Another very warm day with very little breeze. Even the locals are finding the heat and the lack of rain unusual. There are times throughout the day that we are so hot a bit of rain sounds awfully nice. However, we should be careful what we wish for as some of the Camino here becomes deep mud holes when wet.
Today we walked through many eucalyptus forests, both Blue Gum and Rainbow species. As the trees are generally not lining the Camino path.they provide a fresh, invigorating scent but no shade.
We have entered the centre for cheese making in Galicia. Galician cheese is truly delicious and each village seems to have its own unique recipe. It is made from the milk of the Galician Blond or Galician Red cows, distinct breeds. We stopped for a cold drink in Boente, a village acclaimed for its cheese. It is very difficult to buy the Boente cheese as it is primarily made for the villagers own needs………perhaps the supply and demand have elevated the cheese’s desirability. We did not get to try it:-)
Over the past few days we have walked passed covered cement or stone structures filled with water. We guessed that these might be for the farm animals or even for pilgrims to bathe in. Luckily, we did not immerse ourselves as these are old clothes washing troughs for the village women.
We have also been curious about the chimneys and the horrereos with the carved stone crosses or steeples on them. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when people believed these carved stone images would protect their homes and crops from evil spirits. The decorations have become a trend lately and are now re-appearing on new or renovated buildings.
At one point today there were 16 other pilgrims in a space of 1/2 kilometer so the Camino is getting busier each day.. We still find that we are able to have as much quiet and private time as we wish. Pilgrims all walk at a different pace and take breaks at different times making it easy to claim solitude when you wish. We learned a new word to describe pilgrims walking only the last portion of the Camino–“sinmochilas” —meaning without backpacks. The sinmochilas, mostly are younger, excited and perhaps not as contemplative as those have walked the whole way. We find them a joy, and marvel at their exuberance and incredible energy.
Our hotel was off the Camino and, of course, uphill. We were hoping it was worth the extra kilometers and it was. The Pazo.Santa Maria was an 18th century manor house now an elegantly restored casa rural in a beautiful, park like setting. It provided a lovely respite. We wished we had had more than one night here but Santiago is calling.
Being Sunday, our luggage was not picked up until 0900, which means we could sleep in a little. This was the happy beginning of Father’s Day for Rod. Then he got to walk 15 km in the very hot sun with Delana. How good is that? Such a way to celebrate!
There were definitely more people, pilgrims et al, out walking the Camino today. In Spain, Sunday after church it is not uncommon for families to go for walks, and here the Camino goes right past their door. We met up with the Aussie group again. They are all very nice and seem to be having a good time.
Earlier we were joined by the mother and 16 year old daughter of a family group ( the Dad had gone ahead a bit and would wait at the first watering hole). They are from Nashville, Tennessee and had started in St. Jean in May. What a delightful family. We look forward to seeing them again tomorrow.
Other than the heat— in the mid 30sC at times, the biggest problem is the increased number of cyclists on the Camino now. Sometimes they ride the highway, but often they ride the same path that the walking pilgrims take. The cyclists tend to be right behind walking pilgrims before giving warning and sometimes they appear without any warning, thinking pilgrims can hear them coming, which we cannot.
We were hot and tired when we arrived in Melide. In the centre of town right across from our hotel there was a market in progress. Normally, we would wander around as local markets are always interesting and fun. Today we just wanted to settle in our hotel and cool down. We like a bathtub in our bathroom ( for soaking tired feet) but there were none in the hotel. A few minutes after checking in there was a knock on our door and there was a lady with a big smile on her face, saying ” pies” ( Spanish for “feet”) holding a big plastic tub. Very kind people in this country.
Melide is a town of 7500 people with agriculture, meat processing and tourism ( the Camino) being its main industries. The hills surrounding Melide are covered in windmills for energy.
Rod chose a nearby local place for his Father’s Day dinner. We had the simple salad, potato tortilla, squid (Rod) and ham croquettes, followed by churros and coffee. We waddled back to our hotel very slowly.
