I’m writing this from the large albergue at Cea, where I am the sole occupant this evening. It occupies one of the massive, stone, buildings that are typical of this region. There are heaters on the walls, but the 30-person dormitory is very large, with a high ceiling, so I have piled up extra blankets in case I need them.
I had an indulgently slow start to the day – taking the time to enjoy a slice of civilisation at the stylish Casa Habana apartment in Ourense. As I was closing the door behind me, I received a text message from Uwe, who had already walked 12km by 10:30am. He warned me that the signage out of town was hard to spot, the fog was thick, and the temperature was “Frio! Frio!” He was right. As I crossed the Roman bridge to head out of town, the people coming towards me were all wrapped up in winter coats with looks of grim determination on their faces. I found a cafe that was serving breakfast and put on my woolly hat and gloves.
Ourense offers pilgrims two routes out of town. The original Camino route requires a right turn after the bridge and follows the Avenida Santiago out of town. The man at the tourist information centre in Ourense had told me that this way was a couple of km longer but it offered better scenery and an easier climb. Unfortunately, as Uwe predicted, the arrows were a little hard to find. Even though I knew that I needed to stay on Avenida Santiago (or Sanyago in Gallego?), I immediately managed to lose my way. Fortunately, a helpful, elderly, man with Ian McAskill spectacles identified me as a pilgrim and put me back on the right path. He shook my hand and wished me a “Bo Camiño.” After that, I stuck to the Avenue Santiago but I was troubled by a long stretch of road without arrows. I asked a man who was walking his dog, who reassured me that I should carry on as far as the petrol station, where the Camino turns right and leaves the busy city roads. This is where the climb began.
The houses on either side of the road looked very prosperous. Many have signs on the gates that celebrate the pilgrim path – images of Santiago and shells. I noticed that the name of the road was “Camino Real,” like the play by Tennessee Williams, which has the frustrations and humiliations of old age as its central theme. This hill also seemed to be designed to remind me of the effects of aging – I grunted and puffed and sweated my way up. In the misty, frosty, late morning I had the odd sensation of feeling cold while perspiration seemed to be pouring off my face. I realised that the high humidity was giving it nowhere to go other than down my neck, whereas in the desert environment where I started this Camino, the greedy air around me kept me dry.
It struck me that so many of the features that I have noticed about Galicia are the result of the sheer volume of water that falls and flows through the region – the greenness of the landscape, the rich vegetable patches in front of houses that produce the green leaves for hearty Caldo Gallego soups, the elevated Horreos to store and dry crops, the springs that provide fresh water to pilgrims at frequent intervals, the huge public clothes washing basins, the generous porches and overhanging roofs that cover any space where people might gather, the narrow, horizontal, ventilation windows on the ground floors of buildings, the robust stone fences and houses, where even the balconies are entirely constructed from stone (despite the abundance of wood in the area). This necessitates extravagant triple tiers of heavy stone lintels at short intervals under the balconies. I’m sorry for the pedestrian observation that the climate shapes the natural and manmade landscape. If I could explain why some Galician bars proffer a tray, loaded with canapés, when a customer buys a drink, or why they put waste-paper pots on the bar rather than letting customers litter the floor, as is the custom elsewhere, I could call myself an anthropologist. But I’m just a walker, so pedestrian observations are what you get.
A couple of hours later, the road finally flattened. I looked back at Ourense, still shrouded in mist. I had emerged into sunshine that stayed with me for the rest of the day.
Behind me, the old boots that I had tied to my rucksack protested at their relegation to reserve boot status in the only way boots know – They kicked me repeatedly, their blows landing in random patterns no matter how hard I tried to secure them tightly or adjust my gait. My sexy, new, orange-laced footwear smiled up at me cheerfully; willing me to discard the angry passengers. But this is our honeymoon and I am still mistrustful of these Italian boots with their French soles. Besides, the old boots and I have gone through a lot together. I won’t just sling them over a branch to hang like the strange fruit of a Galician tree. They deserve the dignity of a proper ceremony at the dustbin closest to the saint. To reassure them of this, I swapped boots for the last 5km of my walk, even though I was having no problems with the new ones.
The walk itself was sometimes on hard surfaces and occasionally required me to cross a local road, but it was always very pretty. I passed several villages on the way, some of which seem to have wealthy residents – I saw a few huge houses with big covered swimming pools. The path is signposted as the route of “Pazos,” – palaces in the Galician language. In Tamallancos, I took a short detour to see an C18th house that was signposted. As I was walking there, I heard people speaking something that sounded more like Portuguese than Spanish or Gallego. Later, in the nearby bar, I saw scarves celebrating Brazil and Porto football clubs. I might have expected to hear Portuguese nearer to the border. Are there Lusophone enclaves in Galicia, or just a few Brazilian and Portuguese people who immigrated? I believe some Portuguese people brought match production techniques to the rest of Europe in the early 20th century, giving rise to the lyric in the wartime song: “While you’ve a Lusophone to light your fag, Smile boys that’s the style…”
Another odd thing that I noticed during the day was the number of women doing heavy work in the fields and streets. I came across women wearing heavy woollen smocks over skirts and trousers, wheeling barrows, hoeing fields, throwing things around with garden forks, and breaking up driveways. The men all seemed to be driving tractors and handling machinery. Perhaps I just haven’t been paying attention until now, but I don’t recall seeing this in the rest of Spain.
Later in the day, I took another break at Bar Cubeliña in Viduedo, where the radio star died. The deaf owner asked me to face her when I spoke so that she could lip read my order – My English accent did not confuse her. She served me an excellent tapa of beans with tripe, I think, and explained that she had just made it and it would taste much better tomorrow.
After Viduedo I crossed a 15th century bridge and continued along the tree-lined paths as the sunlight started to turn orange. I continued to see Horreos everywhere – a total Horreo show. I reached Cea at around 6pm – still light because I’ve been travelling west since Zamora. In a field at the entrance to the village, I met a man in a beret, who gave me directions and then followed me all the way to the albergue. It was only when he opened it up and asked me for my credencial that I realised that he was the hospitalero – Orlando. I asked him for a dinner recommendation and he told me that he’d meet me at 8pm to take me to the local pulpo restaurant – a simple but wonderful place with plain decor, Formica tables, and two options for starters and mains. I had the Caldo Gallego and the octopus, of course. It was wonderful.
The village of Cea is famous for its bread – the local rye giving it its dark colour. At one time there were 15 bakeries in this village whose population is now around 2,500. The huge square at the centre gives a feeling of a much larger town.
Its Wednesday 10:30am now. I’ve spent too much time writing this up in the cafe in Cea with its wifi connection and lovely bread. Time to upload this nonsense and get going.
Day 62 (28/Nov/2017): Ourense to Cea (23km)