Sunday, September 15th

Vega de Valcarce
Breakfast is trying to eat as much as possible so you don't have to carry it.

Been through Ruitelan, and now in Herrerias.
Climbing through chestnut forests, on stony paths, under canopies of tree branches, negotiated sheep flocks being herded, and cows with bells tinkling through long towns of stone. Passing vegetable gardens, and renovated houses and houses being rebuilt. Blue skies, white clouds. Stone walls to sit on, stopping for breathers wherever possible.

More backpackers on the road this morning, although nowhere near the numbers that'll be arriving at the refugio tonight I suspect.

La Faba.
In the Bar de Mary, which is miraculously open. The last kilometre, 400m up. Still sweating from it, and I've already ordered the coffees, and had Chris' passport stamped. Other pilgrims arriving here, the French, the two Germans without backpacks, another couple, and the woman who apparently paraded around naked in the senorita's bathroom last night. Fortunately, she's dressed now.

Just passed Laguna de Castilla, didn't see the lake, but there was a fountain, and didn't didn't see any castles either. Just cows, pigs, chooks, a family of kids, and cowshit leading into, and out of, the town. Laguna is like I imagine Hippie Heaven might be like. If the philosophical idealogues allow cowshit to happen.

And there's the Galicia marker stone, crossing from Leon province, into Galicia now. A real live Celtic Nation. Woohoo.

El Cebreiro.
Yep, the tourist extravaganza. The hospitalero opened the refugio then disappeared. Just claim a bed. So, it's downstairs, and claim a bed amid the musty, wet smells of chlorine.

Then wanders, the tourist places, buying a new pilgrim pin.

To the church, and two miracles happened here. First, the wafer and the wine turning into flesh and blood, and second, the statue of the Virgin Mary turning her head to look at it. Massive numbers of candles burning in red glasses, looking like lake of fire. A woman penitent, walking on her knees around Virgin, stopping when she reached the front hem of the statue's skirt, kissing it, then circling it again. All the while, her husband making sure that the woman's dress didn't come too close to the surrounding, burning, candles. Around, crawling, kissing. This woman's prayers, whatever they might have been, deserve to be granted.

There's tourists photographing, and pilgrims, and devout people praying. In a glass cabinet, to the right of the altar, is the miraculous cup, which held the blood, and the plate, which held the flesh.

And Chris has just spotted her first fake pilgrims. They're clean, and they have their backpacks delivered to a bar, and then wander wearily up to the albergue, They needn't have bothered with the charade, the hospitalero isn't there anyway.
Raciones. This time, it's fatty sausage things. it...Chris doesn't....means more for me.

Siesta'd awhile, while Chris painted. Just short, but the hospitalero's, plural, as there's three of them, turned up. Signed in. I'm Australian, but Chris has suddenly become Austrian. Maybe she's the fraulein mit der strudel, but at least it's not German, she'd have to begin yelling.

Meso Carolo, the second bar. Just the coffee, although I have an urge for an entire bottle of red wine, I'd have no trouble getting through it. Been looking again at the touristy places. The souvenir places stalls with guys selling fruit and joke books, the church, the carpark with pilgrim's cars.

Lord help me, for I have sinned.
I have succumbed, weakened in the face of the tourist onslaught, and bought a t-shirt, a Camino de Santiago one. 7 euros, even though it only has half the distance I've actually walked. Soon as I saw the XXL size, I just couldn't restrain myself. Just gotta carry it now, will that be enough punishment for my moment of weakness?
Chris bought a bottle of wine, from the same place.

And a picnic tea, up on the hill behind the refugio, surrounded by panoramic views in almost every direction. Like stage scenery, but with each mountain range becoming a paler blue as they recede. Behind is is the hill with the cross, the highest one, and people are making their way up, and down, there. Over there, behind the town, is another hill, this one topped with TV masts.

In the church, for another Mass. Drank the bottle of rosé between us, and I must stop making a habit of turning up to Masses a little pissed. My brain is somehow numbed.
The mass begins, but I can't concentrate, there's a few readings in Spanish, about what I have no idea, but I'm just here. Looking at the statue, kind of hoping she'll turn her head, or something miraculous.

Standing, the signs being made, then sitting, and phew, I'm sure glad I had that part of the arch to lean against. Over there, around Mary, the lake of burning candles has grown even larger, each one an individual prayer. If the praying woman was here now, there'd be no way she could even get close to Mary, let alone crawl around her.

about 11:30pm
Trying to sleep, there's whisperers in the next cubicle, and there's water running through the pipes continuously. No wonder this refugio is almost crumbling through damp and rot.