Thursday, October 20, 2016

Camino Day 9 - misty forests to Barbadelo

After an excellent sleep at our municipal hostel in Triacastela, we made it through the town and up a steep climb in the early light of morning. We chose to do the route via San Xil, which has more 'natural pathways' and less tar than the Samos route.

For much of today we walked through forests veiled in mist. Peregrinos ahead of us would be gobbled up ahead while those behind would suddenly emerge. Add huge trees and you get quite a magical experience.

The first section passed really quickly as we worked our way through quiet and sleepy hamlets. There weren't many early locations for a coffee stop so it was only when we got to the village of Pintín that we stopped.

This is cattle farming area - dairy definitely and probably beef. There are lots of bright green fields and stone walls as well as a very cattle scent in the air.

Much of the next section offered more downhill, which mom is really not enjoying.

By early afternoon we had reached the big town of Sarria (13,800 population). We first walked through a newer part of the town first and then into an older section. Mom stayed at a café for a drink while I hit the town to find a farmacia to get mom a compression thing for her thigh muscle. I walked the town flat and found four pharmacies. Only one had an adjustable knee support, which I got for her. It helps a great deal.

30 minutes later I got back to her and we headed the rest of the way through the old town, heading for the next village - Barbadelos. Actually, it barely is a village. No shops but there are three albergues and a big church. 

Every little settlement, even if it has two houses, one barn and a fuente (water fountain) has a church of some sorts. It really is quite incredible.

My foraging of chestnuts today was limited. I couldn't resist picking up a couple of big ol' delicious looking ones but as I have a bag of them stashed, I really don't need any more. Again, the place we're in has a decent kitchen - with not a single pot nor utensil. Tomorrow, perhaps.

I found a delicious red apple and we ate some honey-sweet figs this morning. I found a few blackberries here and there.

We're staying in the municipal albergue, which we wouldn't recommend. We have stayed in many of them and have had some excellent places, like last night in Triacastela. This one... no personality and one too many bunks (5 and there really shoukd only be 4) in this room.

Just up the road is a private albergue, Casa Carmen, which is a better option. For 10 € more it has more personality. Our friend, Ashala, got through here later than us but met us for dinner at Casa Carmen. We were also joined by our South Korean companion from the other night, Jun. He is absolutely charming and very funny. We had an excellent meal together.

Over these past few days we've made a number of friends - familiar and friendly faces who we see regularly throughout the day and share a word or two. We're all.on a similar schedule

Yesterday I made a new friend, James from San Diego.

We were on a downhill and I was walking with mom. James and another fellow (Italian) came past us and both guys were walking gingerly down and both had knee guards on their left knees. I watched how James was walking (the other guy had subsequently passed him) so I caught up to him and gave him some postural tips to relieve the pressure and impact of the descent on his knee. He tried it and off he went.

I saw him later again in the day and he gave me a big wave.

Today I was taking a photo of a cow and had just walked away. I turned to talk to mom and this guy had just arrived. He looks at me and says, "Lisa!". He smiled and as he approached he opened his arms wide to give me a hug.

"You saved me! Now I am walking just fine downhill how you showed me. I can walk anywhere!"

So sweet. Sometimes I waver, unsure whether to 'interfere' and say anything. If the person is someone like James, who tries it and it works, then my 'interference' is well worth it - 100 times over. It could be the difference between walking into Santiago after a month on the road or taking the bus.

Looking back through photos from today to choose some to post, I can hardly believe that some photos taken were only this morning. It feels like days ago, not just 12 hours ago. Time moves strangely here and the villages are very much a blur.

I make a point of photographing each village name so that I have a point of reference in my photo order.

Graffiti... There is a lot of graffiti around and there has been the whole way. I'm talking about graffiti written by peregrinos. It is usually on rocks and signs - usually a person's name and the year written in permanent marker.

Who goes on a pilgrimage with a permanent marker - premeditated graffiti? And why write on distance markers and rocks for hundreds of kilometres?

