June 1-2: Portomarín

Fordham has officially taken Portomarín by storm, and the dream team is still going strong.  As we have officially passed the 100km mark, the road is packed with peregrinos new and old walking the last leg of the Camino.

Dr. Gyug's selfie of the lunch table | Photo by Dr. Richard Gyug

Dr. Gyug’s selfie of the lunch table | Photo by Dr. Richard Gyug

Santiago becomes more real each day.  The days have become rather rhythmic.  Feet continue to ache, but the now-veteran Ram peregrinos have soothed their woes with tarta de Santiago (almond cake) and a fair bit of orujo (local DRANK), in addition to the usual patatas and pan.  As a town, Portomarín has been intrinsically linked to the Camino- serving as an outpost for the Order of San Juan of Jerusalem, the Knights Templar, and the Knights Hospitaller throughout the Middle Ages.

Portomarín is a town with a fascinating modern history as well.  The town we peregrinos entered after crossing the Miño River is a sham.  It is the result of a long process of industrialization undertaken by Generalissimo Franco in the 1950s and 60s.  The General hired architect Pons Sorolla to design and construct a hydroelectric dam on the river, and the resulting stoppage of water threatened to flood the medieval town.  Desperate to keep artifacts of the national Spanish identity intact, Franco made arrangements to, in quite literal terms, move the town brick by brick from its initial location to its current place higher on the river bank.

The church fortress of San Juan | Photo by Giancarlo Milea

The church fortress of San Xoan | Photo by Giancarlo Milea

Several of the town’s most important monuments, including the imposing 12th century, late Romanesque church fortress of St. Xoan, were moved, and new, more organized streets and plazas were created.  At low tide though, one can still see a remnant of the old medieval bridge that was deemed superfluous.

The town has a very quaint feel to it, but its recent history begets important questions about the region and the Camino that are worth consideration.  Politically, this history adds much nuance to the relationships between Spanish autonomous communities and the centralized government.  Furthermore, the town is a Disneyland- it’s a construction of an idea of the “authentic.”  With regards to the Camino, an activity often rooted in notions of authenticity, can this new town even be considered the real Portomarín?  The answers to that question have important implications for peregrinos, many of whom strive to do the Camino “the real way.”  The issue of authenticity has arisen both in our studies and in my own experiences on the road.  When you’re tired enough though, a hot shower and a good meal quell the debates that may rage in the mind.

The view of the Miño River valley from the albergue.  | Photo by Giancarlo Milea

The view of the Miño River valley from the albergue  |  Photo by Giancarlo Milea



You can go your own way,

you can walk and you can pray,

but if you ain’t talkin’, you ain’t seen a thing.

St. James is a friend of mine,

but I want some friends for other times!

I want to hear my friends in Santiago sing!


Buen Camino!

Giancarlo, aka The Prodigal Mumbler, aka Like Mike, aka Jean ValSwoll, aka Ga, aka Johnny Bravo, aka Juanito Carlito

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