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.
Mountains and rivers isolate Galicia from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. The terrain is green and hilly, with the greater part lying at elevations between 600 and 2000 feet (200 to 600 meters). Its more than 800 mile (1300 km) coastline on the North Atlantic is characterized by a series of sea inlets called rías . James Michener possibly described Galicia’s coast better than any other writer: “The glory of Galicia is its chain of rías , those fjord- like indentions of the sea that reach far inland with a burden of fish and salt air and noble landscape.” Someone else described Galacia as “a land of a thousand rivers”.
Galicia’s history dates back to around 600 B.C., when Celtic groups settled the region. In the 6th Century, the Visigoths( nomadic Germanic tribes) colonized the land, followed nearly 500 years later by a brief Moorish occupation which ravaged several towns, including Santiago de la Compostela. North western Spain was not under Moorish rule nearly as long as the rest of Spain. It was from here that the Reconquista began.
With the deification of St. James, the Christians found a match to the Koran-inspired fanaticism of the Moors. Santiago became known as “Matamoros” (the Moor slayer).
In the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War devastated Galacia’s local economy; many young Galicians left their homeland. In 1936, the Spain granted Galicia regional autonomy and officially recognized its language. However, Galician-born General Franco outlawed the language and restrained Galician autonomy until his death in 1975.
The Galician language, Gallego, helps set this region apart from the rest of Spain and is a major source of pride to Galicians. Locals generally speak standard Spanish, but about 3 million also speak Gallego, a centuries-old Romance language similar to Portuguese.
Although there are no tartans, Galacia is where flamenco meets River Dance. The strains of music that greeted us atop O Cebreiro were lilting and remarkably Gaelic. We are hoping to come upon a festival or even someone playing the gaita on a village street.
Tonight there is a Pilgrim’s Mass at the Triacastela Chapel— perhaps there will be music, too. 😊
Our inn keeper kindly drove us from the valley depths of the casa rural back to the Camino this morning. We were very, very happy as a 3 km uphill in the rain was not appealing. Our walk did continue in fairly easy ups and downs. Galacia is a land cloaked in the greens of pine, birch, oak, chestnut and eucalyptus forests, opening onto grassland where the healthiest looking cows graze contentedly. This pastoral walk would be incredibly calming, however, the weather was like a blustery, wet March day on Vancouver Island. We were calmly trying to keep dryish and warm😊
Today a very nice fellow pilgrim from Wisconsin joined us for the final few kms. We walk the same pace so our paths have crossed before. However, today’s farewells were final as he is continuing on without rest days. Such are encounters on the Camino— moments shared with spiritual understanding and concern.
On one stretch we heard someone calling out, “Canada, Canada!” It turned out to be a couple from Russia who had seen the little Maple Leaf on our packs. They wanted to share that they had visited Vancouver and Calgary and loved Canada because it reminded them of Siberia! We were not sure how to respond.😊
We were passing through one of the ” forgotten” villages when we came upon an abandoned stone chapel with wild flowers peeking out between the stones. It was so pretty, Rod stopped to take a photo. All the while, an elderly villager who happened by, watched us. After we left we saw him standing gazing in bewilderment at the ruined chapel, wondering what we could have seen to photograph…….
Walking into the valley where Triacastela is situated was like coming through a tunnel of green as the tree boughs overlapped above us. Triacadtela translates to “three castles” but it seems they have all been victims of time
Our casa rural is once again very rural— we met the inn keeper at a local restaurant and he drove us to the casa. Although dressed for the weather, we were cold and damp, but thankful that the forecast drenching did not occur. The casa is a large stone building, once a grand manor house. The heat was not yet on……Brrr.
It was good to see a Spanish couple there who had shared our last chilly casa rural. They spoke a little English and had visited Vancouver. They, like many working Europeans try to walk the Camino in small sections each year. It is their annual spiritual renewal.
Our casa rural in Las Herrerias was a pretty stone place overlooking the pasture complete with cows. It was a bit noisy as there was also a cycling group from Italy staying.
We awakened to crisp, clear weather and after making certain our rain gear
was in our back packs, we started climbing the O Cebreiro, described as “daunting” in the guide book. The ascent, situated between the Los Ancares and La Sierra do Courel mountain ranges is 600m (2000ft) over 9 km.
The trail was rocky and fairly steep with lots of horse manure left by those who chose to ride to the top. However, whenever we had the chance to look back over the valley, the view was worth the effort. These are very old mountains, their roundness and foliage giving them a soft, embracing quality compared to the ruggedness of our west coat mountains.
We were atop O Cebreiro with very little problem. For some reason the climbs are our forte. It must be because of the hills of Ladysmith😊
O Cebreiro was initially a pilgrim hospital built in the 9th century. Over the
centuries it fell to ruin but has been rebuilt authentically and is quite lovely. Some tourist shops have arisen as there is a highway up there now, but it is
still very nice. Legends abound about O Cebreiro: there is a memorial marker citing the story of a German pilgrim who got lost in the mist and fog on the mountain. In the distance he could hear music and followed the sound to where a shepherd was playing a “gaita”, sort of a Galician bagpipe.
We are now in Galicia in the province of Lugo. Galicia is another of Spain’s unique cultural areas which we will write more about on our next rest day.
After a snack break we proceeded onto our destination of Sabugos. There were several small farm villages enroute with most of the old buildings in ruins. Every once in awhile amidst the shambles there is a jewel to be found.
This day for us it was a tiny stone chapel with candles alight and the wrought iron gate open and welcoming. We ventured into a simple but beautiful sanctuary with polished chalices and candlesticks all entrusted to those who happened by. It was a heartening affirmation of a belief in goodness.