Yesterday (or the day before) we saw a name 'Julius' and '16 with a curly symbol written on a sign. I've now seen it dozens of times and sometimes just the curly symbol. Julius, if you ever read this, you're an idiot.

While the route has mostly been litter-free (with the exception of post-urination wipe-off toilet paper all over - disgusting!!!), this graffiti definitely counts as visual litter.

Tomorrow we have a short day - around 15km as we did an extra 4km today. Also? We'll be stopping about 2.5km before Portomarín to stay at an albergue run by a South African guy. My mom met him by chance in 2011 just as he was setting up his albergue (it wasn't open yet). It is listed in the new edition of the guidebook and I've left a message on his phone to say we'll be coming.

Tomorrow morning we'll hit the '100km to Santiago' mark (currently at 107.5km). I said to mom today that I'll need to return to do the section from St Jaume to León to be able to properly have 'done the Camino'.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Camino Day 8 - the hills are alive to Triacastela

Over the past two days we have moved into farming country - cattle farming. Think rolling hills, scrub-covered stone walls and quadrants of green grass. And surprisingly few cattle. We were relived to see many more today; some small herds being shooed by their people and German Shepherd dogs from their under-house barns to the inviting fields.

After a good night's sleep in our large dorm at the Municipal Hostel in O'Cebreiro, we were packed-up and on the road just before 8am. The moon was still up and at little over 3/4 full, its illumination was as good as a pre-dawn sky in brightness.

The route wound uphill first, through trees and then down on to a gravel road. The first town we went through was Liñares,  a one-horse hamlet that existed back-in-the-day because they grew flax for the linen trade. There is a hostel here, which is where Ashala was staying. We bumped into her further up the road at the high point, Alto de San Roque, where a large statue of a medieval pilgrim stands - it shows him walking into the wind.

As it turns out, Ashala had pre-booked her accommodation online a few nights ago. There are two places with similar names in Spain. She had booked in Linares, which, she found out last night, is a few hundred kilometres from here. The place here is Liñares - with a tilda on the 'n'. Fortunately the backpack delivery service is on track and her bag ended up in the right place.

(FYI - the tilda adds a 'ya' sound to the n. For example, mañana - man-ya-na - versus banana)

From the statue we were in good company and daylight with Ashala through the villages of Hospital de La Condesa, where we stopped for coffee,  and then through Padornelo and Fonfría. These are all really small places where there are more cowpats on the track than people. There is a wonderfully farmy scent all over.

The weather today has been cool and mostly overcast. We saw some blue sky in the early afternoon. Because it gets light so late (almost 9am!) and the mornings are damp and cool, noon can feel like 8am so our sense of time is a bit wonky. We did 21km today and got to the albergue by 3pm.

Despite today's altitude profile for the first half appearing rather gentle, there were  some really steep ups.

We had a good laugh in Hospital de La Condesa when we walked past a pre-Romanesque iglesia from the 11th century. The guide book pointed us to look at the 'unusual stone roofed belfry and cross of Santiago aloft'. What we also saw was a stone staircase leading up into the belfry and, interestingly, stone slabs in the belfry that jut out of the walls to make floating stairs that access the bells.

So, up I went. Liz and Ashala stood below - giggling. Using my trekking pole I nudged the gong thing hanging inside the bell. I wanted to get it to make a light tap on the beautiful, large bell. Well... as I discovered, a light tap makes a sufficiently loud gong. The girls erupted in laughter. Ashala caught this on video.

Coming down Ashala added, "After that you're definitely not getting into heaven... and I'll probably be excommunicated for being an accessory".

We laughed the whole way down the road.

Ashala and I like peeking into barns under houses - or any open doors. I'm really quite fascinated by this. It really makes sense for being able to bring the animals in doors in winter but it really must smell.

We enjoyed eating some small green apples, which we picked up off the ground below a small apple tree on the side of the trail. Sweet and crunchy and very different to Granny Smith.

After Biduedo, the track descended steeply and we saw many pilgrims walking gingerly, often with knee guards.

