Monday, 25 November 2019

Day 2 On The Camino: Portomarin To Palas De Rei

Into the misty mountains portomarin camino frances

A Busy Morning On The Camino

After all the walking from Day 1 on the Camino Frances from Sarria to Portomarin, muscle pain and no chocolate, I thought I'd wake up on Day 2 and finally have the shape of a top model. It isn't the case, but the muscle ache is still there.

I check out at 8am and get a lift into town by the guesthouse's owner Mario. He speaks no English, but he is a friendly local and we manage a basic conversation. Mario kindly drops me off at Portomarin's Church of San Juan so I'm spared of walking 1km uphill. 

Unfortunately, the church is closed so no sello for me this morning. I also get a novella text from Jorge, my host for tonight, asking me lots of questions. When will you arrive? Do you need dinner? What do you eat? Do you need pick up? - Ahhhhh, this is information overload. I've not even started the day so I have no idea how fast I'll make progress today. I reply with a short text that I'm just about to leave Portomarin and aim to be at the guesthouse before it gets dark (8pm). I'll text him when I'm closer to Palas de Rei. That should do, right!?!

Portomarin church of san juan camino frances

It is approaching 8:20am. Sun's not up yet, but everyone else is. The village is super busy. Like London rush hour busy. Everyone is out and about. Pilgrims join from every corner of the small village to tackle today's route to Palas de Rei. 

Some check out of their hotel, at the other end of the road, are pilgrims taking pictures with the Portomarin sign. A Chinese couple shoulder their backpacks, others quickly drop into the tiny supermarket by the church to buy last-minute snacks for the day. The chatter, laughter, and clicking of Nordic Walking sticks create a buzz in the air which is inspiring and infectious. We can do those 30kms, off to Palas de Rei we go!

portomarin with stone pillar 90km to santiago camino frances

Together with the rest of the pilgrim pack, I descend Portomarin. The Camino leads straight out of the village on the other side and two more bridges from the old days of Portomarin come insight. I stop briefly for the view and read up on Portomarin's history from an information plate. 

The village was completely relocated in 1960 when the river got dammed. Brick by brick, the church, and other historic buildings were moved up the hill and reconstructed. At low tide, the river reveals the old ancient remains of the original bridge, as well as some buildings. The pictures look eerie and the morning fog creates the perfect image for a mysterious setting. 

Into The Misty Mountains: Leaving Portomarin Behind

The Camino leads straight into the wild, uphill of course "into the misty mountains", as I'd like to call it. The thick fog hangs over the hill like a blanket and the cold from the wetness creeps in. The first two kilometres are really tough. I take my time to tackle that hill - one step at a time. What I don't know yet: most of today will be uphill with the strongest elevation gain of the whole hike to Santiago. It will be an interesting day for sure.

early morning in portomarin with river minho

After 45 minutes, I reach the top. Here, the Camino follows alongside the main road past some old abandoned factories of Portomarin. I feel like I can hear voices from the inside of the abandoned buildings, but it could also be the echo of the pilgrim group ahead of me - chatty Italians who are awake and enthusiastically walk ahead. 

The rest of the pack is already miles ahead, but come 11am after a hike through a mysterious dense forest, I take a break at Hosteria de Gonzar and suddenly everyone else is here too craving breakfast. We all sort of caught up with each other and start from the same place again. I'm having orange juice and hot chocolate to refuel as I'm not hungry. A quick bathroom stop and I'm back on the road.

The day goes on and most of the distance is either steep uphill or downhill with occasional walks alongside the main road. At least walking on smooth tarmac helps to cover longer distances, but there's barely a cafe or opportunity to stop for a break. 

The landscape changes to open planned vast areas, then the path leads through leafy autumnal villages. I do travel less alone today. There are pilgrims passing regularly and I meet a familiar face from yesterday - Gary, the American. He meets me a few times after lunchtime. His companion today is a friendly young lad and they make it their mission to tease me every time they get ahead of me.

highest elevation gain portomarin to palas de rei camino frances

In the next village, I pick up a Romanian lady who is afraid of dogs so we travel together for a bit. It's only a short while before I'm alone again. Two British ladies in their early 60s cross paths with me occasionally. As the day moves on, the sun burns from the sky and I feel I've taken more breaks and have barely moved forward. 

At one point I see a sign for a small church offside the Camino which apparently its stamp is needed for the Compostela certificate. I'm thirsty and struggling with my toes which are squashed again. I wait a bit to see if other pilgrims take the detour to the church but no one cares and they all walk straight ahead. I decide against the detour too, as it would mean an additional 4km and I have to use my energies sparingly today. So I continue and follow the Camino.

Frustration Has Struck: A Pilgrimage Is Not Always Fun

After two kilometres I'm desperate for a break but there's no opportunity to sit down somewhere. Even cafes have been quite sparingly on today's route. I keep going but reach my breaking point soon and eventually sit down by the road in the shadow. It is only now that I realise I have overheated. The two Brits from earlier approach me and check if I'm ok. It's super sweet of them to check in with me, but I'm a bit shy of meeting new people and try to brush it off as if the overheating was nothing. They are concerned but keep moving on.

There are more hills to tackle but I keep pushing forward. I really want to make some good progress in the next few hours. After 2h of walking downhill at 30% slope, my toes ache like hell from sliding in my shoes. I'm forced to sit down and find a spot at the end of the hill in the shade. This is the first time I actually take off the boots, massage my feet and check on my toes. No blisters but my toes are swollen and very red. Not great. 

