Another BIG day!!! Much bigger than I had expected.
I woke to the alarm at 6.30am, but then enjoyed the luxury of lounging in bed awhile! So with hygiene, packing my backpack and breakfast, I did not set out until 8.00am. With the 11km taxi ride the evening before, I was expecting an easy day, only some 12.5kms to A Gudina, but it turned out quite different.
A couple of things I forgot to mention yesterday. The taxi ride (actually, it was a private car, doing some personal enterprise) took me out of the province of Castilla y Leon and into the province of Galacia. I was sorry not to have walked across the provincial border. The taxi driver pointed out the border when we crossed, but it was different from walking over the border.
The other thing, the taxi ride took me past a steep climb. I was NOT sorry to have missed the climb to A Canda’s Pass, but I was sorry to have missed the views. Because of the flat battery, I did not have a working camera to capture them, so you and I will just have to look them up on the internet!
A final thing, I discovered today that the construction going on which is disrupting the Camino path is a high-speed railway between Madrid and Galicia. The work involves tunnelling through the mountains, building bridges over the valleys, stone and gravel quarries, cement factories, and all the associated mechanical, fuelling and other services. And it is construction workers who are taking up accommodation in the hostals and casas rurales so that there is no place for pilgrims!! Yes, the albergue in Lubian was full due to a big influx of pilgrims on that particular day e.g. there are five Spaniards from Andomorra travelling together who take up five beds, which can be more or less one dormitory in a large albergue, or even most of the bunks in a small albergue (as in Asturianos, where I slept on a mattress on the floor). But it is the construction workers who are taking up the places in the other commercial establishments. Even in Vilavella, judging by their working clothes, working boots, and work safety vests and the fact that they were all men, quite a few of the patrons in the hostal in Vilavella were construction workers.
I was on my way by 8.00am. As usual, I was on my own for the entire day. But I did find some bootprints along the way, but could not discern whether they were made today or in days’ past. I made my way through the village and found the arrows.
The early part of the morning led me down the valley, following next to the river. I loved the freshness and greenness of the valley. Galicia is a wet province. It has a reputation for lots of rain, which accounts for the greenery. Happily, I have not seen any sign of rain yet! But I am aware of the lushness of the greenery, the running streams, the sound of running water, through the creeks and rivers, and through the gutters in the towns. The water can make the camino path treacherous, so I am very grateful to the patrons who have provided stone slabs to make the way safe.
As I came out of the valleys, the fauna turned more to shrub. My enduring memory is the peace and tranquillity of the verdant valleys. The fresh greenery was a tonic to the eyes.
There was quite a chill wind blowing, which was tolerable but refreshing. Any stronger, and I might have been looking for an extra layer of clothing, a jacket or a windproof. Normally, as one outdoor shop salesman in Sydney put it, I “walk cold”. I walk in just trousers and woolen top. I don’t wear any other shirt or jacket. It is too much trouble to take off the backpack, take off a layer of clothing, put the backpack back on, continue walking, then take it off again to take off another layer of clothing. Besides, even if the morning is a bit chill, walking soon warms me up and I am perspiring. Here is a view from above the valley of the day ahead – another clear, warm, sunny day.
The Australian pilgrim I met the other day mentioned the stone walls he had passed, how old they were, that they had been in place for centuries. His comments made me think of the long history of human habitation of this landscape. Here is a view of the stone walls, and of the green fields beyond them, and of the green stand of trees beyond that.
In one place I passed another of the stone crucifixes. It makes me wonder what made this ancient civilisation sign its landscapes with the sign of the cross. What suffering was it marking? Or was it a stamp of Christian supremacy over Muslim rule?
My path through the morning was more or less standard.
O Pereiro (3.5kms) at 9.00am, i.e. in about an hour.
O Canizo (5.5kms) at 10.40am, i.e. in an hour and 40 minutes.
A Gudina (3kms) at 12.00am, i.e. in about an hour.
During the morning, anticipating my mere 12km walk of some three hours, I was relishing the thought of being the first in the albergue, of choosing the best low bunk available, of doing my washing and hanging it on the choicest, sunniest spot, and then laying back in bed smugly watching the other pilgrims arrive after their 20+km walk.
But when I arrived in A Gudina at midday, I felt it was too early to stop, but the further destination of Campobecerro (20kms) was too far, and there was no accommodation in between, only some villages that one of the guides indicated were “uninhabited” [I am sure the residents would object to being eliminated with such callousness!]. I did not want to lose the advantage of the 11kms taxi trip of the evening before, and felt that sitting around in A Gudina would do just that. As I was pondering this dilemma, a French woman whom I had met a few days’ previously walked into town. She said she had been unwell, hoped to continue to Campobecerro, but to avoid the ups and downs of the rural camino path, would do so by walking along the highway.
