Via Gebennensis

Via Gebennensis
Via Gebennensis

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.


 


Day 36. April 14, 2017. Campobecerros to Albergueria. 28 kms

When the deep purple falls

Over sleepy garden walls.


 


A bit of confusion over breakfast this morning. One bar was supposed to be open at seven; the other at eight. Neither was, but I suspect it was my fault. I think they would've opened had I said definitely that I was having breakfast in their particular establishment.


So I set out at eight o'clock, sans breakfast, to walk to Lazo 16 km away where I hoped I would find a bar open on Good Friday.


No rain, but a heavy fog, so I kept to the road, and avoided unnecessary excursions into the bush. 


For the the past couple of days as I've been walking along the road across these moors, I've noticed the usual private property signs, but I wonder what the owners do with their land. I don't see any fences and I don't see any evidence of animals. There are no pastures, in fact there's barely any soil. The heather and gorse are just growing on slaty schist.


I passed through a couple of little villages and remained on the high moors for a couple of hours, and then descended into a deep valley. I was now right in the middle of the mountain range. I was reminded of walking on the Primitivo, and wondered whether these were the same mountains.


I had been told about the extensive religious festivals in Spain, and I was wary about being caught up in an solemn procession, but when I arrived in Laza, I found no sign of any religious life, and the bars were open.


I saw my first wisteria, a true sign of spring.


 


Language is a sensitive issue. Now that I'm in Galicia the signs are bilingual. Sometimes, however, the place names are the same. But they still can't be shared. So I pass signs that read "Laza (Laza)" and "A Gudina (A Gudina)", for example. I imagined a conversation between a Galician and a Castilian  from these respective towns.


Castilian: I believe you live in Laza.

Galician:   No, I live in Laza. And you? You come from A Gudina?

Castilian:  Not at all. I come from A Gudina.


From Laza, I walked up to the head of the valley, and then I started the long climb towards Albergueria. Half way up, I ran into two English women coming towards me. "You're coming from Santiago?" I asked. "No, we're just deliberating what to do." We talked for  a bit, and then one of them asked, "Are you Charles?" To cut a long story short, they had been with Joerg the German in Ludina the night before, and had come ahead by taxi. Not sure why, but it was another chance encounter.


This was the third long climb of he walk. Up and up for a thousand feet. I'll spare you the details, but a dozen times I must have said, surely the summit is around this bend. Eventually, it was. One of the great pleasures of the day is coming over a rise and seeing the roofs of the town ahead of you.


 


I arrived at last, and I am staying at an albergue attached to El Rincon del Peregrino, a bar that has to be one of the wonders of the modern world, well, certainly of the Camino World. Every square inch of surface in the bar - the walls, the ceiling, the beams, the posts - is covered with shells inscribed with pilgrims' names. No, there must be a square inch remaining somewhere, a place for me.


 


In the bar, a solemn mass was being shown on TV, various politicians doing what was expected of them, but country music was blaring from the speakers.


A sign outside the albergue says "Santiago 140 kms".

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Day 35. April 13, 2017. A Gudina to Campobecerros, 20 kms.

Hail to thee, blithe spirit


 


People say that the Camino is like life, and indeed, as in life, chance encounters on the Camino can make all the difference. A couple of days ago I was walking the wrong way along a road and I passed a man working in his garden.


I said,  "Buenos Dias." Now I might not have said Good Morning at all, because he wasn't looking at me and he was some distance away, but I spoke to him anyway. He came over to me. "Wrong way," he said. "Go back!" I did, and I found the arrows. He had saved me a kilometre or two.


This morning, at the edge of town, the way split. I was planning to take the right-hand path, and had worked out my steps for the next few days, accordingly. But at the fork, there was a notice directing me to the left because of the railway construction. A catastrophe! My guide provided information only for the right. Just then, a man came out of a house, saw me deliberating, and said, "No problem. Go to the right." I did, and there wasn't. I came upon the site at Campobecerros, where I am staying. As it happened, no one was working because it is Holy Week, but even if they were, the way would still be passable.


You can see on the construction site, the two tunnels coming out of the mountain. It's an ugly blot on the landscape, but I imagine that all will be put back the way it was, with only a railway cutting visible. In the photo above you can see in the valley the old line that runs from Santiago to Madrid. It spends more time under the hills than above ground, and must have cost a small fortune to build even when the railway navvies provided cheap labour. How much more the new line will cost! European funds are playing their part, of course.


 



I have left the mountains behind and I'm walking high up across the moors. Heather and gorse provide the contrasting purple and yellow, and I noticed one or two shrubs or heather almost as tall as small trees.