The frustration nearly makes me cry. Instead, I listen to some music and think about London. London and my friends. I do wonder what they are up to at this very moment. I guess they are at work at their desks and have no idea I'm in the middle of nowhere about to cry over my frustration. The thing is I still have energies and enjoy my time on the Camino. The landscapes are amazing, the dynamic amongst Pilgrims is very friendly and I'm excited to get to see all these places and learn about their history. Argh, if only the pain in my stupid toes wasn't so unpleasant! I have to make it to Palas de Rei, whatever it takes!

Something Magical Happens On My Pilgrimage

There haven't been many cafes today on the Camino but I find one outside of Palas de Rei. I can refill my water bottle and trot along the Camino dragging my feet along as my right foot has gone stiff and won't roll properly in the shoe anymore. I sit down again and try a reality check paired with good motivational self-talk. I simply have to accept that I will make it to my checkpoint at some point but in extreme slow-mo and potentially way past my targeted arrival time.

jon-tyson-camino frances stone pillar

Two pilgrims approach marching happily ahead as if they've done nothing else than hiking in their life. It's the two Brits from earlier! But this time I've got no choice. Both of them recognise me immediately and come over to join me. 

They are really concerned about me and want to help, so we sit in the late Indian summer light and they share cakes and sweets with me. The Romanian girl also joins us and we motivate each other that we can do the final kilometres to Palas de Rei. Within minutes,  I've gone from being alone to being part of a group and our little fellowship marches straight ahead into Palas de Rei.

And then, something happens that has never happened in my life before: I get adopted by the two Brits. They CHOSE me!

The two ladies, Denise and Carole, have been lifelong friends and hike the Camino mostly in memoriam of Carole's deceased brother. Carole even shares one of her Nordic walking sticks and it is such a blessing. The heavy backpack no longer weights down on my lower back and I can lift my whole body off in one fluent movement. So we travel together for the final kilometres and also meet a Finish guy who has been on the hike since France with his massive poodle puppy Bilbo. We make it in time before the closing of the Church in Palas de Rei to get our stamp. RESULTS!

Then I join Carole and Denise for a drink at a small bar next to their accommodation. We have a lovely chat revising the day and analysing what still lies ahead. They suggest a luggage transfer so I can get rid of my backpack for the rest of the trip. 

Unfortunately, their transfer company won't serve my next guesthouse but they suggest to speak to my host later tonight. My accommodation is actually another 8km away and already part of tomorrow's stage. After some concerned protest from Carole and Denise - especially with my feet and the evening approaching - I decide to take a taxi. We part for today but agree to meet up on Monday and have dinner together in Santiago.

Porto de Bois Apartamentos TurĂ­sticos Camino Frances

Straight Into My Next Adventure: A Night In A Deserted Villa

I'm heading straight into the next adventure as the taxi drops me off in the middle of nowhere. There's only a handsome Galician stone villa and nothing much around so I approach the building and see that it is completely closed down. 

I text Jorge, the guesthouse owner, and he replies he'll be there soon. I now understand why he messaged me so early in the morning and I feel slightly embarrassed because I thought the place would be like a hotel with a serviced reception. The villa is incredible though with a small but cute bar and a generous terrace with the most amazing views over the grounds.

Owner Jorge turns up 20 minutes later and shows me my apartment. It is a spacious flat with a fully functioning kitchen, polished stone floors, a huge walk-in shower in the bathroom and cosy bedroom. The penny drops slowly that I'm Jorge's only guest for tonight and I will have the whole villa to myself. It is cool but a tiny bit creepy at the same time.

Jorge is super nice. Turns out he and Mario are best pals. We have a great conversation about the villa and I learn that it has been his family's house. He rebuilt it as a guesthouse and has only been in the Camino business for 4 years. 

So this place is still a top-secret tip. He organises a local luggage transfer company for me and gives me a checklist for breakfast. I tick all the boxes from fresh croissants to muffins, Galician cakes, fruit, orange juice and a selection of jams. Can't wait to have a proper breakfast, which I haven't had in four days.

Porto de Bois galician countryside camino frances
Terrace Apartamentos TurĂ­sticos Porto de Bois Camino Frances

After our chat, Jorge drives back home and I head back to the apartment which is spotless and has everything I need. If I had known, I could have filled the fridge with food and drinks and thrown a little party. Maybe something to consider for next time. I take a long hot shower and then snuggle up in the comfy bed. 

The stone walls in the darkness play tricks on me and I can't fall asleep. I'm the only guest staying in the house. The pressing silence is occasionally interrupted by an owl's screech outside...somewhere deep in the dark forest. Spooky! Really don't fancy to be killed by a supernatural Japanese revenge spirit in my sleep, so I lock the doors and leave the lights on in the main room.

It is review time in my head: tomorrow's route, Day 3 Palas de Rei to Arzua, is halftime on the Camino. I'm also pleased I'm staying again with a friendly local and learn about their life with the Camino. The Camino guide I picked up from the Pilgrims Office reads that tomorrow's 30km stage to Arzua will lead through some pretty medieval villages, churches and magical leafy forests. Rain is forecasted so it promises to be an interesting day.

Thanks so much for reading.

Till next time,

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