Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata
Via de la Plata

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Day 43. April 21, 2017. Outeiro to Santiago. 16.7 kms

They wait for hours in line to hug the Saint,

A practice some consider rather quaint.

And then they all go down into the crypt,

For here the relics of Saint James are kept.


For some reason the lights went on automatically at a quarter to six, so no one was able to sleep in. Perhaps the authorities wanted us to arrive in Santiago nice and early. So I set out before dawn, and after a few kilometres through a forest of Galician gums, I looked out onto open fields. 

Further forest paths, a couple of sawmills, a few hilly villages, and then the outskirts of the City.

Some pilgrims have been known to fall down on their knees and weep at the first glimpse of the spires of Santiago Cathedral. Not I, but it was a welcome sight, after 1,007 kilometres, according to the official document I picked up at Pilgrims' Office this afternoon.


I took a turn around the cathedral, of course. The Galician bagpipes were still wailing in the tunnel, and guitarists, steel drummers and electronic pianos were doing their best to attract the tourists' tips as well. Beggars were more direct, circulating among the diners at the tables on the terraces.

At one o'clock, pilgrims poured out onto the grand plaza in front of the cathedral. Even this early in the season, the church must have been packed. Among the groups of twos and threes I noticed larger groups of younger people with matching tee shirts, Spanish church groups,I think.

The scaffolding still hides most of the two towers, but the part that is now revealed has benefitted from its cleaning.


Inside, the never-ending line of pilgrims walked up the steps behind St James to "embrace the apostle" and then walked down again. I swear that one or two were trying to take a selfie with the Saint, because I noticed an outstretched hand holding a phone. He didn't seem to mind but I'm sure the pilgrims waiting in line did, for the steady pace was interrupted.


I wonder whether other saints have been subject to selfies, or the Holy Family themselves?

I stayed at the Hotel Windsor, just below the base of the old town, near the Parque Almeida. It's a nice area, largely given over to pedestrians, with a single car lane down the middle of the streets with signs indicating that people on foot have priority. Very modern, very enlightened. But in the older parts of the city there is the usual graffiti, so common in Spain, and indicative of the large number of disenfranchised people.

I have to say that my Grisport boots have served me well. They are showing less wear than any other boots I have worn on a Camino. In fact, the soles of my pairs of Scarpas and Asolos were completely worn down after shorter walks than this one. 

In fact, I am more worn down than the soles of my boots.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Day 42. April 20, 2017. Silleda to Outeiro. 24 kms

For this relief, much thanks.


Perhaps it was my Canadian passport, or that I had the same name as the barman hospitalero, but he put me in a room to myself so I had a comfortable night. And a good breakfast. 

The standard breakfast at any bar, or albergue where it is provided, is coffee and tostada. But there is breakfast and breakfast. I have had a miserable slice of thin toasted white bread (the worst) and two toasted halves of a baguette (the best). And everything in between.

It was really an easy walk today, with the path skirting around the contours of the valleys, and dropping gently downhill until Ponte Ulla. But I found it hard going for I am weary. I would have stayed at the town as it had a bar and all the amenities, but walking on to another hostel four kilometres father made it a shorter walk into Santiago tomorrow. Unfortunately, it was also a 300 metre climb.

The town is named for the bridge over the river Ulla. Actually there are four bridges. The original is gone, and I crossed over an arched 18th century bridge. Then there is a modern traffic bridge. In the bar is a painting of the original viaduct carrying the railway across the valley. It is still there, an impressive piece of railway architecture! But dwarfing this is the new viaduct carrying the high-speed train line, a track which runs straight and level, over valleys and through hills. These modern viaducts tower over the towns as the Roman aqueducts loom over Merida and Segovia. In Galicia, the new railway line is operational, already cutting a few hours off the journey from Santiago to Madrid.

