Camino de Santiago: Day 26, Vilacha, Spain
Distance from Pintin to Vilacha, Spain 28.8 kilometers
We left Pintin in good weather and immediately entered an area of freshly plowed fields interspersed with fields still filled with fragrant spring wild flowers. It was hilly, but we were distinctly out of the mountains now. After a few kilometres we arrived into Sarria. In spite of a large number of alburgues, pensiones and guest houses we were pleasantly surprised to find a charming old town and we stopped for café con leche and toast.
Because of Sarria’s location on The Way of Saint James many people begin their “camino” in Sarria in order to qualify for a “compostela” upon their arrival into Santiago de Compostela. A compostela is a certificate of completion of the Camino de Santiago and is issued by the Pilgrim’s Office. In order to qualify you must have walked at least 100 kilometres to get to Santiago de Compostela and Sarria is 110 kilometres away. This may seem a bit mean, considering we had walked over 500 kilometres to get to this point, but again, the camino is not a competition or a test of endurance, it is a personal experience and you get out of it, what you put into it.
At the edge of town we stopped at the 13th century Convent de la Merced to explore the beautiful chapel and grounds, and to get a “sello”, a stamp that is put into your “Credencial del Peregrino” to prove that you have visited various places along “The Way” as a method of proving that you are making the walk. We have read various accounts of how many stamps you need. Some say if you start in St. Jean Pied de Port, as we did, you only need one a day, but if you start in Sarria you need to get at least two per day. To be safe we have started getting three a day, at least.
After leaving the convent we walked through some lovely almost abandoned medieval hamlets, chestnut forests and evermore open fields and dairy lands. We stopped for a sandwich at Morgade, thinking how charming it was and now nice it would be to stay there, but it was still relatively early and we wanted to cross the 100 kilometre milestone before we stopped.
Feeling we had safely crossed the 100 kilometre mark we saw a nice looking albergue in the village Ferreiros, but it was full and we were referred to another place a few kilometres away. When we arrived in Mercadoiro, under what were now grey skies, we asked for a room or a bed in the albergue, but it too was full. Having no other options we trudged on.
Just outside of Mercadoiro we encountered what has been so far the worst part of the trail. Here the trail ran between two rock walls and deep, black mud had washed over the trail. We decided to walk through the adjacent fields, but that soon turned impassable when we encountered forest and thick brush. The skies were now threatening to open up and we were beginning to feel trapped. Luckily we were able to cross over the path and traverse a brick wall and found some pasture there, but it too became impassable and we were forced to return to the main path.
We worked our way through, inch by inch, stepping stone to stepping stone, and finally we got back to something more passable. It was the most difficult part of the walk so far, and I am sure its condition is temporary, but we were relieved when we found a casa rural in Vilacha just before the skies opened up. Fortunately, this time there was room at the inn and we checked in, just as the rain started to pour down. That evening we joined in the communal dinner with other pilgrims from Australia, Denmark and Germany and enjoyed a yummy asparagus soup and chicken with rice.