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.
Before reflecting on this day we wish to mention a special experience at Cruz de Ferro. We are carrying messages and prayers from many of you to the Cathedral in Santiago. Some of you also included prayers for us as we walk the Camino. Yesterday, sitting outside the little ermitage by the cross we read your prayers for us. These prayers were unexpected and humbling. They made us feel very loved. Thank you.
Maxine and David ( our minister and her husband) included some beautiful prayers for sharing with other pilgrims. You do not know what a gift this is! When a group of pilgrims gather in a restaurant sometimes we are asked to identify ourselves by country and then do something representative of our country. This can be a dreaded moment as you can only sing “O Canada” so many times, and besides some other Canadian pilgrim will most likely be before you. The prayers you included have a universality that are perfect for the Camino. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Leaving Molinaseca we met a young family from France who were cycling the Camino. What was unique is that their child is two years old and travels in a bike seat on her father’s bicycle. We are daily amazed by fellow pilgrims.
On the outskirts of town we had a special local approach us—-one of the town storks who was monitoring our path. When he/she took flight we realized that these are much larger birds than we had thought.
An interesting coffee stop was in Ponferrada across from El Castillo de Ponferrada. This was a Templar castle built in the 12th century and at that time functioned as a self sufficient town within a town. Some people believe that there are hidden messages within the castle’s 3 walls and 12 towers related to the Knight’s Templar association with the Holy Grail and the Arc of the Covenant.
Ponferrada is an interesting town of 66,000 people and the capital of El Bierzo. It’s economy is based on coal mining, engineering,glass making, metal working, agriculture and wine making.
It was a treat to be able to walk through the riverside park to reach the outskirts.—much nicer than the desolate industrial areas or rundown sections we have traversed in other cities.
One of the delights today for Delana was finding poppy pods ripe for picking. We have had poppy companions throughout our walk this year, but back on the Meseta they had not yet gone to seed.
As you may have noticed we take breaks whenever we are able😊.In Spain when you purchase a coffee you always receive a complimentary piece of cake or a cookie. If you purchase any other drink— we especially like KAS Limon on a hot day, it comes with a free tapas with each drink. In this part of Spain, hospitality is genuine and generous..
Another interesting custom: the “Farmscia” is a very integral part of the community. The one that is open on weekends or at night leaves its green sign flashing to identify it. The Farmacia carries an assortment of skin/ beauty care products, foot care supplies, infant needs, and a wide range of medications— many of which are not over the counter medications back home. They function almost as a walk in clinic and the “farmaceutico” seems to be the first health care provider for many conditions. It is an interesting system and seems to work very well in the smaller villages that have no doctors.
Today was a good walk— we met a teacher from Singapore, two couples from Australia and a young man from South Africa—all very nice people. As you can see the closer we get to Santiago, the more pilgrims we encounter.
Upon arriving in Cacabelos we were concerned that our little casa rural looked just a little too rural but once past the dilapidated portion, it was beautiful. The room was immaculate and decorated with interesting antiques of the locale. The outside dining area had a roof of entwined live grapevines which gave the feel of being in the woods. Cacabelos has many bodegas (wine cellars) and produces a red wine from the Mencia grape which was ostensibly brought to the region by a French pilgrim.The white wine is from the La Godello grape. In this area if you identify yourself as a pilgrim, you are given a free glass of wine and a tapas. Ahhh…perhaps, that is why there is an increased number of pilgrims 😊.