while Triacastela sits at some 670 meters of elevation (down from 1,293 meters in O’Cebreiro) and marks the end of the most mountainous aspects of the Camino, the hike to Sarria — the last sizable city beyond the 100 kilometer mark — descended another 230 meters. on balance. in reality, we faced a couple of steep inclines out of steep-walled valleys before we got to the gradual descending portion of the day. the rocky path was often slick with early morning rain or dew though usually not terribly slippery. on the downhill there were a few spots, however, where exposed slate or other metamorphic rock necessitated a bit of attention paid.
even though most of the Camino takes you along unpaved, rocky paths, I took more notice of stone and rock formations while in Galicia — and not just because inattention could lead to lost footing and a quick trip to rest on your bum. the fields were often protected by vertical slabs of stone, sometimes slate in what is apparently a Galician fashion. in the 12th century, at the height of the medieval Camino-boom, peregrinos frequently picked up limestone from quarries around Triacastela and carried them to kilns in the village of Castañeda, about 80 kilometers away. ultimately, the limestone was used in construction of the Catedral in Santiago; couldn’t find word on whether peregrinos carried the finished stones the remaining 40 kilometers.
as with the previous day, most of the towns on our voyage between Triacastela and Sarria are tiny, some no more than two or three houses connected to one another by narrow, uneven tracks. and we took the more heavily-traveled of the two routes between the two towns! despite their size today, many once housed hospices or churches with elaborate decoration or artwork.
it remained overcast for most of this day, though not as soggy as the previous day — a welcome change. as with other towns of notable size (at least compared to their neighbors), the suburban sprawl of Sarria came upon us quite a ways out and unceremoniously re-introduced us to an urban setting. of course, an “urban setting” in remote Galicia pales in comparison to the “urban settings” of Burgos, León, or Pamplona, where we entered urban tedium long before crossing over the outer limits of the city proper. Sarria boasts a population of just under 14,000 people and while not the most populous city in Galicia (that title goes to Santiago with just over 95,000 residents), is the most densely populated. but more on that to come …
the town that followed Burgos was something of the polar opposite of the sprawling, urban, cosmopolitan metropolis. Hornillos has a population of approximately 70 (according to the 2004 census); we didn’t see much evidence of those inhabitants upon our noontime arrival under brilliantly blue, cloud-strewn skies. there were two lodging options: a small casa rural (that had a sign out front indicating it was booked solid for the night) and the albergue municipal.
the next option for lodging was some seven or eight additional kilometers — a distance we had no interest in traversing in light of our various physical afflictions. a compact stone building immediately next to the church housed some 40 bunks for peregrinos. of course, most peregrinos opt not to continue on beyond Hornillos and 40-odd bunks and perhaps a half dozen private beds didn’t suffice for our not-quite-peak-season. when the bunks in the stone building filled up, overflow peregrinos are assigned mattresses on the floor of town hall and, once all that floor space is occupied, on the floor of the sports complex behind the albergue building. (see that white building beyond the laundry in the picture at the top — that’s the sports complex.) by the time we got to the showers in the albergue, the water was fully cold, so I suppose sleeping on a gym floor and using locker room showers wouldn’t be all that bad. what can you expect for 5 euros?
Hornillos was our first taste of truly limited options. in addition to one casa rural and one albergue, there was one bar/cafe and one corner shop. while the corner shop proved fairly well-stocked (with a disproportionate share of German snack foods), the bar/cafe only had about 8 tables to seat about 40 — half of the seats in the bar with a more a la carte-style menu (like sandwiches and plates of food) while if you sat in the cafe part (as we did), it was menu del peregrino or nothing as we and, much to their consternation, a group of 8 English-speakers found out because there were no seats in the bar area.
|the town plaza and its one bar/cafe
despite the rather bland options (for a vegetarian in particular) on offer for the menu del peregrino, we did get seated with an older Spanish couple in a bid to maximize table capacity. through my limited Spanish we managed to converse a bit about our respective Caminos — the husband had done the walk before and offered some advice on the stretch beyond Astorga. that’s about all I remember about them, despite the fact that they slept in the bunks beneath ours in Hornillos and we saw them pretty much every day until we got to León. apart from eating our meal, stocking up for the following day, and trading between Kindle and paperback, there wasn’t much to do. despite dire predictions of Olympic-level snoring in our room full of middle-aged men, I slept pretty well — doesn’t hurt to fall asleep before everyone else while the sun is still setting — and we were up and on the road before it rose the next morning.