Staying alone, and it’s alright.

Background: It’s Tuesday, Sep. 19th and we’re now in Spain, having crossed from Portugal the previous day. Two changes happen immediately: the official language changes from Portuguese to Spanish, and the time changes, causing us to lose an hour from yesterday. There’s no good reason for it since Spain is in line with Portugal as well as the UK and should be on Greenwich Mean Time. But its prior dictator, Francisco Franco, struck a deal with Hitler back in WWII to be in the same time zone as Germany, Central European time. Franco is long dead and forgotten, but that relic remains. Consequently, if we start walking before 8am (CET) it’ll be in the dark.
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Is it my age? Is it the sameness that’s inevitable after 17 days of long-distance walking? Or is it that 18 miles of mostly flat terrain, including a lengthy stretch through an industrial city, just doesn’t register in one’s memory bank? For the life of me nothing stands out about the 18th day on the trail, an obviously unremarkable section from Tui to Redondela. There is one mountainous ridge to climb and descend from late in the day, and then I enter the small city of Redondela which appears to be known for little more than a long steel railroad bridge that crosses the city high in the air at an angle to the central town streets far below. It is, however, also another main point where pilgrims who began their walks on the coastal routes outside of Porto now join those of us who’ve been walking the inland route, known as The Central. So, once again, the population of pilgrims increases here as we all proceed to Santiago de Compostela.

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In contrast, Day 19 (Wednesday, Sep. 20) offers some sights worth sharing. Like most days, I find a place to get a cafe and a croissant, and on this day I join a pleasant lady at her table. She’s clearly also a pilgrim, walking alone, and happens to be from northern Germany so we speak German. As it’s clear we have very different walking paces, we say our good-byes and I move out. Not far out of Redondela I get the first of several memorable sights for that day. Some people say that it’s best to always look forwards, and not to focus on what’s behind you. I don’t subscribe to that in any aspect of my life. I like to look back at where I’ve been as it often gives me new perspectives from which to appreciate what’s ahead of me. And so I do that on the Camino as well. Looking back shortly after leaving Redondela offers the sight of the gleaming, graceful Puente de Rande, a mile-long suspension bridge that crosses the Ria Vigo, a river flows into the nearby Atlantic Ocean. It’s off in the far distance, and had I not looked exactly when I did, I would’ve missed it entirely. As I said before, a fascination for bridges is literally in my DNA with a grandfather who was a bridge-design engineer.

Not long after, the path leads over the first of several climbs that day – but does so on the edge of a heavily traveled highway – and then drops into the town of Arcade. As I descend, I see the Vigo again, this time closer, and as its really an estuary – influenced by the nearby ocean – it’s at low tide, revealing numerous pleasure and fishing boats resting on its flat muddy banks. A local sees that I’m enjoying the view and directs me on a paved path down along the river, assuring me that it reconnects to the Camino in a short distance (all this in a crude form of sign language). As a result, I get some photos that make me happy.

Now I cross the Roman-style Ponte Sampaio, built in the 18th century on remnants of a prior Roman bridge. The bridge is narrow, allowing only one lane of traffic, but it’s open to both directions, so drivers have to look across and see if anybody is coming, and if not they can go. In general traffic in this part of the world can seem somewhat uncooperative, but clearly not here. The Ponte is historically significant as it marks a decisive battle between local Galician forces (Galicia being this region in Spain) and Napoleon’s army, with the former successfully defending their ground at the bridge and keeping Napoleon out. On the other side, in Arcade, I find a small riverside park, just below the bridge, a perfect spot to drop my pack and rest for a short while.

Eventually there’s another “Alto” to climb after which the road drops and flattens for a long, unpleasant-sounding, stretch on the side of another busy roadway. On the way down from the last climb – a fairly steep, difficult descent – I see a woman not far ahead of me clearly limping, very tenderly placing her right foot with each step. I suspect I know what’s hurting but I ask her when I catch up with her. She says the front of her lower leg hurts; it’s really affecting her. I assume it’s shin splints, a problem I’ve had as well and that I treat with a piece of K-tape stretched from the top of my foot up the front of my lower leg. I’d already cured one of my French roomies, Marc, with K-tape several days earlier, so I ask if she’ll let me help her. She agrees, and we get her covered in K-tape as well, and I hand her enough strips to get her to the end. Her name is Katarina from Milan, Italy, and she’s beautiful and charming. I choke for a moment and quickly reassess my commitment to finish this Camino alone or slow down and join her. The K-tape clearly helps, but I stick to my commitment to walk on alone. I look back, though, and can see that she’s walking better, so at least I’ve helped someone today.

As promised in my guidebook, there’s an alternative path ahead, a bit longer than walking alongside the busy road but significantly more scenic and quieter. When I see the signs for that alternate path I take it, and it’s so rewarding as it winds through a wooded section alongside a small stream that comes and goes from my right-hand side. Eventually it ends and leads right back to the main road just as it enters the large regional city of Pontevedra. An hour later I’m settled in a comfortable hotel room in the heart of the city, showered and changed and ready to experience the town.

The scene at around 6pm and beyond, is classic for a Spanish city. Everyone seems to be out in the various plazas or the streets leading from them. Shops reopened two hours ago and will remain open another two hours, so commerce is lively, but so is conversation in countless clusters either standing or sitting, on benches, walls or cafes. Parents are playing with children, feeding pigeons, turning jump ropes, or any number of other activities. I’ve enjoyed this scene before in other Spanish cities and am simply fascinated by this aspect of the local culture. There’s a sense of community, family and friendship at its best. I do run into a few people I’ve exchanged greetings with along the way – particular a German couple from Nuremberg who had just been served an early dinner at a cafe – but I continue walking around the area. Perhaps I could’ve run into Katarina and we could’ve had dinner, but I don’t, so I find a place to get a bite around 8:30, alone, and then I head back to my room.

6 thoughts on “Staying alone, and it’s alright.

  1. Amazing essay. I arrived in Santiago yesterday having spent a couple of day in Padron. Always enjoy reading your posts. This one brought ba k some strong memories. Please keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope Franco is forgotten but I’m reading Adam hochshield spain in our hearts about the Lincoln brigade and he has just killed 2500 in Santander alone mostly non combitants simply for being on the other side. I’m enjoying your journey. Jerry brady

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    1. Thanks for staying with me, Jerry. That’s a book still on my list for future reading. I recently finished his book on King Leopold and the Congo… well-told of a horrific person and reign of terror. As for Franco, yes I think they’ve pretty much eradicated his memory, but Spain still has lots of tension, particularly with the autonomous regions such as Catalonia, Basque Country and even Galicia, where I spent the last week in this trip. You still see lots of graffiti denouncing the central government and supporting Galician independence. In the Basque Country two years ago, you didn’t even utter the word Spain. BTW, the current PM, Rajoy, is from Galicia and yes, Franco was Galician as well, from a small NW coastal city, Ferrol. A couple more posts to come before I call it a wrap. TO

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