I considered my options. Campobecerro was 20kms, but based on the previous day, was doable. There was no accommodation before then, only the reportedly deserted villages. So it was either stay, or go all the way. Going on meant not wasting the rest of the day. I also felt the pressure of reducing the distance/time to Santiago. And it would maintain that “distance” from the large pilgrim group occupying the albergue that I had gained by taking the taxi. So I decided to continue.
There are two camino paths to Ourenze. The northern path, taking one side of the triangle, continues directly westward from A Gudina, via Compbecerro and Laza for 88kms. This is the shorter, recommended path. The other southern path goes southward from A Gudina via Verin, doing two sides of the triangle, for 114kms. In fact, the northern path is so taken for granted that the guide book I acquired from the Friends of the Camino doesn’t even mention the southern alternative!
My decision to continue on the recommend northern path was foiled at the very start. When I arrived at the town square where the two paths verged, there was notice that due to the construction of the high-speed railway, for the safety of pilgrims and to avoid crossing paths with construction vehicles/roads, the northern path was temporarily diverted southwards, and all pilgrims were to take the southern path. For those choosing the northern path, there was a diversion further south which went across country, joining up with the later part of the northern path.
Having bought supplies for the journey, I decided to continue with my plan, reckoning that going on current form, it was within my capability. So I set off southwards following the Camino path. I had not map, since the alternative southern path was not mentioned, so was walking “blind”, completely dependent on the arrows.
At the present stage, some of the camino signs are simple triangles, pointing the way. At a gulley, the path I was on came to a right hand turn down the valley. There was a dirt track straight ahead. I was unsure where to go, straight ahead, or down the valley. The camino sign was strategically located at this point, but the arrow pointed up the valley, where there was no path at all! I interpreted this to mean that they had run out of left-hand arrows, did not want the pilgrim to go straight ahead, and had put in the right-hand arrow instead. So I set off, somewhat apprehensively, in the opposite direction to the arrow!! I seemed to go for kilometres without seeing any camino sign. The only comfort was occasionally seeking boot tracks, but it was a bit disconcerting when these seemed to be going in the opposite direction! I was greatly relieved when eventually a camino sigh came in sight. Actually, it wasn’t all that desperate, as I knew I was heading South, and I knew that I was heading parallel to the highway and to the motorway on the other side of the hill. So I couldn’t be far wrong, and if desperate, had only to cross to the highway to make my way to the next town.
Eventually, I came to the new, alternative diversion for the northern path. It was much nearer than I had thought, only 7kms south, not 14 or more as I had thought, such that if necessary, I could continue further on the southern path to find accommodation in one of the towns, then get a short ride back the next morning to continue the diversion to the northern path. But the diversion was too soon to be thinking of accommodation, and the accommodation if found would be too far to come back the next morning. I studied the map, and decided to continue on the diversion, as planned, even though it indicated 14kms to meet up with the original northern path. Even there I made a mistake. I thought it was only 6kms from that meeting point to Campobecerro. When I checked my map later I discovered that it was not the last of the four “deserted” villages, but only the third, so that the distance from there to Campobecceros was actually 12kms. So unwittingly, I had set myself a very big task for the afternoon, 7km south + 14kms across country + 12kms to Campbecerro (for a total of 33kms). Had I known earlier what I knew at that time, I would have had (should have had) reservations about setting out to do in an afternoon what was actually a full day’s stage from A Gudina, and that after having a late start and walking 12kms from Vilavella in the morning!!! But I was on the way, so no turning back.
The way led through some valleys, but also had some uphill climbs. I loved the valleys, the lushness of the greenery, of the grass, of the trees. Here is a view of a lush, green meadow in the valley.
The lushness, of course, was due to the water. This could create problems for the walking path, but fortunately, kind patrons have provided passage. Initially, from a distance, I thought this water crossing would stump me, that I would have to take off boots, put on sandals, and wade through.
But off to the left was a bridge made of stone slabs which made for an easy crossing!
The long afternoon ahead was daunting. The level patches were OK. I managed to maintain momentum, through stamina (admittedly at this stage feeling a bit depleted), through McInerney stoicism, from Fitzgerald “never give in”, and because, having started, there wasn’t any other bloody option but to keep going!!!
But the path also involved climbing down the valley (more than once), which always demands attention. And having gone down, then, you guessed it, there is always the climb up on the other side, which was challenging.
As the afternoon wore on, I found myself flagging. I was taking more stops. I limited myself to one sip of water, so that I wouldn’t run out. It was a long, hard, road, mostly uphill. I did take time to look at the flowers, but I confess it was mostly an excuse to have a break! It was more for the body to gather breath, rather than for the spirit to be lifted by the appreciation of nature!!