There was another specialness we experienced there. A few days ago we encountered two young women from Slovakia struggling on their first day on the Camino. When we asked if they needed anything they would always smile and shake their heads. We wondered how they had fared. Earlier yesterday coming down from O Cebreiro we could here their chatter and joyful laughter behind us which made us smile. While we were praying in the little chapel the two young women came in, also to pray. As we left they both gave us great smiles saying, “Gracias”. We left knowing the Camino had captured them already😊
Content we resumed our walk to our casa rural in the rain and cold. Meeting our hostess dressed for winter should have been a sign—-no heat was on and the room was freezing. Rod secured us a heater which helped a little. Fortunately, a nice Spanish couple arrived and addressed the issue and soon our radiators were bubbling away.
Actually, our hardy host and hostess were extremely kindly and dinner was incredible, everything from the farm including the beef.
It seems the cows come home very late in Galicia as we were lulled to sleep by a symphony of cow bells clanging and the resident dog barking.
Being 200 km from Santiago, Villafranca del Bierzo is the closest point from which cyclists may begin the Camino to receive their “Compostela certificate ” in Santiago. (Those walking must walk at least 100 km to qualify.) This morning we watched group after group disappear down the road. We prefer being behind the cyclists as, although most do try to give some warning, it still startles and if the path is narrow walking pilgrims must move quickly off to the side. Today our walk was through the Valcarce Valley, very narrow with steep sides. The whole way we were crisscrossing the meandering Rio Valcarce and listening to it bubbling over weirs and special dam devices. “Valcarce” is so named because it’s steep walls are like enclosures or prison like. It is also an ideal spot for an ambush. Long ago pilgrims passing through the valley were frequently robbed by bandits or charged high fees by locals for safe passage. The Knights Templar were dedicated to keeping pilgrims safe wherever they travelled. As evident by their many castles, they became a welcome presence to pilgrims on the Camino whom they protected. Las Herrerias ( aka Las Ferrerias), “The Blacksmiths” was so named as iron was mined in the surrounding hills and smelted on the river bank in the Middle Ages. Apparently in the early 20 th century there was also a steel mill here. Note: To add to the confusion of travellers, there is another Las Herrerias just a few kilometres before this one……? Now the main industries are agriculture –cattle farming, growing chestnuts, and a little logging. The local sawmill we passed had one man working and many piles of unsold lumber– very weathered as though they had been there a long time. The Camino pilgrims are also a source of income for all the towns along the way, but this is very seasonal. We are seeing fewer pilgrims than we had expected on this part of the Camino for this time of year. Perhaps, the whole world financial situation has affected even pilgrimages.
Our little hotel is right on the main square (Plaza Mayor) and is well appointed—meaning we can do our laundry here. Actually, they are doing it for us as I write 😊 which is a wonderful treat on the Camino.
Villafranca del Bierzo is a small village in the valley of the mountains and has retained much of its Medieval and Renaissance character. The cathedral is from Roman times and years ago a pope decreed that pilgrims arriving at the “Puerta del Perdon” ( Door of Forgiveness) would receive the same benefits of exemption in Purgatory as in Santiago itself. Villafranca del Bierzo is considered the spiritual capital of El Bierzo and often called the “small Compostela”. Despite the number of pilgrims passing through or staying over, it is a quiet village, perhaps, because it is at the base of the mountains of Galacia which must be climbed over the next two days.
Unfortunately, we both had the worst meals we have had in all of our time on the Camino. Rod had ordered “pulpo” which is octopus and always good in Spain. His meal resembled old shoe laces and did not taste much better. Delana chose to have a “hamburgeusa” and she should have known better. It was very, very rare even after being cooked again. However, our coffee was delicious as always and the company was great.
There is not much more to say except we are doing fine and having a grand time.
We awakened to a dark, cloudy day with rain pounding the slate rooftops. Being west coasters, we know rain, but this was RAIN! Rod was working on an alternate plan for the day, like taking a bus or taxi to the next village. As the following day was our rest day, we would take a bus or taxi back here and walk the distance then. This sounded too complicated to Delana, who said she would rather walk in the rain. So, we compromised and ordered another cafe con leche
After slowly getting our wet weather gear on ( this was going to be a real test of it) we ambled out. The rain had stopped! The skies were clearing!
We walked the 10 Km, outfitted for rain, just in case, and arrived at Villafranca del Bierzo hot and sweating.
Although the whole walk was next to a secondary road, as there was not much traffic it was fine. We enjoyed the vineyards, groves of chestnut trees, and well maintained vegetable gardens. For a short time a young Brazilian woman walked with us. She had gone to North Vancouver a few years ago as an au pair to learn English. She was lovely, but had only 10 days to get to Santiago so needed to maintain a pace much faster than ours!
As you know Spain is a constitutional monarchy. It is dividedp into 50 provinces within 17 autonomous regions. The provinces are then divided into comarcas. Sometimes a province and an autonomous region have the same name which becomes confusing. The Camino passes through 4 regions: Navarra (including the Basque area), the Rioja, Castille a Leon, and Galacia, and 5 provinces: Burgos, Palencia, Leon, Lugo, and Coruna. It is no wonder pilgrims get lost😊 There are unique languages and histories to the areas and in some instances not everyone is content with the political designation. From the beginning we have seen posters and graffiti calling for a republic, independence, or reform.. Generally, from what we have been told none of these are strong movements. There is very high unemployment but not as much social unrest as you might expect. However, we are in a rural and relatively isolated part of Spain, which may temper this.