How I love this countryside! I grew up to experience the Australian bush, and I have hiked in the Canadian forests, but this is the countryside I love, the moors, of course, and the pastoral scenes with green fields and running brooks, and the oaks and beeches and chestnuts, and of course, the birds. 


Again this morning I heard the music of the lark, and I looked up and there he was, fluttering above me. The flight of the lark is quite unique. Some birds glide, others flutter and glide, but the lark doesn't glide at all. It flutters, as if struggling to stay aloft,  ant its trill seems to keep time with the fluttering wings. What a lot of energy it must expend!


I am splitting two long steps of more than 30 kilometres into three again, and tonight I'm staying at an albergue at Campobecerros, 20 kilometres on from A Gudina.

Day 34. April 12, 2017. Lubian to A Gudina. 22 kms

My object all sublime

I shall achieve in time

To let the punishment fit the crime,

The punishment fit the crime.


 


I set out early for it was another long walk with a big climb. The light is just magical in the mornings.


 


The road led down to the very bottom of a river valley and on to a rough track. At times the track was virtually a creek and I was walking along the middle on massive stones.


I never thought I would enjoy a thousand-foot climb. It was rugged and varied, as the path wound its way around the contours of the valley up to the pass. Sometimes the path had cut deep into the ground and had become a tunnel filled in with a canope of shrubs. 


 


Sometimes the heather leaned in to catch the sunlight.


 


But it was endurable because it was winding and varied, and I was fresh. My advice to anybody following this route is to plan your itinerary so that you spend nights at Requiejo and Lubian and make these great climbs in the morning when you are fresh.


I must say that my joy tuned to modified rapture when I reached the upper rocky slopes where the twists and turns went on forever. However, I felt quite exulted when I finally reached the summit and looked down onto Galicia.


I have something to add to my answer to the question posed by John the Canadian several weeks ago in a bar when he asked what really pisses me off.


Well, it is young Dutch girls who spend 20 minutes in the only bathroom in the hostel with the rest of us desperate to get in.


She races along, the Dutch girl. I sent out first in the morning, but soon she came barreling up behind me and disappeared in the distance. Later in the day in Galicia, I was standing looking at a map and she came up behind me again. "How did I get in front of you?" I asked. Visibly frustrated she replied, "I got lost and spent an hour trying to find my way." "Too bad," I said, but I couldn't help thinking, it's beacause you spent so much time in the bathroom. 


In the afternoon, I walked downhill through gentle Galician valleys and then up and over undulating uplands of rocks and heather and gorse, not unlike the Yorkshire moors. I half expected to surmount a rise and come upon Wuthering Heights. 

 
I am staying tonight at the big municipal hostel at A Gudina.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Day 33. April 11, 2017. Puebla de Sanabria to Lubian. 30 kms.

And I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep


 


I was stopped by the Civil Guard this morning as I left town. I must've looked suspicious. Perhaps it was my Tilley hat. They wanted to see my passport, and took all the details.


I must say that on several occasions I have found the Via de la Plata app very useful. It's a bit quirky. You have to double click your iPhone and flip away all the old screens, and then open the app. Only then will the GPS will pinpoint you on the trail.  I believe there are similar apps for the other Caminos as well,  but of course you wouldn't need it on the Camino Frances says because you would just follow the crowd.


I followed the highway out of town for about a kilometer and then I was led down to a stony track beside the river. Once again, I was glad that I was wearing heavy boots. Those stones would have pummelled the soles of my feet, had I been wearing lighter shoes. 


The albergue last night was twice the price and half as good as the one the night before. It was run by a veritable dragon and her henchman, who hung around to make sure I didn't get up to mischief. He snapped at me as I went about my business, and she refused to provide any heat to warm up the chilly dorm. At 12€ it was grossly overpriced. I have paid as little as 3€ for albergues with heat.


 


As I entered a little village of Terreso I noticed that the goal on the soccer field was rather close to a shrine. It would have been good for a Christian football team, though, for they would've been literally shooting for Jesus.


And then at the centre of the village I was accosted by a little man who stamped my credential in the appropriate place, flipped through it, and then when he found the chart of all the Caminos leading to Santiago, he stamped that as well. I guess he wanted to put his village on the map.


Then it was over the motorway again, up a long gully, and down a slope into the quaint little village of Requejo de Sanabria.


At the edge of the village I came upon two little boys. Were they playing hoppy or hidey or chasey or footy? No, they were standing motionless and silent, gazing intently at something in their right hand.


I would have liked to stay there and face the long climb tomorrow, but after yesterday's easy walk, I had to keep going.


