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Guest post: Camino Royale: Snapshots from 100 kilometers in Galicia

Editor’s Note: My friend, Tanya Yuson, is a Manila-based producer and friend of the blog. Last week she joined her mother on a Pilgrimage in Spain and documented her trip using the Momento app on her iPhone.  I asked her to share her experiences (and images) here in a guest post series. Here is her first entry. You can follow Tanya on Instagram where she’s @TYPIX. – Jen

A Brief Background

Sometime last year, my mother broached the idea of wanting to do the Pilgrimage in Spain also known as the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. One could start this Pilgrimage from a number of places – From France, from Portugal or from the Northern part of Spain and would be about 800KM or so. But she wanted to opt for the more manageable 100 km walk from Sarria in Galicia – the minimum amount required to earn the certificate known as the compostela.  She asked me if I wanted to join her . At first I wasn’t sure. I knew I still had some reserves of stamina from when I was really fit though, lately, I could hardly get myself to the gym. Would I survive walking 100kms?  I talked with some friends who had just done it and they said it was an experienced not to be missed. They also said that in a pinch, you could hail a taxi if you needed to. Technically that would be cheating though as you are required to walk the last 100km of the Camino.

In February of this year I just said to hell with it – I would do the Camino with her. We made arrangements and through the coordination of a friend we ended up becoming a group of 6 that would be going on this Pilgrimage together in October. It all seemed like pie in the sky plans, until finally we all converged at our starting point of Sarria in the province of Galicia. And then things got real.

Day 1 – Sarria to Portomarino

Starting out on my first day of the Camino was like hopping on to a roller coaster for the first time- you know you’re in for a thrill ride, but you hope that you make it back in one piece.

For someone who spends a lot of time seated and working on a computer- 23km was kind of daunting. Even though I knew I could do 6km stretches. Once you get going though, there’s the ever changing, always beautiful, Galician countryside to distract you from the task at hand. Rolling hills dotted with family run farms. Stalks of corn and rows of Kale were the common denominator. But there was the occasional family garden which had tomatoes and peppers. Interesting to see in October. But then, when the sun was out, it still felt like it could be late summer.

Going through the back roads in the forests was also quite magical, with the trees giving you shade as you tread over the uneven ground. Some parts were most likely the old road that had been broken up by centuries of rain and pilgrims’ traveling on it. Occasionally you would see a marker or a tree where people would leave their own version of a prayer or an offering- a picture of a loved one, a flag or, occasionally, a shoe.

On the flip side of it, our group christened one particular part of the trek, the Cow-mino to the Composte-tela. There are farms after all and naturally there should be cows as well as Composte for the fields. At one point we shared the road with a whole herd of cows moseying along home, we presumed. We wished them a Buen Camino ( the typical greeting amongst the people you meet on the way)  and they replied “Moo.”

From Sarria- we finally reached the town of Portomarino. Basically, a town built on the remnants of the original town lying in ruins in the river. We would have explored more but first day muscle adjustments got the best of us and we just flopped down onto our beds- trying to stretch out hamstrings and open hip flexors with the  minimum amount of effort. We survived the roller coaster of day 1. An early dinner and then it was off to bed. Tomorrow, we’d have to climb a mountain.”

Day 2 – Portomarino to Palas del Rei

Reading our guide’s notes on Day 2 the night before and we are blanching at the terms easy up and climb. We learned yesterday that our guide is not to be trusted with the term easy up ( i.e. easy ascension). Lies!! Added to the fact that this is to be the longest and hardest day of our schedule. 24.8 Km from Portomarino to Palas de Rei.

It is foggy when we set out. We hit the plaza in front of the church and of course must take pictures. A contingent of 5 women and 1 man ask me to take their photo by the statue pointing the way to the camino.

We cross a bridge overlooking the ruins of the town in the river and it seems beautiful if eerie with all the fog. The thought of it quickly vanishes as we are faced with our first challenge of the day- a steep climb up a forest path. We are huffing and puffing along with our fellow pilgrims- including Deitrich, a gentleman from Germany who has a host of flags waving from a  pole attached to his backpack.

After that climb, the trails winds through wooded areas as well as sunken riverbed-like  paths. The cement markers come every half a kilometer. Sometimes they disappear altogether and the only way to know that we are still on the Camino is via spray painted arrow. Sometimes on a wall, on the side of a stone house a lot of times on the side of the road. It’s government sanctioned graffiti!! I think the Banksy would have a field day tagging the Camino.

It’s a long day- made bearable by the gorgeous weather and the frequent stops. Our final push is through five hamlets and then we follow the freeway to Palas de Rei. We belatedly realize that the mountain we thought we had to climb, was done during the hamlets. We’d celebrate if we weren’t so tired.

At the Pension Palas- we drop our things and change out of our sweat soaked clothes and go to mass and a late dinner. Palas de Rei is a tiny town, and like many of the others we pass seems sparsely populated. After dinner the air has turned incredibly chilly so we run home to our beds.