Turn a corner in Sarria and the Camino is transformed. In order to receive the Compostela a pilgrim need only walk the last 100 km, or at the minimum, acquire two stamps a day along this final stretch.
Suddenly hundreds of walkers have joined the trail. The shells, arrows and crosses that symbolize the Camino are emblazoned on everything. This is a popular tourist attraction.
Brightly coloured running shoes, shining equipment and large groups are in abundance. This is in stark contrast to the worn hiking boots, weathered and dusty packs of the previous group of pilgrims.
Many people are not carrying packs or are carrying very small ones large enough for water, money and sunscreen. The main vehicle on the road is a taxi, often stating “libre” or free in the windshield.
The trail is now “running shoe friendly”. Steep slopes are paved and otherwise rocky paths have been enhanced with a fine slate grey gravel that effectively smooths them over.
Albergues are reserved days in advance, which is important so you can tell the delivery service where to take your bag and it makes it easier for the taxi drivers if you have a precise address.
Families, friends and organizations move en mass. Arriving at a coffee shop after one of these groups, you will find harried staff, line ups at the washrooms and a dearth of chairs not to mention a abscence of free tables.
This does not detract from the rolling beauty of this part of the trail. It meanders through an agricultural area and the air is scented with reminders of the various animals that are raised here.
The Camino has taken on a festive air. Gone are the contemplative walks alone along a trail. Gone are the silent moments alone. The tempo has changed. The “new” pilgrims certainly seem to be enjoying it.