After a beer in the bar at Ponte Ulla, it was time for the climb. Strangely, I found it easier than the earlier part of the day, and after an hour's steady tramping, I arrived at the nice modern Xunta hostel at Outreo. As there was no bar for an evening meal, I had bought some cheese, chorizo, and a bottle of Rioja, and shared a meal with Tomas, a Slovakian fellow, who has been keeping pace with us. He himself hadn't been in favour of the split between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but said there was no going back. I asked him to explain the difference between the Czecks and the Slovaks. Not that much, he said. The language was similar. Both were Slavs. The Czecks were perhaps more Germanic in their temperament. The Czecks had been part of the Austrian Empire; the Slovaks, the Hungarian; before the empires combined.

Nothing much of interest happened today, but I did see another ent.


 Tomorrow is an easy walk into Santiago, only 16 kms.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Day 41. April 19, 2017. O Castro to Silleda. 28 kms

Indicate the route to my abode,

I'm fatigued and I want to retire


There was a time when people, whether they knew one another or not, in an idle moment would break into song. You didn't plan a community singsong; it was spontaneous. Someone would start singing and others would join in. One of my very earliest memories is of a busload of grown ups singing "Two Little Girls in Blue" on a trip to Yanchep, W.A. I would have been about five. These were people my parents' age and older, many of them born in the 19th century, and they were carrying on a long tradition. 

That tradition has died, and it's a shame.  Not only was it a joyful community activity, it was almost cathartic, a healthy release. I think we revived the tradition as undergraduates, in a choir in the sixties, where I remember singing the ditty from which I've quoted the fragment above, but I doubt whether the tradition exists any more, except in isolated pockets. Today, even when together, in idle moments we revert to our phones. We probably benefitted more from singing together than from all the diversions from our devices.

No bars open this morning, so I left at 7:15 and walked about 12 km until I found a place that served me a nice tortilla. 

I have to say that I have been disappointed with the tortillas I've had this time in Spain. Until this morning they have been dry and rather tasteless, and I realize now it's because they've been mass-produced. This was a real homemade one, but with about three eggs and half a pound of potatoes, it sat heavily on my stomach.

I have been making tortillas myself at home and I would say that my last one was better than any I have tasted on this walk.

There was a fair bit of road walking today, with frequent trekking along the old stony path wherever it still existed. I didn't dare take any short cuts today. I couldn't resist giving you another picture of the stony road through an oak wood with its glorious leafy green. Towards the end of the day the path descended Into a river valley beneath a railway viaduct far above. It followed the river for a while then crossed over a Roman bridge.


I have talked about the sights and sounds on this Camino, but I haven't said anything about the scents, the aromas, the odours. Notice that I didn't say "smells".  Remember Dr. Johnson.

Woman in carriage: Sir, you smell.

Dr. Johnson: Madame, you smell. I stink

Well, today, there was a stink. There is always the barnyard stink, of course, the pig barns, the cow manure on the roads, the swill on the fields. That's normal. But there is also a frequent chemical stench, from the farmer spraying his vines, or the backyard gardener walking around with a tank on his back spraying his trees. It's an odour that I notice almost every day, and it's not pleasant.

But there is also the scent, the aroma, particularly in the south, where I would notice the rosemary, and also a sort of cinnamon, but I don't know where it came from. And the heather had a distinctive scent as well, and the eucalyptus as I walked through a stand of gum trees.

I have come to realize more than ever before the beauties of Nature.

I had though perhaps of pressing on and still trying to reach Santiago tomorrow night, but I'm exhausted. I'm staying in a private albergue which is really a flat with separate rooms attached to a bar. I'm alone in a three-bed room with actual sheets on the bed. Sheets!

Day 40. April 18, 2017. Cea to O Castro. 15 kms

For forty days and forty nights have I wandered in the wilderness.


Next to the albergue, and part of the old buildings, is a horreo. This is a typical Galician structure, found near every farmhouse and many other buildings as well, traditionally used for storing corn. The storage compartment rests on flat stones, and these are mounted on piles. This is to keep out the rats, which it seems, are unable to walk upside down. For the same reason, the steps used for climbing up to the horreo are never attached to the structure. One climbs the steps which seem to lead nowhere, and then steps across the gap to the horreo.


As you can see they come in different shapes and sizes, of wood, stone and brick.


