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!