Day 23: Pilgrim’s Mass and Horseback Sass

Aaahh, another rest day for the Spain DOC, and this one even more well deserved than our last. Yesterday we passed the 100 kilometers to Santiago mark, and now we are more than halfway done with our Way.

We slept in late this morning; catching up on some much needed sleep before heading to breakfast. When we lifted our weary heads, we stretched our sore feet and legs. Yesterday was one of our longest walks yet, and the last of 5 consecutive days on the Camino. We ended the day with the ultimate bonding activity: group foot massage. Today our feet are thanking us for it.

After a leisurely breakfast (finally not being in a rush to hit the road) with a serene view of the River Minho, we spent our free time catching up on schoolwork in the common room of our summer camp-esque bunkhouse. A few of us did loads of laundry in the sink, bathtub, and even bidets. The hotel staff then reprimanded us for the MacGyver-style clotheslines crisscrossing our bathrooms, but it was worth it to finally have some clean clothes (although we all miss the smell of REAL laundry done in a machine with actual detergent).

At noon, a small group of us headed to the main building for a much-anticipated adventure: horseback riding! The Casa Rural Santa Mariña hotel offers trail rides, one thing I had been hoping I’d have the chance to do in Spain. We arrived promptly and were directed up to the stable, where we were told to wait outside. Twenty-five minutes later, we started to get nervous, with nobody in sight, and occasional strange sounds coming from inside the barn. When we were just about to give up hope, our guide, Mario, emerged from the stable, leading two horses. He nonchalantly handed the reins over to two of us, before returning inside to fetch more horses. Eventually, the five of us stood holding the reins, while some of our horses led us around the small opening. Without the aid of a footstool, we swung up onto the backs of our horses: Blanco, Pequeña, Pelegra, Feruga, and of course, Santiago. As soon as we were up, the horses began to walk away from the stable, down the trail. It only took us about 30 seconds to begin to panic, Where was Mario? Where are we going? Were we on this trail ride alone?? After about 5 minutes and a serious adrenaline rush, Mario came galloping heroically up the hill, and we were all so glad to see him.

The ride that followed was unlike any experience any of us have ever had on a horse. To say that these horses were not well behaved was an understatement. Our horses tried to eat every plant in sight, walk off the paths into the middle of fields/woods, picked up speed without any cause, and in general, were not very responsive to our cues. Even the gear proved challenging, as one of our saddles began to slide off the horse halfway through the ride (totally unacceptable according to our group member with ranching experience). Luckily, we all had some prior riding experience, and laughed through the ride as we attempted to control our horses, who although a little misbehaved, were still very sweet. The ride took us up to the top of mountainous countryside, with beautiful vistas of the tiny city of Portomarin, and hamlets sprinkled along the horizon. We were a little relieved to arrive back safely, and all confessed that we kind of enjoyed the rebellious horses, as it made the ride a lot more exciting.

In the afternoon we headed into Portomarin, and went to our first grocery store in over a week! I never thought I would feel a sense of nostalgia from going grocery shopping.

Our guide, Manuel, gave us a tour of the Church of St. Nicolas in the main square. The bricks of the cathedral were all numbered, and he told us this was because it was once moved. It was truly awe-inspiring to imagine that people had to move these thousands of bricks and then put them all back together again to rebuild, and made the cathedral much more impressive to me.

We had class in a nearby restaurant, surrounded by other peregrinos, and we learned from Manuel that over 200,000 pilgrims walk the Camino (or at least 100 km of it) each year, and that over 250,000 came in the last holy year 2010. After class, it was time for the pilgrim’s mass, and we headed back over to the church. Here we attended a mass with all the traditional crucial elements of Catholic mass, fit into 20 minutes. It was a nice, peaceful break from our crazy week. I couldn’t help but notice how different the church felt from when we toured it two hours before, dark and cold. Now, full of pilgrims, it was lit up and seemed warmed by the benches full of people, all making their way to Santiago. The priest gave us a traditional Pilgrim’s blessing, and after mass we walked back to our cabanas.

For a rest day, we managed to fit in a lot of activity, and if that wasn’t enough, I lanced my first blister tonight. I’ll spare you all the gruesome details, but it involves a sterile needle, gauze, antibiotic ointment, and a strong stomach. The rest day was entirely necessary for our feet, but I am excited to get back on the road tomorrow.

Alexandria Wenner – Psychology