Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day 10 Melida to Arzua --Undulating Ambulation Amongst Ungulates Under Eucalyptus

Avoid alliteration always! Well not today!

Breakfast Melide style: Iberian ham, local cheese and churros. Why yes, thank you, I will!

Sorry, gentleman. If you want a hot Galician blonde, you are gonna get a cow!

Oh beer thirty offering in Arzua: Estrella Galicia. Why yes, thank you, I will!

Java Jive Paul Parris has a cuppa cuppa cuppa cup a cup of cafĂ© con leche

After enjoying a large breakfast at Pension Berenguela, our accommodation for last night (with the single long cigar type pillow--Sheesh! Who thought that was a good idea?), we packed up our gear and were off to the races for the 10 mile hike to Arzua. Melide is a city of about 9000 people and Arzua, somewhat smaller, is the last "town" between here and Santiago de Compostela. This was another "short day." When I mentioned to Paul that I better not eat a big dinner because I didn't walk very far today, he said, "When 10 miles isn't very far, you have an altered perspective." True dat!

Our pathway today passed predominantly through cattle farms and corn fields with interspersed eucalyptus and pine forest paths and a little walking through villages on the roads. It was definitely "East Tennessee style-" up one hill, then down the next with a "hellish" hill at the end that seemed to ascend steeply at first and then relentlessly all the way to downtown Arzua for well over a mile. Finally, it ended. And I was beginning to wonder! We are passing through Northern Spain's dairy region. We are seeing predominantly either Holsteins, used for milk and butter, or the Galician blonde, the preferred bovine for cheese production. We also saw a few sheep today, which are generally scarce in this area. No goats, folks.

 Here we see the light passing through the eucalyptus tress and onto the thermocline of the stream in front of an aqueduct.

The best part of today was definitely the walk with the small villages, their stone buildings and churches. Arzua, although the last major city before the big SDC, isn't much of a town. It's also Sunday, so many things are closed. It is basically one very long strip along a major highway with a small "antiquity" center. One thing we have come to appreciate though passing through areas where the buildings date back to the 9th century and there are many references to the Crusades, the Moors, and kings we have never heard of, is that Spain is OLD compared to the USA. History here has an entirely prolonged meaning in comparison.

This is the font of the Estrella Galicia beer...or oranges, if you prefer.

Overall, a "short" ten mile day into a sleepy Sunday town with not too much to recommend it. But the beer is good. And the tap....well, that's a matter of opinion.
Paul's Ponderings:   Another "short" day, meaning only 10 miles or so.   By far the hottest day of hiking and we were really sweating coming up some of the steep hills!    In theory, tomorrow may bring rain while we are out.    One thing we've seen, which may parallel the USA in a way is that many of these small towns are quite full of elderly folks.   Not that there is anything wrong with that, we say as middle aged types.   But, like in the USA, cities like Madrid and Barcelona are full of young folks and the country areas are left to the aged/aging.   Unlike last night our room here in Arzua has no A/ quickly the lack of such things becomes noticeable!   Thank goodness for tepid showers!   

Also weirdly enough while walking, we see many signs of horses on the path (use your imagination), but we have yet to see an actual horse being ridden on the path!

At this point we are about 24 miles from the end and getting a bit of barn's to a successful finish!   Tomorrow night we are staying in a town of 50 people, before moving back to the big city.   

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day 9 Palais de Rei to Melide : Farms, Fields, Forests and Fun

This was the view out of our hotel window on awakening this morning--mists across Palais de Rei and the valley.  We woke up and had a wonderful breakfast at Casa Leopoldo, then on our way to Melide. After a nearly 18 mile walk yesterday, we were looking forward to a break of only 10 miles. Most pilgrims walk 20 miles on this day and go all the way to Arzua, but we realized when we were booking the camino walk, two days of 10 suited us just fine. The path today was predominantly an undulating series of walks through forest and dairy or corn farms, an occasional orchard and some secondary roadways.
Beautiful weather and scenery throughout our day!

San Xulian Church. Read the legend below. Witches, murder and redemption!
The villages we passed through today were San Xulian de Camino (legend to follow), Ponte Campana, Mato, Cato and Furelos (with a Roman bridge seen below).

The legend of St Xulian is that he was cursed at birth by a witch to kill his parents. When he learned of it,he ran far away to avoid this happening. Many years later, his parents heard of his whereabouts and set out to see him in Northern Spain. On arrival, he was out hunting, so his wife allowed them inside to rest on their bed. When St Xulian returned,  his wife was away and he found a couple sleeping in his marital bed. He assumed his wife was cheating and killed them both, thus fulfilling the curse. He therefore established 7 pilgrim hospitals and legend says, an angel visited him late in life to announce God's forgiveness.  He was beatified and canonized years later.
The fog made us feel like we were passing through an enchanted forest.

