The next significant place was Sarria – 110kms to the end-point. We missed the arrows when coming into Sarria – fortunately, the GPS and map component of the TrekRight app soon saw us back on the path. It is a largish town, and we climbed the hill and steep stairs (!) to the old part of town. We decided to treat ourselves to a Pension to mark the occasion of reaching the last 100kms.
But we did not find Sarria to be a warm and friendly place. At the top of the stairs we found a pension – one of the less dilapidated buildings, but that wasn’t saying much. It looked clean, so we booked in and climbed two floors to our room. The curtains hung half off the curtain rod, and there was no light to the bathroom so we had to rely on the streetlamp outside. The place claimed to have laundry facilities, but when we asked, we were directed to the Municipal Albergue across the street.
With our credentials nearly full we went in search of new ones, and were directed to the Office of Tourism. Up the hill some distance, perhaps half a kilometre. They might have mentioned it was closed for the season (Oct-March). We tried two albergues until one directed us to the church. The pilgrim office was only open during mass times.
At 6.00pm we attended mass, and afterwards, we were able to see a priest about a stamp and a new credential. In contrast to our previous experiences with the church, it was purely transactional. We paid our two euros each and were handed our follow-on credentials. No blessing, no smile or wishing us luck. Just take the money, stamp the passport and out of there as quickly as possible. We got the distinct impression we were tolerated, rather than welcomed. Perhaps it was just that we were at the end of the season, but it was clear that the pilgrims were little more than a (major) source of income for the town.
We found a supermercado and bought bananas for tomorrow – we weren’t going to hang around in the morning. Then we went in search of dinner.
Walking the length of the main street we tried three places – either not serving yet, or their kitchen was closed for the season. At the point of giving up, we finally found a place – good roast pork and medicinal vino tinto. Well fed, we felt a bit better. When we emerged, it had rained and Sarria was deserted.
The wall murals were quite spectacular, and the encircling gloom added a piquancy to the images of tired and exhausted pilgrims. We felt for them.
There was a statue of St James in a niche by the side of the road – we wondered what he had done to deserve being behind bars 🙂
After our food, we headed back to our room. There was one desultory bar of wifi. We decided this was not a place to linger, and next time, we will be happy to pass through as quickly as possible. We were glad not to have this as our first experience of a Camino. But then, perhaps we were just being influenced by the sense of an ending to our Camino, amplified by the weather and the multiple misdirections. There is no doubt that we were very conscious that we had only a few days left of our amazing experience.
Thoughts about endings
The sense of an ending is actually an important consideration – and potentially a useful thinking point in our Camino. I thought about the idea that ‘all good things must come to an end’. And it may be a way of galvanising our thoughts into how we best take the lessons of our Camino forward into the rest of our lives.
St Augustine once said:
“Who can deny that things to come are not yet? Yet already there is in the mind an expectation of things to come”
By casting forward, we distance ourselves from what is happening right now, in order to see the relationship between what is now, and what is to come.
This sense of an ending is a bit of a crisis point that enables us to step aside from the present. It gives us a moment to consider what has changed and how we have changed. And to think about what we will take forward once we return to our day-to-day lives.
It is like the way the fish does not see the water in which they are immersed, but if they were to cast themselves above, only then can they see the water in which they swim. Hmmm, it’s time I started thinking about my Camino lessons and what I will take with me on our return. Will I be kinder, more tolerant of others? Will I have a new relationship to ‘stuff’? This is not closure, rather it is the start of a new beginning, and time to consider who I am becoming. I might need another vino tinto on that!
As for Sarria itself? To the locals we are like ghosts passing through, perhaps to touch their lives briefly, before moving on. And I can’t blame them for seeking respite after catering to a record number of pilgrims in this Holy Year. I’m sure I too, would be tired of dealing with the public under such circumstances, and looking forward to closing at the end of the season.
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We stopped at Sarria in 2012 and found a lovely private room at the little bar just as you arrive at the top of the steps, it was large and airy with views out over the city. We then walked through the old town to find a meal and found the most amazing cafe run by locals who have walked the Camino and thought there was a need for a nice restaurant. It was beautiful local food and wine. Very fond memories of Sarria and the village was very nice and friendly as well. So sad your experience was the opposite to ours.
Thanks Catherine – it sounds like you had quite a different experience from us – though I think we probably wound up eating at the cafe you found – and yes that was a wonderful meal. I think there were many things in play – we were exhausted by the time we arrived, so to be mis-directed to the tourist office way up the hill, along with the rain, probably coloured our view unfairly. I guess that’s the thing about Caminos – each place is seen through different eyes. We will be going again later this year and hopefully we’ll see a completely different side to the place 🙂