Days 25, 26, 27: Last Miles through Cheesetown

Palas de Rei > Boente > Selceda > Lavacolla
October 1 – 3, 2017

We began the next day eating breakfast with a rather intense pair of women that were headed all the way to Arzúa, the cheese capital. As much as I wanted to make it there eventually I thought 29km/18 miles was a little ambitious for us. Or rather, we can do it but we don’t have fun. And who wants to be too tired for cheese?

Even more intense, though, were the hunting dogs caged up in a weird short trailer attached to the back of a truck outside. We had no context to begin with and the site of all those pups stuffed into a small trailer with just a few slits really disturbed us at first. Knowing what they were for made it only slightly less unnerving, so we got outta there pretty quick before eating a proper meal. It was the second day of my period, the most forceful one, so I was really hungry and very tired. It was a cruel joke that I got the honor of having my period twice on the Camino, even with our shortened itinerary. I curse the goddess that gave me a 24 day cycle.

Medieval puente into Furelos.
Cute shoes girl!
Galician fairy farms.

By the time we got to this little historical town outside Melide called Furelos, the site of an impressive medieval bridge I was already so hungry that every bar smelled heavenly. Our guidebook had also indicated that the town was so small it only had one but as we ambled through we saw several. Everything on the Camino must have grown. But it was still early and Melide wasn’t far in front of us, famous for its octopus. Hungry as I was though, and anxious to move on I couldn’t resist a quick peek into a free museum in an old stone building.

We stopped for Octopus just as we entered town and lingered just a little too long. I was physically struggling through this day and we hadn’t made it all that far. We even toyed with the idea of staying there that night. But that would put is pretty behind. I should have eaten more real food, the octopus was ok but not really my thing. Instead I had another orujo and prayed it would get me through the afternoon.

Melide octopus.
More orujo…

Stepping into the forest on the other side of town we met a roving band of hippies foraging for and cleaning nuts in a stream and making bad jewelry. Some tents were grouped together, some deep into the woods, and they certainly felt a little sketchy as they lit fires for the clay, lounged in makeshift hammocks and tried to hawk us their wares. But the most interesting thing about them was Chewie, a fairly docile looking donkey who was their Camino traveling companion. He also had one of my favorite credential stamps of the whole trip. Chewie the flying donkey is second only to the one with real sealing wax that I got when I donated money to for the Paralympics.

Chewie the donkey.

We moved on quickly.

We made it as far as Boente, and though the OS Albergue de Boente there was just a sort of largish and rough around the edges 70s house behind a bar the hospitalera, Josefina, a non-English speaker, was incredibly sweet. I took a shower in the olive green and yellow bathroom and popped our clothes in an old washing machine before settling into a little room with 2 sets of bunk beds for a nap. It was bigger than my room as a child in the 80s but reminded me of a room in any friends house that had to share with a sibling or two. And when we woke up, Josefina had folded our laundry.

There wasn’t much else to the town and we ate there. The meat and cheese plate was decent and the wine was pretty good. But I’m really glad we ended up ordering her special homemade dessert, mandala. At least that’s what she called it. I can’t really find any reference to it anywhere else but it was pretty similar to flan except still in its tiny pot and not flipped over, maybe a little thicker like a creme brulee. Either way it was amazing and I made it clear that it was my favorite item of the meal and she really appreciated that. We were BFFs after that for sure. And in the morning we chatted for many more minutes than I understood and she told us all about Santiago before taking a selfie with us and giving us her email.

Selfie with our very sweet hospitalera Josefina.
Josefina’s homemade mandala dessert. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.
Boot plant in front of the OS Albergue Boente. Photo by Vanessa Friedman
Boente church. Vanessa Friedman.

The nice morning we had had with Josefina was marred by the constant news emanating from the TV coming out of Barcelona. It seems soldiers from Madrid had forcibly stopped Catalans from voting and there had been a lot of violence. The only folks we had met so far were for a unified Spain and I, too, was inclined to be against this current climate of dangerous nationalism, but violence and voter suppression certainly did not seem to be the answer. We began walking with heavy hearts and some apprehension at our upcoming travel plans.

It was also the hottest day we’d experienced since before the north coast and I put on my sleeveless I had barely warn. I fretted about some more mosquito bites and a large spider bite right below my eye that was hot, red and swollen. I’m sure my Hashimoto’s and extreme allergy to bug bites is not helping, but at this point it feels like Spain’s plants and small animals are out to kill me. So thank god for cheese town.

Arzúa is one of the last towns where all the west walking Caminos finally converge, the ones walking the whole of the Norte being the last. It’s also known as a cheese town, specifically tetilla or “boob” cheese. This soft cheese is made of the milk of 3 types of cows and is shaped sort of canonical or pearlike with a nipple at the top. Tetilla means small breast in both Spanish and Galician and the mythology of its naming and existence begins with a protest of the Bishop of Santiago.

At the time the Portico de la Gloria (Master Mateo’s famous sculptures at the Cathedrals main entrance) was being finished and the bishop took issue with the odd smile on the prophet Daniels’ face. The clever bishop followed his gaze across the doorway and found that Queen Esther’s bosom was augmented by a cheeky sculptor. Daniel kept his smile, Esther had a reduction, and we got boob-shaped-protest­ cheese.