It is still over a hundred kilometers from the ocean but there are “Pulperias” in every town. These are restaurants that specialize in all things octopus. With so much “pulpo” being consumed, it makes you wonder if there are any left in the sea. Delana does not like the suction cups…so does not partake.:-)
Today the walk was for the most part fairly easy. There were a couple of challenging pieces, once again over loose rock, always precarious on a descent. The sun was hot (31C) and there was only occasional shade. What a difference walking under a tree made!. Speaking of trees we are seeing more of the eucalyptus forests. During the Franco era, eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia to accommodate a huge pulp and paper company. However, the eucalyptus, despite its wonderful fragrance and beautiful blue green colour, is not popular with all in Galicia. It is fast growing, one of the reasons the tree was brought here, but it also requires much water and deprives other plants. The dryness of the eucalyptus predisposes it to fire and with the Galician thunder and lightening storms, forest fires are a problem in the eucalyptus forests. There are also concerns that the forests are not well managed.
Segueing from Australian trees to Australians—we met up with a group of Aussie tourigrims on a ten day Camino. To their credit, although a bus and lunch meal service accompany them, most of them do walk as far as we do. We often pass by as they are picnicking and are amazed that they are back on the trail after their wine luncheon.
Another segue, this time into food. At our request that we wanted to eat at a typical Galician restaurant, our concierge recommended a place and a few menu choices. We shared a simple salad ( that is what it is called) which is lettuce, onion,and tomato). The mixed salad is these plus carrot, corn, asparagus and tuna. As the mixed salad is always on the Pilgrim’s Menu, we have had plenty of those. Next we had “Zorza” — chopped chorizo sausage with fried potatoes and a sauce of some kind. It was quite rich but OK. The potato is the main vegetable in Galicia and they are creamy white and very delicious. Rod decided to also have Galician anchovies. He said they were good but more like a small pickled herring. Galicia has vineyards and does produce wine, although they are not as well known as those from the Rioja region. Both the white (Rio Baixis)!and red (Ribeiro) are quite dry but good.
We finished off our meal with Santiago cake which is sort of like a moist, very almond flavored pound cake, typically with a shell design in powdered sugar on the top. This may be something just for pilgrims and tourists. It is heavy so we share:-)
We were greeted at our hotel in Palas de Rei by the friendliest and most concerned staff we have ever experienced anywhere. Although varied, all our accommodation has been good and the posadero and staff very nice, but these people were truly incredible from the moment we arrived until we departed the next morning. We felt like family.
One of the blessings of casa rurals is that there is no street noise.
In the early morning it is very quiet. It seems the roosters are not up at the crack of dawn here—- so we slept later than usual. What a treat!
More to add to the goodness of this day— we cannot use the washing machine, but the cleaning folks will do our laundry. Halleleujah!! Walking the Camino makes being able to wash and dry your clothes a major accomplishment!
After a relaxing breakfast watching the morning mist rise from the river, once again, we daringly caught a ride in the motor contraption with the chef who had errands to do in town. Delana kept her eyes closed most of the way.
After a visit to the cathedral off the town square we settled at a cosy table
outside and over coffee caught up on our blog and post cards to our grandchildren.
Later for a snack Rod ordered a “racione” ( a side or portion) of eel, the specialty— caught right in the Mino River. Delana decided eel was most likely a seafood to which she was allergic …..and opted for the incredibly delicious Galician cheese.
There are now “new” pilgrims joining on the walk, in the alburgues and the hotels. The Spanish schools are out for summer vacation as of today and many of the older students now walk the Camino, with a few friends or with a school or church group. Also, as we were warned by the guide books and veteran pilgrims, that from here on there are “tourigrims”—-pilgrims on guided tours, walking and bussing. Sometimes this is said with a bit of disdain. We are of the mind that everyone does their own Camino and it matters not how they do it—100km or 800km. Perhaps, because we were expecting hordes, so far we do notice more people at rest stops but the way is not crowded.
