Day 29 - Portomarin to Melide

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Galicia,
Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kms Walked: 39.8kms
Kms Walked in Total: 740kms
Kms to Santiago: 50kms

Pains: normal tiredness after walking 131kms in three days
Blisters: none

The Camino is now a fifty / fifty group, half Spanish, half United Nations. There are more and more Spaniards joining all over the place. From luxury travellers to the ones on a shoe string, but all perfectly identifiable by the loudness.

Today I had to stop twice to let two groups go by, as even with headphones they were doing my head in. Laughter and shouting is good generally, but when you are tired and trying to enjoy the path it invades your brainwaves.

They are also fresh, drunk most of the time after lunch, and carry minute backpacks as most of them send the luggage forward with the transport services. Nothing wrong with that, except its cheating if you are a believer, and most of them will effectively go to collect the Credencial in Santiago. Apparently it helps to get your children into a Catholic school (this I learnt during the walk).

That brings up the question of the "Credencial". The certificate which started all the pilgrimage a few centuries ago, and which cleaned all sins for Catholics who walked to Santiago.

Now, that long trek and suffering changed a few years ago when the Church updated itself and decided that sins could no longer be eliminated. Its quite strange given the fact that the Church decides everything via a direct channel, but I will bite my tongue for the time being.
So nowadays, no Catholic can compensate sins for walking, but they do get a Certificate of "Super Good Catholic" if you walk at least 100 kilometres to Santiago. And, you all know what I'm going to ask: how can a pilgrim walking four thousand, eight hundred of five hundred kilometres get the same piece of paper as the ones that just do a jolly at the end?

There are lots of answers to the question, but I think the main one is that the Church no longer has sufficient power to make people walk more than a few days. Or, was it all imposed by the local Galician businesses? I couldn't care less but I'm sure that true believers must question this unfairness slightly - especially when the Credencial has no actual value in religious terms. Perhaps committing 800 sins is the same as 100?

My guide book by Allah John Brierley says: help all pilgrims, don't feel superior at this stage. I can see it happening "oooh, you have a little blister after 20km. Please have my lower bunk bed even though I have carried all my stuff for the last month". Sounds like taking you are taking the Mickey once again John!

Nevermind - I leave that BS to the real believers. My Camino was a walkers one. My sins remain with Padre Oz and his drunken Irish nun troupe.

With all the above in mind, it was strange that I was blessed today.

My first few hours of the walk were under a slight grumpiness (for people who know me - something absolutely unusual!)

After eight kilometres the first cafe stop appeared. It was packed, but I needed a coffee and some food so I went in. I ordered some coffee and the usual bocadillo de lomo.

Amongst the chaos of pilgrims I sat down, and concentrated on my calories. Out of nowhere an old man that was identical to the Father of the Smurfs (white beard and nearly bold) appeared and sat down on my table.
There were plenty of tables empty around the place but he chose mine and once he was firmly sitting down said "can I sit down?".

If my brain had been working at normal speed I would probably have replied something sarcastic, but I was in no humorous state. So he asked me where I was from, to which I replied in Spanish. However I realised that he was looking at the guide book I had laid on the table, so i had to abdicate to having been caught out as an English speaker.

He introduced himself as a German, and to stick to the truth I will quote our conversation:

Goethe: "I'm 73 and I am walking the end of the Camino after six years from a village close to Munich"

Me: "congratulations. You don't look like 73"

Goethe: "Are you Catholic?"

Me: shock at the direct question but given the Camino: "Born yes"

Goethe: "Excellent. Your are baptised then!"

Me: "Yes."

Goethe: "I'm a Priest. I was born before the Second World War"

Me with lomo bocadillo in mouth: "How cool is that." I did intend to ask him about what youth group he was part of but the lomo stopped me.

Goethe then proceeded to tell me all sort of details about his walk during the last six years towards Santiago.

Me: "Aren't you disappointed about the small percentage of Catholics on the Camino?"

Father Goethe (Erhrardt in real life): "Even though they don't know, everyone has a target in their heart which leads them to the Camino. Jesus said - The Way is within me"

Me: "Aha." It did remind me of that phrase of "every vietnamese has an american inside wanting to come out".