The symbol of the hiker on the Way is the clam shell. Here someone has built one the size of the McDonald arches onto the roof of the house.

El Camino and the Oaks

An important marker for those doing the last 100km--the halfway point  to Santiago.

Notice the yellow arrow on the house below the window. Pilgrims follow the yellow arrows, usually spray painted either onto the road itself or a convenient sign post, tree or wall. Here it is displayed well on someone's home.

A gnome playing sax? It's not the craziest thing we saw! See below!

Gorgeous Holsteins that produced milk and butter. Cheese is the work of the Galician blonde cow. We didn't see those today although we have seen quite a few before today. One other interesting thing is that although we have walked through many fields of corn, no one serves humans corn. In Northern Spain, all corn goes to Bossy the Cow.

By far the weirdest thing on the camino. A pilgrim hiking in his panties.

The Roman bridge  at Furelos, just outside Melide.

Razor clams, A melide specialty!

Pulpo--steamed octopus with olive oil and paprika. Yum. This is a signature dish of the town. When we walked into the restaurant, they had huge pots for steaming octopus. Locals were coming in off the street with plastic grocery bags for whole octopus takeout!

Santiago cake--Paul is IN LOVE with it.

Roman coins in the Melide museum collection. This museum is very interesting and has all sorts of things including an exhibit of Melide in the movies...Lotsa films done here.

Paul listens to the Victorola

Mahon reward for 10 miles well done.

A local channeling Paul--the best wine store in town is closed for the day until Monday. Despondency prevails,

A local yokel en route to a funeral. A very proud lady focused on remaining upright and coifed en route.
Overall, a short 10 mile day, but rich in people watching and scenery. Bring on the 10 miles tomorrow.

Daily mediation: Sarah wife of Abraham. Paul's observation is not to give anything away unless it is freely given.  Mine- Abraham gave Sarah to Pharoah his wife for number of years for rich rewards. Sarah gave Abraham her handmaid for mating purposes. Ishmeal and continued jealousy and problems were born. Basically, an  INDECENT proposal isn't just between Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Robert Redford.  Any proposal that minimizes someone's worth will result in pain. Cheery thoughts!

Paul's Ponderings:  Whew, a lot shorter day when compared to yesterday!   Can't say that Melide is a lovely town, but we had a great dinner in what seemed to be a backyard of a local, complete with local wine.    Another short day tomorrow is on the horizon, then we have two days to finish it out!

Post Script:
Last night's shared dinner in somebody's backyard. A burger and grilled veggies!

The local wines are stunningly good and really cheap. THis bottle was about  $10. Often the wine is free with your pilgrim meal which is gargantuan, 2 courses and a dessert for $10. And, even better...(see below)

It's the only wine in the world that is 13% alcohol AND makes you SOBER! It's right on the label!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Day 8 Portomarin to Palais de Rei : Take to the Highway Won't You Lend Me Your Name

My way and Paul's way seemed to be one and the same, child! And here's a challenge for James Taylor--instead of 15 miles on foot, it was 17! Lyrics? We found out on our walk across England, you can't really trust the guidebook.

Leaving Portomarin. Reservoir in the distance.

We started out with a forest track and a mostly uphill gradual ascent for 9 miles. Fortunately, there were only sporadic tough grades and most were short lived...or we might have been short lived ourselves!
Grain fields along the way
Most of the day was actually spent walking along low traffic secondary roads, although there were some short treks through woodlands.
Pine, oak and eucalyptus predominate with occasional birches. The floor is often covered in ferns.
The towns we passed through today were Gonzar (never even noticed I went there), Castromajor (which had an okay brick factory and not okay as in "shoe wee" fertilizer factory on the way, Hospital de Cruz,  Ventas de Naron (where a huge battle between Christians and Moors took place centuries ago), , Ligonde, Lamiero/Eirexe (where we finally enjoyed lunch about 12 miles into the journey), Lestedo, Brea, and finally, about 2 miles later than expected Palais de Rei.

Our first rest stop at Castromajor. Love the crazy sloping roof here, the cats and the diet Coke.

Our halfway marker. 50 miles from Santiago and in front of a corn field... sweating like piggies. But half way in with a grin!

Paul encounters metallic human consuming ant in Lestedo.

Our lovely room at Casa Leopoldo in Palais Rei.

Church Palais de Rei

Inside the church.

Paul salutes his 17 mile walk with a Mahon draft.

A cross from  1670. The cross represents the maternity and life through images of Jesus and the Virgin. The base represents his suffering with a skull and crown of thorns.
 At this point there are indeed a lot of pilgrims along the Way. Most are pleasant and respectful. Some are loud. But overall, they have been a nice lot of folks from many locations, all making their own path. We did meet a woman from South Africa today whose friend had to quit on Day 1 for them from Sarria as she passed out and found out she has a bad heart valve. We are so grateful for health on this journey.

