Days 22, 23, 24: Welcome to Galicia

Lugo/Sarria > Portomarín > Palas del Rei
September 28 – September 30, 2017

Welcome to Sarria.

The bus from Lugo to Sarria teemed with people shuffling about without any care for assigned seating. It was also completely full. It was a fairly short ride though so I didn’t care. It was still a bright and sunny afternoon when we arrived and we walked through streets that were more empty than I expected up and around the hill to our monastery of La Magdalena albergue. It was still pretty empty, probably because it was still early, so we had time to do our laundry and marvel over the amount of things available for purchase in their kitchen before perusing the rest of the village.

Then we went by another church, (pretty but, omg, again) and then passed by a pink building that used to be a women’s prison in the 1950s but was now an art gallery. I’ve been struggling to find a website, or really any reference online, for about 10 minutes now but Vanessa thinks it highly unlikely there is anything of the sort. It’s too bad because, even though we almost didn’t go in ourselves, they ushered us in to the free exhibit and then proceeded to guide us through some of the coolest, weirdest rooms. In the first were miniatures of all the town’s prominent buildings, often with real light or water features. In the second were a cadre of larger than life sized puppets that were worn by actors in a local parade surrounding Camino life. They were quite creepy but also entertaining and we spent a good 20 minutes here mimicking their expressions and taking photos. Then we had a pilgrim dinner which was extremely mediocre, the only thing memorable about it being that a bee fell into my wine, and headed back to the hostel for an early night.

Mimicking the giant parade puppets.
This guy might have been my favorite.
And this was the pilgrim.

The once sleepy little albergue continued to fill throughout the night. I was somehow passed out by like 9:30 even though we hadn’t even walked that day but expected it to be quiet as silence was requested in the sleeping area through posted signs and even during the bright afternoon sun any people we heard talking were doing so in whispers. So that’s why it was especially jarring when a giant group stomped their way into the dark seemingly banging pots and pans with how loud they were. It continued long enough for someone else to shout “Enough already!” into the ether but that only kind of worked. Then a woman cried out twice in her sleep in Spanish, which turned my ire into a half asleep trepidation. I was happy when 7am came around and I fumbled out the door.

Getting on into October in Spain the sun rose later and later and a good full hour or more of our walk out of town necessitated headlamps. Time in Spain is strange, especially the farther west you go. We started feeling it here but didn’t really realize why until several days later in Santiago. But Spain is in the Central European Time Zone, which is a weird holdover from WWII when Franco changed it from Greenwich Mean Time (where it had been since the standardization of time zones in 1900) to be inline with the rest of German occupied Europe. As a result by our final days the sun wouldn’t rise until after 8:30, much too late for a pilgrim to start moving.

We stopped at the first cute little albergue as the sun rose and I kinda wished we had stayed there. But they had a decent breakfast and a cute bearded man called over to us as we ate saying he hadn’t seen us in a while and how were we. We assured him we must have some other cute chubby doppelgangers but even the potential community of it made me smile.

Just easing on down the road. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.
Ugh, this picture so so dark but it’s the only one we have of the ladies we dubbed our “cheese angels.”

Otherwise it was a typical drizzly Galician day and just a bit depressing but I suppose food is always the savior on a thru-hike and when we escaped some harder downpour a few hours later in another weird little Spanish pub we met some women who shared their cheese plate with us and marveled at our instant friendship. It was the first time we would experience this new soft regional cheese and definitely not the last. We would see our friends again as well.

Entering Portomarin is the most exciting part of this town. Originally an old Roman village, it was completely flooded over, save a few important buildings that were moved brick by brick, in the 1960s when the Miño River was dammed to build the Belesar reservoir (Encoro de Belesar). This being the end of summer, however, the river was extremely low and you could see all the ruins poking out of the water far below as you walked in over the tall bridge.

Boy, this post is really nerdy and informational. I hope you all have your historian and archeology caps on. I can’t say I mind much myself. It’s actually one of the things I liked best about the Camino, being able to combine these pursuits with walking and being outdoors.

View of the high bridge on the way into town.
Old Portomarin ruins normally underwater. View from the bridge on the way into the new town.

