Drops of rain hung on our windows this morning, but we could see stars in the 6:00 a.m. dark, so hoped that the day would turn out well. It did, but in a very Galician style.
Lacking Internet at our pension, I wrote most of this evening’s account at the bar across the street, and am finishing it and mailing it later, courtesy of Regina’s wi-fi hot spot that is associated with her phone — she has kindly loaned it to us for the evening. It’s remarkably slow (but mostly works), meaning that photos are not likely.
Notes made earlier in the evening:
Outside the bar in Eirexe (there is only one) at 6:30 p.m. the winds blow and splatter the rain against the windows. A farmer carrying a black umbrella leads five cows down the main street, a black and four browns. Futball dominates the large TV in its place of honor across from the bar. Three German women pilgrims, a couple of male pergrinos of indeterminate origin (in hiking clothes, most people look similar), and a few local men sit at dark wood tables set with forks, steak knives and wine glasses.
At the largest table, the Carns-Lazios have taken over, drawn there by the promise of wi-fi at the bar, made by the managers of the pension. The young man at the bar, however, frowned vigorously when we politely requested the password, as in, “who are you to ask such a thing?” and said, “No wi-fi! Only private.”
Making the best of the situation, we ordered dinner (pizza and salad) and proceeded to toast the fifteenth anniversary of Teri’s bone marrow transplant and Peg’s generous contribution of the bone marrow to make it possible. Thank you, Peg!
Another nine cows walk by, udders mostly full, accompanied by another farmer with black umbrella. The wind continues to toss the oaks and spread the water across the Galician hills. We feel that we have been baptized as peregrinos, and can claim full ownership of that title. Now we will be happy to rest on our laurels with that, and go back to the atypical sunny days that we’ve been enjoying.
We started the day at 8:00 with breakfast in Portomarin. When we stepped out of the bar, we realized that it was indeed raining a bit and we spent a good fifteen minutes pulling on our ponchos for the first time, adjusting them, and getting everything in order. But for the first hour or so climbing up from the rio Mino valley, we had sun, and the ponchos were hot so we pulled them off. The rain didn’t really start until about noon, and was fitful on and off all day. In the evening it gave the Midwest storms a run for their money, but most of the day it was more wind than rain.
Here’s the thing about ponchos – they blow in the wind. But they do keep the backpacks and top parts of the wearers dry. The legs and feet? When the Camino paths are channeling the water down the hill, turning it into new streams, the peregrino doesn’t have too many options. Brambles and stone walls line the paths, and cows graze on the other side of some of the walls. One must walk in the rivulets, and wet feet result. Our hike was uphill most of the time. This is the last day of 1,000 foot or more climbs; for the next four days, we have little ups and downs, but more level walking.
We met Regina and Anthea for lunch at Hospital de la Cruz, another now-tiny town that existed largely to serve the medieval pilgrims. At the entrance to the restaurant, peregrinos milled about pulling off ponchos, rain jackets, backpacks, and hanging and stacking them to let them dry while they ate. At the table next to us, an Israeli couple sat with their one-year-old daughter, as cute a kid as could be imagined. We had a good time playing peek-a-boo, letting her play with the Playmobil toys we brought along for just such occasions, and talking to her parents. They are doing only parts of the walk this time. They have to carry more stuff (and they are carrying everything, not shipping anything). The little girl rides in a carrier on one or the other parents’ back, but she likes to walk some of the time, which slows them down.
Last night we mentioned the local liqueur, orujo (which is similar to cognac, a 100 proof or higher drink. It is distilled from the grape skins, seeds and stalks). Regina and Anthea asked for an even more special local concoction that combines orujo, a sliced lemon, roasted coffee beans, sliced peaches, sugar, and maraschino cherries in a shallow earthernware bowl, about 16 inches across. Its name is “Quemada” – burnt – because the creator of the drink sets it afire in its bowl and lets it burn for about ten minutes before returning to blow out the flames and ladle it into coffee cups.Luckily, the people in the Eirexe bar knew how to make it and were willing to oblige. Of Celtic origin, the maker recites spells while the drink is burning (Regina read off the spells from her smart phone). It was very strong and very delicious. I ate the coffee beans, and we all shared the peach slices and cherries, along with the liqueur itself. It was the right weather for quemada – heat poured out from the blue flames, like having one’s own little firepot at the table. And then drinking it warms you to your toes.
I’m becoming a fan of the small towns. Although you don’t know exactly what you’ll get when you make reservations, often enough we have lucked into local festivals such as the Virgin Mary celebration in Ciruena, and the castanet and flute group in another town. The quemada experience might not have been as easy to come by in a larger place, and the cows proceeding home along the main street would not be likely either.
We’ve seen sheep, cows, goats (Anthea and Regina), horses today. Early in the day we passed a grove of eucalyptus trees mixed in with the local pines. The guidebook says that we’ll see more of the eucalyptus as we continue west. Otherwise, we were too wrapped up in the rain and gusting winds to see as much of the countryside as usual.
One of my cousins asks if we all use pedometers. Yes, because if you’re going to walk twelve or fifteen miles a day, you really want to track that accomplishment (at least we do – others are probably less attached to such mundane measures of achievement). We have several Omron pedometers, but Anthea uses an app on her phone. Most of the time, our measurements are within about one-half mile of each other, which we feel is close enough.
A few notes on our accomodations: we often have a double room with twin beds. Furnishings at this price tend to be minimal — sometimes a desk and chair, but tonight, just two small bedside chests. There’s always a wardrobe (almost never a closet) with spare blankets, and four mismatched hangers (rarely more). Everything is very hard surfaced — the floors, the hallways, everything in the bathroom, making the places noisy. You have to be very careful about standing in the hallway talking to someone in a room because the sound carries everywhere. The lighting tends to be abysmal (especially tonight), with low-wattage fluorescents. The beds in the pensions and hotels have sheets and a spread, and sometimes a blanket — but there are usually blankets in the wardrobe, if not on the bed. The bathrooms, if private, also are clean and hard surfaced, usually with two towels per person. If it’s a shared bath however, even if the price isn’t that much lower, there’s usually only one towel per person. They often have a large bottle of shower gel, and pretty often have liquid hand soap on the sink. If you’re lucky, there’s a stopper for the sink so that it’s easy to do laundry. Many places have photos or other artwork on the walls. They all have had windows that open, sometimes with unusual arrangements of shades or shutters.
And that’s it. The next three days are shorter days, with plenty of up and downs, but no more long climbs or descents. On Monday, we will be in Melide; Tuesday, Arzua, and Wednesday, Arco O Pino. That means that we arrive in Santiago on Thursday — it will be strange to wake up one morning and not have a twelve or fifteen mile walk ahead.
Only one photo tonight because the available Internet is so slow — but it’s the most charming picture available — the little Israeli girl with her mother.