Spain 2018, part 19 (Way of St James: Trabadelo – O Cebreiro – Liñares)

After the fine dinner and wine in Trabadelo, we all went to our respective beds and went to sleep. The agreement was that the three of us would get up around 5 am and half an hour later we would leave the albergue.

I was completely pleased with the day and I closed my eyes quite peacefully in order to fall asleep. And then some strange problems started. I simply could not fall asleep, which hardly ever happens to me. I just tossed and turned in the bed, and then for a second or two I felt a wave of dizziness that instantaneously filled me with fear. Once and then again. I froze with panic. Namely, this reminded me of the benign vertigo that I had a couple of weeks before leaving for Spain. It is a completely benign state, but extremely unpleasant and the very thought that I may have something like that right here in Trabadelo filled me with trepidation. And then with those waves of fear and anxiety, along with the accompanying stress hormones, I could not fall asleep at all. So, I spent the night in agony and although I did doze off at some point, when Francesco approached my bed in the morning, I was already awake.

I went to the kitchen-dining room where we had left most of our things in order not to wake up the Korean girl and the French guy, so I told my co-pilgrims that I’m giving up the Way. I simply could no longer bear the problems faced by my body, as well as my psyche. I could see that both Francesco and Gabriel felt sorry, but I was adamant about my decision. We quickly exchanged the phone numbers and email addresses, the two of them left, while I returned to the bed crestfallen and continued to try to fall asleep.

Of course I couldn’t sleep at all and when the remaining two pilgrims got up, I turned on my computer in order to see when and how I could return from Santiago to Belgrade. The point was that I had to go to Santiago de Compostela first, since I had my things waiting for me at the Post Office there. But, the very thought of all these potential transfers almost made me sick again. Completely downbeat, I did not know what to do at all and what would be reasonable.

Both the Korean girl and the French guy who were getting ready, each one on their own account, consoled me and gave me a pep talk urging me to continue, but I was quite firm with my decision that I could no longer fight my body or the circumstances for that matter. I simply wondered at which point one has to give up. Everybody says you should follow your feelings. But what to do when there is no feeling to speak of, but there are different pains and all sorts of physical unpleasantness? It may also be seen as challenges that need to be overcome or perhaps my body was just telling me that I need to give up. I remained alone at the albergue, completely confused and with an unusually empty head, with no plan, intention or idea as to what to do at all.

And then, as if my body had no longer been mine, as if it were completely autonomous, “it” started to move by getting up, dressing, washing its face and brushing its teeth, pulling its hair up, packing up the rest of the things, leaving the big backpack by the exit door from the albergue in order for it to be picked up a little later and transferred to the destination the three of us had chosen the night before, putting the small backpack on, going out of the hostel, closing the door and starting to walk. Somehow, without any interference, I was just observing all of that and by the nature of things went along.

There was nobody around, of course, but I followed the signs. The Way first goes parallel to the motorway, then it passes under the motorway and then it does the same again. I felt confused from time to time, since I was not quite sure I was at the right place, but as there was nobody to ask, I just kept going along the path. After all, the path was well made, occasionally like a pavement that goes by a local road, so I figured that nobody would make it unless there was a need. Soon I came across an expansion with a large petrol station, as well as a restaurant, supermarket and hotel, in other words this was a service area for cars and trucks near the motorway. Still, I passed it and soon reached village La Portela de Valcarce.

Church in village La Portela de Valcarce

In this part, the pilgrim passes through several villages and they are distributed over very short distances from slightly more than 1 km to less than 3.5 km. So, I passed through two more villages and it was only in that second one that I started seeing people. Admittedly, they were few, but at least I was not completely alone on the Way. Thus I came across Rull, the Spaniard with whom I had shared the albergue in Camponaraya two days earlier and with whom I had exchanged pharmaceutical products (he lent me camphor ointment and I lent him anti-septic spray).

We continued walking together, chatting along the way. Still, in the meantime the Sun managed to chase clouds away and this turned eventually into a nice day, so I was quite aware of the landscapes we were walking through. Everybody on the Way of St James says that the nature is at its best when you enter Galicia, as well as throughout this autonomous community, and that one should continuously look around and enjoy. It was precisely because of this that I had felt sorry before at the thought of perhaps missing out on that walk to village O Cebreiro because it is the first place in Galicia you reach. And yet, this morning, looking around me at some ten kilometres before O Cebreiro I wondered what people were talking about – because this all looked exactly as if I were in the middle of Serbia!

Serbia's Šumadija region in the middle of Spain

Rull and I walked together a few kilometres to village Las Herrerías which is some 10 km away from Trabadelo and we parted there since I wanted to sit in a bar in order to have breakfast.

