Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

May 9

May 9th, 2016

May 9

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Boente to Vilamaior 38 km.
The official Camino de Santiago ends tomorrow with a short trek into Santiago. Started early today to avoid the worst of heavy afternoon showers. The trek up out of Boente (an undistinguished town) was in early light. There were open skies overhead but every cloud type packing the horizon. Stark shadows, halo flares everywhere. The first hours were through as pretty a landscape as you could desire, including early stone villages with Roman bridges arching over fast-running streams. As the day progressed the landscape compressed. The path remained caught between highways, crossing often and at times paralleling, following a muddy shoulder exposing pilgrims to the spray of passing cars. After Arzua (an undistinguished large town), the way filled up with pilgrims. I found myself thinking of Faulkner’s long short story, “The Bear,” a story of deforestation (something I could see here with eucalyptus plantations) but also about Ike McCaslin’s youth hunting in the big bottom for Old Ben, the bear. Each year on the last day of the hunt, Ike and his mentors would seek out Ben for their yearly appointment. Word got around and over the years, on the last day, more and more people would appear to participate (actually observe). Faulkner describes some as wearing hunting clothes that still bore creases from having been on the store shelf just a few hours before. The way is now packed with short-term pilgrims overwhelming the old-timers, most sporting shiny new equipment and a great deal of enthusiasm. Stop about six km. outside of Santiago and spent a perfect quiet afternoon before tomorrow’s hustle and bustle.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 8

May 8th, 2016

May 8

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Gonzalez to Boente 37 km.
Robert MacFarlane along with Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards wrote a beautiful little book called Holloway. A holloway is “a sunken path, a deep & shady lane. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll, & rain-run have harrowed into the land.” They trace and illustrate a number of English Holloways and in the course uncover a deep, somewhat hidden history. Today was a day for winding footpaths. Not quite the very deep, tree-hidden landforms MacFarlane and company articulate, but without doubt, these paths have centuries of foot-fall & rain-run, and they are well below the grade of the field. Last night it rained hard, the only pleasant sound to come from an overcrowded Albergue with some serious snorers (along with people who simply don’t understand that slamming the bathroom door at 3:00 am or talking on the phone at 2:00 am is douchy). That rain did wash down the paths, perhaps deepening them a bit further, but the cloudy weather slowly grew bright, and though clouds drifted all day, it was a magnificent day to walk Galicia. The deep paths were usually lined by oaks, some old, twisted, and covered both with deep moss and heavy vines. The edges were a riot of wild flowers, mostly purple and white, though of course there was plenty of yellow from the gorse that crowded parts of the woods. Crossed white pine plantations again, but also eucalyptus, a crop favored by wealthy absentee landlords but bemoaned by farmers who have been caring for this soil for millennia.

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Apart from some magnificent ancient churches, the main architectural features were the many hórreo–rectangular stone, brick, and wood grain storage structures set on stone piers about three feet above the ground. Very distinctive. Pushed a bit near the end of the day. Tomorrow will be another long one, then a short hop into Santiago for the finish line.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 7

May 7th, 2016

May 7

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Agriculture– the Camino might be a strong financial engine for this region, but clearly farming defines the people’s lives. The way passed villages that were more clusters of barns than towns, smelling strong but good. An elderly man walking his dog embodied the spirit, a certain joy in his smile and enthusiastic “buen camino.” Last night’s rain cleared today–clouds with patches of blue. When showing optimism for better weather, my mother used to say of the sky, “there is enough blue to knit a Dutchman a pair of pants.” I have no earthly idea where that saying comes from (nor do I want to know), but I invoked it today on setting out. When not crossing pastures, the way wandered in forests–either scrub oak or white pine plantations with the occasional cluster of ancient chestnuts. There were magnificent stone walls, but also stone slab fencing: thin slabs two feet across and three high, almost like a row of headstones, but not so solemn. The pastures and fence rows were all in bloom. Today yellow and purple lupines made their entrance in the swales of grass land. In front of an old stone house up a hill, a very old man swung a scythe clearing the new growth from the gateway. He stopped, pulled out his stone and with several dexterous swipes freshened his edge and continued cutting. I imagined him as a young man, standing there with the same scythe, swinging with more strength but perhaps not with the same skill and method. The land’s footprints here go deep into the past.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 6

