And, we're off! After a month of "practice walking," I am here, on the Camino de Santiago. Sunday morning at 10, I met my fellow travelers at the bus station in Lugo, and we got into two vans to drive about 40 minutes. We started walking the Camino outside the town of Sarria.
Our group has 9 travelers and two guides, Virginio and Javier. We have one couple from Washington state, two female buddies from Canada, one couple from California, and three singles: me, Qassab from UAE and Sandra from Melbourne. It's a really nice mix. Qassab is 27, so I am not even the youngest.
It was a beautiful morning: blue skies, just cool enough for a fleece when we started, but we shed our jackets quickly. All morning we walked up and down rolling hills through the countryside, passing cows (and dodging lots of cow pies!), strolling through little villages, encountering lots of fellow walkers and cyclists.
Pilgrims greet each other by saying, "Buen Camino." Some of the locals will say that to us too, but I get the feeling some of them are a little over the waves of walkers in their backyards. However, others have turned their homes into inns, hostels and rest stops (we are staying at some lovely converted farm houses), so you can't argue that the Camino isn't good for the local economy...especially if we make sure to buy a Coke or a water when we stop for a potty break.
I can see the appeal of biking, as you could cover the trail in about a week, but it can be a little annoying to stop and let the groups of cyclists pass. This is the most crowded part of the trail, since 100K is the minimum you can walk to get the Compostela, or certificate of completion at the cathedral. I don't think most people really care about the piece of paper, but it gives the shorter journey some legitimacy, and in four or five days, it's a more doable length than the full 800K.
We walked a total of 23K on the first day, about 14.4 miles (someone else did the conversion math). I felt great through lunch...there was some confusion about how far we were walking, as the guides didn't give us maps that first morning. So, when we got to the town of Portomarín for lunch, I thought we were done for the day. "Wow!" I thought. "That went by a lot faster than I expected!" Uh, no, we still had another 8K to go!
The last part ended up being the toughest of the day, as we had several long shade-free stretches along a highway (the Camino varies a lot...sometimes you are walking on a dirt path through the woods, other times you're following a paved road). So far, everyone has made it without pooping out in the van, though Sandra said she would have bailed on the end of day one if she could have found Virginio! Fortunately, I had a stash of peanut M&Ms to perk me up. We celebrated the end of our first walk with local beer (Estrella Galicia) and soft drinks, and Virginio let us have some of his melon with jamón, the Spanish version of Italy's melon with prosciutto. Another sweet and salty combo, delicioso.
We spent our first night together in a beautifully restored farmhouse. I believe my room used to be part of the stables! It had stone walls and lots of charming antique furniture...and a comfortable bathroom with a nice hot shower.
We had a group meeting outside at sunset and toasted the end of our first day with glasses of cold Galician white wine. Dinner was in a dining room that felt like something out of the middle ages...if not for the western wall of full glass to watch the sunset. We had lentil soup, lightly fried hake fillets with lemon, fries, salad with perfectly ripe tomatoes, with fruit and ice cream for dessert. I was a little worried about being able to stay up for the late Spanish dinner, but since we're not starting so early each morning, it's fine. Plus, since we're so far west, it's still light out until around 9.
Some of us sampled the three liqueurs they brought out after dinner: one was coffee-flavored, one herb-infused, and one pure lighter fluid. Wooh! I woke up for several hours in the middle of the night, and I'm not sure if it was the wine, the tiny bit of liqueur I sampled, or just the fact that I am so excited to be here.