As I walked out of the albergue this morning there was a taxi outside loaded up with packs. I didn't see any pilgrims inside so I imagine they were walking unencumbered.

At the little town of Pinor I passed an old lady washing her sheets in the lavoir. A communal washing pond, the lavoir is often as old as the village itself, built before the advent of plumbing in individual dwellings. Every old town has one or two, sometimes in ruins, sometimes restored. Usually, if there is water at all in the lavoir it is scungy and stagnant, but in this one it was clean and flowing. To see someone using one was a rare sight.

I was intrigued by a herd of cows resting in a field. They obviously seek solace in one another's company. Notice how they are facing each other. Except for the lone black cow who is turning her back on the others. Why is she avoiding them? Or is it a vaccashun?



The closure of the albergue at A Laxe has forced me to abandon my plan to walk longer distances each day and arrive in Santiago a day earlier. However, I did walk a longer distance than necessary today, because I took a short cut. All morning the Camino was leaving the road to go up and down a hill to rejoin the road on the other side. So I thought I'd take the road instead, only this time it diverged from the Camino and I had to walk an extra three kilometres to arrive in Castro.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Day 39. April 17, 2017. Ourense to Cea. 22 kms

He dwelt in Bonnie Scotland where blooms the sweet bluebell


The albergue was almost crowded last night. Even a couple of the upper bunks were occupied. For some Spaniards this was the beginning of the 100 km dash for those who want to walk the bare minimum to get their certificate.

Among the new arrivals was Silver the Estonian, who, believe it or not, walked 54 km yesterday He and his wife have separated, geographically, that is. She is three or four steps behind.

We walked out of the city together. He apologized for talking all the time. He said it was because he had to been by himself for a few days, but I think it is his natural inclination. He is a generous fellow, and offered me his hiking poles for the day, but I declined. His conversation leans towards a particular theme: that we cannot believe anything we read, not everything, but anything, and that we can only trust what we experience. And I think that God is part of his experience. He is much faster than I, and I let him go ahead.

Wisteria is now blooming in many a town garden, and the hedge below is perhaps the longest I have seen.


After almost an hour to get out of the city, it was a long climb out of the valley up to the hills again, and a very pleasant walk along minor roads through the woods. The gorse is fading now to an ugly brown, and there is more white broom in bloom than yellow. I saw my first fig tree, and my first bluebell.


And I paused for a moment by a brook in front of a very old bridge. Such tranquillity!


Tonight I am staying in my third albergue run by the Xunta of Galicia. They all have the same regulations and price (6€)  This one is worth describing. There are many ruined buildings in these old towns. The stone walls may stand for ever, but the roofs with their wooden rafters may collapse after a few hundred years. This albergue is built within the walls of such a ruin. A new roof has been constructed on three of the old walls, which are at least three feet thick. A ceiling has been added to separate the dorm from the kitchen and dining room downstairs. It is light and bright and airy and comfortable.

And like all refurbished albergues, it was built to discourage the bedbugs. With no carpets or skirting boards, the tile flooring is grouted against the walls.

These medieval towns have a perversity all of their own. If you leave the albergue, for example, to go to the bar, then you have to memorize every turn, and come back the same way. You cannot assume that because the albergue is in that direction, then you can walk a block in the right direction, and then turn left. Streets do not run parallel to each other. They may suddenly end without warning, or turn left, or right. There is no logic whatsoever. They follow the whim of the people who built their houses a thousand years ago.

There are not many things in life that defy explanation. Usually, one can see evidence of some kind of design or purpose. But not in the streets of a medieval town.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Day 38. April 16, 2017. Xunqueira to Ourense. 21 kms

The burnt-out ends of smoky days


I am overwhelmed with gilt. Every sinner and saint in Christendom must be depicted somewhere in the painting or the statuary of the cathedral at Ourense. Santiago Matamora was there, of course, but he wasn't part of the guided audio tour.



I have to recommend the Taperia O Toxo at Xunqueira. Excellent menu for €12 included wine, a liqueur, and the best ensalada mixte i have ever had. And they open for breakfast at seven.