Father Goethe then asked my name and told me how such and such apostle said such and such thing.

He finished his mango juice and before leaving said "I bless you and I will pray for you today". We shook hands and he left.

What to make of this? A free blessing and a prayer for an atheist. That and the credencial might give me some negotiating power sometime in the future!

I kept walking and soon bumped into two fat (that's a fact not a criticism) gypsies stopping pilgrims along the way and waving a board in front of them. I had seen them jump off a car earlier chatting and laughing.

I hardly stopped walking as I could see they were lying beggars, but I did manage to see and read what they were showing two old English ladies. The were pointing at a paper saying in Spanish and English "we are collecting for the deaf and dumb association of Santiago". They stamped pilgrims passports if they got a donation.

The worst part is that I saw loads of people signing their names, donating and getting stamps...and this was in the middle of nowhere from two girls that could well do with some slimming! They then reappeared a few kilometres later dropped off by the same car I saw them get off before. You could have written this story a few hundred years ago.

Out of all the pilgrims that were going past I detected at least two "dodgy" characters. In my opinion they were Camino thieves, preying on new comers who left their rucksacks lying around without guard. I am amazed how most people from (from day one) have left their, phones, ipods, iphones, cameras, and other devices, loading in the rooms without looking after them.

The whole "we are a happy bunch of pilgrims" theme has set in and they quickly forget its not a nice world out there. Quite a few people have "lost" things on the way, but its not until they go that they realise they were not behaving as they would have back home.

Apart from the Spaniards there is a new bunch appearing out of nowhere...Chinese! Large groups, with extra light sacks. I walked for a couple of kilometres with one of their guides who spoken perfect Spanish with a strong chinese accent. Their main interest was to take a photograph of every cross and church along the path. I wonder if they are cunningly planing to create their own route of Santiago in China. The guide kept asking me "cruz proxima? Cruz?" (Next cross? Cross?).

After 28 kilometres I made to Palas do Rei where most sane people stop. Not much of a town, although plenty of restaurants. I had a good rest and tried an "arroz con pulpo y calamares". The food was good, and the restaurant packed, but a few things made me get concerned about potential future stomach problems:

- Evidence A: toilet visit. There was more brown stuff and cockroaches there (only 5 metres away from the kitchen) than I had ever seen.

- Evidence B: a hippy community of mosquitoes lying dead in the vinegar bottle.

- Evidence C: the cook smoking in the kitchen and trying to hide behind a column.

Today I didn't chillax too long and I started walking the last 15 kilometres around 3pm.

It was an great initial five kilometres, but the closer you get the more "investment" there is in the path. That actually means that instead of the nice soft sand trails, you get hard roman road styled path. As with most stuff that politicians do, they never obtained an expert opinion. They have thrown millions of euros into building stone paths in the middle of nowhere, which most pilgrims are avoiding!

If you walk along these so called improvements, you will see big alternative paths created by pilgrims on either side. Usually its on the grass and other times on the private lands surrounding them. We all know someone made a lot of money to build a path in the worst way possible for the pilgrims. I know I avoided them!

However the worst monument possible is probably 3 kilometres from Melide. Next to several car sales offices and industrial sites the path passes the "Bosque de Peregrinos" (Pilgrim Forrest). An investment which probably cost millions of euros, and has several pathetic trees along it. You can see the main road, and you can see the car dealers, but trees? During about one kilometres there are several monuments dedicated to the members of the camino society. Big marble stones with plaques and names.

After 35 kms the only feeling I had was that of urinating on all of them! How pathetic are these men (as women were not listed) to put their names on a stretch that is closest to the torment of christ than any holy pilgrimage. If ever I want to feel important, remind me not to put my name there!

I made it! Not easily after three days of 50km, 42km and 39km. But Melide is a good place to get to. And I felt it the moment I arrived at the centre - its has real life! Energy of local people doing their stuff apart from all the pilgrim business.

I struggled to find my posada, but I made it. And soon after an octopus was sacrificed in my name!
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