May 6th, 2016

May 6

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Triacastela to Barbadelo 28 km. Galicia is renowned for its green beauty, but walkers the green exacts a price–it rains often, as it did all day today. Not a hard rain, but a good soaking one that left me damp. All that water has to go somewhere, and the streams were all brimming. Little freshets rush down troughs cut in the green grass, and the rivers have numerous falls which on closer inspection are usually revealed as old dams which have become wild enough to pass for falls. Today’s path wound through small valleys and coves, switching often between narrow twisting paved roads (single lane) and muddy farm tracks. Though still feeling under the weather, it was a fine walk, ending at an Albergue in a tiny village. The road is now heavily populated by short-timers who can get their Camino merit badge if they go 100 km–if they start at Sarria, a large town I crossed today.

May 5

May 6th, 2016

May 5

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Las Herrieas to Triacastela 32 km. I’m afraid my steripen finally failed to function properly, and I was visited by that Italian mobster Sal Manella. Felt rocky all day even though it was once again a beautiful walk. Heading up over a rise I turned to find a farmer with his two dogs. On his shoulder was a huge hoe, and he was riding bareback a stout white farm horse. Not sure if he was heading to off work or returning from it, but he was smiling the smile of someone aware of the beauty of the world where he labored. My intestinal distress precluded sampling the Triacastela cuisine, opting instead for an early evening’s repose.

May 4

May 6th, 2016

May 4

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Villafranca to Las Herrieas. Some days the walk is not really the highlight. I missed the mountain path turn out of Villafranca so it was a road walk most of the day. Apart from a pleasant stop by a stream in the shade, an unremarkable day that was redeemed by the simplest of things. The Camino is now filling with short term pilgrims so the only way to be sure to get a bed at an Albergue is to stop early. When I got to Herrieas I got a bunk, shower and strolled over to the local bar, finding a spot out front facing a field with cows, a stream, and a bellowing bull. Rudy and I went in to order beer but found the place packed with the carpenters and stone masons working on the building next door. On their lunch break, they had the bar keeper running to pour drinks –a dark liquid from heavy label-less bottles. W soon found ourselves with beer and tapas, listening to the ringing of the single belled cow. Not a sounding brass nor a tinkling cymbal, we were regaled with a clanking bell. Going in for a refill, I passed the bartender eating his lunch, a rare steak. I smiled appreciatively and soon he was cutting slices for me to take out with my beer. When Gloria arrived he went in for more and later set us up with a bottle of local cider poured through a special electric pump to be sure to leave the dregs undisturbed. Realizing this was a special man and bar, Gloria went in and negotiated a steak dinner including chorizo white bean soup and remarkable local wine. Some days you have to follow where the trail leads you.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 3

May 6th, 2016

May 3

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Ponferrada To Villefranca 28 km. Moving through new climates, flora, fauna, and architecture. The first, most noticeable shift was in the trees, gone are the olives (more or less) replaced by apple and cherry. Atop every bell tower and electric pole are huge stork nests. The birds stand above them, glowering down at walkers, while small songbirds flit in and out of holes cut in the bottom of those huge piles of sticks. And the roofs are now black slate. Back in serious wine country so stopped at Moncloa, an ancient vinyard and set of stone buildings housing a restaurant with a perfect courtyard, vines climbing to form a fragrant roof with great food and Galician music. All in all, it felt like being on a movie set. Dinner in an old Spanish restaurant (not frequented by pilgrims) — trout and octopus.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 2

