Friday 12 October, 2018 – Day 3 walking our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on the English Way in Spain! Read the entire series here
30 Kilometers (18 Miles) – Betanzos to O Mesón do Vento
Today was INTENSE. It was a very long day with several “ups” – but, it was especially challenging the final 10K. To top it off, we experienced all the weather. Clouds, sprinkles, sun, and a driving rain storm with lots of cold wind at the end of our marathon. With that said, surprisingly this day turned out to be more challenging emotionally for me than physically.
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
The stage from Betanzos to Bruma is spoken of in ‘hushed tones’ on the Camino Facebook page. If you thought the first two days were intense, this day on the Camino Inglés is not for the faint of heart. Although, perhaps it feels extra grueling since the body has already been subjected to so much walking and climbing two days in a row.
Our day started with a BANG right out of the box climbing up, up, up out of the city of Betanzos, and then up again on a very long and winding road. One of my pilgrim friends told me about using the technique of walking in a wide Zig-Zag pattern on steep climbs. This actually helped a lot to prevent shin splints and relieve knee pressure.
Another tip: It is imperative to carry extra water and some snacks on this stage because there are only two places to stop the entire day.
About half-way up the steep but gorgeous forest road out of Betanzos I began to notice something that made my heart sink.
A crumpled soda can and some snack wrappers carelessly tossed into the ferns on the right side of the road. A large water bottle and some used tissues hanging from a bush of the left side of the road. A discarded pack of cigarettes in the middle of the road … and then more, and more, and more with each step forward…
Who in the world would do such a thing?!?! How could anyone be so thoughtless toward such a special, sacred place?! I was stunned. Horrified. Of course, there are always the bad apples in a crowd – or, perhaps a young person who didn’t have their mother nearby to scold them? But, this much litter was obviously the work of MULTIPLE careless, thoughtless humans.
I hurriedly picked up a few items, but quickly my hands, arms and the limited space remaining in my pack was full… what will I do now? My heart was breaking. I faced an ethical dilemma. I couldn’t just walk by leaving all this trash laying there! That would make me culpable! But, how could I carry all of it? We needed a sack! As if in answer to my plea, a few steps later the Camino provided a large piece of plastic tarp laying in a ditch which I folded and improvised into a “bag”. Jeff and joined forces in the effort to “leave no trace” as we walked along.
Thus began our unbidden – and completely unanticipated Camino experience.
This was not a minor task! Each time we leaned down to grab something, or waded through some brush to retrieve something, or dug something out of the briers, it sapped some energy, and added extra time to our journey. It all began to add up. It also added to our exertion for the day, and Jeff ended up with a couple of nasty scratches on his leg battling some wild thorny raspberry bushes to retrieve a couple of Red Bull cans and a pair of soggy men’s underwear (yes, seriously). However, once we started looking for trash, we suddenly had “eagle eyes” for every bright color and unnatural shine among the grass and rocks along our path. It became a personal quest to find and remove every offending item along our Way. It was a mission assignment, if you will – to ensure that pilgrims walking behind us – hopefully forever, but at least during that week or that day – would not have to feel the sorrow we were experiencing seeing such desecration, and could simply commune with nature as they walked without ugly distractions.
On another sad note, someone has chosen to write a name (either their own, or symbolic) in bold permanent ink on the face of many of the beautiful Camino pillar markers in this stretch. We continued to see this same graffiti for the remainder of the Inglés route. I will not write or speak this name to give it attention. But, as far as I am concerned, whoever did this has placed a very dark mark on their soul. I can only take comfort that at some point in their life Karma is going to serve justice for this selfish act.
Why are some humans so horrifically unkind, demeaning and thoughtless? None of this trash we gathered was biodegradable! Not one of these man-made items will EVER remove itself. And yet, someone – some many ones – are choosing to rudely toss their junk onto the ground – desecrating Mother Earth, selfishly ruining the sacred Camino experience for others, and taking no thought as to if or how it will ever be cleaned. 😥
Today I experienced a LOT of anger and shed tears for my beloved Camino. I was so extremely hurt and disappointed this kind of ugliness and filth would happen here in this place I hold sacred in my heart – a place I have dreamed to come for so many years, and which means so much to so many who walk here. So, it’s hard to believe any pilgrim could be involved in harming the Camino.
My soul still feels bruised over it.
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
Despite seeing the darker side of humanity today, we also experienced some of the most beautiful light! 🙂
- OUR LADIES We randomly crossed paths, parted ways, and then reunited again with Azra & Gita throughout the day. Eventually, we walked the final 5K in the rain together [they had tried to request a ride to the hotel about 10K back, but the hotel required walking to Cafe Avelina].
- LOS CHICOS – A delightful encounter with some local boys playing in a field (with sharp implements) who eagerly ran toward us waving and shouting “Hola! Buenos Dias! Buen Camino!”. They mimed for me to take a photo of them while they posed heroically with their farm tools. 🙂
- AN ARTISTIC RETREAT We found respite from the drizzling rain and our climb at the iconic and colorful Meson-Museo Xente No Camino restaurant. Here, we enjoyed the most delicious homemade Galician soup and bread of our entire Camino. We were entertained by the colorful quirky artwork. We met up with Gita & Azra here – and even met five new pilgrims! [a mother and daughter originally from the UK now living in San Francisco, and 3 Spaniards] However, since everyone travels at their own time and pace, we never saw these new friends again.