Mom's left thigh abductor muscle gave her trouble some weeks ago and today she felt it on the downs. A knee guard from Ashala helped with some support - we'll look for one in Sarria tomorrow afternoon.

Our town for the night, Triacastela is a good size. The guidebook (2011 edition) says it has a population of 900. We're staying at the municipal hostel (6€ each), at the beginning of town. It is really nicely done with a stone cladding and floors and blue door and window frames. The rooms have two bunks each. Showers were hot and we've made use of their laundry facilities to wash our clothing (3€ to wash and 1.50 € for 40 minutes in the tumble dryer - big industrial machines).

There is no kitchen so unfortunately I can't boil my stash of chestnuts! I'm turning into a compulsive chestnut collector. We haven't had the abundance of three days ago but they are around - and many in Triacastela. I'll be making a load when I get my hands on a pot again!

My favourite part of this hostel is the front 'room' with wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable wooden chairs (and a table that my feet are resting on). The windows look out on to trees and a field and, below, a stream that I can see and hear. Right now some cattle that I saw in an adjacent field are walking past and their cow-bells and tinkling.

I came back from a walk into town along a track below the buildings - very very pretty. In town I saw the older-adult Korean group with their tourguide.  We saw them earlier today too.

We can't quite figure it out but we know they are not walking all the way. They have a bus that picks them up and drops them off. They have no backpacks. We also spotted the bus a few kilometres from Triacastela and saw a few of them sitting around eating. Of course, they collect stamps in their pilgrim passport from churches and their overnight stops.

There are, indeed, a variety of ways to 'do' the Camino. For the traditional route you can start 790km from Santiago in St Jaume, in France. Our you can start on the Spain side in Pamplona, two towns ahead. Or from anywhere else along the route. What ever you have time for.

There are also a dozen other routes - like wagon-wheel spokes - from all over Spain. And then there are the routes that connect in from France and Portugal and Germany... You can travel from as far away as you wish, to end up in Santiago.

You can do a week a year, each year, for a few years - picking up each time from where you left off. On foot or by bicycle.

If you'd just like to bag that Camino certificate from the catedral in Santiago, you can do the last 100km from Sarria.

Santiago is the goal.

Or, evidently, you can bus it. It seems the buses drop people off a few kays before their overnight town and pick them up the next day (after dropping off their luggage and collecting it again) a kay or two out of town.

This morning I helped a lady at a hotel with her suitcase. Maybe American. Part of a tour group. I can easily move a 30km suitcase around and this one was almost too heavy for me to lift up. I said to her, "The general rule is that if your suitcase is too heavy for you to lift, you have too much stuff".

Personally, if you bus it, I think you've missed the point.

I am very impressed with the backpack transporting services. Many older folks on the route, like mom, are using them. Also people recovering from injuries appreciate being able to take a load off and still keep moving. The fee is between 5€ and 7€ a day. You can walk with a day pack, cover the distance and collect your pack at you day's destination. This does make walking the route possible for many who otherwise wouldn't make it or would DNF through injuries that wouldn't heal with the additional load of a backpack.

Two guys with us for a bit today were talking about the 'bus brigade' and the one chap mentioned something about collecting the stamps and then getting your certificate in Santiago. Of course, there is no way to know whether a person really walked the route or took a bus or taxi... as mom replied, "You still have to live with yourself".

Tomorrow we're heading to Sarria, an 18km route through hills and many little villages. We've heard that it could be tough to get accommodation in Sarria because of the people coming in just for the last 100km to Santiago so we may head for the one-next village instead. Barbadelo is only 3km further along.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Camino Day 7 - moss and forests to O'Cebreiro

We have had a beautiful walk today. We followed a small road from Trabadelo and through a few villages, it was magnificent!

Today we were joined by Ashala, an American (San Francisco) woman we met on Day 2 (route to Astorga). We had dinner together last night and ot was lovely to have her company on the road today. She has gone through to a town ahead of us but we should see her at some stage tomorrow or the next.