When I entered one of the bars in this village, I encountered two young French people whom I had already met occasionally before, so we greeted each other cordially. While I was sitting there and eating, Ivana from Croatia by coincidence decided to make a stop right here and as it turned out she was a very good friend with the two French, so the general rejoicing continued. There, everybody has their own Way and their own dear people whom they meet in completely unexpected places.

Still, during my breakfast I felt very weak and heavy, with elements of nausea. I functioned, but with no vigour. For this reason I decided not to complicate things, plus I had already seen that everything around me seemed almost “familiar,” so I asked the bartender to call me a taxi. I waited a little and then went in this way to village O Cebreiro, thus finally entering Galicia.

Even earlier that morning, when I left Trabadelo, I realised that Francesco and Gabriel actually didn’t know that I was continuing with my Way. I left my big backpack back in Trabadelo to be sent to the address of an albergue in O Cebreiro which we had agreed upon the previous night, but I thought it may easily happen that the two of them simply pass by the hostel, if they decided to keep going or they preferred some other place.

This was precisely the extraordinary situation for which I use my mobile phone when I don’t care whether it’s roaming or not. The only thing I cared was to reach Francesco who left me his mobile phone number that morning when we parted. Since he did not pick up when I called him, I sent him a message, but we did talk a little later and confirmed we would meet at the already planned albergue.

When I walked from the taxi to the albergue (there is no traffic in the centre of the village), it turned out the hostel was full and this was so because the beds and rooms had already been booked. Until then, we had not come across this notion of booking accommodation in advance, but as one approaches Santiago de Compostela, there are more people and perhaps this is not a bad idea at all. Still, since this albergue was the place where I was supposed to meet with Francesco and Gabriel, and after all this was the place where my big backpack was supposed to arrive to, I decided to stay in the reception area and wait there. Admittedly, I could do so thanks to the very kind hostesses who let me in, although the place was still not officially opened, while they were cleaning and getting the rest of the albergue ready.

And yet, I could not stay in one place for long, so despite my weakness I went out for a short walk. This was not difficult since O Cebreiro is a small village. The houses (pallosas) in it are traditionally made of stone with thatched roof, and in one such house there is a small Ethnographic Museum.

The Ethnographic Museum and an arrow on it

In the village there is a famous local church from the 9th century which is also the oldest completely untouched church on the Way of St James. It holds the holy relics linked to a miracle when around the year 1300 bread turned into human flesh and wine into blood.

Church of San Esteban

However, in addition to being cloudy, it was incredibly cold outside. O Cebreiro is situated at around 1300 m above sea level and it could be expected that it was fresh, but this was simply too much. So I turned on my heel, walked through the centre of the village again and returned to the hostel where I also found my big backpack that had arrived in the meantime.

One of the albergues and there is also a shop with food and souvenirs

As I was waiting for Francesco and Gabriel, I was sitting next to a radiator that existed beside the window and it was warm. What a wonderful and comforting sensation this was!

Soon my friends arrived and first we went for beer and coffee, to each their own, in order to restore our form and then we ourselves rang an albergue in the next village on the Way and made a reservation. I took a taxi again to Liñares and the two of them walked the distance of less than 3.5 km.

I got to the hostel first and was delighted by how nice and well equipped the place was. It also had central heating which worked until the space had not become warm enough for a pleasant stay. Later I heard that the albergue had been opened only a couple of months earlier. Our hostess, Lola, who works at this hostel was a fantastically forthcoming and dear person.

A room at the albergue in Liñares

Francesco and Gabriel came soon after and following the usual routine related to the registration at the hostel, they went to a local shop to buy the provisions for the dinner we planned for later on. They also told me that they would buy for me anything I wanted and all I had to do was to rest. So, chocolate came soon, since I needed to lower the stress level in any way possible. Comfortably settled in my bed, not moving my head, I could finally write to my friends.

Day 29: “Returning home”

After so many interesting events and the twists and turns of yesterday, I went to bed rather satisfied, with a finely calmed-down leg and ready to move on with the new morning.

