All along the el Camino, farmers would be working in the fields as I passed by on the trail. Some would be raking hay by hand rake, while others would be working on tractors in the fields. Others would be in the vineyards or corn fields, and some would be pruning in the olive groves or apple orchards. One of them is pictured in my photo above. Sometimes they would stop and talk with you if you could speak Castellano, Basque, or Galician. But always they would wave, smile, and send you happily along by saying, “Buen el Camino.”
The farmers would assist you by pointing the way at an intersection or offering you water. They had a sense of humor: they would laugh at you in a good way as you trudged along with a pack and they sat on a bench under the shade of a little tree. There were places on the el Camino where a local would park his car and set up a temporary food stand and sell you fresh-squeezed orange juice or a banana. Sometimes they would ask to see your el Camino passport and then offer you something free and stamp your passport. All the pilgrims I saw left a donation as they waved good bye.
At the albergues, the menu del día was locally grown food, often served by the wives of the farmers. It was the best food—savory and fresh. Besides the farmers and their wives, there were the animals. There were the dogs: each farmer had one or two. Some as work dogs, mostly shepherd types, and smaller ones as pets. The locals loved their animals and treated them with care and kindness. The cows were clean and healthy in the pastures. The cats were free to go into the fields and catch mice. The farms are small and well-managed, completely unlike those huge, scientifically-run farms that have lost the human characteristics of dedication and personal touch.
In several places along the trail, in the early morning, I would hear gun shots and see hunters in the distance, hunting for birds like quail. The last several days, near the final destination of Santiago, there are farms that rent out horses for pilgrims to finish the trail on horseback. I never saw anyone on horseback, but I know the option was available.
On one occasion a farmer’s dog barked, as it was before dawn and we were passing by his yard. The farmer came out of his house to help us, as we had missed a turn and were headed in the wrong direction. There were many places where the trail went through a farmer’s yard, around a barn, or through pastures, vineyards, and many fields.
The farm land was a special part of the el Camino, and I will miss that, as I now have only one more night before heading to the large city of Santiago. I hiked 33 kilometers today, though the countryside of farms and hamlets and small villages. I walked through Arzúa, known throughout Spain as a center for cheese making. I ended my day in Arca, a town with a supermarket, a few shops, and several restaurants. Tomorrow morning would find me in Santiago de Compostela!
(posted June 23, 2015)