The road wound through  the Valcarce valley, following the meandering bends of the Rio Valcarce. Overhead and below were towering trees and a beautifully fresh and damp scent perfumed the air. We could also see the shallow river gurgling between the trees.

The gradient started off fairly gentle over those first 10.5km but then after Las Herrerías the climb kicked in.

And what a delight this proved to be. A stoney, cobbled track that ascended through even more wonderful forest, complete with some moss-covered stone walls.

We passed through La Faba and continued up a very muddy track. Cattle had clearly squelched through here earlier - churned up mud, hoof prints and cow poop. In the town we saw a home where the people live 'upstairs' and below the house is a barn for cattle and horses.

Up this ridge we were out of the trees and in the open, soaking up the sun's warmth, which was finally making it through the cloud cover.

The vegetation on the ridges, where they haven't cleared small patches for grazing, is shrub and gorse with bracken adding shades of orange and brown. We were able to look down the Valcarce valley - trying to make out where we'd come from.

The distances passed quickly and soon we were in O'Cebreiro, our stop for today. At the entrance to the town is a traditional Galician palloza, a stone house with a rounded shape and thatched roof (very different to African huts / rondavels). This one has been restored and inside it is setup with simple handcarved wooden furniture (and plates and bowls) much like it would have been a few centuries ago. Under the wide, circular roof, a barn was included to shelter animals.

We went through to the iglesia to take a look. This church is one of the earliest surviving buildings on the Camino route. Part of it dates back to the 9th century!

This is a helluva cute town and one can see why it is a popular vehicular tourist stop too. The stone buildings are beautiful.

We're staying in the municipal hostel - a building constructed especially for this purpose). There must be 40 bunks in our big room (there must be another room or two as this place can sleep just over 100 people). 6€ each.

Walking out of our dorm two friends asked if we'd showered. We answered that we'do heard that the showers were cold.

"Lukewarm," said Steph.

"And naked," said Leila.

The showers have dividers, but no doors. When we returned an hour later we had hot showers and no company - thank goodness! What I do like is the foot-pedal-operated tap for the basins. Very neat and low on wasting water.

Just after we arrived, we headed into the town for a drink and snack. This is pulpo territory. Octopus. I have eaten calamari (squid) dozens of times but never actual octopus. A restaurant specialising in octopus is called a pulparia - and there have been a number around recently. We ordered a plate and while it is not the most attractive item to eat, it was very tasty and well prepared.

An Australian woman, who is walking the Camino, is a concert harpist. She has her 'travelling harp', which she sends ahead each day. She gave a lovely impromptu recital outside the church this evening - it was lovely.

Along the route and in the overnight towns we've been making friends and bumping into recently-made friends. We've seen a good bunch in town this evening and tonight we shared a table with Steph and Leila (Canadian), who we shared a room with last night (and they stayed at the same place as us the night before last).

My foraging continued today with a stash of chestnuts collected - no where the abundance of yesterday. I hope to get more tomorrow and then to cook them. I also foraged more walnuts but they're not ripe. What I did learn from a man in La Faba, who was washing crates of them, is that you have to wait a month from when the nuts pop out of their pods until you can eat them. I also enjoyed a couple of sweet blackberries from a roadside bush.

Tomorrow we lose the climbs and have gentle gradients for the first 15km and then a descent to Tricastela. The route distance is around 21km. For this kind of distance we're probably out on the trail for about seven hours, with stops.

Mom has been in fine form. She hasn't had a post-walk afternoon nap for two days! She is doing well and is loving the scenery and the route and the people (and an afternoon cerveza.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Camino Day 6 - castaño delights to Trabadelo

My foraging frenzy continued today with a breakfast of figs from a tree next to a building in the middle of a vineyard that was laden with ripe figs and looked totally untouched.

We left our comfy hostel at the end of Cacabelos a little before sunrise and despite the very fine drizzle we were stripping off thermal tops in next to no time. Although overcast and damp, it isn't cold. By the time we'd passed through the villages of Pieros and through the rolling hills of vineyards leading to Villafranca, our rain jackets were off and we were making good time.