Tetillas! (Cheese photos by Vanessa Friedman)
So excited to ingest as much of this enormous pan-Spanish cheese plate as possible…but nervous too.

So when we saw a shop dedicated to cheese, and had lots of lumps of tetilla all around we stopped for a cheese plate and a coke for lunch. She tried to explain to me that the mixed plate was rather large but it was still only €12 and we clearly wanted more than one kind of cheese. Nonetheless when it came out we knew even us cheese monsters couldn’t finish it. I told Binky I wished she was there and even she said, lovingly…I think, “That is not a two person cheese plate…”

We wanted to make it to this albergue in Empalme that was supposed to have amazing food but we called ahead and they were already full. Santa Irene just beyond seemed ambitious and Josefina had recommended the Albergue de Boni in Salceda. By the time we got their Vanessa was in such chafing pain she was hobbling but the one drug store that could provide some relief was long since closed in this not quite town.

The hospitalero was gregarious almost to the point of being annoying but it was a comfortable little place for being in the middle of nowhere and the hydro massage showers were a pretty nice touch to an otherwise rather plain building. It was there that I first saw one of the two young women that must surely be dykes. We also got a small room with just two older women from Italy and while their snores were epic they were incredibly nice. And once again Vanessa chatted away with a woman who could speak no English and made yet another BFF.

Looking coy in front of my my naked scallop gonads. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.

We only had one choice for dinner but it was a good one. The wine and scallop, served Spanish style with the orange gonads still attached, were delicious, if a little pricey. But it was the first time I had ever eaten the full scallop and I just wanted to keep doing it. I think I got a little tipsy before turning in.

We went back to the same expensive but delicious restaurant across the street for breakfast. I think it was called Teresa’s. I was tempted to go the full on eggs and bacon route but no one was with me in the so I settled for a big muffin. The cute young dyke from the showers the day before was now there with her long haired but equally dykey looking travel companion (girlfriend? Sister? friend?) and they helped Vanessa with counting her change in Spanish. They didn’t walk that much faster than us and we saw them again later but neither of us ever did muster up the courage to make friends. Sigh.

An ambitious pilgrim could have probably gotten to Santiago the next day but we figured it would be better to take one more stop and have less miles the next day to get into town early. We took a tiny little wrong turn early on and got a catch a small and mysterious looking church in the woods before spilling right back out into Santa Irene, which would have really been a cute place to stay if we had been able to walk another 4 and a half kilometers the day before (we couldn’t have). We stopped at a nasty little bar where everyone was grumpy and a German woman yelled at us to close the bathroom door even though it wasn’t her bar. The depressing news was on again. But we got an ok bocadillo that we livened up with all our cheese leftovers and sat outside talking with a very sweet Australian couple who we would see again in Santiago.

Hidden little church.
Amongst the giant eucalyptus. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.
V Friedman.

Then we walked all day through the Eucalyptus woods until we got to the grim scenery skirting the Santiago Airport. I think this was also the say we saw a weird electronic sign right at the edge of the woods that had flashing lights of numbers showing how full each albergue in Santiago was. And then every so often, whether it was motion based or timer based I’m unsure, it would blare a prerecored message in Spanish. I had gotten an email from someone starting a queer travel podcast about doing an episode so I got what I could on my phone.

Eventually we took a rest at a nook of a bar where everyone from the trail seemed to be congregated, including our new Italian roommate friends. They waved gleefully, happy to see us.

So tired around the hot and barren path around the Santiago Airport. V Friedman photography.
Soooooo happy to be having an Oreo ice cream at the nook bar where we saw our friends. Photo by Vanessa.
This suburban horreo was bigger and more intense than most.

We bounded into Lavacolla in good spirits but very tired. The albergue was very nice, a whole complex really with service to the airport and buses into town. But it offered no pilgrim dinners so our choices seemed to be either cooking for ourselves or going to an expensive restaurant. We got a cheap beer and sat in the sunny courtyard in the back while we decided and got a little tipsy. The kitchen was actually quite nice but we had nothing in us to make dinner happen and were unsure what to do. So when this brassy east coast dyke came in to the reception area and helped a man whose Spanish was poor, we asked her if she could also help us. Id seen a flyer for pizza and so together we asked reception of they would deliver there. She said of course and called in our order, even adding some of her own. Delivery was free and the pizza itself was something like 7 or 8 euro. Plus we now also had a new friend.

While V and I proceeded to down an entire meat pie we learned that Kathryn was a former finance person from the New York New Jersey area. She loved to travel and lived for her dogs. We offered her pizza but, of course, she was vegetarian so we continued hanging out together in the kitchen as she made pasta. There were others there too, eating and drinking and playing games but we didn’t really interact as they were speaking Italian. But one lady offered me the rest of her 40 as she was heading to bed and I gladly finished it. Turned out to be a really successful penultimate day of walking and a really nice night.

A good night ends with a bad beer. Coy once again…or just drunk?

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