Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Viana do Castelo-Tui-Redondela

Trip dist: 90 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 2 min. Tot dist: 639 kms.


Hmmm....ha ha. It appears that I have unwittingly (unwillingly?) turned myself into a pilgrim.

I arrived to Redondela rather close to the hour of the Gremlin, after deciding to press on from Tui, to make a definitive entrance into Spain, and not stick around the border, even though it seemed that since Tui and Valença neighbor each other separated only by the Minho river, my chances of finding good accomodations would be better there. In Redondela, it turns out, there are no easy hotels, when I asked around near the town center, someone quickly directed me to the Pilgrim's Refuge right across the street, which is free, as it turns out, for those pilgrims headed towards Santiago de Compostela along the Portuguese Route.

I had a bit of trepidation walking in to the hostel, it seemed strange and unfamiliar, and, most honestly, I felt a bit as if I had no right to be there. But in an emergency, I figured, I'd just end up paying 10 Euros or so for the permission to stay, since I was an outsider and not a "member of the club", so to speak, so I proceeded to drop by the reception desk, and ask how things worked at these Pilgrim's Refuges.

Well, there's no such thing as paying your way to stay as a guest for the night. The Refuges are free, only for one night, and only if you are officially a pilgrim, that is, you are really on a spiritual pilgrimage and this is officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the form of a "Pilgrim's Passport", which you then stamp along the way as you visit other Refuges, religious monuments, or Churches of note and which are quite carefully detailed in colorful guides describing all of the possible Ways/Roads to Santiago, starting from all corners of Europe, but most notably the one beginning in Roncesvalles.

Well, of course this was not particularly unexpected, so upon hearing this I just sort of shrugged and asked the volunteer attending the desk whether she knew of any other hotels/hostels/posadas or rooms to let nearby.

No luck. The nearest one was 9 kms away. After biking 90 kms, some uphill, and already close to sunset, this was not an apetizing prospect, and it clearly began to show on my face as it gradually became more crest-fallen as she listed all of the possible hotels surrounding, each farther and farther away.

I stood there for a while, thinking about what to do, no doubt already looking weary from the journey, dusty, cold coming in fast, and hungry, when she opened up a drawer, and showed me several forgotten pilgrim's passports that other people had left behind, all while saying "are you sure you don't have one of these?". "Nope", was, of course, my answer, and stupidly, for with the tiredness the brain wasn't really working all that well, "where/how do you get them, anyway? And can't I get one here and start the pilgrimage from here?".

That's where she explained, that for the pilgrimage to be valid, it has to start at least 100 kms away from Santiago (and if you're on a bike it needs to be 200 kms), so the last village I could've gotten the passport was in Tui. And as I heard this, I couldn't help exclaiming, a bit regretful, "Ah. But I just passed by Tui this morning!"

"Ah!" she said.

And we stood there looking at each other blankly for a while, me, because my brain was struggling too much with weariness to figure out what next to do, she, because her brain was working better than mine, for after a minute or so, she opened up the lost passport drawer again, and started rifling through the set of 7 or so in there, while I still stared about blankly.

In a moment, she produced one of them, that hadn't been stamped much, and had clearly belonged to someone who had started their pilgrimage nearby (just a little farther away than Tui, it turns out). "Look," she said. "Don't tell anyone this [Editor's note: and now I'm sure she'll kill me for publishing this on a blog on the web!], but I'm just going to give you this one. After all, this person forgot theirs a long time ago and they're not coming back to pick it up. And you did just come from Tui, so...I'll just scratch the name down here...." and at this point produced a beautiful, brand new (but "mended") Pilgrim's Passport in my name (you can see a picture of it here), so that then I could spend the night in Redondela, all free and safe and approved on good authority.

I did feel a bit contrite, a brigand impostor ("impostora malandrina!", to be more precise, but I don't quite know how to translate that in English), a heathen, even, what with the spoon-stealing and all the other little pecadilloes I had been accumulating in my last few weeks as a bon vivant and all, but in the end, I figured, I'd just contribute a hefty donation to the contributions box by the common room: after all, that's how things have been indulgently handled for hundreds of years for these kinds of guilty situations, right?

Still, I must've looked very dusty and tired, for at the nearest restaurant where I headed for dinner I was immediately offered the "Pilgrim's menu" (only 7 Euros for soup, meat, dessert and coffee!) and at the end the owner even gave me a little pin commemorating the "Xacobeo 2004" (as to what exactly that was I had no good idea) with the picture of a stylized pilgrim on it for me to pin to my backpack. Ha ha.

Anyway, when you do not have a clear conscience, sleep does not come easily. Either that or the fact that the dorms are mixed sleeping 40 or 50 and like in the Youth Hostels weariness and age does not prevent the travellers from partying at night and coming to bed at two o'clock in the morning, with the associated noisyness that that entails.

So what do you do when you cannot sleep no matter what you try? For one, you listen to some fado (the CD I had gotten in Viana by Amalia Rodrigues was most excellent, you can listen to a sample of it here, and review the day as you finally bid adieu to Portugal, land of sailors and cadenced speech and bacalhau, and feel a nostalgia for the country, even if it is not yours, because in some notes fado also reminds you of your land, but that only lasts for the duration of the CD, and the pilgrim's partying and reviewing out loud of their day goes on long 'till morning, so now what?

Well, you think about math, of course. After one o'clock, the snoring starts. And not by one person, but three males that sound like a cadre of broken trucks as well as by one woman, who one would expect would sound a bit more quiet, but no. And then the brain works out: In a roomful of 40 people, assuming the probability that any one given person snores is 20%, what is the probability that at least one of them snores? (hint: high! Therefore think twice about sharing sleeping quarters with such a large number of people!).

Or take it to a dance. If there's a probability of 0.5 that the person you dance with is a bad dancer, how many people do you have to dance with to be assured that you're going to end up with stepped-on toes?

Or for instance, harkening back to the days of the medieval pilgrims, and sanitizing the imagination a bit, and making the problem a bit more challenging, suppose the probability of any one person having the flu is one in five. Then, suppose that the probability of you catching the flu from said person is one in two if you shake hands with them. What is the probability of you getting the flu after shaking hands with, say, only 5 people?

And so on and so forth. By 3 a.m., sleep finally comes, but by 5:30, the other pilgrims are up and about, eager and ready to continue their second to last stage before reaching Santiago.

And me: at 5:30 a.m., the only thing I could think about after this sleepless night was: not worth it. Give me a Youth Hostel with its guiltless nights and warm showers and 6 person dorm rooms any day, even if it is at the cost of 15 Euros.

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