Portomarín to Palas de Rei (2010)

And then I got lost leaving Portomarín.

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I thought the Camino went up the hill past the church when it actually continues off to the left after you cross that bridge before you climb into town. I learned to find out where I am on the planet before moving, otherwise you move in the wrong direction. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

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This stretch of the Camino is where I started to do two things: get really tired and start enjoying the beautiful countryside. I remember thinking that nobody would know if I took a bus to the next stop, nobody would know if I hailed a cab to the next stop. I could just get there and have coffee and that would be infinitely better than walking. But I kept thinking how I’d disappoint the kid in my office who said I could do this – and when I got to Santiago, I’d have to live with the deceit.

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So I toughed it out and started looking around me, and decided to focus on the flowers, trees, animals, and bugs that I saw. I remembered thinking of the cool black beetles I had seen in 2009 as I walked through the forest on the way into Roncesvalles and how I never noticed bugs in New York. I met a guy who claimed to speak English – and then he didn’t – and I lost the Mallorquinos and their backpack issues for good.

I’d read about a tiny Templar chapel, off the Camino a bit, that sounded like a nice side trip. I read you could hail a taxi, go out to the chapel, then cab it back without losing any credibility as a walking pilgrim. So I stopped a the closest bar and asked the bar man for three things: some water, a place to stash my backpack, and a phone call to a taxi service that could take me out to Vilar de Donas. I never expected to hear what he told the cab driver when he got him on the phone. He said, “There is a pilgrim here who would like to visit the Chapel.”

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It was the very first time I’d been called a pilgrim.

The cabbie drove up, I left my backpack, and we drove down a muddy dirt road into a field where I saw the little chapel. I promised the cabbie I wouldn’t be very long, that I was a student of Romanesque sculpture and architecture and I just wanted some photos and a chance to walk around a bit. He nodded, I got out with my little camera.

I’d walked around the central building and was trying to focus my lens on a slit in the old wooden door to get a view of the interior when a man came up behind me holding keys. The cabbie was leaning on his car with a big smile on his face. He’d contacted the man with the keys for me! This man started talking about the Celtic origins of the decoration, about the monks who lived here, about the Templar knights. And then he opened the door and I walked in. He continued telling me the story and pointing out small sculptural details. I stamped my credencial with the stamp of the church, left a few Euro to compensate my guide, and got back in the cab to return to the bar and my backpack and my walking.

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I felt completely refreshed. I walked on into Palas de Rei and stopped at the albergue to see if they also had solo accommodations – they didn’t. So I walked on another kilometer or so to a place that looked like a cool summer camp for grown-ups with cabins and a central building that had a restaurant. I had pizza for dinner and when I went to pay the bill at the bar, the bar man slipped me an orange and told me just to take it “for tomorrow” and the waiter came up and offered me a few slices of ham to try.

It was just what I needed.

Next: Palas de Rei to Arzúa