But, that psyche of mine seemed to have some other plans or perhaps it just decided to follow the lead of my right leg and now it was its turn to look for its rightful place under the Sun or at least in my life. For I don’t know how else to explain the fact that I could not fall asleep for quite some time, regardless of all the techniques I applied, and then on a couple of occasions when I turned in my bed I had ultra-mini episodes of benign vertigo. For those who know me well, this is what I had a couple of weeks before this journey but in an extremely unpleasant version. It is a completely benign state, and yet horribly uncomfortable. Here, it all lasted for a second, without the incessant spinning of the room and the consequent feeling of nausea, but I started to be EXTREMELY preoccupied and felt a wave of cortisol or whatever and then I could forget about sleeping. The body was in a complete mess – my head sweated, the chest and the arms were stone called, around my stomach and lower back it was hot and my legs were cold. At some point I slowly and quietly got up and luckily there were a couple of free beds in the dormitory, so I took pillows from there and arranged them well on my bed so I could half-lie. I that position I even managed at some point to doze off. Still, in those periods of not sleeping or being half-asleep, in the agony of the thoughts that would not calm down in the middle of the night, I took the decision: “This is it! I’m going back home.”

I’ve mostly whined for almost a month now, admittedly with a lot of sense of humour and spirit, but that is not actually me. Another thing is, I don’t really want to torture myself. In the agony of the night, I figured out how I would go to Santiago, get my things there, and then take a plane back to Barcelona and to Belgrade.

In the morning, of course, I was already awake when Francesco came to wake me up and then in the kitchen where we were getting ready I announced to him and Gabriel I was giving up. They both felt sorry, but understood my reasons. We exchanged information about our contact details and then they left, while I returned to my bed to see how things were going regarding the change of my plane reservation.

And then a completely new and a very weird thing started to happen. My psyche was absolutely calm, I guess because it was pleased that we all finally knew who the boss was, my morale, if it existed at all, appeared only in some scraps at the lower side of the bottom, but very conspicuously my body wanted to move. I waited a little to be sure and then I just got up and got ready, and started to walk without much thinking. By the way, for those who are familiar with the psychosomatics, it was completely clear that my head did not want to move any longer, because this is precisely what is recommended in the case of vertigo – don’t move your head.

In this state I covered 10 km and sat down to have breakfast in village Las Herrerías. My stomach was still not fully functional, but I did manage to eat and even burp healthily a couple of times (I guess the baby from the beginning of this series of texts came to the point where it needed to burp after each meal), but I also realised I would transfer to the next destination, O Cebreiro, by taxi.

Namely, this part of the Way of St James is considered the most beautiful on account of the landscapes, but also the most difficult because of covering around 500 m of altitude difference over the length of 8 km. As for the difficulty, I did not care about it too much, but as far as the beauty of the landscapes and the nature was concerned, I realized I had actually already returned home! Namely, this entire area is the same as the hilly sections of Serbia!

The only difference lies in the architecture of the houses. Not only are they of a somewhat different shape, they are also built of a significantly different material, stone, after all like most of the houses in all the parts of Spain which I have been going through. This all reminded me of my experience with my former boss, José Luis, who, during his first trip around Serbia, could not stop wondering at how we were actually, in his own words, “a very rich country” (he came there within the scope of a humanitarian organisation during the 1990’s). Namely, vast majority of the houses he was seeing were comparatively new and made of comparatively modern materials. He told me then that the houses in Spain were very old and he was completely shocked by how many new houses there were in my country. I tried to explain it to him the way I saw it. Before WWII, our houses were mostly made of non durable materials (we don’t have that much stone and don’t build our houses entirely out of stone). After WWII, there was economic growth, credits and a large number of our migrant workers now living and working abroad and sending money home, and then people started to build new houses.

In any case, when I arrived in O Cebreiro, I was greeted by misty and cloudy weather, as well as by a lot of cold. I thought that, there, I did not carry those 20 kg of stuff for nothing and actually I could now use nicely one of the jackets that waited for me in the box at the Post Office in Santiago. Since I didn’t have it with me, I walked for some ten minutes around the village, took photos and then went back to wait for my co-pilgrims. In the meantime, I called them to tell them I was continuing after all and that we would meet in O Cebreiro in line with the original arrangement. At the hostel I saw a radiator and instinctively I moved closer to it. It was warm.

After a while, my friends appeared and Francesco told me he was devastated by me no longer walking with them. Since there was no more room at that hostel of our choice, we agreed to move on to the next village, but with my big backpack that had arrived in the meantime, I took a taxi again and reached this new albergue before them. There we have been very lucky. The hostel is brand new, perfect, it has all it is necessary and the hostess immediately gave me additional pillows so I could half-lie in my bed. By the way, the landscapes here are also like in Serbia.

When Francesco and Gabriel arrived and settled, we agreed about the food and they said they would go and get all that was necessary and what I wanted, while I should not do anything at all, apart from resting. Hasn’t the life once again done one of its positive twists?

In front of me: 162 km
Behind me: 705 km

Verica Ristic

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