Day 25: Pulpo, Pig’s Ears, and Pilgrimage

After hiking our longest distance of 26 kilometers yesterday, walking 14 kilometers felt like a leisurely stroll. Now that I’ve been on the Camino for the past 7 days, I no longer feel the ache in my quads or debilitating shortness of breath that made our first 20-odd kilometer hike particularly strenuous. Walking has become our purpose, and the road our home. Each morning we pack – now experts at carefully engineering the placement of our luggage’s contents – eat a simple “desayuno,” and begin to walk, feeling stronger with each passing day. While our guide Manuel continues to precaution us about the up-and-down nature of these stages of the way, steep hills no longer faze us (although most of us still worry for our knees on the downhill portions of our walks).

The first part of our walk today took us through sheltered forests reminiscent of the national parks of my home state (California), verdant farmland, fields of lounging cattle, and winding national roads. Since our wet and snowy experience coming down the mountain of O Cebreiro, we have been apprehensive of any rainy weather, so many of us now happily bear the extra weight of dry layers in our rucksacks. However, today it was merely drizzly and misty. Throughout most of the hike we were sheltered by the trees, which amplified the peaceful sounds of the rain. With the wet weather come the fat slugs, which have slowly changed color from black, to purple, to brown as we continue to walk west. Somehow, despite their rather effective camouflage, they avoid being squished by pilgrims, many of whom (us included) stop to ogle at them as they slowly but surely slither through the wet foliage.

During a rest stop at a café, Manuel tells us of the delicious “pulpo,” or octopus, served at the restaurants of our destination for the day, Melide. This becomes our motivation for the last 7 kilometers of our walk. I’ve noticed that as we get closer and closer to our hotel by the end of the day, the topic of our conversation always turns to food – Mom’s homemade lasagna, Wawa (the convenience store straight out of heaven), and the ever evasive peanut butter we have been deprived of during our stay in Europe.

Arriving at the “pulperia” Manuel recommended, the adventurous pilgrims among us eagerly ordered an unconventional lunch – octopus, boiled and doused in olive oil and paprika, roasted peppers, and pig’s ears. From the open front window of the restaurant, we could see the cook boiling whole octopi in a steaming vat and rapidly slicing their violet tentacles into bite-sized pieces. Now I have much more respect for the octopus, after learning about their precocious nature in biology lab, and now of their tastiness on our Dialogue.

After eating lunch and settling in our hotel, we discussed secular pilgrimage in class. An interesting article compared pilgrimage to the mass American exodus to Disney World, equating play with ritual. After all, to make it to Disney World, one has to literally journey through isolated wilderness (i.e. undeveloped land owned by the Disney Corporation) and take special trains or ferries into the “Magic Kingdom.” Additionally, just as us “peregrinos” on the Camino identify ourselves by the scallop shell proudly sewed onto our backpacks, “pilgrims” to Disney World show off their membership to the “Cult of Happily Ever After” by wearing Mickey Mouse Ears. Little girls in Cinderella dresses chase after Princesses for their autographs just as we seek out stamps for our credentials on the Camino. Main St. USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Frontierland are all active shrines to different American ideals, particularly those important to childhood. Those of us who have been to Disney World or Disneyland are all familiar with the aura of fantasy and imagination that permeates the Walt Disney Universe. Being in Disney World makes us more of “believers” – in fairytale endings, Prince Charming, and the American Dream, just as seeing tangible relics in cathedrals reinforces the faith of many weary pilgrims.

As we inch closer and closer to Santiago, I continue to be astounded by how far we have come – as students, as friends, as travelers, and as pilgrims. Each step on the way brings us closer to each other and to our goal, and I know I will be a little sad to no longer have the road ahead of me in Santiago. Regardless, I am ready to walk another 15 kilometers tomorrow, hopefully in sunnier weather. Ulteria!

Mina Nayeri – Pharmacy