Galicia countryside near Sarria, on the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

El Camino: Galicia

A month since I left home in fall 2014, I have walked over 400 kilometers on the el Camino. I am excited to be in Galicia, the final stage of the el Camino, as I travel to Santiago, Spain. This is ancient Celtic territory, and unlike the dry Mesta, the average rainfall is one out of three days. It is beautiful country known for great oak forests. But the wood was used for building ships during the Spanish Armada. To replace the depleted oak forests, in 1941 Franco introduced eucalyptus trees. This was a drastic mistake, as plant life, birds, and many types of nature do not do well. As I walked for a week through this area and saw the eucalyptus, I thought of what has happened here.

It was a clear lovely morning as I started walking, alone with the stars out, as usual. Now that I am out of the mountains and the clouds, the weather is good. I had several days when I left the albergues with pilgrim friends, but they are a day or two behind me now. I followed the road, walking on pavement, for two hours in the dark before dawn. Not one person and only two to three cars until dawn. An owl kept me company for quite a spell.

Finally I decided not to follow the yellow arrows going off into the woods. Instead I stuck to the highway, following the signs to Samos, as I wanted to see the famous monastery there. It was two to three kilometers out of the way, but after a short spell, I rounded a curve and the great Samos Monastery came into view. Across the road, there was a tiny bar open, and two Canadians, waiting for the monastery to open, greeted me and asked me to join them. We left our bags and poles in a corner of the bar, and I began to take in this great walled place, at one time one of the greatest. I could have stayed all day and learned so much history, but I had many miles to go so I bid the Canadians “Buen Camino.”

I went back to the bar, happy to be reunited with my pack and poles, had a coffee, and hit the trail. I soon found the yellow arrows leading out off the highway onto the trail. I hiked three hours without seeing anyone, and finally I came out near Sarria, where lots of pilgrims were on the path. You can see what the countryside looked like in my photo at the top of this blog post. I walked right through town and kept on moving to Barbadelo.

Galicia is lovely country, and the small private albergue at Barbadelo is a complex of several modern style buildings, with a pool and music. There was one computer in the corner of the dining room. The manager let me use it, as the dining room was closed. I sat a long time trying to catch up on e-mails from back home. Later, I sat on the patio watching the cows and sheep, and in the distance, on the trail I had come on, there were a few pilgrims working their way here for the night.

I watched the cook arrive by car and then walk towards me, carrying a grand empanada as big as a family size pizza. “Buenos Dias,” he said as he almost went by me. I smelled this freshly baked pie and said, “Pardón, señor.” Of course I couldn’t resist and asked if I could have a piece. He soon returned with a big slice and a smile on his face. I politely began to cut a piece with a fork and knife—to his horror! He exclaimed, “No, no señora. No tenedor o cuchillo. Señora, dedos, por favor!” I dropped my fork and knife and picked up the piece of empanada with my fingers, and he nodded his head with a look of satisfaction.

I was enjoying this delicious treat of beef, veggies, cheese, and saffron wrapped in pie crust when my friend, Timo, a young German walked in from the trail and sat down at the table with me. For me this was the end of a great day. We had been walking on and off together for more than a week. I enjoyed listening to him tell mind-boggling stories of his research with a famed mathematician and his future plans as he finishes up his doctorate. I asked him to invite me to Norway when he receives a Nobel Prize during his lifetime. This young, humble, brilliant man has that much promise. We made plans to set out before dawn on the trail together the next morning.

Later that evening, after dinner, I went to the building with several large rooms for sleeping quarters. There were 8 people sharing the room; 4 French people came by car and left their dog in the car. Two of the women hiked during the day and met up with the others at night. There were two Americans, a German woman, and me.

Everyone is tired from hiking and sleep is a very important part of the day. Everyone was thoughtful and quiet, except for the older French man: not only did he snore, he had to get up and several times turned on the overhead light. His cell phone went off three times and he couldn’t find it. He was old, slow and very noisy. The American man got so upset he went outside in the middle of the night, and I know I had a sleepless night too.

So much happens in a day. I can go from a very high high to a discouraging low. But all in all, the good outweighs any setbacks and only adds to the challenge.

(posted May 26, 2015)