The municipal hostel in town, however, was much less exciting than the city’s lore. It seems typical of municipal Galician albergues to have absolutely no kitchenware, which makes me wonder why they bother to have a kitchen at all. But the town had lots of food options and I was hoping more cheese was in my future so I wasn’t particularly perturbed by that. What was more unnerving were the facilities. Giant rooms with rows upon rows of grimy looking bunks was meh, but the bathroom that had hair strewn showers with no doors were really not my jam. Worse, the water trickled out in what could barely be considered a stream. I cursed myself for not taking a shower the night before because I was so clean that day. Today I could not skip again. But my love was so good to me and stood in front of where a curtain or door should be and held my belongings so they wouldn’t get wet and I could at least pretend I had some level of privacy.

Later, as the water stopped working completely, we learned that a whole section of town was without water while they fixed some main or other so that part, at least, might have been temporary. But the water didn’t come back all night, and you could only use the internet if you were an EU citizen so I was anxious to get out of there. When an older Spanish man basically sprayed poison in our faces as he treated his bunk above us with permethrin we had to get out even though we knew it would be very early for dinner.

Dinner was good, though, and in addition to more soft white Galician cheese I also had Orujo, a traditional liqueur made from the residue of wine production. That may not make it sound super appealing but it was actually delicious and I still wish I could find some place that would make me a queimada, a drink they make from the liquor in which,

…bits of lemon peel, sugar and ground coffee are put into a clay pot. Then the orujo is poured on top and the pot is lit on fire until the flame turns blue. This ancient tradition dates back to Celtic times and includes a ritual where the queimada-maker recites a “spell” as he makes the drink.

Aside from those already mentioned their white wine is exceptional, soup delicious and we got quickly addicted to Santiago Cake. I still liked the somewhat similar Basque cake a little better but Vanessa was obsessed. The area is also known for their octopus but we didn’t try that for another couple days when we got to Melide, which is supposed to be the epicenter even though it’s not particularly near the ocean.

There was also an adorable family seated next to us who were taking their college aged daughter through the way and we chatted with them for a bit before reluctantly making our way back to the albergue for an early night.

Shot of Orujo. Strong stuff.
Soft Galician style cheese.

The next day I was sad to have to leave in the dark not only because it was it a bit treacherous as we trundled down to the other bridge out of town but also because I would have loved to see more ruins down the river. But it was also a nice walk upward through the trees once we crossed and we were starting to genuinely run into many of the same people from day to day. It’s nice to see some familiar faces as we travel through the dark. We even saw a familiar face from much earlier in our trip in Santo Domingo de Calzada which means he must have skipped ahead a bit as well. We recognized him because he was particularly well dressed, certainly the most fashionable we had seen on the Camino thus far and while I had no idea how functional his wardrobe was I respected his trail style. He had to be either gay or Italian.

It was a long day but I was excited for the small town we were staying at that night, Palas de Rei, because we had found a hostel with pod bunks and even that minuscule amount of aloneness sounded like such luxury. The hostel was busy but their little attached restaurant that served pilgrim’s dinner was surprisingly lonely even though the meal was quite good. Even better was the white Galician wine they served in a nondescript but sweet little glass bottle with wire swing rubber seal top. We couldn’t resist ordering a second small bottle and were not charged.

“And now we’re going to bend down and come up into Upwards Facing Pod…. inhale… and exhale… now take a cheese break” – Perfect commentary on my pod yoga by Monique Danser.

alOur perfect wine at the restaurant attached to Zendoira.

Just some cool building remains. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.
Weird ant sculptures at one of the closed season albergues.
My hair is getting so long…Photo by V Friedman.
Someday I would love to check out this land project.

Despite the perfection we were about to experience at Zendoira, I was tempted by a sign we passed along the way that advertised a sort of gay commune. Looking it up later it turned out that #agrogay was even cuter than I thought it would be. It may sound like an unfortunately aggressive convention but in actuality it was a bunch of agrarian/homesteader type gay farmboys creating art and vegetables in the woods. And even though the actual convention had been earlier that summer I do wonder if we had walked down that road if we would have met some really cool rural Spanish queers (though we would have more opportunities for queer exchange elsewhere in the country).

We ended the day walking through the burnt remnants of a forest, which I always find both so beautiful and sad. We encountered no forest fires while we walked but some really intense ones began just after we finished a week later that killed several people. We had avoided a cataclysm of fires all up and down the west coast of the US at home so we felt narrowly lucky but also like they were following us. But then again, maybe it’s just the end of the world…

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