May 3rd, 2016

May 2

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El Gamso to Ponferrada 42 km. Early on in Walden, Thoreau says, “It is true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be present at it.” ( I recall my son Charlie once saying that was his favorite line). Thoreau’s sentiment is also shared by my friend Gloria who last night proposed we get up early and hike to the ridge near Cruz de Ferro to watch the sunrise– a walk of 15 km including a long steep climb. At 4:00 am, Gloria, Rudy and I were up and in a few minutes were hiking fast and hard down the path, headlamps dimly lighting the way. The sky was awash with stars, the Milky Way streaming through the middle, punctuated by the occasional meteorite. But the sky had to be ignored most of the time as we had less than 3 hours to cover the distance. Before long a crescent moon rose at our backs, making it a most celestial day. Setting a brisk pace we made the first landmark (the next town) in good time, but Rudy soon had some shin pain, opting to stop a while to rest while Gloria and I pressed on, now climbing the ridge in mud and water while the horizon began to lighten ominously. Soon anticipation gave way to near despair. Pushing on through the just-waking village of Foncebadon, we crested the main ridge, still short of Cruz de Ferre, but with the ideal place to see the morning in. The sleeping pad I’ve been carrying all year finally got some use on the Camino, the perfect cushion to rest and watch the show, and what a show it was. Some low clouds ran interference as the orange intensified, then a brilliant intensity of yellow light turned my retinas purple, but the sun’s rays soon touched all around and, though we had not materially assisted in its rising, we had contributed our mite, and gotten everything in return. It’s a strange feeling to have been up and toiling long and hard only then to recognize that a new day has commenced. We got up, stretched, and made our way to the Cruz de Ferre, an iron cross atop a tall wooden pole surrounded by a huge pile of rocks brought from all over the world. I found a rock by the path and pitched it over my head onto the pile, while Gloria retrieved the one she had carried from some far away place in anticipation of the moment.

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The rest of the morning and early afternoon was a roller coaster of ridges, each bringing us closer to a new landscape and climate. The world was transformed. Huge oak trees, many small streams, and an efflorescence of wildflowers changed what had been for so many days dreary flat fields. We walked through color– more color than you can imagine. Lavender, daisies, buttercups–only the beginning of the palette. The towns began to change as well. Terra cotta roofs gave way to slate; the houses crowded the street with heavy-timber cantilevered second story porches shading the way. On the way to the valley floor to Ponferrada, we passed villages choked with wisteria and amazing old woodwork. Stopped for lunch at Molinaseca, a town with a Roman arched bridge across a river flowing past an inviting cafe. Since mayday had fallen on Sunday (yesterday), the holiday was today so the patio was soon flooded with families enjoying their day.

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After already hiking 35 km, it was with real reluctance that I finished my iberica ham and melon lunch and shouldered the bag for the last 7 km–such is the pilgrim life. On the way into the city, Rudy rejoined us, so we found the Albergue, had a paella dinner, and slept the sleep of the dead. If ever a day was carpe diemed, it was this one.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 1

May 3rd, 2016

May 1

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Hospital de Orbigo to El Gamso 31 km. This day took me across the rest of the meseta to the edge of the first line of mountains leading into Galicia. The highlight was midday in Asturga, arriving on a Sunday at the center city as mass let out. Crowds filled the square while I drank coffee, watched pilgrims, locals dressed in traditional clothing, and assorted other passersby while the city bells chimed. Sometimes there is nothing better than a quiet cup of coffee on a city square where everyone moves at an unhurried pace. Visited the Gaudi mansion/castle and the cathedral then headed back out on the plain, trying to get a reasonable number of kilometers in. Arrived late afternoon at El Gamso to discover a Galician proprietor of the Albergue playing the banjo. Learning I was American and from the Appalachian mountains, he pressed me to play. I could only convince him with some difficulty that I was entirely unmusical. Rudy trailed through a little later, so he, Gloria, and I had a mediocre perigrinos dinner at the local market, planned the next day and retired early, but not before watching the sunset over the range that is tomorrow’s goal.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 28

April 28th, 2016

April 28

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Calzadilla de la Hermanillos to Puente de Villarente 32 km. A day out on the big empty. The first 25 km were through slightly rolling fields broken by a few canal crossings, but really just path and sky. It ended finally on arrival in Reliegos and the Torres bar which was covered with hippie graffiti, blasting blues, and made the best coffee so far, a high point in an otherwise blank day. It was, and has been, all about the walking and not about seeing. Unlike the Appalachian trail green tunnel, this is a green plain, but the effect is the same. Walking, you turn inward, only opening out when a bird, or wind, or stand of trees intrudes. Beautiful Albergue tonight with only a few pilgrims, but some of my favorites.

T. Hugh Crawford

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