, and we arrived at a very tiny building, crowded with pilgrims and backpacks that had all arrived within minutes of each other. We huddled in and ate. For me, an empanada con atún and a Coke.

Fabrizzio’s knee had been in pain for some time, and two women overheard him talking about it. They had him extend his leg out, and then one of them rubbed her hands together and placed them on his knees, eyes squinting in  concentration.

Nonsense.

We set out into the cold again. Fabrizzio grinned and in a faux-whisper said that the women with their magic hands must’ve been elves. His knee was no better.

A storm came on us quickly. The wind whirled around us, howling and pushing our giant wind-catching packs this way and that. I lowered my hood and spread my arms out wide. Something about it made us all loco, except Alejandro who seemed withdrawn. But I laughed and grinned and dared it to get worse, and we all sang songs with each other loudly. Fabrizzio is like a jukebox of American songs, and some Brazilian ones, and of course Italian. One of the songs we sang was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and Larissa and I did a duet where she sang in Brazilian Portuguese and I in English.

Wind madness, if there is such a thing. As the storm raged I felt completely present and euphoric.

In Sarria we took the first albergue along the path in the town center, which blessedly had a room with only four beds, so we knew no one would flick the light on at 6am and start talking loudly. Our room was upstairs next to the kitchen and comedor, a big and comfortable area with a slanted roof of wooden logs. Fabrizzio, Virginia, and Kasumi chose the same albergue.

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After showering and doing laundry we went to a nearby pulperia. Pulpo Gallego is a specialty in Galicia. It’s octopus cut up and served with oil and peppers, and it’s delicious. I feel a bit torn about it since octopi are known to be very intelligent. But it’s so tasty that I joked with Miguel about opening a pulperia in Los Angeles.

We also stopped in the supermarket and bought bread, cheese, chorizo, coke, chocolate, two bottles of wine, and a bottle of crema de orujo. We’re a bunch of drunks, apparently.

Back at the albergue I spent some time writing and uploading photos to the tablet. I sat with Virginia and Kasumi at one of the dining tables as they snacked on some chips and beer. Poor Virginia has back pain, and the bones or tendons around her shoulder blade pop and crackle when she moves her arm. I’m sure something is wrong with the fit of her pack.

She lives in Granada, and we met her for the first time a few days ago in Villafranca del Bierzo after she set out on her Camino from Astorga.

Kasumi, as you might guess, is Japanese. The Italians have nicknamed her Gina. She’s picked up a bit of a tan here on the Camino, which she says is not at all fashionable in Japan, and we often poke fun that she won’t be able to go back. I first met her in Calzadilla back in the flat lands, along the old Roman road.

It was a good night. We were joined by two Germans I met in Foncebadon, along with another Italian named Lucca who often travels with Fabrizzio, Kasumi, and Virginia. We ate, we drank, we joked. The hospitalero had to ask us to quiet down so the people downstairs wouldn’t be kept awake.

We stumbled to bed at around 11. In the morning I got up at around 7:15, which is delightfully late for a pilgrim. Alejandro woke soon after, followed by Larissa and then Miguel.

As before, we set out in the rain after breakfast, passing through more enchanted forests and farmland until we eventually stopped for food and a bar filled to the brim with tourists. And I mean tourists, not Pilgrims. People traveling in cars or with guides or buses. These last 100km are going to be strange.

As I sat down to eat I saw out of the corner of my eye a familiar face, though at first I didn’t react. Then I did a double-take — it was Michele! I thought he was an etapa or two behind me, but here he was in the same bar. I called out to him much too loudly, and his eyes lit up. We stood, walked hurriedly towards each other, and shared a mighty bear-hug. He was traveling now with some more Italians and a Spaniard, I think. I introduced him to my companions including Fabrizzio, who lives in Milan but was born in the south.

It’s difficult to express how joyful it was to see Michele again, and to know that we’re back on the same path. We didn’t say much, but his eyes said a lot and I imagine mine did too. Later I would see him again at our albergue in Portomarín.

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After lunch we started to walk at slightly different paces. Alejandro ahead out of sight. Miguel with Larissa and I until she and I stopped at the sight of a young goat standing on top of the old stone wall that bordered her field. We slowed as we watched her reach up into a tree to nibble at the leaves. We stepped closer, and to our surprise she was unafraid and didn’t run. I took photos and video of Larissa reaching out towards the goat, and then she did the same for me.

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As I held my hand out the goat sniffed it a bit and licked it once or twice. Hoping for food, I imagine. She let me pet her head a bit, and at times she butt her head with a little bit of force into my hand. Me standing there with my wooden staff and my hand resting fully on a goat’s head made for quite a sight.

For a city-slicker like me, it was a magical moment in an enchanted landscape.

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But there was more magic to come. When we arrived at Portomarín, a lovely city overlooking a large river, we checked in at a nearby albergue called O Mirador and I turned on my phone’s Wifi. Moments later I received a message from my mother with an image of my unborn niece’s face via sonogram. Today, for the first time, I saw her face. My niece. Me, Uncle Daniel. Uncle Daniel. Imagine when she’s older and I can tell her this story!

We went upstairs to the restaurant for a meal. I don’t know if it was lunch or dinner and I suppose it doesn’t matter. We sat for a long time in the comedor where a wall of windows overlooked the river. Afterwards Larissa and I watched a few Brazilian music videos and I tried to play a video of The Dustbowl Revival for her, but the connection was slow.

We went downstairs to the albergue. She’s resting. Miguel and I are writing. Alejandro is listening to music. Later we’ll probably go back upstairs for some drinks and food. Outside the rain doesn’t stop.

-Daniel