As the time went on and my progress was becoming slower, I began to realise that I had taken on more than I could handle. I began to wonder if I might have to sleep out in the open, to keep warm, wearing extra clothing, and wrapped securely in my sleeping bag.
At one stage I saw an operator using a large tractor with heavy plow and bulldozer bar, possibly clearing land, with a ute parked off the side of the road. Soon afterwards, a low loader semi came along the road towards me, passed, but stopped where the tractor was operating. I thought, here is my chance! God has sent this to help me! They will surely be going back in the direction from which they had come, the direction in which I was going, that I would hitch a ride with them. I watched them closely from a distance, but there was no action. I realised that I had set my heart on a lift, but there was no guarantee that they were even going to come my way, and if so, when they would do so. So I continued on, slowly, letting them slip out of sight as I went over the hill.
Over the rise, to my surprise, were some buildings. Initially, I thought it must be a farmhouse. Then I realised that there were other houses. It was actually a town, which I was not expecting. I thought I had to cross two valleys and climb two hills, reckoned I had done only one, so must be only half way. I determined that I would seek refuge in this town, come what may. I would knock on a door and ask for a place to unroll my sleeping bag! The physical necessity had overcome the shame of begging that I had felt the evening before in Lubian! There was even a church, so I thought I could sleep in the cemetery, the enclosed walls protecting me from wolves and other wild beasts in my fevered imagination, on a tombstone if necessary!!
As I crept closer to the town, the ute and low loader with tractor on board came up the road. I gave the hitchhike sign. The ute stopped, but the driver indicated he was going the other way. He pointed out the road, seeming to indicate that was the way I had to take. I followed his directions. By now, I had seen that there was a road, and cars passing, and I hoped I might be able to get a lift.
He also told me that the town was Venda da Capela, which was the junction with the original northern path. I was not half-way after all, but had arrived at the junction. According to the map, it was 14kms. I had managed it from 2.30pm to 5.45pm, in just over 3 hours. Given how slowly I was moving, and how many rests I had to take, especially on the ascents, I found the arithmetic problematic. I think it must have been less than 14kms, but am prepared to take the credit.
As I went down the road indicated by the ute driver, one of the locals told me that I was going the wrong way, that the camino path was the other way, that it was straight along the road, and that was the way I should be going. My limited Spanish was stretched in trying to ask about the road I could see not too far away, about the traffic on it, whether or not I would be able to get a lift, and in which direction I should be looking to take a lift. He was insisting that that road was irrelevant to me, that I should be walking in the opposite direction. As he was saying this, a couple of vehicles came up the road towards us. Ignoring my guide, I put out my thumb, and the first vehicle stopped. It was a double-cab ute with a couple of construction workers. I said “Campobecerro”. They indicated me to hop in. I put may backpack and poles in the back and climbed in with great relief. I told them they were “angels” sent by God!!
At one stage the driver phoned another vehicle, who came along, and for some reason unknown to me, we swapped vehicles, myself and the passenger transferring to the other vehicle. That driver did a u-turn and continued on the way we had been going.
I was amazed at the scenery around me. There were high mountains, deep valleys. I had presumably climbed down and up similar heights, so no wonder I was done in!! Even though the camino path at that stage was along the ridge, neither too up nor too down, I was very glad to be travelling in a vehicle and not walking!!!
Off to the right side was a huge dam, the Embalsa das Portas, which generates hydroelectricity. It was indeed huge, filling up the valley for a very long way.
The friendly construction workers dropped me off in Campbecerros and pointed out the albergue.
I went in, and you guessed it, there was no room in the inn!!!
However, they told me that a woman in the town had a place and took in only pilgrims. They gave me directions. I found the house, found a bed, had a lovely long bath/shower, found a restaurant and had a meal with very generous proportions, and am now ready for bed.
I thought I had the place to myself, but later the next morning I met the French woman at my next day’s destination and she told me she had been in the same place, arriving when I was out for dinner, in bed when I returned, so that we did not meet each other.
The morning’s walk from Vilavella to A Gudina was 12.5kms.
The afternoon’s walk from A Gudina to Campobecerros on the regular northern path should have been only 20kms.
But the diversion meant that it was 7km south + 14kms across country + 12kms to Campbecerros i.e. 33kms.
So I actually walked 33.5kms for the day.
I hitchhiked 12kms with the construction workers.
My day’s walk was much more than I had anticipated in the morning, and more than if I had been able to follow the original northern path, so I have no regrets about the ride. It makes no difference to the total 1,000kms which is my target.
From Campobecerros, Santiago is only 178kms i.e. around 7 days averaging 25kms.
And on that note, I am going to bed, but determined that tomorrow will NOT be such a big day as today!! I need to give myself a break and have a “normal” day, not a BIG one!!