Walking through Galicia: From Vilchá to Os Chacotes

Distance walked: 26.1km

Remaining distance to Santiago: 69.2km

The walk out of my hostel in Vilchá was the most uneventful departure of all my camino hostels. Given that there was no village cluster or even a café, I just walked out the door of the hostel, turned the corner, and lo, I was back on the trail and in a field again. The morning was foggy and later, as I crossed the high bridge at Portomarín, it was difficult to make out any real view. I knew that a town of 2,000 people would have facilities and services but in that damp chill, I didn’t feel like stopping just for the sake of it. I marched on.

I thought a lot about dinner the previous evening and the host’s expectation that I would sing for everyone. I felt edgy and agitated by his assumptions and I was miles along the trail before I realized this:

It was in the past.

Quite literally, the hostel, the event, and the man himself were all in the past. I had zero intention of going back so there was no reason to keep thinking about it all and tormenting myself with my lack of showbiz skills.

Let it go.

And I did.

I look back on my journal for this section of the journey and notice that I’d already started to account for what I had learned along the way. I suppose it was inevitable given that I was so close to “the end”. After five weeks on the move, some things had begun to crystallize for me.

Like what?

Well, the simple fact that I could walk away from people.

Before camino I would have thought it exceptionally rude to do such a thing but while I walked, I found myself hanging out with some people who were hard work to be around.

I mentioned Lucy* (not her real name) in one of my earlier posts and strangely bumped into her almost every day for a week in one section of the trail. It was suffocating. I also kept bumping into two other characters who were unknown to each other, had traveled from different parts of the world, started walking at different times, and had totally different plans…but had met and become walking buddies. They were each toxic, self-pitying, and utterly exhausting to be around. For instance, one of them talked about her tendonitis as a “disability” and I had to stop myself from slapping some sense into her!

I met each of them at completely different stages but when I saw them walk into a hostel one evening together with Lucy, well, I knew the rains really had descended. These three individuals had found each other and become a pack. The next night, they were in the very same dorm as me – there was literally no escape! Until, I realized, that there was – and I walked on alone.

The lesson isn’t new to most of you but it was particularly relevant on the last section of the trail – those remaining 115.2km between Sarria and Santiago. Some of the “new kids” were full of bright-eyed energy and enthusiasm. At random coffee stops they’d hit me with a dozen questions, eager to connect and make friends. They were at the beginning of their journey and I was coming to the end of mine. Rightly or wrongly, I wasn’t looking for new friendships by then: I was trying to get my head in gear for arriving in Santiago. I preferred to walk alone than to strike up new conversations.

Weeks earlier, other long-distance pilgrims and I discussed what day of the week we expected to arrive in the famous city. Rumour had it that there was a pilgrim mass every day but that on occasional Sundays, the enormous botafumeiro (thurible for burning insense) would swing. Apparently it was quite a spectacle and everyone wanted to be there when the event took place – but no-one seemed to know when it would happen. On top of that, most of my connections were further along the trail than I was. We may have started out in St. Jean Pied de Port around the same time but five weeks later, injury, illness, and tiredness had altered everyone’s progress. My stop-off in Sarria meant I would arrive into Santiago even later than I first imagined. Would I see any of these people again? After all the connection, the chats, and the coffee, would we even get to say goodbye to each other?

The hostel at Os Chacotes was clean, sparse, and extremely tight on space. I don’t just mean that it was busy – although it was – it was also densely packed.

Rumour had it that these state-built hostels were soulless and built purely for profit. Others told me that the hostels purposefully didn’t stock utensils in their new, modern kitchens because they wanted to discourage pilgrims from preparing their own food. Instead, they wanted to force pilgrims into buying meals from the local restaurants. I don’t know whether this is official policy on behalf of Galician local authority but this particular hostel succeeded in squeezing people where they shouldn’t have been!

All 112 beds in the hostel were taken and I shared a dorm with almost 40 people. I was glad to get a lower bunk, but the left side of my mattress physically touched the mattress of the bed next to me. There wasn’t even an inch of space between us. Overhead, a heavy-set Spaniard slept noisily. At my head and feet, the neighbouring beds touched mine. I was surrounded to my left, at my head, feet, and overhead. There was less than a metre of space between my bed and the next bed on my right. I felt a bit squeezed into place and wouldn’t want to do it ever again. Others around me tried to create a modicum of privacy by draping bath towels around their beds or by putting headphones in their ears. I was positioned in the middle of a school group that took up half the dorm so the group were *loud* and animated.

I was glad to be near the end. Before, I wasn’t sure about finishing up but a hostel like that made me keen to go home! 🙂

10 thoughts on “Walking through Galicia: From Vilchá to Os Chacotes

  1. Your experience with “Lucy” and the “packed like sardines” hostel makes me happy that we’re choosing to do the Portuguese Way which is much less traveled, although that doesn’t mean that we won’t meet a different “Lucy”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The last few days walking into Santiago can be a challenge to the long distance across Spain trekkers like yourself.
    It does seem the environment changes but I guess as a pilgrim we need to be even grateful for packed like sardines conditions. Hard but…..
    I wish your remaining days be filled with a peace well deserve d after such a long pilgrimage

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words and for reading.
      The contrast is tricky but it’s also part of the journey. And who knows, maybe those packed-like-sardines conditions are a way of making pilgrims ready to leave, go home, and enjoy the luxury of their own homes again – it certainly worked for me! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Ger it is such a joy to receive your Inbox letters. I relate to so much of what you write and it keeps the memories fresh in my mind and on the camino in life. What a beautiful way to relive this incredible life changing walk of yours … and to gift it to others as you continue to dig in and share it.

    Those last days are like walking a different camino in many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, Fran.
      Yes, the last week from Sarria to Santiago really *was* like a different camino but there was lots of goodness there too. It’s all a journey and I signed up for it all, and am still glad I did 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. Where we are along each part of the walk teaches us about ourselves. As with any section the beauty will shine if you’re open to seeing and feeling it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It was interesting to read what you said about walking away from people. I found it quite easy to do that and didn’t feel compelled to accompany anyone, or say cheerio after a brief conversation. I wasn’t on camino to make friends, rather it was to have some time to myself….so that is what I focused on. There were a few Lucy’s on the Portugues Way, but I didn’t tarry in their company. I have yet to walk the French route, and I’m hoping to find a time of year when it isn’t too insanely busy…..perhaps I’m living in a illusion LOL Interesting reading your reflections on the walk.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for reading! Sounds like you knew how to walk away from the “Lucy” characters much better than me 🙂
    Good luck with finding a quiet time to walk the French route, might be tricky to get one! 😀


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