Then began a very long trudge uphill. Because of work on the new railway line, the traditional way was closed, and I was directed up the road. I climbed steadily for two hours, and then I was directed back to the old stony path leading up to the pass. I could've followed the road and taken a shortcut through a tunnel, but I thought that since I'd come that far, I'd keep on climbing. 


 Now I could give you all the painful details of my climb, how the summit should have been around the next bend, and wasn't, etc., but I won't. I will simply that say I climbed 1,100 feet from Requejo, and it was hard yakka.


After that, it was a long way downhill to Lucian. Again, because of railway construction, I was diverted to the other side of the motorway, where I seemed destined to be cut off from civilization forever by this impenetrable barrier. I even contemplated scaling the motor way fence and dashing across. Finally the winding track became a farm road and passed under motorway and made its way to Lubian.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Day 32. April 10, 2017. Asturianos to Puebla de Sanabria. 14 kms.

She may very well pass for forty-three

In the dusk with the light behind her


 


The little hostel with its six beds was full last night, and that meant that I had a sleeper above me, Michael the German, in fact. As he turned over in the night I would feel the bunk sway. Jac the Dutchman, who is a big man, had told the story at supper about being in the top bunk of a triple decker on the Camino del Norte, and as he moved about, the whole structure swayed alarmingly like a sailing vessel at sea, and the people below panicked and made ready to abandon ship.


We had a late supper at the Bar Carmel,  which had a reputation for doing decent meals, but also for the presence of a "grumpy landlady" who had become something of a Camino legend. I didn't know what to expect and I ordered a lentil dish for my first course and steak for the second.


Suddenly we were all startled out of our wits by a piercing female voice coming from someone who looked like a cross between Katisha and an East German weightlifter gone to seed.


Now I have mentioned the shouting of Spanish men in the bars, but they were mere whispers compared to this woman's voice. We cowered back in our chairs as she continued to shout. What was she saying? We looked at each other in alarm.


Fortunately, we were rescued by a young man, perhaps he was the son, who appeared from the bar next door, and offered to translate for us. She's saying that you can't have lentils, he said. So I settled for chick peas, and all was well.


Nowadays, most people won't find Katisha very funny. She belongs to that tradition of British humour that made fun of unattractive women. Katisha was an old maid, who was desperate to marry Nanky Poo, but had to settle for Koko. 


My love of classical music really begun with G&S. I had a friend in grade 12 who was singing in the Mikado, and I went along to the Capitol Theatre to see the show, and I was hooked. 


I bought, or my mum bought for me, the Doyle Carte comic operas, not operettas as some people persist in saying, and played them again and again. I still know many of the songs by heart.


It is a great joy to walk in the early mornings. There is an almost timeless tranquility, a soft light, and the only sound the chattering of the birds. And the colours!  In this early spring, dead brown leaves leaves are still hanging on some of the branches, and the furry lichen on the oaks is a  colour almost impossible to define, a kind of melange of grey and green and white. Some green is evident in the shoots of young trees and the stranglehold of parasitic vines. And of course the cherry trees are "wearing white for Eastertide".


As I entered the village of   I noticed a series of steps jutting out of a stone wall, 


 


and a tiny little bridge which perfectly illustrated the principle of the Roman arch. 


 


Who had climbed these steps or walked over this little bridge, I wondered.


It's a bit like looking at old photographs that capture brief moments of time. Who were they? What were they saying? What were they doing on that day? I look at my parents' old albums and see my grandparents and great uncles and great aunts, frozen in black and white in their stern hats and Victorian caps. Once every few years they come alive for a few moments and then they are forgotten. And I don't even know the names of most of them.


It will be worse for us. We won't even survive on photographic paper. For a short time we'll be a few miserable megabytes of memory on a computer, and then Click! Off we go to the junk folder, where we'll survive for a few weeks in digital purgatory where salvation is still possible, until the computer eventually decides we are a waste of space.


Thou art lost and gone forever. Dreadful sorry.


After these gloomy thoughts, I came upon the little Romanesque church at Otero de Sanabria. There was a brigade of cleaners entering the church with buckets and mops, and I was welcomed inside. It was stunning. Now I'm  not one for ornate decoration, and every square inch of surface wascovered with paintings or carvings, but this church was quite beautiful. The ceiling above the altar was painted in the 12th,the wooden retablo was added in the 14th, and the rest of the decorations were painted in the 18th.


 


I thought it was as beautiful as any cathedral.  A girl told me that in winter they may have as many as 30 congregants, and in summer this number would swell to 60. That's enough to fill the church. 


Dare I say I was drawn back? I returned for a second look, and almost a third.


I walked a few kilometres farther on to Puebla de Sanabria and checked in at the Albergue Casa Luz. Only 14 kilometres today, but I have to look after my feet. The smudgeons are becoming bludgeons.