We stopped for a coffee (mom) and hot chocolate (me) in Villafranca and then made our way through the town.

The Romanesque door of the first church we passed caught mom's attention immediately for its arches. As it turns out, this is the Puerto del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness). Those pilgrims unable to make it all the way to Santiago received absolution here, the same as they would in Santiago. The huge Castillo Palacio de los Marqueses (15th Century) was eye catching. Pity about the grey, overcast sky which didn't do anything for my photos today.

As we got to the bridge heading out of town, we bumped into the lovely couple - Liz and John - who sat next to us as dinner about two nights ago. They were going to head along the road (dedicated path winding between the road and a river), while we were taking the more scenic route up-and-over a big, big hill.

What a magnificent route! The first section was seriously steep and took us above the houses and town and onto a beautiful track. Think dampness and moss growing on the stonewall running along the downhill side.

And chestnuts! Castaños. OMG!

We have been surrounded by chestnut trees but it was only today that we saw the first 'popped' pods with shiny brown edible chestnuts peeping out or lying on the ground. I collected a bunch and stuffed them in my pocket, adding more here and there.

Up and up we went and into chestnut tree orchards. Hundreds of trees. Millions and millions of chestnuts falling out of their pods and on to the ground.

I love chestnuts.

The first time I ate them was about 10 years ago. I flew through New York on the way to the TransRockies Run. I stayed with my friend Alex in New York and he gave me a sachet of them to take to the race. A few days in I ate them and couldn't think of anything else. When I got home I discovered that my new addiction could be fed, sometimes (stock dependant) from a store in our local Chinatown.

Up in the hills we saw an elderly man collecting chestnuts. An American guy was with us and together we found out from the man that chestnuts are collected from the ground - once they have naturally popped out of their pods. He then roasts them in a drum, which he turns, over a fire.

On and on these groves are large chestnut trees went. I continued to collect the nuts from the road. My pockets were bulging!

A steep descent dropped us into the sweet town of Trabadelo, where we are staying tonight.

On the road into town we found a couple of walnuts, which I'll crack open a bit later. I don't know whether they are too young, too old or just right. My experience with walnuts is limited to buying them from a shop. I did sample two from under a tree at our albergue two nights ago. One was perfect and the other a bit raw.

Our municipal hostel is a small one and there are only a few of us here. I think many peregrinos went through to the next town - or further.

After a hot shower, I consulted Google on the best method for cooking my chestnuts. Without a good thick-base pan, I opted to boil them. The South Korean guy here says that they boil or steam chestnuts and they are sweeter than roasted.

I didn't find a knife in the kitchen but I did find a wine bottle opener and used its small knife to score the flat side of the chestnuts before placing them on the stove. I gave them about 25 minutes of boiling and then we all peeled them.

Heaven!!! These are sooooo good. There are dozens lying on the ground at the entrance to town so while I have a stove to use, I may as well boil some more tonight. 

Last night we skipped eating a peregrino menu in favour of a single dish. Many restaurants offer a peregrino menu, which offers a choice of about four starters and main course each - plus bread, beverages (wine or water and, sometimes, beer) plus dessert (something interesting or just a yoghurt). Prices range from 8€ to 11€. The portions are generous and they're perfect as a once-a-day meal supplemented with small snacks for breakfast and lunch.

But sometimes they are just too much, which is why we opted for a single dish each last night. To compare, we both had stews (5.75€), we shared a portion of rice and a beverage (around 1.25 € each). That was 18€ for both of us, including a tip. So when you consider that a pilgrim meal would have included a sizeable starter and a dessert, they are clearly good value - if you can eat everything. What we've done a few times is to select the yoghurt for dessert and to save it for breakfast the next morning.

Tomorrow our route follows the main road for about 10km, through four towns, before turning off to follow a minor road and peregrinos track to our day's destination O'Cebreiro. The route profile shows us climbing up and up - gentle initially and then steeper

Mom totally rocked the route today and wasn't even exhausted by the end, as she has been on the other days. She is adapting and should be on fire tomorrow.