It was an easy walk today in the soft Sunday morning light along a string of villages to the outskirts of Ourense. Then I had to climb again to get the old city. I am staying in a former convent, an albergue, run like all the albergues in Galicia, by the province, rather than the municipality.

Pepe is still ahead of me. I am guessing that he smokes Chesterfield. There seems to be an empty packet every twenty buts or so. He, or the person responsible, is ignoring a plea posted in one of the albergues for pilgrims to respect the environment and not leave their buts along the way.

I have a dilemma and a bit of a logistical problem. My dilemma is whether or not to follow my five-day itinerary to Santiago as planned, or to walk it in four days in order to have a day in the town before I leave. The logistical problem is how to work around an albergue that has been closed at A Laxe.   

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Day 37. April 15, 2017. Albergueria to Xunqueira do Ambia. 21 kms

The rich man at the castle

The poor man at the gate



Through an interpreter I chatted with the owner of the bar, the keeper of shells, about how many he thought he had collected. He had no idea, but I would guess 10,000 or more.

As I walked out of town, a travelling vendor had pulled into a lane leading off to the left, offering groceries to the villagers, who had no store of their own. The back of the truck was open and the goods displayed. An old lady in a very old-fashioned dress and a headscarf looked at me and pointed frantically at the van. I said, no, I don't need anything. I have a couple of bananas in my pack. Peregrino, she said, and pointed again at the back of the van. She came up behind me and started feeling in the pouch at the back of my pack.  No, I said, no, no. I don't need to buy anything. But she persisted. Was she crazy, I wondered. Then she pulled me over to an faint arrow on the stone wall beside the van. She wasn't pointing at the van at all. She was directing me to the Camino. There's a moral here.

I walked out of the village into thick Galician fog, and since it's Easter....



I don't think that any of the people I have met have been making a religious pilgrimage. Perhaps the two Spaniards whom I met a few weeks ago. One of them stopped at Salamanca. But Pepe was continuing. He was a heavy smoker and I have been following his cigarette butts to Santiago. The younger people don't seem to be interested even in religious art and architecture. The young Germans didn't stop, and Rene the Dutch girl, who holds the title in the Guinness Book of Records for extended bathroom occupancy, told me that she wasn't interested in visiting any churches.

After several kilometres on the uplands, I gave up all the height I had gained and descended onto a vast plain. On the way down, I made a little detour to see a ruined village, 250 metres in, and then 350 metres out to rejoin the Camino a bit father down the hill.

I was greeted by half a dozen dogs, who were quite friendly after their obligatory bark. Among the ruins, a couple of the houses were restored, or at least lived in. I don't know how they managed for utilities. One of the inhabitants, who spoke English, directed me back to the Camino. Nature was reclaiming its own.


It was more than 350 metres, as always, along a narrow lane almost overgrown in parts, that made its way in twists and turns back to the Camino. This had been a medieval thoroughfare, and the dry stone walls remained behind the brambles, setting off the road from the fields.

I wondered about the fellow who had built those walls. Was he happier than we are? He worked all day with his hands, breaking, collecting, sorting and laying the stones. Perhaps his wife brought him out some lunch, bread and cheese wrapped in a scarf, and a jug of beer or cider. At the end of the day he went home to a simple meal, and slept. He knew his place in the world, and he knew the meaning of life. And his stone wall remains.

Dogs. Every village has its mutts and strays, strange mixes, every shape and size, no designer dogs among them. They are a kind of sub-class in the village, tolerated, but not loved, and for this reason they are rather timid, wanting to be friendly but wary of being rejected. Often they sleep in the middle of the road in the sun. Sometimes they are misshapen or misformed. I have seen three-legged dogs, and even a two-legged dog once, and this morning I saw a male with a single dangling appendage. I thought of the old war song.

After a coffee in a bar at Vila do Barrio I continued on towards Xunqueira de Ambia. It was easy going, if a little monotonous as I walked along a straight dirt road for about five kilometres, a bit like walking for several miles along a section road in Canada. I passed through a couple of little villages, and then it was into the woods, very familiar country, a rambling path through the oaks. And I may have even seen an ent.