Day Thirty-Two: Sarria to Portomarin

Ginny woke us with coffee at five. I wanted to sleep but, apparently, this was what Eva and her had agreed on. It was still dark out, we quietly left the room, running into pilgrims returning from a bar, and made our way into the streets of Sarria.

Music streamed from multiple bars, the alleys and parks were packed with pilgrims drinking and partying. “This isn’t the Camino,” Inga proclaimed.

I tried to explain my take on it.

The Camino is a deeply personal experience, no two Caminos are alike, no two people, ideas, thoughts, or spirituality are. The worst part about other lectures and books on the Camino, I felt, was that they often try to tell the reader, what the Camino is… and no one can do that.

In its core, it’s a number of miles or kilometers along mostly well-maintained roads, between cafes and restaurants, hostels, hotels, albergues, and supermarkets. It’s a string of day hikes, each night sheltered and well cared for, each mile secured by Guardia Civil and local police, every pilgrim safe in knowing that there are hospitals, a well functioning ambulance network, and clinics never far away.

Some Caminos, like the Frances, are simple and easy, others a little harder. But that’s just the framework in which the real “Camino,” each pilgrim’s journey, happens. And those Caminos can be hard, battling with health, demons, or fears, or easy, and anything in between. That’s the Camino no one can describe and even less prescribe.

Ginny nodded, as did Inga. Eva smiled and pulled me closer. “You’re the Camino Philosopher, Mikka, what did you do before you became a medic?” “You’ll dislike it immensely,” I responded. “You were a professional sheep shagger for Internet Porn?” “No, I was a soldier.”

“I’m a vegetarian,” Ginny responded. “I don’t like hurting sheep, but I can see the value in military. I am glad you’re not a sheep shagger.” “Me, too,” responded Inga. “I am Swiss,” Eva grinned, “my ex-boyfriend had more guns than we had sex in two years. ‘least you don’t carry guns and have sex.”

“Maybe one day, I’ll write about all this,” I said, “I’ll call you Ginny, and you Eva, and you…” “… Inga, call me Inga in your writing. And make me a sexy redhead.” “I’ll see what I can do.”

My new shoes felt comfortable and the Way was beautiful and mostly flat. We soon had left Sarria behind and, a few other pilgrims aside, were on our own. “What are you doing after Santiago,” Ginny inquired. “We’re not staying long, we’re going to the beach.” “Can I come with?”

“Santiago is Disneyland for Catholics,” Inga began. “You pay for everything, even for confession. Five bucks in a slot, window opens, it’s like a strip palace, they hear your confession, window closes. I don’t like it. But Muxia, the dark rocks, the angry sea… it makes me believe in something bigger than me.”

“So it is decided,” Eva grinned, “we get our second Compostela in Santiago, sleep, and head over to the beach?”

“Why not stop in Lavacolla?” Ginny seemed to know the Way better than us. “Sleep there, not pay thirty bucks for a dirty bed, walk an hour to Santiago, and carry on to Najera the same day?”

“It is decided, once more.” Eva liked decisions.

We followed a stream, crossed it twice, and ran into a herd of cows waiting to be led to the next pasture. The farmer gesticulated, talked briefly with Eva, and, through her translation, invited us to pet his animals and not be afraid “as long as you don’t stand right behind them.” Which seemed almost impossible, as crooked and disorganized of a herd this was.

“Little bit like us at night,” Eva was in an exceptionally good mood. “Someone always has to have their ass in someone else’s face,” she winked at Inga.

Cows blocking our way.

Then it happened. Quickly, we almost passed it: there it was. The 100km marker to Santiago. We did a group hug, then a Ginny hug, and then another Inga-Eva-Mikka hug. “You guys should just get a room,” Ginny suggested. “Tried it, she’s sticking her ass where it does not belong,” Eva pointed at Inga, who protested. “I am just trying to get my ear away from your snoring.”

Topics went downhill from there, as did the Way, and our mood went up.

We reached Portomarin and, as tradition demands, ran the stairs to town, not stopping or turning back. Ginny beat us all. Luck would have it, that the first albergue had four beds, we dropped our backpacks, I loaded a washer, and found food right outside.

The girls were still going strong, but I felt tired from last night’s constant interruptions, excused myself and went to bed after moving our laundry in the dryer and informing Eva which of the ten machines we’d occupied.

I dreamed that I was running up an endless set of stairs, trying to reach the Milky Way.