(From our walk in late February and early March 2020)
This was the view from our window when we woke up to rather grey and drizzly morning in Portomarin. The rooms are in a different building to the restaurant and bar where you check in, so we packed up everything and went there to hand in the key and get breakfast. The huge bar was freezing cold, so we needed two coffees each before we felt warm enough to walk.
These conflicting markers must confuse people. First the two markers before Portomarin (take the right), now these, pointing to the (new to me) ‘official’ camino to the left, while the trail through the woods, which has always been ‘the’ camino, has been demoted to a Camino Complementario. They don’t even bother telling you how far left to Santiago on the markers along the trail through the woods. Wonder why? We took the one to the right – that seems to be the rule of thumb with these.
The clouds kept on wanting to start that rain the weather forecast had mentioned, and the sun kept trying to keep it at bay. It had been raining a LOT recently though, by the look of the puddles! The sun was shining, but there was no warmth in it and it didn’t cut through the damp.
After an 8 km mainly uphill walk from Portomarin, we arrived at the Gonzar café to find it closed. The municipal albergue next door to it was open, at least the doors were unlocked, and we went in looking for people but found none. So we used the toilet – always go before you go or you’ll wish you’d have gone before you went – and then weighed up the likelihood of any of the other places, like Castromayor, Eirexe, or that odd bar with all the garden gnomes and tractors outside (El Labrador), or the one with the giant metal ants (Paso de Formiga, a great place to stop about half way between Portomarin and Melide), would be open. It would be a long – 26 km in all – cold, and probably very wet day if not. The hospitalero/a would know, but s/he was nowhere to be found, and we weren’t feeling confident. Cold, was what we felt. So while we stood there in the glass entrance of the muni, shielding from the wind, we took an executive decision and called a taxi to take us to Palas. And no sooner had we arrived, but the rain did too – we were glad we missed it!
I had tried to book a room above our fave little haunt in Palas, but they weren’t available. After checking into the room nearby, we nipped down to see if the restaurant was open for lunch – and it had just opened, literally five minutes before! We were guests numbers two and three (only beaten by an elderly gentleman in a flat cap). The beer taps were nice and fresh. The jamón was untouched! And the kitchen staff were getting back into the swing of things by cooking paella and a bean and chorizo stew, which all us three guests were generously treated to. There really is such a thing as a free tapas lunch.
They weren’t yet serving their signature steaks though, so for our dinner we went to another restaurant and gorged on bacalao and zamburiñas. We actually met two other pilgrims in there, and one of them sat down with us after we had eaten, so we finally got to speak to another pilgrim.
Again it seemed that most of the winter walkers were not very interested in company. He said most of them preferred to walk alone during the day, stayed in rooms rather than albergues – most albergues weren’t open yet anyway – and kept to themselves at dinner. Winter walking must appeal to people who wish to take time out and enjoy silence and solitude. I suppose we weren’t really that different – we do like having the trail to ourselves.
In the evening we went to a local bar to watch football – they weren’t used to seeing pilgrims find their way in there, so they made room for us by a table of students who spoke English, and it turned into a very good (and late) night!