When the Modern Road Returns

A terrifying carousel in O Porrino. I occasionally send this to Neha for a good scare. Sorry, girl.

It’s easy to look back on a life-altering trip and color the whole experience with a rosy lens. Wrapped up neatly, I was quite content most of the trip, much more so than I managed to be in 2009 or 2017. Then again, staying upbeat for 12 days is different than staying upbeat for 35.

Also, I was far more financially and psychologically stable on this trip. I knew why I was there and I made choices that were mine every step of the way. At one point, I ran into my Canadian parents who told me that I always looked like I was in my groove. They could not have given me a nicer compliment.

However, not every day was romantic and packed with great revelations. Much like life back home, there are some days you’re just happy to reach the end of.

Gratefully, I woke up in Tui feeling healthier than when I’d gone to bed–which pointed to an obvious issue that I had far too much experience with.

Fun fact, for about five days every month, I feel like I’m getting sick. I wake up with sweats, nausea, chills, and often disorientation. After years of talking about this to doctors–who often tell me I should get my stress under control–it’s finally been determined that my hormones just hate me.

Luckily, I’ve finally found a doctor who listened and prescribed the right birth control to make it all mostly stop (hooray for making decisions for my own body not dictated by politicians!). Last year, however, I was still in the cycle of hell. It meant that I would probably get hit with these waves of flu-like symptoms for my final five days of hiking. What fun.

Leaving Tui as the sun was rising lowered my blood pressure and made me grateful for my body and what it was accomplishing, in spite of its madness. I met up with Sophie and Neha and we walked in a solid rhythm for most of the morning along ancient stone walkways and through lush forests.

We had a communal second-breakfast with a new wave of pilgrims I had yet to meet. Many people either started in Tui or joined up with our Camino from the Coastal Route along the shore.

My app suggested cutting off the main road to walk a re-routed route since the Camino Portugues was slowly becoming over-developed. I’d seen bits and pieces of evidence pointing toward the change, but had no idea how extreme it would amp up in the next few days.

After the scenic detour–literally the scenic detour–we were ready to enter the city of O Porrino, one of the most industrial areas of Galicia. Though there was a sweet cultural center, getting into the city was like getting into Newark, New Jersey.

We attempted to take yet another scenic side road but failed to follow the correct litany of arrows that had been painted, painted over, and drawn with markers saying, “This way!” By the time we realized our error, we were standing on a highway overpass looking over the spot that would have been the detour. Alas, highways it was.

Imagine walking down Route 22 in central Jersey (sorry for everyone else for all the Jersey references, it’s what I know). It’s just you, the car dealerships, and the afternoon sun.

O Porrino had charm, but with a good deal of walking ahead of us, we missed out on most of it. My patience was wearing thin and I needed a bed. Some of our group stayed behind to rest but I needed to keep with my schedule if I was going to get to Santiago by the 13th.

Neha and I walked on. I’d picked out a small town and albergue that was highly recommended by my app, and I had great hope for my unique find. The anti-everything graffiti continued–what was this person’s problem?!–but luckily a hero had come along with another sharpie and started altering their homophobic and misogynistic notes to make the have the opposite effect.

Just after O Porrino, we hit a great milestone–the 100-kilometer mark! On the Camino Frances, this is a BFD (Big Effin Deal). People line up with the kilometer marker for photos. We took one each, but there were no lines. The season was winding down.

We came upon the small town of —— (I am purposely leaving out the name because I’m about to throw the hostel under the bus) as the sun was starting to turn orange and we poked our heads into the restaurant/hostel where I’d made the reservation. A very kind woman who owned the place took us upstairs to sign us in. There were only approximately 20 beds, but you could tell it was getting full. We were lucky we called ahead.

The hostel–as much as I always want to sound grateful and low key–was nothing to celebrate. I have to reiterate though–the people running it were phenomenal and kind. But there was a bug on my bed when I went to put my stuff down. If there was a bug ON my bed, then how did I know if there were bugs IN the bed. Was this the moment my lack of bed-bug luck was going to run out?

There was a long line for the two showers for all 20 people, which was an issue being that the bathrooms were also there. When I did get into the shower, the water spread throughout the entire room, which I’m sure contributed to the building’s overall smell of mold. It was a little bit of madness.

I sat down on the cot and ranted in my journal. I felt like I had picked a real lemon and have brought poor Neha down with me. And yet, one great thing about the Camino is that you only have to stay everywhere for one night. I could deal.

When we went down the dinner, the energy was lively and warm. New friendly faces introduced themselves and Neha and I joined our Sicilian friend at a table. We didn’t speak more than three words of a common language between us, so we passed our phones back and forth with Google Translate. We still somehow avoided small talk.

The night was long. The snoring was loud enough to cut through my ear plugs and since I was still feeling woozy, I woke up confused several times. When I shuffled to the bathroom at 2am, every sound–every turn of the knob, pull of the door, and shuffle of my feet–echoed throughout our little sleeping area. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a hotel! Or better yet, my own bed.

Four more hiking days. I could handle four more hiking days.

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