Our accommodations here look very nondescript from the street but Casa Leopold is beautiful inside and a treasure. Unfortunately, we don't see a lot to draw us to Palais de Rei other than this pension. But the room is gorgeous and there are so many pillows. Pillows in Spain are so utilitarian. And there is usually only one. Last night, the hotel pillow was one long pillow that Paul and I had to share. Ever share a long narrow pillow with someone? I am sure it frequently results in divorce by crankiness from lack of sleep!
Our dinner restaurant--The forgers table.
 We ambled about town and finally found this lovely little restaurant where we had chicken in brandy with mushrooms and a nice salad. We enjoyed the local cheese which was phenomenal.

Cheese Please! Local Stuff and so tasty.
So our longest walking day of the journey to Santiago de Compostela. Probably 10 miles uphill, 7 down, lotsa pavement, lotsa pilgrims, a "meh" town of Palais de Rei, but gorgeous accomodations, a lovely dinner and a beautiful bed with lotsa pillows to fall into ASAP!

Paul's Ponderings:  Long walk, notta lotta stuff going on other than walking!   Anywhere between 15 and 18 miles is about my personal limit for walking.   Once we got here, it was all about finding a place that was close to our lodging to walk to for dinner!    The good news is our two long days are behind us with minimal bad weather and no real issues.     Now we have two short days of nine miles each, which will seem like a cakewalk.   So far we have not taken one wrong turn either.   Compared to walking across the UK, that is a minor miracle.   It is very well marked.    At dinner tonight the portions were normal human sized as well -- not the norm!   For well past the halfway mark, esta bien!

Finally, from an equipment view, we see lots of folks walking this in tennis shoes, more or less.   I have no idea of how that would work --the path is often rocky and steep and based on other hikes, I'd really recommend real boots.   Mine are Salomons that I used for the UK coast to coast.  

For  now, we keep on trucking....

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day 7 Sarria to Portomarin: Gone with the Wind

Packer Paul Parris readies his backpack for a 15 miler.

Every day, we diligently start our trek with a look at the weather forecast. As many of our friends live and hike in the mountains, I guess we all know this is folly, but with the electronic connectedness of modern Spain, it seemed prudent. Forecast: Low 66F and high 77F. Partly cloudy. 20% chance of rain. Wind at 8 km/hr.  Real weather: temperatures correct. Partly cloudy correct. Rain--definitely got sprinkled on sporadically throughout the day and spent about 1-2 hours in raingear. Wind--Constant, swift and at times, downright gusty.  Why do we keep listening to the weatherman?
This bridge was one of many today. We crossed a lot of water,mostly small streams.
Every village , regardless of size has a church. Some are postage stamp size, but this one was substantial.
Fortunately, our walk today which had many uphill segments was mostly either in the woods or along farmlands between stone walls, so except for nearly being blown off the poorly protected pathway across the Roman aqueduct that leads across the Rio Mino and into Portomarin, we had a relative state of grace as far as windburn goes and we got to listen to the music of the wind which was beautiful.
Galicin style grain silo
It so reminded us of David Harrington of Kronos Quartet who spent time at Big Ears Festival 2015 discussing his love for sound in general and particularly natural sounds. He shared some of his recordings and he would have gone nuts for what we got to hear today.
A shout out to Big Ears...both in the corn fields and in Knoxville, thanks to Ashley Capps. We reflected on David Harrington of Kronos Quartet while listening to wind rushing through everything around us. David would love this day of the walk. There was a clacking pump and spinning scarecrow, birds, people laughing. Lots of great sound.
 This walk was predominantly through either oaks and birches and some conifers with a scattered mushroom or two, or through farms of corn, sunflowers or dairy cows. We also walked past many apple trees and brussel sprout farms. In general, we passed from one small village to the next: Barbadelo, Peruscallo, Morgade (Where we ate the Portomarin cake and had a diet soda), Ferrieros (a town of ferriers sought after in the Middle Ages for shoeing horses but barely a bump in the road in modern times), Mirallos, Cotarelo, Mercardorio and lastly Vilacha. From Vilacha we wound around a hillside and then began a steep descent on a roughly paved road to Portomarin. Only a couple of towns had any services for pilgrims and there were noticeably more of those today.
Paul at the 100km way marker
But everyone was well behaved. We saw older people and families with children trying to achieve their 100km to Santiago de Compostela.
One of the many tree lined paths. The photo is a little blurry because I am moving and so are the trees.
  The approach to Portomarin is very dramatic for several reasons. (1) They have built a dam in 1960 on the River Minos, so you approach over  a large blue reservoir. Big inland bodies of water are scarce here in Northern Spain and rivers are usually ribbon like, so this was unusual and stunning. 
The bridge into Portomarin built on the old Roman aqueduct over the RioMinos. THe village behind creeps up the hillside.
(2) The town itself scales the hillside and dramatically climbs up from the river with whitewashed buildings.  It was actually MOVED up the hill when the dam was formed. Many buildings including the church, San Xoan de Portomarin,  were dissembled brick by brick and transported up the slopes to form the new town. 
The main church of Portomarin

