At about six o’clock in the morning, eighteen pilgrims began rousing before the sun had begun climbing through the overcast sky. A massive cloudy spacecraft had touched down across Sarria, covering the city and surrounding Spanish landscape in a foggy mist. An air of grogginess hung over us as we filed into the dining room for a desayuno (breakfast) of toast, cold cuts, various fruits, and homemade cake. The past week’s less than perfect sleep held us in a drowsy grip until the energy of breakfast hit us. It wasn’t long before we left Hotel Roma behind and became quickly enveloped by the fairytale-like mist waiting for us outside.
With the surrounding haze obscuring distant views, for all we knew we had already reached the Galician coast. As we walked, however, the fog gradually cleared leaving behind only the strikingly white sky. Occasionally, the clouds would thin just enough to let through a dim glow of the sun. At one point, Luís and I were stuck ambling along the Way behind a shepherd and his mass of cows. We trekked along on dirt roads past wide-open meadows and hiked through forests that gave off a jungle-like vibe. I walked at what I thought was a solid pace before an older woman sped past us and acknowledged having overheard we were from Boston. Grace had just turned 70 and had walked all the way from the French Pyrenees. We caught up to a couple in their sixties and I began talking to them as she hurried on with her enormous backpack. Jamie joined the conversation, and the two of us spent a half hour talking to the pair. It turns out, they live in Boston! So, if you ever feel the world is a quite large, there’s really a simple solution! Just take a walk and talk to people on the Camino de Santiago.
So far, the Camino has been more of a serene sort of place with only a few pilgrims scattered here and there. That changed today. The minimum distance for pilgrims to walk to obtain a Compostela is exactly 100 kilometers. Sarria was the last major starting place on the Way that exists before this notorious distance to Santiago. As a result, we witnessed a huge increase in the number of pilgrims today. This, of course, has its positives and negatives, most of us just felt a bit overwhelmed. So far, it had been “just us”, but suddenly we were part of a mass. Still, crossing that 100-kilometer mark was no doubt a thing to be proud of for all of us.
From there, it was only a matter of a bit more walking before we arrived in Porto Marin, our destination for the day. We were greeted by a sparkling lake behind which lay the small city; the only way across was a tall bridge overlooking the shorelines on each side as they looped around to connect in the distance. We moved through the city and out into the open landscape to find what would become one of our favorite places to stay so far.
Tonight’s accommodation was a sort of campground with forty beds worth of cabin space. As a group of 15 students, we had an entire, sizeable cabin to ourselves, including our own sprawling common room. The picturesque lodge had a splendid view of the lake and a wonderfully landscaped property. Before dinner, the establishment’s horses were released to roam and for us to meet and pet. But the experience we had really wouldn’t have been what it was without Casa Rural Santa Mariña’s charming owner, Mario. We had 45 minutes to ask him any questions we wanted before dinner, and learned that he pours his entire life into this business. He does anything and everything to comfort and entertain his guests… as we soon saw.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, but it was the ending that “fired” everyone up. Sitting at a long table in a dining hall with walls of floor-to-ceiling glass, we were surprised as the lights suddenly all went out. Mario emerged, wearing a sort of twine cloth hood, and he positioned himself in front of what appeared a table with a large bowl on it once our eyes had adapted. He began speaking in Galician, with a grinning Manuel translating, and suddenly the bowl erupted into blue flames. He explained that the bowl contained a liquid made of wine alcohol, coffee beans, and a variety of other ingredients which result in a special Galician drink. Our host chanted spells to give the drink the right effects and finally invited us all to have a cup to end the night. With the show over, we said goodbye and returned to our cabin.
But our night still wasn’t quite over. We arranged couches and chairs into a circle in our common room and spent the rest of the night together talking, laughing, and, yes, even planking (Riley and Ben set a brand new dual record for our group: 6.5 minutes). The evening came to an official end when we all suddenly erupted into singing “Happy Birthday” for Ben, right when the clock struck 12:00.
Stephan Palm, Behavioral Neuroscience & Business Adminstration