Steep climb: The Spiritual Variant

It seems our greatest difficulty is leaving each location. This morning, the view from our room offered up another stunning day.We left Pontevedra to follow the Variante Espiritual. We followed directions from the hotel staff which put us over a bridge with no Camino arrows. After asking a father walking his children to school, we got a new set of directions to put us back on course. All worked out fine. We arrived at the Monestario de Poio via our own circuitous route.From Poio, we followed the markings for the Variant Espiritual to Combarro and up and over the steep mountain to Armenteira.

The Variant Espiritual is a relatively new route, about six years old. It connects places that were historically related to the Camino. It is based on the pilgrimage taken by Padre Sarmiento in 1745 who was a Spanish scholar. Tradition says that in 44 CE a ship carrying the body of St. James crossed the estuary of Arousa. His remains were transported down the Ulla River until they arrived at Iria Flavia which is now the village of Padrón, the last stopping point on the Camino Portuguese before Santiago de Compostela. This is where the Spiritual Variant reconnects with the main branch of the Caminho Portuguese.As we walked along the river, we came to the small fishing town of Combarro. There were almost as many hórreos as homes. They were all photo worthy; here are a few including those along the coast. Hórreos are the unofficial symbol of the Galicia region of Spain. Now, most are for show and no longer used to store grain. Another common sight throughout our time in Galicia has been cruceiros. These small stone crosses appear on long slender columns. They can be found in a plaza or at random points on a highway or a crossroads and sometimes just in front of a house.

Leaving through Combarro was very steep. We passed some farms, homes and then woods.The climb was mostly on asphalt but then changed to gravel and stone. It was a long ascent, 500 meters which is about 1,650 feet (google maps has the assent at 2,000 feet), yet the grade was manageable. At one point, about halfway up there is a great view of the river and surrounding mountains. There was also a helpful sign to show the rest of the Spiritual walk. Once we reached the peak we began a slippery descent with wet stones and mud. The scenery was beautiful and we emerged from the mountain into a small area that had a bar! Yay! We stopped for a beer which came with Ensalada Russe (a Spanish tuna salad with vegetables mixed in). Perfect refreshment after that challenging hike. As we enjoyed our drinks, several other pilgrims emerged from the hills and joined us. One from Switzerland, one from Holland and one from Spain. We all compared highlights of the day. A few feet away from the bar/store was the entrance to the Mosterio de Armenteira. This is the place we will be spending the night.Mosterio de Armenteira, a Cistercian monastery founded in the 12th century. There are now only eight nuns at the monastery that is annexed to a gorgeous, yet very simple Gothic cathedral. The nuns are a lovely group who support themselves by making soaps. The grounds include a peaceful garden and several sitting areas. They have a daily pilgrim’s vesper service at 7:00pm. This was our first pilgrim service and it was fascinating. After the hymns sung in Spanish and a few words spoken by several of the nuns, all pilgrims were called forward. We were read a special passage about our pilgrimage to Santiago. We were wishes a safe journey and then we were blessed individually by a monk. A first for us.

After the service, we joined many pilgrims at the local and only bar in town (the same place where we had lunch). We all gushed about our day and our trip. Fortunately for us, the common language was English. We were with Swiss, Danish, Lithuanian, Canadian, Australian, German and Italian pilgrims. We will most likely see each other over the next few days as we head to Santiago. I have said it before, this trip keeps getting better. Now to the monastery to sleep like a nun and a monk.

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