Zen top-up: Portomarín to Portos

I didn’t even hear Nicole leaving next morning. When I woke up after a bad night’s sleep – dog barking like a loon outside our window – I was alone in the room. Outside the hall was full of suitcases to be transported, and the whole house was quiet. I considered having breakfast there since everything was included and laid out, but … the house was too quiet. I packed, taking care not to trip over my bottom lip, and went back into town in search of hot coffee and a cold Aquarius for my skirt pocket.

Every café on the main street, which leads straight to the camino, was heaving with bleary-eyed people. I rolled gently past them down the hill and ended up in a little place, one of the last, where an efficient lady provided hot café con leche and a huge pain au chocolat. I deserved it. Well, I wanted it.

Big windows were facing the flooded valley and I could see the fog hanging like a wet blanket over the trail through the woods. Eugh. So instead of thinking about my immediate future, I focused on the large information posters showing photos and diagrams of the iron age hillfort of Castromaior, which we would pass today. I say pass because that’s what most people do – last time I couldn’t even see how you would find your way into it, and unless you knew it was there, you’d never find it. The posters even show the camino going around it (maybe to save it from walking vandals?).

After stretching breakfast as far as I could, I set off into the mist. I bumped into Breakfast Man, the first pilgrim I met in Ponferrada, and his Sleeping Beauty, who were both thoroughly enjoying themselves. Up through the woods we all went, stopping about half way to remove layers and have a good swig of water, up and up. Those 7.8 kms to Gonzar can take forever on a bad day, and there was also some confusion about the ‘old’ camino being labelled ‘complementario’ and arrows following new routes, which normally take you to a church, chapel or stone cross. I just followed the old path until finally I spotted an open café! Which of course everyone spotted and immediately piled into for second breakfast. I managed to find a small table, left Jean (my pack) on the seat – which is rude – and went to order a bocadillo with lomo y tomate, pero sin pan. Basically a massive sandwich without the bread. While I was happily tucking in, I spotted one of the Canadian Ladies in the queue, she invited me over to their table outside, and then we were three.

We walked, we talked, we made pit stops for claras and Kas Limón; we found and dragged ourselves up the official path to Castromaior, but still ended up skirting it. Most pilgrims walked straight past, you can just about see some behind the Canadian Lady in the photo below.

I was determined to show them the old stone hillfort though, so we went in through the out path and voilà! There it was in all its glory, with views for miles and miles. Definitely worth it.

For the next part of this improvised guided tour I showed them where the old pilgrim cemetary used to be in Ligonde, and how to avoid the steep and rocky path first down and then up again to Airexe. I was glad I did, because while we kept a keen eye out for cars on the bendy road, we discovered a new cow! A brand new one, we must have just missed the birth, because mummy cow was still cleaning the calf and it was trying to do a Bambi! Now that was surely cause for celebration – wetting a new life’s head. We didn’t have to wait long; there was a free table under the big tree outside the bar in Airexe, so we had lunch and clinked our glasses to another little camino miracle.

The Ladies were carrying on to Palas de Rei, like almost everyone else, but I had booked a bed in Paso de Formiga, The Ant Place, 5 kms before. It would make two 20 km days rather than one long and one short to Melide. As I waved them goodbye there was a tiny voice in my head saying I should have just carried on, but I had fond memories of the Ant Place … lounging in the garden, having a drink on the nice shaded patio, a lovely meal in the café … so I checked in and went upstairs. Where I discovered that there was only one bed left and it was a top one. And that everyone else spoke French (I don’t, not so you’d notice). And that they all had loads of Stuff which they were happy to fill the floor with. Oh well. I went into the shower, where there was a notice saying please don’t do laundry in the sink; we have a washing machine. Yay! But the washing machine was out of order. They also served food, but not then. There was a communal meal later, so I had some cake in the meantime. And there was wifi, but not outside. And a phone signal – just about. I wanted to stay there for the peace and quiet (and to save a few kms) and in the event, it felt too peaceful and too quiet.

Nothing wrong with the Ant Place itself, it was the same as last time or (apart from the washing machine) in fact better. This was purely about me wishing I was somewhere else. In the evening everyone gathered for the meal where the communal language was French, but one Canadian lady translated for me and the Italian man. Dinner consisted of huge bowls of lentil soup for a filling starter, with chicken and potatoes for mains, plus wine and ice cream for dessert. It was all good, but I should have listened to that tiny voice and carried on with the Ladies. Live and learn.

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