Solitude No More

I got a muuuch better night’s sleep last night.  Last night I was contemplating laying in an easy day, sleeping late and checking out the monastery.  Somehow I just can’t do it, though.  I woke up at 5:45, briefly considered sticking to the plan but got up and dressed instead.

The legs weren’t overly happy about the situation at first but they loosened up after a few miles.  Whatever was up with my foot seems to have gone away as well.  My hospitaliero gave me some Spanish cream yesterday, maybe that did the trick.  My recovery time seems to be lengthening the older I get – I’m not particularly happy about what that portends.  I’m also partially blaming the morning soreness on a lack of protein powder.  I brought some from the States but that was used up a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t been able to replace it.  No idea if Spaniards don’t need it or haven’t heard of it. 
I had a fantastic dinner last night.  The kitchen didn’t open until 8:30 but I’m glad I waited.  I have no idea what I ordered is called, but it ended up being two giant pieces of beef from around the ribs – cut across the rib and not lengthwise.  It had a slightly smoky flavor, was very tender, somewhat fatty and I think it was some form of churrascaria – the waiter referred to it as BBQ.  It was served with 4 different sauces and apparently the meat comes from the cows I’ve been passing the last few days.  As a general rule, Europe can’t do beef but this was a notable exception.

Today I passed through Sarria, the last major town en route to Santiago and a major pilgrim starting point.  I have nothing to report on the town itself since I went through before 9 and, as we’ve established, Spain doesn’t open before 9.  However, the number of pilgrims streaming out of the place was astounding.  Pilgrims of all shapes and sizes, young and old.  Huge tour groups with matching backpacks.  Lots and lots and lots of Italians.  Literally hundreds of pilgrims.  I have no idea where they’re all going to sleep, but it’s going to be fun watching people hobble along tomorrow.

Sarria has the distinction of being 110 kilometers from Santiago and per the rules, you only need to walk the last 100 to get a compostela.  I haven’t seen this many people since the first day out of St. Jean, but I doubt it will thin out like it did then.

The landscape remains fairly similar to what I’ve described the last couple of days so I won’t belabor that.  Suffice it to say that from a scenery standpoint this is my favorite stretch of trail hands down.  The one thing that’s changed is that I’m now seeing souvenier shops in every town and some aggressive panhandlers.  Maybe pilgrims are an easy mark.  I’ve been stingy although I did throw a little change to this guy:

They’re still playing up the Celtic angle here.  It’s definitely feeling like a tourist destination at this point and I think it’s time to finish this thing out and move on.

Lately I haven’t reported much on the people I’ve been talking to, not because I haven’t been talking to anyone but because most of it hasn’t been that memorable.  However there is one thing that happened a few days ago that I think bears relating.

Ever since around Burgos I’ve been seeing the same group of Americans every few days.  They looked like a large family traveling with a priest (incidentally the only priest I’ve seen on the trail).  They were at Manuel’s that night of the paella and what I figured was the father got up to say a few words, indicating that some of them were traveling the Camino for religious reasons and some for penance.  That struck me as an odd formulation, almost like some of the kids were bad and Dad was taking them on the Camino to atone.  

I saw them off and on after that but never had a chance to approach them.  I saw one of the young women walking by themselves one day and tried to talk to her.  I say tried because I only got her name – Sarah (very biblical and unusal for a 20 something) and that she was from Houston before she peppered me with questions.  That’s a technique I use myself when I don’t want to answer questions.  We only talked a couple of minutes before she hit her stopping point for the day but I got a distinct cult vibe from her.  So I filed it away but figured there was a story there.

It took a few days, but I finally got that story up in O Cebreiro.  I went to stand in line for the hostel and it just so happened that 4 of the group were right in front of me, including the priest.  My opening gambit was to offer some gummi bears – I’ve yet to see someone respond negatively to gummi bears (even diabetic Maria) – and it proved successful yet again.

We started chatting and it turns out they’re neither a family nor a cult.  The “father” was the priest’s brother, the priest teaches in a Catholic boarding school and the younger people were assorted family members or students at the school.  That said, the priest belongs to a group called the Society of St. Pius X.  I had no idea what that was but later I started googling and ended up down the proverbial rabbit hole.

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) was formed in the 1970’s out of displeasure with the results of Vatican II.  Vatican II, among other things, modernized the Catholic Mass and liberalized much of the Church doctrine.  SSPX is effectively a fundamentalist group that believes mass should be said in Latin, hold to the pre-Vatican II structure and appears to take a fairly literal view of the Bible.  SSPX has a contentious history with Rome – ex-communication of priests was on the table at one point, there was debate whether sacraments (marriage, baptism) performed by member priests were valid.  The relationship seems to have improved under the current pope but depending on how you want to characterize it, the priest I talked to was either a strong fundamentalist or a rebel.

 I asked about the penance comment at Manuel’s and this group’s basic view is that man is by nature sinful.  In order to atone for sin, cut down on time in purgatory and get to heaven quicker, we need to do penance.  Penance equating to suffering or doing good deeds.

I was flabbergasted.  I’m not going to be argumentative with a priest, so I focused more on understanding the arguments than poking at the logical fallacies, although I did press as to the nature of suffering on the Camino.  At the end, though, that was the argument in a  nutshell and I’m left shaking my head.

It’s been a few days but I’m still astounded that there are grown adults out there that think spending thousands of dollars on a month long vacation in Spain amounts to atonement for doing crappy things.  And let’s be honest – that’s what this is.  There’s no suffering here aside from a few blisters and some sore muscles.  Especially when you’re taking a cab to the top of the mountain (which they had done), skipping sections of the trail (which they had done) and staying in hotels most of the way (only 3 of the group of 10 were staying in the hostel from hell, although by their logic that was probably worth 3 murders). 

I try not to be judgmental and I honestly think people should live their lives as they see fit but I’m peeved that there’s a school out there in New York somewhere that teaches this instead of critical thinking skills.  That’s something that leaves us as a society worse off and we all lose from that.

That’s my rant on what I thought was a cult but is only entitled fundamentalist Christian Americans.  I’m glad I got that off my chest.  Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

July 19, 2017

Samos to Portomarin – 21 miles 


I’m not sure if defacing signs is necessarily something Jesus would approve of.

This I approve of

Bonus geese

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