Day 32: Laza to Xunqueira … all hallows e’en

October 31, 38km (and didn’t we know it!)

The day begin with a steep climb, the steepest and longest yet. It was a wonderful strong ascent, cold and sweaty in dense fog with none of the ‘stunning views’ the guides promised, but a good feeling running all the way through and hurrah! My leg pain-free for the first time since ages, before Salamanca. What a relief that I haven’t been grinding an injury further into the tender obeying flesh. Michael and I kept pace with each other and were the first to reach the summit and the little pueblo of Albergería where the famous and wonderful Rincon de Peregrinos, or ‘Pilgrim’s Corner’ is to be found. As we approached the door and began the rigmarole of removing rain gear and packs an early version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ starts playing loudly. The first door leads to a kind of anti chamber with its own chiminea and has a door to the toilets with a danger sign common around here, ‘Caution, contents under high pressure.’ *grin* I can tell I’m going to like it here.

Walking into the main room, you are struck by a kind of awe, a humorous, playful, ridiculous, moving sight of scallop shells each bearing pilgrim’s name nailed to every wall, pillar and post and all over the ceiling. Every pilgrim who passes has been adding to the collection since 2004 and the wonderful Luis is presiding over it all with a genuinely warm if slightly bemused smile, as if even he can’t believe how it all turned out. As I walk up to the bar and greet him he says “eres la Australiana?” – are you the Australian (girl)? And I think my mouth dropped open. Because every single person on this whole Camino who decides to show friendship by calling out what nationality they think I am has said “Alemana? Deutsch?” And I’m like, noooo, Australiana, and then we move onto kangaroo / Crocodile Dundee jokes and then they tell me about their child / niece / second cousin twice removed who lives in Sydney and that’s that done. So when this sweet guy looks at me and asks me if I’m the Australian, a part of me is like, oh hello! Yes! Someone ‘recognises’ me, somehow. It turns out that our beloved Philippe (shepherd’s crook, black beret, Lutizia-baptising, 3km an hour singing pilgrim, manzanilla con anis Philippe) has passed just two days earlier and has left a note for Letizia and I. Oh blessed pilgrim transmission in a tiny mountain pueblo in the strange wonderful Rincon de Peregrinos. The sacred note is handed over and is full of greetings and wishes and a plan to meet in Santiago in a few days time. Oh joy!

Michael orders a bottle of wine for we four which we enjoy with cheese and jamon and stale bread and it’s all perfect. Luis shows me the shell of another Aussie, Tony Kevin who wrote a wonderful book about walking the Vía de la Plata, and he seems to know where the shells of this and that person are. We’re stamping our credenciales and taking photos and huddling around the chiminea as sweaty damp clothes turn cold.

* * *

The next 8km are downhill with lovely views over Vilar_ and time for another coffee and a bocadillo, and still 15km to go to Xunqueira (pronounced Shoon-kay-ira). It is tiring agricultural Camino interspersed with magic Oak forest Camino and the fairies have been here Camino. We see a dog sitting on the roof of a house, a ginger cat on a mountain of tyres, two torties on a wall, a mean fox-eared corgi barking at us like he’s going to go for the leg, an enormous placid teddy bear dog, more squashed salamandas 😦 and the first of the wonderful Galician corn-drying houses which sit up proudly on their staddle stones and display the wealth of the house. A good honest display of wealth I think to myself.

Today is all hallows e’en and a freezing night in Xunqueira. Kids are dressed up as scary creatures, running around squealing and eating chestnuts roasted on a brazier outside the church. I carve a few windfall apples like they’re pumpkins and L and I cook up a marvelous dinner on the albergue stove. Included is an enormous wedge of creamy local cheese that probably has more calories than even a 35km walk can burn off. Ha ha! The albergue has broken heating and no blankets but with an extra jumper and socks inside my sleeping bag all is toasty. I have bright shiny silicon earplugs as protection against a new industrial strength snorer.

All is well!

Blessed feast, friends.

Love, Wildgoose

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