Thursday, 14 May 2015

Laza to Cea - 89kms to go.

For every delight the Camino throws at you there is always a price demanded in payment. After the beauty of yesterday the pain was extorted in the form of physical punishment. At least for me.

It started three kilometres from Laza, at the village of Tamicilas. Six kilometres of vertical climb on an asphalt road in the teeth of a ferociously cold wind. I could never in my life imagined that I could sweat so much yet be so cold at the same time. The wind cut through my three layers of clothing and I felt as if I was being dissected by ice knives. There was no point in looking up. The meanders simply got steeper and when I thought that was it another appeared. It was a case of bend into the teeth of the wind and get on with it. I did, though, have two advantages. I was considerably lighter than when I started in Seville, and my thigh and leg muscles were immesurably stronger. It took me well over ninety ninety minutes to walk what would normally take considerably less that.

A bar has never been more welcome and the one in Albergueria doubly so, for every available space on the walls and ceiling were covered in scallop shells with the names of the,pilgrims who had put them there. Decades of them. Now there is one more. Not only that. Never has a coffe and boiled egg tasted so good.

Shortly on leaving the village I surmounted the summit at Monte,Talarino with its wooden cross before starting the long descent into Villar de Barrio.

It was to be a day of tiny villages, long paths and secret narrow drovers paths though woods that had appeared to have been planted, and then forgotten. In Villar a very old man stopped me. He said nothing but put his walking stick  under his arm, grabbed my hand and shook it. Looking me directly in the eye as he did so. The he walked on. I was almost reduced to tears.

It was here that I came across the first of the small grain silos, constructed on stands to allow the wind to blow through and to keep,the rats away. There are many designs, but they serve the same purpose.

The villages rattled by. Boveda, two fountains and a shop. Bobadela,  one fountain, Padroso, no shop, or fountain. But each had something simple and special about them, an other world feel, bypassed by events, concerned only with what happens within the confines of the village to be discussed later, and loudly at rhe bar. 

The track then changed, woodland paths wide  enough for a file of sheep and nothing else. But someone, ions ago had lugged the heavy stone to build the walls with a plan in mind for their future. 

Along the way farmers did what they always did, got on with the toil of the day. And if all else fails.
Washing machine, what's that?

The path gave way to an escarpment. It was as if someone had pulled back the theatre curtains and the show was about to start. A beautiful and long reaching view erupted in front of me.

Bee hives had been been strategically placed to catch the sun and the aroma of the myriad heathers, gorse and flowers that begged to be visited by them. I bet fhat honey was something special.

It was warm on the hill, but the wind was cold still out of the sun. As I entered the town of Xunqueira de Ambia, ( don't ask me to say it, I'll strangle myself), I mused what a strange day it had been. The camino had presented me with a challenge and then, as if in reward for meeting that challenge, had delivered a colourful patchwork of what Galicia has to offer. It had been another very satisfactory 34kms.

On today to the  last great town before Santiago, Ourense. This was simply a get your head down and get moving sort of day. Asphalt road the occasiona dirt track, and villages that would win no beauty competitions. I received the occasional raise of the hat from the elderly men I passed and I responded by tipping my hat. 

A few kilometres from Ourense I walked through an industrial estate, quite a shock after weeks spent walking along along an isolated and often beautiful trail. Heavy lorries, rusty railway trucks in dirty sidings, broken pavements, and the roar of steam rising from a chimney stuck on a factory that, from the smell, was making fibre board.

The other problem centered around the way markers. Ourense took the brave decision to commission a local artists to make original sculptures denoting the meaning of the way. I think they are excellent and evocative of what the route is about. However, they are now dirty and the paint has worn making them difficult to see and hence easy to miss. They need a jolly good clean and repainting to restore them to their former glory. They would, when renovated be excellent works of art.

Talking of works of art, the owner of this bar has done his bit.

As if to tell me to stop moaning the Camino sprang a real surprise on me. The village of Seixalvos, around some three kilometres from Ourense, is a delightful jumble of granite houses, big balconies and winding streets. 

But it had one big surprise for me. While passing the local bar a group of people immerged wearing green scarves around their necks. I was stopped in my tracks as my hand was pumped vigorously. It would appear I had come across the local branch of the Friends of the Camino.
More hands were shaken, lots of photos were taken and one of the group asked me questions about my trek in English which he translated to the group. The president of the group presented me with book about the Camino in Galica and more photos were taken. I have to say I have never felt more important in my life, I suspect I was having my five minutes of fame. Eventually I went on my way, somewhat stunned by the genuine warmth and interest shown. What a wonderful surprise that was, and if one day one of you reads this, thank you, you cheered me up no end.

A few kilometres later I was in my slightly more expensive than normal hostel with its spacious rooms, hot showers free wifi and general feeling off all round cleanliness. No, this is not an advert, it is just what I found. And all for 15 euro, including breakfast.

There are public baths in Ourense, if you have a cap and bathing suit. Subean Kings lived here in the 6th and 7th centuries, and it has a Roman bridge and an elegant cathedral. If I sound as if I am quoting from a guide book, I am. 

It is a Saturday, I have visited the cathedral with its statue of, Pope John Paul?, walked the cool colonnades and sat in the main square being washed by a hot sun while strolling mums and dads with their new progeny enjoy a day off. I have peered as well as I can into widows high above where flower pots are in full bloom. I have sat in the shade of a park while devouring, somewhat, vouraciously, a very large panini covered in anchovies and olives. I have found my way out for tomorrow along the appropriately named Way of The Camino, which also happens to be the main pedestrian shopping area and hence busy with those not satisfied that they have their wardrobes filled with exactly the right style, colour or designer label.  There is a buzz, people are talking but words or phrases cannot be picked out. It is like the hum of static. Quiet, but constant, never rising or falling but always there. 

I am going now to find another shady spot, close my eye and sleep. I think the best thing I can do is let you see Ourense through my photographs.

I would have liked a single room last night but settled for the hostel as previously mentioned. There were three dormitories each with twelve beds in. They were filled in order as and when people arrived. I waited until 6pm and took the decision that no one else would arrive and moved all my gear into room three, and ended up having it to myself. Not being kept awake by others snoring ar paddling off to the toilet at odd hours. I slept through until 8am. 

There is a very long hill out of Ourense but once up it I passed through shaded woods, villages of brown granite from which Quartz crystals glinted in the warm sun, and pasture where horses shuffled around on rope that I would dearly have love to cut, smack their backsides and send them off. Dogs fussed and yapped as I passed and only once did I have to chase one back into its domain when it got too big for its boots.

Economic problems overtake most of us in time but even so it was sad to see so many buildings with exquisitely cut large granite blocks left to wither along with their grain silos.

The approach to the village of Faramontoas was over a paved stone bridge that had elaborate scrolls at the ends. What pride the masons must have had in their bridge to decorate it in this way. And what a wonderful sight it must have been when new. A few metres over the bridge a once mighty granite built farmstead now lay deserted. Yet I could see from its monumental walls and pillars how important it had been. I suspect the fiesta to celebrate the opening of that ancient bridge alongside this estate in this isolated corner of Spain would have been something to behold.

I had intended to stay at Cea but decided a little more in the way of luxury was called for and settled for O Refugio, a small aubergue wedged into a in a cleft in the road in the village of Cotelas. That was a good decision. The room was bijou and spotless, the patrons forceful but kind under a mantle that suggested impatience if they could not make life better for you, and the cooking was so tasty that I did consider staying another night. But I wanted to take a diversion to the monastery at Oseira to see if I could stay the night there. Apparently one should phone, but I thought I would take the chance and just turn up.


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