Written: Tuesday, June 5 @ 16:36
It’s been three days since I’ve written now, and this may well be our last night on the Camino de Santiago, proper. We are now only a little over 20 kilometers from the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and may head all the way in tomorrow.
Three days ago on Saturday, we made our way from Morgade to Eirexe – about 27.5 kilometers. This was a good day of hiking for us, and the greater distance was due mostly to the finally cooling weather with a bit of rain later in the afternoon. What a difference it makes to hike when the temperature is a good 10 degrees (celsius) cooler!
It was a heck of a hike, too. Morgade sits at about 650 meters. We had to hike down and up again to the Alto Paramor, a “mountain” that sits at 660 meters. We then hiked clear down to 350 meters and Portomarin where there is a beautiful reservoir in the mountainous valley. We went up again from there to Sierra Ligonde, another peak at 720 meters and then down to Eirexe at around 620 meters. Our guidebook adds about another 3 kilometers to that stretch as an adjusted “accrued ascent.” We’ve often thought that they need to adjust their formula to account for an accrued descent as well, which is quite often much harder on our bodies (at least the knees).
This was another absolutely beautiful section of the Camino, through mostly back roads and forest paths. Despite still being sick with all the accompanying discomfort, we thoroughly enjoyed this hike as we really have all of our days here. It is really hard to describe with words the magnificence of this countryside. It is so ancient that there may be no part of it that has not been touched by the machinations of people. Many of the forests through which we’ve walked are really crops in their own right; tall spars of pine, chestnut, eucalyptus, and others planted long ago into neat crop rows made only somewhat wild through time and the work of passing seasons.
The forest lanes down which we walk are amazingly old. They are often deeply sunk into the surrounding landscape with stacked rock walls hidden behind curtains of moss and vines and buried beneath fields that now overtop them in many places. These are magical places for us where we find coolness in the hottest parts of the day. We often find them with tall trees to either side, creating dark tunnels full of mystery. It is an awesome feeling to think about the millions of people who have passed these ways before us, both modern and ancient pilgrims along with countless local people and travelers of all kinds.
In the last few days, we’ve come upon more and more eucalyptus forests. Eucalyptus is completely nonnative here as it is in every part of the world other than Australia, but it makes for a beautiful crop tree here. It’s lovely smell pervades our senses and provides sweet relief from the many not so pleasant farm smells that we have been encountering. It is quite remarkable, the smells that a dairy farm of a few dozen cows can make or the stink of a freshly fertilized and tilled off-season field hit by a fresh rain.
The far views when we come across a country lane along a ridge or peak are absolutely breathtaking. We can often see for a great distance the rolling hills of different crops, interspersed with both natural and cultivated forests. The crops and some of the terrain has changed a bit as we’ve come further into Galicia. It is incredibly lush and wet here, with the whole area getting something like 300 days of rain every year. We’ve certainly seen no evidence of sprinkler irrigation systems and complex aqueducts like we did in other parts of the Camino, though there are still some diversions on the streams and irrigation ditches running through. Grass hay seems to abound here along with the many cultivated forests. The saying in America, “make hay while the sun shines,” which is much appropriated for tangential purposes, came to mind many times as we entered into Galicia a few days ago during what has turned out to be a rare sunny time.
It rained again for our fairly short hike of only 17.5 kilometers on Sunday (two days ago) from Eirexe to the town of Remonde. We actually went a little off the Camino, about 3 kilometers, to an “off-track” albergue and casa rural called A Bolboreta to get a little away from the crowd now on the Camino Frances. We got to Bolboreta a little before noon after another nice, cool hike. It was a lovely place.
This area boasts a 14th century castle, the Castillo Pambre, which is mostly intact. We decided to hike over but had a little bit of a disagreement on how to go about it. Being the kind of guy I am, I had a certain feel for the lay of the land and some notion of how the roads were laid out in the area. I got it in my head to simply strike out in the general direction of the distant castillo without bothering to ask anyone for directions, which I figured would be rather complicated in Spanish and maybe do more harm than good. Kat didn’t quite agree with this notion, and we had a point part way down a not-quite-road through the woods where she decided to head back and we parted company. I wandered around for a little while, having to take a detour downhill to another road when the one I was on petered out where one of those cultivated forests had been harvested, only to find Kat again. She’d decided later for her own adventure, and we joined up to find our way at last to the castle.
It was a wonderful place, and the route we took getting there through ancient and sometimes overgrown paths afforded us many beautiful views from several angles. The sun was starting to come out after the weekend rain, and we took some marvelous pictures we’ll end up posting somewhere.
The sign on the front gate said they opened the place up at 4:30 in the afternoons, Tuesday through Sunday, so we decided to hang around for a bit to see if it was true. Being the sort of fellow I am and not quite trusting to the punctuality of whoever might be responsible for opening the gate, I went exploring around the base of the castle. Following a somewhat well worn path through armpit-high stinging nettle, I came upon a place around back that was built up close enough to the top of an outer wall to hop over. I did so and found myself inside the outer bailey, able to explore all the areas that would be afforded us if the gate had been open. After unsuccessfully trying to get Kat’s attention by sticking my head out of one of the arrow slits and whispering loudly, I trotted back around to where she was still waiting on the somewhat elusive 4:30.
We waited together till about 4:35, at which point we decided that they just weren’t going to show up to open the place and we might as well both avail ourselves of the back “door.” We did so with only a few minor stings from the nettle.
