All was misty, cloudy and quite strange when I awoke. It looked like a day of walking in the clouds but after breakfast the view was fantastic. The cloud had receded and was sitting in the deep valleys below O Cebreiro. The sun glowed strongly over the cloud and made for a very mystical view. Everyone was amazed by the scene and by the atmosphere on that special morning.
I was inspired by the prospect of being on the final leg of my journey after so many weeks of daily walking. It was now only a few days to Santiago de Compostela. I looked at the distance to go and worked out how many days it would take. I did not want to reach Santiago too soon as I was enjoying the experience of this great journey. Maybe four or five days – I was getting excited. There was a rush of reflections about all the great experiences I had had on the way. It was a time to sit and gaze over the clouds and remember all the good times as well as the inevitable difficulties during the down times.
Setting off, it was an easy descent from O Cebreiro. Many took the road however the marked way into the hills seemed more appealing. From the village the Camino wound through moist pine woodland following the contour of the hillside before dropping sharply to meet up with the road. There was a small garage and supermarket at the junction. It was filled with fascinating foodstuffs and country supplies. The mechanic served me a coffee at the long wooden bar that ran along one side of the supermarket. An unusual and interesting place.
After a short time following the road, the Way headed off onto a more pleasant countryside path. It climbed through many small hamlets before reaching the Alto de San Roque at 1270m. At the summit was a modern statue of a pilgrim posed to fight the winds and challenges of the Camino. Soon after I met a group of young scouts from Ypres in Belgium. They had been camping the previous night at O Cebreiro. I had seen their tents pitched on the outskirts of the village there. We walked and talked together for a while. They were enthusiastic and refreshing in their observations of their experiences. I scoffed slightly when they told me they took a day off every three days in case they became tired. They were all teenagers up to about eighteen years old and seemed healthy enough! Perhaps the older pilgrim has more experience and stamina!
Soon after the scouts stopped for lunch in Viduedo and waited for the support van to arrive to cook up some lunch. I felt that though it was a good experience for them, it may have been better to let them live a little more like a real pilgrim by walking each day supplying themselves with their own food. Living some of the difficulties.
By now all the cloud had dissipated and the heat was slowly building. After the heights of the mountains, it was a steady descent from high above the valley before descending through the wonderful rolling green lands to the town of Triacastela. It would be a little over 22km today, not a lot however a good day’s walk all the same. I would arrive early and was looking forward to spending the night outdoors by the river. I had heard from others that there was a great camping spot under the trees by the river there.
The Camino was getting busier. The increasing number of walkers and pilgrims were supplemented by the ‘tourist pilgrims’ – those who walked the last one hundred kilometres or so to Santiago de Compostela. Many Spanish view obtaining the Compostela as an important part of their life and even list the achievement on their resume when applying for jobs. Needless to say, some only did what was necessary to obtain the Compostela. Only walking one hundred kilometres would entitle them to the certificate. Two hundred kilometres are required to obtain the Compostela if travelling by bike. Some of course took the bus and tried to get the Compostela that way. Some long distance walkers felt a little cheated that after such an effort, the beds were taken by these ‘tourist pilgrims’. Tourism had taken over from Tradition for some.
Sure enough, when I arrived at about 4pm in Triacastela all the albergues were full. I heard too that the police were preventing people camping by the river. This was the first time I had found difficulty in obtaining a bed. I walked round town visiting the many albergues. They were either full or very expensive. Other parts of Spain had charged about €5 per night. From now on it would be more like €9 – €12 per night. The people were also a little less relaxed. I could only assume that they were a bit jaded by the large number of pilgrims that passed through their town each year. The spirit of the Camino seemed to have lost a little of it’s magic after Triacastela. Until now the Camino had been much more peaceful. Maybe my walk had indeed ended at the Iron Cross.
Eventually I returned to the municipal albergue, complete with its temporary Galician Government medical centre to treat the ills of the modern pilgrim. I paid €5 to sleep outside and to use the facilities for the night. The two Serenas and Ray were in the same position and we all agreed to camp down together that night on the grass next to the albergue. I met up again with Ricardo and Daniel who I had last spent time with in Reliegos. Earlier the police had moved them on from their riverside camp ground. Camping ‘wild’ in Galicia should be undertaken with care as the police are a bit more strict than in the rest of Spain. Understandable I suppose with the huge number of walkers that undertake this last stretch of the Way. Ricardo and Daniel were now camped on the hill near the albergue and were enjoying a bottle of Rioja between them in the last light of the day. We chatted for a while before laying out our sleeping mats, bags and bivis with the others on the soft grass. It was a wonderful night under the stars and not too cold. I never have a problem sleeping under the stars!
TIP: ‘Wild’ camping is possible along the Way however the police in Galicia are a bit more strict about this practice. Choose your spot well out of site!