We could not have had our rest day in a nicer little town, nor at a lovelier casa rural.
We awakened to another glorious day—clear, blue skies and temperatures to reach 19C. This is great walking weather. It is also unusual for this time of year in Galacia— June is often a rainy month here.
Wanting to have our credencials stamped we hoped that the Mary Magdalen Monastery would be open when we passed by on our way out of town. It was not but there was a bell rope and when pulled the caretaker answered and gave us the stamp. This was a nice, positive start to our day.
Today’ s walk was mostly beside cherry, apple, pear and peach orchards. Each day in Galacia we are stunned by the greenness. With it’s rolling hills, stone walls dividing pastures, it is much like Ireland. Now once again we are seeing lush gardens of tomatoes,potatoes, onions, lettuce, and rapini. Much of the undergrowth is bramble which is in bloom now but will yield berries called “mora” which are like our blackberries. Edible wild mushrooms grow here too and are often on menus. They are delicious.
We had several pleasant encounters today. First, about an hour into our trek we came upon a Hungarian pilgrim and a donkey. (The donkey’s name was Serafina but she is Martin to us). The fellow does not carry food for the donkey but allows it to browse along the way. He bought Martin (Serafina) for 700 Euros as Martin is trained. You can buy an untrained donkey for 250-300 Euros. We can just imagine what an interesting journey that would be.
As we mentioned in previous blogs, the closer you get to Santiago, the more pilgrims there are. This day there was a tour group of Americans and Canadians. They walk as far as they are able and then a van picks them up and returns them to their hotel. The great thing about these types of tours is
each evening there are talks by experts on the regional history, architecture and such. We would like this, as Delana is our “expert”and often times the information is only in Spanish. The group was into their 4th day of walking and we thought they were doing well. One Canadian lady was 76 years old and had had both hips replaced—she was spunky!! However, we feel certain that no one had prepared them for today’s 24km walk which is described as medium to hard. You never want to see “hard” describing your upcoming walk. We found the walk challenging in spots and we’ve been at this for awhile! There were steep ascents but even worse descents over loose rock, boulders and sand. It was very slippery. We found we were worrying about the tour group.
The highlight for us was coming up a hill in the woods and hearing distant strains of a bagpipe. When we neared the 100 km marker there was a young Galician fellow dressed in a folk outfit playing the gaita. We stayed to listen for several minutes. It was a beautiful acknowledgement of how far we had come. With renewed energy we continued for our last 12 kilometres.
After a considerable climb we reached Portomarin crossed the bridge and were met with about 50 steep stone stairs leading into town. Old Portomarin, dates from Roman times but no longer exists—well it does exist but it is under water. In the 60’s a dam was built on the Mino River and flooded Portomarin. Cherished churches were dismantled and rebuilt rock by rock on the high ground where Portomarin stands today. In the autumn when the reservoir waters are low the old Roman bridge and the remains of the old town can be seen above water. This must be a strange feeling to those who lived there.
Our casa rural is delightful with the most accommodating posadero. As it is out of town, they came to pick us up in an open jeep type of affair. ( By the way, seat belts do not seem to be mandatory in Spain—at least no one wears them.) Hanging on as best we could ( and with our seat belts on) we careened down the valley, with our driver talking and gesticulating. We were very glad we have been spending so much time in churches lately.
At our casa rural there was a group of young people from the US on a bible study tour.
We could hear their laughter amidst CD’s of Galician music far into the night and it was good.
After yesterday’s trail blazing, today’s trek was almost “a walk in the park”.
Both Rod’s GPS and “personal guidance system” came into play. After wandering across country in very tall grass for a few kilometres we found our way back to a Camino sign. In some areas the yellow Camino shells or arrows are rare and evidently this is one of them.
I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog how we have adopted the donkey as our good luck messenger on the Camino. At one point, when we were trying to understand the incorrect directions we had been given, which did not relate at all to where we were, a cowherd riding a donkey passed by us with his cattle. Before we could ask for his help, he was way down the trail. We followed that unlikely cow path for no better reason than the donkey ( which we are convinced is Martin working his way along the Camino).Anyhow, it turned out to be the right way!