We’d just gotten ourselves around again and started to explore a tiny chapel that sits near the parade ground when, lo and behold, we saw a woman who looked like she knew what she was doing opening up the front gate. We managed to avoid detection, thinking that we might end up handcuffed to a heater in a police station somewhere, and continued to explore the rest of the castle that was accessible. There was another door into three-story main section of the castle surrounding a truly magnificent central keep that towered another 2-3 stories above that. We explored through all of this but were never able to find our way into the keep. It must have been underneath the area we could get to and accessible only through one of the few areas that was restricted through some locked doors. I was mighty tempted to “break in” to one of those that was not really locked – just blocked off with some thick vegetation, including a bunch more nettle.
We decided to take the easier exit through that formerly locked front gate. On the way out there was a not open door to one of the buildings inside outer wall where we found a short written piece on the castle’s history and a place to leave a donation. On dropping a couple Euros into the donation box, the woman we’d seen earlier popped in. She was quite flustered and proceeded to ask us how in the world we’d gotten past her unseen. After initially pondering trying to play the completely dumb American, I decided I couldn’t completely claim not to understand anything. We fessed up to having come in the back way with a somewhat vague description of being dumb pilgrims who’d gotten here by wandering through the countryside – which was mostly accurate. She seemed to think that was okay or at least decided it would be more trouble than it was worth to call in the policia. My heart did stop for a few beats while we were talking, though, as I looked past her, through the gate and up the road, to see a green and white (colors of the Guardia Civil) truck marked with “Xunta de Galicia” (a Galician government truck) coming toward us.
After pretending to have just gotten there and wandering around the castle a little longer, we walked back out the front gate and headed for A Bolboreta. It was truly probably only about 1.5 kilometers away the way we’d come through woods, but we thought we’d outsmart that path and take the road back as it might be a bit easier on the feet. Hah! Boy was that a mistake!
We wandered on the roads for another couple of hours, probably covering at least 4 kilometers and more down and up hills that were in no way heading straight back to our resting place. We asked for directions a couple of times (once from the guys in the Galician government truck who we think were game wardens trying to catch some poaching fishermen), but my understanding of Spanish was only good enough to let me know that we should keep on the “same road” (old family joke). We did finally get back by right about supper time, but the whole incident was enough to cause a bit of a kurfluffle over methods. Kat argued that everything would have been just fine had we asked for directions in the first place. I argued that everything would have been fine had we only used by generally straight line, dead reckoning, cross country route to begin with. We were probably both right and wrong, and we managed to make up by the time we sat down to one of the best dinners we’ve had of pit-roasted pork loin, salad, and a wonderful regional soup we’ve enjoyed along the way.
We left Eirexe Monday morning, intending to make a relatively short day of it. Indeed, as we are getting so close to Santiago and still well within our projected timeline, we have quite intended to slow our pace and take a little more time on this side. Based on the country through which we passed and the crowded condition of many of the areas with accommodations, we ended up a little further down the road than we thought. Not wanting to start the day today with big uphill climb, we finally found lodging in the relatively large town of Arzua. We spent the night in a clean hostel to the sounds of cars whizzing past on the main road through town right outside our window. Sounds of rain and running brooks from both our iPhones just wasn’t enough to drown it all out. Ah well, that’s the breaks!
It was sunny again yesterday, but it is back to rain today. I’m sitting now in the lobby area of a fine little rustic hotel in the small town of A Rua. We are just at the edge of the next to last map page in our guidebook. The kilometer markers along the Camino say we are within 20 kilometers, but the book says we are closer to 22 kilometers to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
As is our way, we are already thinking about where to go after Santiago. We looked around online and are planning to take a bus to the coastal town of Vigo about 80 kilometers south. Our flight to Austria is not until June 11, so we have some time to do a little more exploring. We’ve heard just about everyone talking about either hiking or taking a bus on to Fisterra, a reportedly very nice resort town on the coast. Also being the kind of people we are and quite tired already of the increased crowdedness, we are thinking of heading in the opposite direction. We’re also thinking of ceasing the hiking part of our Camino experience at Santiago. At that point we’ll have walked around 627 kilometers or about 390 miles. We did another 150 or so kilometers of the Camino Frances by bus and train.
The time at the much slower pace of walking with a pack has been incredibly wonderful. It’s something that both of us would like to do again, and there’s a way of thinking that has come about that we hope to carry forward into all other aspects of our lives. We’re still contemplating the essence of the Camino and those parts that we can sustain into our regular lives once we return home. I’ve just now, in the last couple of days, started thinking about my job again – something I’d intended to do a while back. I’ve got some decisions to make about the trajectory I’m on and what I want to do with myself, and I’ll continue thinking about it in the next couple of weeks as we continue our journey. Kat and I have enjoyed renewed closeness and intimacy in the simple routine of our daily life on the Camino, through sickness and health and blisters and all the rest. We want to find and maintain both the essence of how that closeness comes about along with the time to do more catalyzing things like this.
I’m going to spend more time thinking and writing about the various lessons learned from our Camino experience. I think I have more to discover and articulate for myself in that process. The one word and continually evolving lesson that resonates strongest is still, tranquilo. I don’t think I will ever forget the experience that sparked it at the Convento de San Anton, and the meaning of tranquility in my way in life continues to grow and be reinforced as I continue bringing it into all my experiences.