- AVELINA ANGEL – We endured a very long slog through the rain, and cold wind, but finally reached our arranged meeting point for the hotel shuttle at Bar Casa Avelina in the village of As Travesas. The matron of this bustling establishment is a short silver haired angel who has become legend among pilgrims. She truly treats every pilgrim who walks through her door with grandmotherly love. After helping each of us remove our wet jackets, ponchos and packs, she gingerly hung them all up on a coat rack she had ordered a local patron retrieve from the back. Then, she sat us all down. She brought a towel for Gita’s hair, and wrapped her arms around each of our shoulders, patting us and speaking in loving tones a mile a minute in Spanish. We couldn’t understand a word she was saying, but we understood her heart – and all of those smiles!
She showed us packets of hot chocolate and motioned that she was going to make one for each of us.
No one does hot chocolate like Spain!! It arrives as thick as pudding, and traditionally is served with sugary churros to dip into the chocolate
[tradition says that if your churro can stand straight up in the cup by itself, then your chocolate has been made correctly thick].
Our Avalina Angel made an award winning hot chocolate just for us, and it was heaven on earth! In addition, she prepared thick homemade cream to pour on top of the chocolate!!
However, first she insisted that we all pose for a photo while she poured the cream (ordering a local to hold my phone and take snapshots – from multiple angles as she posed). 😀 #LoveHer
Meeting this woman and experiencing her love and kindness will always be one of our most treasured memories from our Camino.
While we sat together eating our hot chocolate and trying to dry off, Azra and Gita told us they were feeling worn out with the pace they had been keeping. They decided to spend two nights at Hotel Canaima. I think we all just assumed we would see each other again – like we always did. But, after checking into the hotel that night, we never met again. Regrettably, we had never exchanged contact information. Jeff and I think of them fondly, and wish we could find them somehow. Shalom! שלום שמחה
More kindness was extended to us by the manager of Hotel Canaima who arrived in his van to personally transport me, Jeff, Azra & Gita to our lodging. The rain was really hammering down now and the wind had picked up. We were so grateful not to be walking in it, but very concerned for any pilgrims who could still be out there! Jeff was sad that in the hustle he had left his tree branch walking stick at Angelina’s place. He had become fond of that stick. So, this was his “Wilson!” moment. Hopefully it found a way to serve another pilgrim.
Hotel Canaima is located in the one-light, one-schoolhouse village of O Mesón do Vento, about 5K (3 miles) away from the Camino route. Our guide cheerfully took the time to point out which road we needed to walk in the morning to return to the Camino trail. The largest – perhaps only – significant income for this village appears to be the two modest hotels situated across the road from each other. Pilgrim chat sites gave glowing reviews for the hotel across the street from ours. But, it was sold out long in advance. So, we were hoping for the best. The bar attached to our hotel had a blazing indoor fire pit, so that was certainly inviting!
After checking in, we reached our room on the 6th Floor via a miniature elevator that barely fit 2 adults, 2 backpacks and our bag delivered by Correos. Our room kept to the miniature theme. How small, you ask? Well, imagine needing to crawl over the bed to get to the bathroom door. 🙂 Yep, that small. It was reminiscent of a ‘1950’s motel’ on the legendary Highway 69. Quaint. Bare bones. With an exit sign (in Spanish) above the guest room door. 😀 But, the important things were provided – it was clean, the shower had hot water (and soap), and there was a bed with sheets & a pillow to sleep on. After we grabbed a bite in the restaurant, the storm was raging outside and the temperature in our room was dropping. Wind whistled through our bathroom window (because it would not completely shut). Easy solution, the bathroom door would remain closed (which resulted in an arctic toilet seat awakening in the morning!) There was a radiator in the corner of our room, but we found no way to turn it on (it appeared a nob was missing). Even after eating hot soup and taking a hot shower, we were both chilled to the bone from our long and rainy day. This was the moment when we said prayers of thanks that we’d decided to pack the silk long johns! Wearing those, plus a pair of wool socks, we slept soundly. 🙂
So, why did this hotel still earn 4 ½ stars from us? The LAUNDRY SERVICE! Bless them! They offered to take all of our dirty laundry and for only 5 Euros total and they washed, dried and folded each item neatly, ready for pick up at the front desk at 7 am.
We did it! We successfully completed Day 3 of our Camino! This was definitely my hardest day so far – because of the emotional component combined with the physical. To me, the Camino is a very sacred place, that’s why the trash and vandalism was so shocking and felt like a personal assault. However, even our “worst” moments on the Camino are sacred moments because they teach life lessons.
We are all walking our own pilgrimage. I invite you to do something each day to make the Way a little better for those who are walking behind you.
¡Buen Camino! – Holly