Day 16 – Palas de Rei to Ribadiso (26.4 km)
When I finally arrived in the late afternoon in Palas de Rei, the albergue was full and I was lucky to find a room in a pension. Francine and Miguel from France were not so fortunate; they had to continue for another six and more kilometres to the next hostel.
I had badly neglected my diary in the previous few days. On arrival at albergues I was too tired to put any thoughts on paper, and the longer distances I had to walk on most days now affected me. It was not that I was choosing to walk these longer stretches: albergues in this region were often around fifteen kilometres apart and I was too fit for such a short distance. Also, I wanted to meet Uta on the 26th in Santiago, which dictated my pace as well. Many other pilgrims were just as tired as I was, but Santiago was nearing and this kept us going. Climbing 650 m uphill to O’ Cebreiro and then continuing at a superfast pace to Triacastela had obviously been foolish, but that’s how you learn: on my next Camino I will know better. While walking, the motion, maybe also the good spirit, pushes one along, although there comes a time when one does walk like a zombie rather than a light-hearted pilgrim.
Since Sarria a completely new phenomenon had developed. When I passed a large car park at the outskirts, ‘pilgrims’ embarked from busses and joined the track. They were in groups, chatting away, jolly, excited and touristy, and one even played a radio! The stream of people, most only with a daypack on their back, was such that further on having a quiet pee became even a challenge. The lonesome days appeared to be over, but the worst was that albergues were bound to be full. Hundreds of new pilgrims, or whatever you want to call them, had joined in.
On two occasions I had to find separate accommodation and, apart from having to search when tired, the occasional change of circumstances also had its advantages, no snoring and being awakened too early by the usual backpack routine. This consists of zips opening and closing, plastic crackling, headlights shining into faces, etc. The intense backpack ‘music’ on waking is something a poet could write long chapters and verses about. The rucksack material, when handled, sounds like a viola; depending on the size of zips forever being opened and closed, they can be compared with a flute, clarinet or oboe and the really big ones sound like bassoons. Plastic bags create the sounds of tambourines or they can be likened to trumpet blasts if handled vigorously. Depending on the gender of the rucksack handlers, communicating by whispering might sound like violins, or cellos. This is just the music of handling one rucksack: now imagine many backpacks in the morning and you will know how this orchestra sounds! Most pilgrims, acutely aware not to disturb, try to be as quiet as possible, but this is in most cases not successful. Talking in a whisper, for instance, although seemingly muffled, is probably more intrusive than talking softly. Whispering is also more likely to be misunderstood, requiring frequent repetition which then adds to the disturbance. Whispering is also more irritating to the ear than soft talking. I really enjoyed the peaceful sleep in the pensione at Palas de Rei but what I missed was the camaraderie, the chit-chat and the possibility of a communal meal. But then for me sleeping in isolation in hotels also had another benefit – I did not need to hide my bug marks!