When three friends spend days together without respite, I suppose tempers are likely to fray and tensions to arise. I feel that we’ve hit one of those patches but we’re within sight of the “finish” line and we’ve come through the hardest challenges that this Camino has to throw at us. I think that we’ll make it together.
Today’s stage from Xunqueira to Ourense was just 23km – considerably shorter than the distances that we covered over the last two days to get over the gap left by the closure of the albergue in Albergueria. That said, we managed to add on a couple of kilometres by following a trail of bogus arrows along a beautiful river bank just after leaving Xunqueira. We’re not the only ones who were caught out in this way – We tried to persuade a group of six Dutch pilgrims in identical, green, sweatshirts (nickname: The Goblins) to follow our GPS trails out of the woods and onto the road. It played out like a less impassioned and more courteous version of the scene in The Poseidon Adventure where Gene Hackman exclaims “You’re going the wrong way, damnit!” They weren’t having any of it. For all I know, the goblins may still be stuck in the woods.
After that very beautiful but wrong path, we followed a route through less interesting countryside, which became more densely populated as we approached the large city of Ourense. Before pilgrims can enjoy the city itself, they must first endure the messy, dusty, smelly, smoke-belching, industrial zones to the south of the city. It is nobody’s favourite stage, but we avoided the temptation to jump on a bus. We walked the whole thing. Having come this far without taking short cuts, why would we change now?
After our tramp through the industrial zones, we found a cafe for some refreshment before tackling the last few kilometres through the attractive, historic exurb of Seixalbo and then the modern outskirts of Ourense proper.
Ewa and I went to relax in the riverside hot springs for which the city is famous. Michael, out of concern for his blisters, decided to forgo the experience. It was lovely to lie back in the free, hot pools and enjoy the company of locals who meet here to chat as naturally as people in other cities might socialise at the park or the shopping mall.
Unfortunately, the cathedral in Ourense wasn’t as welcoming as the hot springs. When we tried to enter shortly after 7:00 pm, we were refused by the lady at the ticket office. When we pressed the issue (since the signs outside advertise that the cathedral is open until 7:30) she explained that the audio guide requires a 45 minute visit and we should come back at 10:00 am tomorrow. We were able to persuade her to let us in for just 15 minutes without audio guides (for the pilgrim discount rate of €3). But then we encountered an extremely pompous man with a set of keys who insisted that we leave and demanded to know our nationalities. Michaela and Ewa were able to charm him into changing his mind. He spent time explaining architectural features to Michaela in Italian and made sure that we saw the most significant elements of the Cathedral – the pórtico of paradise and the gaudy Santo Christo chapel.
We rounded the evening off with our first pulpo dish at one of the restaurants behind the cathedral – tourist rather than pilgrim prices, but very enjoyable.