On the Road: Memories of a Pilgrim with No Direction 8

The brief stage from Tuy to O Porriño is described as being one of the least attractive of the final legs leading up to Santiago de Compostela and I have to admit that, in many ways, it lived up to its billing.  That’s why I was grateful to get it out of the way the first day.  Not all of it was horrendous by any stretch of the imagination.  The first half was actually quite pleasant, with plenty of small villages to weave through, an occasional lichen-clad chapel to admire, a local or two to greet, and a few patches of woods and grassy fields to cross.  This was a good time to get our blood pumping, our bones and joints greased and our muscles back into to shape so that we wouldn’t kill each other by the end of the week.  Aitor carried on a lively conversation about how much the Camino meant to him and what a great week we had ahead of us while Andrés took each kilometer with a degree of circumspection as he tried to get a feel for what this journey was all about and just how it was going to affect him. 

         The historical highlight of this section was a small medieval bridge, known forebodingly as the Bridge of Fevers, where San Telmo (Saint Elmo – yes, the one you might associate with glowing boats and planes or even Rob Lowe) became seriously ill during his pilgrimage to Santiago in 1251.  The holy man was subsequently returned to Tuy where he would eventually die.  A brief chronicle of the events is engraved in stone at the site and it is a moving tribute to his faith, but at the same time a discouraging message to the faithful because it said “pilgrims die on the Camino and have been doing it for a long time”.  Not the type of thing you want to see when you are 110 km away from the finishing line.  The water beneath the crossover was fairly stagnant and produced a warm, acrid summer stench.  I wondered if that had anything to do with the old man’s demise.  Either that or someone from the nearby town of O Porriño was making their own special contribution to the local water supply.  All the same, it was the only worthy landmark in the first stage, so we had a couple of pilgrims who spoke French take a picture of us.

         Other than that, there was little remarkable about the trail that morning, which that was all right by us because the purpose that day was to get ourselves into that pilgrimage mood.  A little over halfway through the stage we came to a naked rest area with a cafeteria and shaded picnic tables which were oddly but strategically stationed on a lookout above our destination O Porriño.  Aitor produced a hunk of cheese and some bread.  The man was a pure magician when it came to supplying us with the necessary nourishment in times of need.  We munched away, washed it down with water, and handed a local begging cat a few well-appreciated crumbs.  Andrés showed some initial signs of weariness, but all in all he was looking good. 

         We then descended a small hill and turned down a 3-kilometer straightaway of endless warehouses, an undeniable sign that we were entering O Porriño.  This industrial district happens to be one of the features that best characterize the town, which should give you an idea of its esthetic value.  It also makes up what is quite possibly the most unsightly stretch of the Camino in all of Galicia.  But you can’t completely blame the town.  Modern times have had another fate for its inhabitants who have come to thrive on its ample supply of excellent granite and marble.  As a result the Camino doesn’t seem to get the attention it might otherwise deserve in another community of lesser economic prosperity.  As modest as it was in terms of beauty, I accepted it as just another face of this journey, because the Camino can be like that.   

         Up to that point, the day had been little more than a leisurely stroll, and it would have stayed that way had I not had been in such a hurry.  So, I pressed on and on, crossed over to another straightaway and trekked down another endless stream of asphalt.  All this time, I kept thinking we were but a few hundred yards from the town center, but nothing came up.   We finally had to ask someone how much was left and they said we still had to get to Porriño. 

         “But wait,” I wondered.  “I thought this was supposed to be Porriño already.  What the heck?” 

         Yeah, right.  That’s just the nature of the Camino.  You can be there and not there, and then no where, at the same time.   And just when you think you are there again, you almost never are.  It can take forever and it requires patience, which was precisely what I lacked at that very moment. Out of frustration and fear of running late, I kicked it into high gear.  The final spurt of energy got me to where I wanted to be but it took a lot out of Andrés who arrived a few minutes behind us looking like he had been slapped in the face a dozen times by a German Oktoberfest waitress. 

         Andrés likes to be discreet in his observations and politely observed amid gasps, “Was it me or did you guys go a little fast there?”

         Once at the shelter, we went straight for the car and dumped our things in the trunk.  Just then the French-speaking girls who had taken our picture at the bridge walked by from a distance and shook their fingers at us in a disapprovingly. 

        “What?” I gestured. 

         Then I realized we made a big mistake.  Pilgrims don’t like cars and the minute they see you with one, they grimace and make all sorts of assumptions about your using a support car.  Clearly this wasn’t our case at all, and I hated giving the wrong impression.  I felt like yelling, “It’s not what you think, eh?  So, you can knock off the finger wagging thing.”   

         But I don’t know how to say that in French, and I am sure most people don’t either.  Oh, well, who cared?  We knew the truth and it was our Camino not theirs.  

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