Greetings from Sarria!
The Update: I’m overjoyed to have summited the final mountain on my way to Santiago! The climb brought me to the tiny village of O Cebreiro - an instrumental place in the history and revitalization of the Camino. In the 80s the town’s priest walked the length of the Camino with cans of yellow paint. Along the route, he marked the path by painting thousands of arrows on roads, poles, and trees along the way. These way marks made the Camino so easy to walk that you don’t even need a map anymore.
The Insights: Shortly before O Cebreiro, I crossed into the Province of Galicia. Galicia is well-known for its seafood, especially dishes containing octopus which I look forward to tasting once I’m closer to the coast. However, Galicia is unfortunately also known for its poverty. Throughout my descent from O Cebreiro I passed many vacant and collapsed buildings. The people who still lived in these tiny villages of just 10-30 people seem to either create a living by operating bars that serve pilgrims or rely on subsistence farming. Several times during my walk I came across farmers leading their handful of livestock through the village to graze.
Poverty and abandoned villages are nothing new on the Camino though. I’ve passed by hundreds of dilapidated buildings marked “vacante permanente” (permanently vacant) and many towns that wouldn’t have a single tienda (basic shop) if there weren’t pilgrims around to support it. As a peregrino, all of this serves as a reminder that I’m not here on a vacation. When people go somewhere for vacation, they tend to stay on the resort; they don’t venture to the parts of the city that might make them uncomfortable or confront them with the local social issues. Meanwhile, I feel privileged to really see all of Spain along the Camino. I get to see the whole country from east to west. I walk through its beautiful mountains and polluted streets. I marvel at its large cities and feel at home in its smallest villages. I pass subsistence farmers as well as large homes that display the family’s coat of arms. I don’t stay on a resort because the Camino is not a comfortable vacation. Instead, the Camino is both a physical and interior journey that makes its peregrinos uncomfortable every step of the way.
But I firmly believe that we can only grow by making ourselves uncomfortable.
Tomorrow I will cross the 100 kilometer mark! By chance, I’m currently scheduled to arrive in Santiago on my birthday.