Internal view
We are told on a clear day at low water, you can see the old submerged city. Today it was very windy with waves on the water, so that didn't happen, but you could see the tops of some old structures breaking the surface.  (3) There is an old Roman aqueduct here that is still visible with the modern bridge on top. Interesting to see all this history in these relatively small town.

Portomarin is home to 2000 permanent residents. To welcome the weary hiker, there are a set of stairs for you to utilize to enter the city. What sadist thought this was a good idea after 15 miles of hiking up and down? :) What masochist would do it? Not us! But that's predominantly because our hotel, Pousada de Portomarin, formerly a Parador (a Spanish hotel owned by the government and placed in a historic structure), was off the main track.  This one was built in 1962 and doesn't have the background of the ones in Leon or Santiago de Compostela. But the rooms are nice. There is no AC but the wind outside is providing plenty of ventilation with our curtains dancing about like ghosts. 
Our room .No Lucy and Desi arrangements tonight!
Super Bock
 We opted to wait for lunch once we arrived at the proper Spanish time of 2:30pm. We decided it was NOT too early to claim oh-beer-thirty either. Today's selection was Super Bock draft. It wouldn't matter what brand though. When you've walked 15 miles, nothing goes down better than a beer and a big bottle of agua!

We had a nice pizza and went over to tour the castle-like church in the main square. Then our daily siesta. Gotta love Spain! For dinner, we found out about a place that overlooked the reservoir, El Mirador. We had a beautiful view and amazing food.
The view from El Mirador
This city is famous for its river eels which we tried. They reminded me in taste of the fish we pulled out of the rivers and lakes in Louisiana in the early 1960s. Delish! We also tried the local croquettes--every town seems to have them and they are all slightly different. 
Spanish moon

An eel of a meal with croquettes

Paul chose a wine call Besquer, after the famous Spanish poet. It was mostly temparanillo with a bit of garnacha. It had a rich nose of stone fruit, vanilla and "Aunt Jemima syrup"according to our "sommelier P. Parris."!
Besquer--amazing wine and poetry!
As we looked out to the rising full moon, Paul read me the lyrics  to the Little Feat tune "Spanish Moon." And I read the poem by Besquer-- Espiritu sin Nombre--the spirit without a name which starts " I am the snow on the peaks, the fire in the sands, I am the burning cloud that billows in the sunset, I am the luminous wake of a comet." And so much more. Do yourself a favor and look up this poet. Espiritu sin Nombre is about the sweet perfume that fills the vessel of a poet….the mystery of the poet's heart. It's lovely and I hope you can find a good English translation if you cannot read Spanish. We are making our way to the cathedral of St James. Some of the spirits that guide us are named.   And some are as elusive as the inspiration of poets.

Today's meditation: Early music of the church. We learned about chant and the progress to the motet. We listened to Ave Verum Corpus and the four melodic lines. Paul's reflection was he was very impressed that the Catholic church took the musical concepts and worked with it. It was a new form to them and they developed from monochromatic method to something completely different.  People who did "new things" in the church were often considered heretic, but this was embraced and grew, probably because it glorified God so beautifully. He is impressed that in a time where struggle to survive was the norm, the monks and church aesthetics took time to pursue art. He marvelled that one day, someone got out of bed and said, "Let's do this." He thinks if that person were ever identified, they deserve a statue. They could just as easily had their head chopped off in the town square. To me, this is the root of even the modern musicians--modern hymnals, classical music  and yes, even rock and roll!

A blurry photo. I was moving and the wind was coursing heavily  in the trees.

Floras de sol pinned against a gray sky

These plants have some height on them.

Paul's Ponderings:  A long hike for us into Portomarin, but as noted, we got here by 3ish and then had dinner and a nap (plus the inevitable pain relievers!).  After that, it was a great dinner with an incredible view on the river and of the full moon.   Once again, we are reminded of how lucky we are to be out here in rural Spain having this incredible time.  As a footnote to yesterday, when we checked in, Lou was able to sign for the room.   Incredible local Rioja with dinner along with fabulous tapas.   A great end to a great day.   Everyone we've met has been great along the path and I've polished up my Spanish a bit.  Tomorrow is our second big day of hiking, another 15 miles or so, and then it's lower mileage after that (9, 9, 12, and 14 for those who care).  Overall, esta  bien for the experience to date!