Leaving Triacastela you have to make a choice – turn to the left and follow the 25 km path to Samos, once one of the most powerful monestaries in Spain and still an interesting place to see and visit or even stay; or turn to the right and take the shorter 18 km path via San Xil. Both eventually lead to Sarria, which is a popular place to start a short camino and still get to see Santiago … and claim your Compostela.
Sarria in itself is just another nice Northern Spanish town with a river and all the pilgrim facilities you would expect, but it is also a watershed of sorts. At Sarria, the trickle of dusty and sun-bleached wanderers is hit by a flash flood of excited, fresh-legged and fragrant new peregrinos with colourful clothing and excess energy – especially the school children and teenagers chaperoned by teachers or priests. Things change. The longer you have been on the Way, the more you notice it.
The Sarria Thing is hard to explain, though some of the concrete changes are easily described:
– There are suddenly people everywhere. A lot more people. And they seem different than the ones you were walking with before. They don’t say Buen Camino (possibly because they don’t know about it) or even hi, they sometimes behave as if they are in any other crowd on any pavement in any city in the world. Of course they do – they have just stepped off that pavement somewhere and not had the benefit of weeks of gentle removal from that world.
– It is harder to find a moment to be alone, almost impossible to take a photo without other pilgrims in it – and the new people tend not to think twice about walking into the lovely landscape picture you have waited two minutes to take because the last batch of daypacks took their time to get out of the frame. But remember they see only what is there, pilgrims and all, and not the path you have had to yourself.
– The influx of people means a lot more pressure on accommodation. There is also a lot more accommodation to choose from, and people you have seen almost every day for weeks suddenly aren’t in your albergue anymore. Some of the newcomers have prebooked beds or rooms, and soon the Dusties start doing the same to avoid the ‘bed race’ or just so they can take their time to get there and really savour the last week of their journey (also by starting late to avoid the crowds).
– The number of people with small daypacks increases dramatically. The majority of pilgrims around you seems to have sent their luggage ahead, and there is a bus around every corner waiting to pick up part time walkers to take them to prearranged meals and reserved rooms where their luggage will be waiting. I am all in favour of people doing the Camino the way they want, any way they can, but it still creates a tangible difference on the road. It’s like the old and new pilgrims don’t merge, because they get so few chances to – the luggage transport ones have normal clothes waiting in their hotel and don’t even look like pilgrims in the evenings, so how are you supposed to know which ones to invite to join you for dinner and share the pilgrim menu wine with you? Also there are lots of large groups who stick together and have no time or need to get to know random dusty folk that they’ll probably never meet again anyway.
– The dusty folk can also be guilty of a certain arrogance, of looking down on the Sarrians and their clean clothes and their short walk and their perceived Compostela greed. The Dusties have had their time on the road, have seen sunrises and mountain vistas and laughed and cried and found out things about people and life and with some luck, themselves. Who knows how many of the Sarrians would have loved to have that opportunity, but for some or other reason can’t get time or find the money to do this. We Dusties should spend the walk from Sarria contemplating our luck, not letting excited Sarrians eat away at our Zen.
Basically, it can feel like the Camino you know and love is breaking up, desintegrating, and drags you kicking and screaming out of your bubble and back to the real world. It’s not a nice feeling, and it’s easy to (unfairly) blame it on the ‘new people’.
What I am trying to say, I suppose, is that walking to Sarria makes me think a lot more about why we do the things we do, how we choose to do it and how hard it sometimes is to let others do their thing their own way without prejudice or judgment. Personally I love having less in my pack and keep it with me all the time, I love the flexibility and freedom it gives me, but I have friends who could never walk the Camino without the help of luggage transport and the safety and comfort of private accommodation. I have no problem with that. I feel a little bit sorry for some of those who thought (or feared) they couldn’t do it on their own and spent lots of money on the services of a Camino company who arranged everything for them and effectively locked them into an itinerary that turned out not to be right for them. I sometimes think that more people miss out on important life lessons from having to pare down the amount of stuff they carry with them and experiencing that it is possible to manage with less. I think it’s such a relief to let go of the make-up, the hair dryer, the TV, the habits and masks of everyday life and be someone same but also else, a pilgrim, a wanderer, an explorer.
So – that was a bit of a departure from the advertised post, no? Please forgive me. Have some nice pics to make up for it. You see, I had a lovely day walking the San Xil route to Sarria. I walked alone and sometimes had the path to myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and got a lot of thinking done.
On the way I wondered why my Fitbit didn’t buzz at 10 kms, like it is supposed to do, only to find that it had fallen off at some point! It must have come loose when I put the backpack straps on, and a long time ago, as I was at least 15 kms from Triacastela when I noticed. This made me a bit down, so on my way into town I made a quick decision to see if they had a room for me at Cristal Hotel, and they did – they had one left!
I took it. I showered, I had a meal, I had some wine, I went for a walk, looked for a shop that might sell a Fitbit Flex, found none and came back again. The lady behind the bar had saved my pilgrim menu bottle from lunch so I sat down and had another glass. And then another peregrina sola sat down at the table next to mine and we started talking. Her name was A, she was starting from Sarria the following morning and she had arrived with no credencial and a big backpack.
She asked me about the Camino, and I was only too happy to tell her what I knew, or what seemed important to share. Little did she know (well, she will now) that meeting a Sarrian was probably the best thing that could have happened. I forgot about my Fitbit and the need to measure and rate things. That’s not what it’s about.
Zen restored, we arranged to meet for breakfast the next morning so I could take her to the pilgrim office to get a credencial.