The last hundred kilometers of the Camino de Santiago unofficially begins in Sarria. It is actually one hundred thirteen kilometers from here to Santiago, but, for pilgrims who wish to receive the Compostela, this is the town that is the best place to begin. For that reason, Sarria is home to the most albergues in one town along the Camino de Santiago and along the Rua Maior, the main market street on old town, pilgrims are inundated with bars, restaurants, and albergues all vying for business.
Beyond meeting the eating and sleeping needs of pilgrims, I expected Sarria to be a bit more commercially attuned to pilgrim’s needs. I only saw one outfitter and that was just outside old town. Since so many pilgrims begin their journey here, I expected more souvenir shops and gear dealers. Perhaps all of that is outside of the old town and I just didn’t see it.
What I did see, and experienced much to my dismay, was hundreds of new pilgrims starting their journey. I’ve grown accustomed to a sparsely traveled trail. Today I saw a tourbus disgorge about fifty pilgrims with tiny day packs, water bottles, and trekking poles at the Escaleira da Fonte, the stairs that lead into old town. And the shocking part to me is that this is normal. As I made my way through Sarria, I saw at least four other tour busses dropping off pilgrims.
As the day progressed, I passed pilgrims getting back onto their busses to go to their hotels after walking between ten and fifteen kilometers. I had the opportunity to speak to one couple from Arkansas who explained how their tour worked. The bus drops them off at point A in the morning, they walk for a bit and get their credentials stamped, then they get back on the bus. After about six days, they’ll arrive in Santiago, having only actually walked about sixty of the last hundred kilometers of the Camino de Santiago. They’ll still get their Compostela and be able to tell the world they hiked the Camino de Santiago.
I guess every pilgrimage is a personal journey. If that is how they want to experience the Camino de Santiago, then that is fine. I’ve adjusted my walking schedule to avoid the “drop off towns” at drop off time, and once again I’m on a sparsely populated trail. That’s one of the best parts of the Camino de Santiago. Everyone can hike their own hike and experience this treasure in their own way. I’ll still bathe in the river at Lavacolla, so day hikers beware! There will be a white whale in the water when you pass by!
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