Sarria is a town about 108 kms from Santiago.
Where it's important on the Camino is that it's the minimum distance you need to travel to qualify for a Compostela. (For cyclists, it's 200kms)
A Compostela is a document you receive from the church in Santiago to say you've completed the Camino pilgrimage. It's meant to count towards the absolution of your sins, and hey, who amongst us hasn't sinned, right?
To get the Compostela, you have to prove you've walked the Camino. You do this by presenting your Pilgrim's Passport, or Credential. It has to be stamped every day you walk – and if you've started in Sarria, twice a day. This stops people from cheating. (Why cheat to get a Compostela? Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?)
I heard of one bloke who started at St. Jean, and lost his Credential in Leon. He went hysterical.
Surely the purpose of walking the Camino is to walk the Camino, not to get a certificate from a Church to prove you've walked it.
Anyway, for this reason Sarria is the place most people start their Camino. And the 108kms to Santiago is an industry. Buses, tour groups, guides, and day-packer hordes crowd The Way for their 4-5 days easy walk into Santiago, so they can get their piece of paper to say they've walked the Camino.
To those of us who started 700kms further back, or even further than that for some too, these Sarria blow-ins are a test.
They wear designer Camino-inspired hiking gear, they either don't carry packs at all, or the more adventurous have light little day packs, often colour matching their designer outfits. Their boots are clean and unsullied with mud or (gasp) cow dung –
And they talk.
That's what's most challenging for us “true” pilgrims. They chatter. Loudly. And they laugh. And for some reason, they whistle. They whistle while they walk.
I try really hard to love them. To acknowledge that they have as much right being there as the guy who's walked 1500 kms from Le Puy, or the couple who've walked 1200 kms from Nimes. Or the bloke who's flown all the way from Australia (in coach, no less) and walked 700 kms from St. Jean Pied de Port with a sore knee and the daily pressure of writing a blog.
I'm sure they're really nice people. I'm sure they're kind to their pet cat. I'm sure they have their reasons for taking the easy way to get their Compostela.
But do they have to talk so loudly? And do they have to whistle? And do they have to look so damned clean?
Many are riding bikes, some are riding horses. There's a group of about 20 Brazilians on horses.
I pull over to the side of the track and let them pass. And smilingly wish them a Buen Camino, understanding as I do that this is the final test to see how far I've spiritually evolved.
Then I step in a big pile of horse shit.
If it's a test I demand a recount.
Today was long and hard. 26 kms from Palas de Rei to Arzua. Some long steep climbs and some tough descents. But through beautiful bushland.
I've noticed that the closer i get to Santiago, the bigger the taxi signs.
Anyway, I'm now only 38kms from Santiago. I feel myself getting stronger the closer I get. I feel like there's a golden cord pulling me inexorably towards that Cathedral.
Only 38 kms…
My feet will be pleased to get there.