Meetup and at the Albergue Don Alvaro

Saturday am. The train pulled into Sarria at 6:55, still pitch black outside into station, all lit up with salmon-colored sodium lights. I had wanted to video Jon’s reaction on arrival but I misplaced my hat which I never found, and I had to grab my things at the last minute as the conductor shooed me off the train. Jon was with the group, posing for a picture facing away and did not see me exit the train. Only after I had walked up behind him, put my hand on his shoulder and said “Smile for the camera!” did he realize that I had come. The surprise was priceless! Everyone had been very quiet about my plans with only one late email accidentally hinting that I was coming. Jon had dismissed it as a mistake, although he did confess that momentarily he had his hopes up. We were then off to the albergue to meet Jim who was equally surprised and happy that I had come. We dropped our bags off and while we waited for our beds to be readied, we went for coffee and breakfast at the bar next door.

Jon and me, under the grape arbor at the Albergue Don Alvaro

As the sun rose in the crystal clear blue sky we headed off to have our camino passports stamped at the Convento de la Merced, officially putting us on our journey. At the church, a couple of pilgrims came in and sang a beautiful hymn in perfect harmony. The old priest took us to the vestibule where he produced the convent’s stamp to mark our starting the camino with our first sello. After stamping our passports he asked us to pray for him as he was ill-likely terminally. It was a bitter-sweet start to our journey on a beautiful, cool and cloudless day. After receiving the sello we headed back to the albergue, but first we stopped at the Saturday market which we had passed on our way to the convent. There we saw cows being auctioned, chickens, doves and rabbits for sale along with all sorts of clothing, cheeses and other goods-the typical fare found around the world at any farmer’s market. Jon, Alida, Sharon and I followed our noses and stopped in to one of the cooking tents for a light repast of boiled Galician octopus and a traditional sausage and bean stew- a wonderful indulgence on a chilly day.

Jon, Sharon and Alida enjoying boiled octopus and Galician beans

It was all so very rustic and tasty. As we were leaving Eleanor decided that she needed a hat and the two of us went back. She settled on a straw hat and immediately added a scarf to dress it up. That afternoon I prepared the small, collapsible bag that I brought with all of my non-camino stuff and shipped it ahead for 12 euros via Xacotrans, a luggage transport service, to the Hotel San Francisco in Santiago, our final destination. The big bag became known as the “go forward” bag. Everyone stuffed their heaviest items in it to lighten their backpacks a bit and it became the official mule bag which we shipped ahead from albergue to albergue, usually for about 3 euro a trip. As would happen, after a couple of walks the go-forward bag began to get company in the form of other backpacks, which made walking longer distances easier on the group.

L-R: Alida, Jon, Sharon, Mary Jane, Geoff and Eleanor. Seated is Jim doing his best garden gnome impression!

Later in the evening we all went next door to a nice Italian restaurant owned by an Italian for our celebratory start of the camino dinner. Great food, good wine and high spirits abounded. As we were the first guests for the evening, the owner and his young cat (who insisted on curling up in my lap) gave us a warm welcome with good conversation. A nice walk after dinner and then off to bed.

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