A few pilgrims sit on the banks, dipping their feet in the crystal waters shaded by trees. I have booked in at the Albergue Los Caminantes, a few paces further on where I discover another hazard of the latter stage of the Camino. My bed has been given to another hiker, common practice amongst the albergues. Unless you reach your destination by early to mid-afternoon, they presume you aren’t coming and release the bed.
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I confer with Yvonne, a pilgrim from Slovenia who has the same problem We discuss the situation with the owner, pushing our point across that there is little point booking if it’s not honoured. She relents and finds two top bunks for us. It’s a lesson learned – make sure you get to your accommodation by the time specified, or make sure you let them know what time you expect to arrive.
Narrow country lanes speckled with farms funnel me on to O Pedrouzo in the morning. Cattle moan from sheds, chickens run amok and dogs eye me cautiously. Stone walls rise either side, the tops draped in moss. It’s shady; if I’m not walking through woods then the roads are lined with oak and other trees. Off-road onto the tracks it’s dusty, the soil parched after a long, hot summer. I undulate over the Galician countryside, hopping over streams and passing through many small hamlets. Most are just a few houses huddled together and I’m enjoying regular places to rest, eat and drink.
O Pedrouzo lies just twelve miles from Santiago and I rested overnight here on my first Camino. The location is popular because of the striking distance from the end, four or five hours for most. Although not the most picturesque place to stay, most amenities are laid on and several albergues dot the town. Rain starts falling, the first I have witnessed in three weeks, and the forecast is for more of the same tomorrow. True to my previous pilgrimages, it looks like I will be walking in to Santiago through showers once more.
Rested well, I get a good start at 7am Everyone is happy and smiling, relishing the prospect of their arrival in Santiago – a place they have heard so much about, seen in countless photos and described in many stories. A light drizzle increases and I take half an hour’s refuge in a small cafe near Lavacolla. Fabio and Dario join me as rain trickles down the windows.
In 2002, when I first walked the Camino, the one lesson that stayed with me was a realisation that the destination is not the sole reason for an adventure, more the journey in between. As I approach Santiago for the third time, it still resonates.
We discuss this with passion when I join Dario, Fabio, Isabella and Fernanda to celebrate our pilgrimage in one of the many tapas restaurants that evening. While they are returning home, I am looking forward to repeating the walk to Finistera, another fifty miles, and then another day’s walk to Muxia where I can walk no further west as the Atlantic provides an emphatic finish to this trip.
Other than some local hikes back in the UK, the Camino Francais is the only long walk I have repeated. Usually I’m satisfied with experiencing a route once, and prefer to use my time, and finances, to explore further.
But the Camino is different. Memories fade and I was keen to rekindle them. I leave, as I have done in the past, with new friends, and I know most of them will be friends for life. I’ve experienced the Camino again, for the third time and even now, I know I’ll return.