Yesterday and today, we were in the hinterland of Galacia..The countryside is very beautiful—rolling hills and variegated green vistas as far as the eye can see. Sadly, there is a bleakness to this beauty because other than a few mangy looking feral cats there is scarcely a soul to be seen.
Galacia is said to be the poorest area of Spain. For many years families eked out a living with.semi-subsistence farming on their small plots of land. The advent of mechanized agribusiness made whole swathes of the country redundant and pushed young people to the urban areas of Spain and beyond. The current economic crisis in Spain has now had the opposite effect; young people are returning home as there are no jobs to be found in the cities. Many of them are trying to earn a living in tourism and specialized small scale agricultural endeavours such as bee keeping, raising ostriches,goat herding and cheese making. The return of young people seems to be the only hope for these abandoned villages.
Today was a short walk. It was our 48th wedding anniversary and we wanted to arrive in Sarria early enough to celebrate a little.
After checking into our hotel and tidying up we headed up hill into the old town and the Mary Magdalen Monastery. It is another of the religious sites built for Camino pilgrims in the 13th century. The mission of this Augustine monastery built by the Order of Mercy was to help with the release of Christians being held by the Moors.. They were considered less violent than their contemporaries, the Templar Knights and the Knights of St. James. The monastery remains active to this day with a school and an adjoining albergue for present day pilgrims. We had hoped to go to the monastery chapel but arrived as the public area was being closed. By happenstance we met the resident priest who was on his way to say Mass in town. He chatted with us in French. After learning that we were Canadians who had begun our pilgrimage in St.Jean, France, he allowed us to remain in the sanctuary with instructions to lock the door behind us when we departed. It was wonderful to have the chapel to ourselves for this time. We had much for which we each wished to give thanks. Also, Delana’s friends in her Kindred Spirits’ group were having their wind up gathering this evening and she wanted to light a candle for these special women in her life.. The understanding and kindness of this priest was another gift of a “Camino” moment.
Happily we headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was perfect and somehow they knew it was our anniversary and presented us with an anniversary cake! It was a lovely surprise. What a grand day we had in Sarria, Spain!
This was to be a very gentle walking day as at one point Christian and Savilla and their Dad were going to join us for three days. With this in mind, Delana tried to choose shorter distances between stops and fairly level terrain. When the plans changed we left the schedule the same—or so we thought…… We are truly in rural Galicia. On our way to Samos ( 9 km) most of our walk was through a forest, passing by small isolated villages of abandoned houses.There were cows in the pastures but few people about. It was very peaceful and we walked most of the way lost in our own thoughts. We were happy to arrive in Samos for coffee, to find our casa rural and to plan the rest of our day. Enjoying our coffee, Rod decided to check on the directions to our hotel, discovering that it was not in Samos at all but down the road a further 8 km!! It was early yet, and Samos has a famous Benedictine Monastery, so we decided to visit it before resuming our journey.The San Xulian Monastery was built in the 6th century, ( in Galacia “J” becomes “X”), and has a combination of Renaissance, Late Gothic and Baroque architecture.in its massive construction. Throughout the history of the Camino it has granted refuge and care to pilgrims. Today San Xulian remains an active monastery, but there are still beds for pilgrims, or for those seeking a spiritual retreat. Then it was onto Gorolfe and our accommodation. This was a dark walk as the thick, overhead foliage prevented the sun from penetrating. It was also very secluded— no structures, no people, no cows, even—a bit eerie.. We were depending on Rod’s ” personal guidance system”, which has served us well thus far, to find our casa rural. Finally, after a trek going up and down steep valleys and through a recently mown farm field, we miraculously arrived.at Casa Diaz. We are in the middle of no where in a semi luxurious, rustic retreat. ( This sounds like an oxymoron, but you have to see this place to understand…..) Tomorrow we will worry how to best find our way out of here.