Day 65 (1/Dec/2017): Bandeira to Puente Ulla (13km)

Hey ho, the wind and the rain.
Aguanieve is the Spanish word for sleet. I picked it up from my conversation with the woman who came into the Hotel Victorino while I was eating this morning, exclaiming that it was cold. I decided to take my time over breakfast and packing, with the happy result that I only experienced light rain for the first hour or so of my walk. After that it was cloudy but dry.
The dining room with its broken radiators was cold but the woman who cooked and served dinner and breakfast warmed up a bit this morning – like a passenger on a long haul flight who starts a conversation with his neighbour only when the landing procedures have started. (To be clear, if you find yourself sitting next to me on a long flight, that’s the right time to start a conversation). It turns out that she lived in Ottawa for four years and speaks English well. She explained that the poster against violence is specifically a campaign against “Machistas,” or sexists. The violence that the campaign wants to stop is not just physical but the attitude of men who expect women to do everything for them. Having this explained by the person serving me breakfast was a little disconcerting but perhaps that’s how such a poster campaign can be effective. I washed up and cleaned the table before checking out. (No I didn’t).
Having such a short distance to walk gave me time to slow down and enjoy the views. Once or twice I waited for clouds to pass so that I could try to capture a photograph of the sun illuminating fields and buildings nearby with dark clouds over the hills in the distance.
I took a break for coffee in the beautiful albergue in Dornelas, where I met the owners who moved here from Milan ten years ago. No point regretting the fact that I didn’t make it here yesterday evening… When I first entered, I was alone in the cafe area with a fantastic view over the countryside and Bartok (I think) playing on the radio, perfectly complementing the moody scene.
After Dornelas the Camino took me through woodland paths. I saw a sign on a tree for a restaurant and took a long break for lunch before pushing on for another couple of kilometres to a steep descent into Puente Ulla.
As the name suggests, it’s the site of a bridge with several narrow arches on either side of a dramatic arch – like Hijiribashi in Tokyo. I guess they were built around the same time. There are photos of the bridge under construction at the albergue where I’m staying. The original bridge has since been joined by a more massive but similarly styled railway bridge. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo of the old bridge viewed through the arch of the new one. Too many trees in the way!
I finished the day with a smashing meal at the Villa Verde restaurant – I hadn’t expected to find haute cuisine, so it was a particularly nice surprise. I had a main course of pheasant with mushrooms and chestnuts, which was delicious. It struck me that this was the first time that I was eating game in Spain – despite seeing hunters all over the place. They must be keeping it all for themselves.
On the walk today, I came across an abundance of tributes left by pilgrims; pebbles piled up on way markers, ukeleles and religious icons on trees. Permit me to add my contribution to this genre – I don’t want this to seem overly sentimental or contrived, but I spent a little time reflecting on the Camino today. As you can read elsewhere, this pilgrimage owes its existence to the legend that the remains of Saint James the Greater were transported to Spain after his death in Jerusalem in AD44, buried in the forests of Galicia, rediscovered and identified in the 9th century. In the Middle Ages, it became a hugely important pilgrimage.
The legend might stretch credulity but it’s not my intention to debate people’s faith. I just want to put the history there to contrast the original Camino with its modern manifestation. While some pilgrims are walking for religious reasons, many people (most people?) who walk the Camino today have other motivations. I’ve met people who have deep religious convictions, and others who simply want the opportunity to encounter rural Spain, who love walking, who want to spend time together with their loved ones, or who want to be alone to reflect on things. Some people’s stories have been very poignant and personal – It would be a betrayal of trust for me to share them. The fact that the Camino exists and is accessible to so many people without costing a great deal is one of Spain’s gifts to these people from all over the world … but now I’m getting sentimental.
For me, this has been a time to hit the pause button, to be free of the pressures of work. I wanted it to serve as a punctuation mark in my career and life; more than a comma, but less than an interrobang. In that respect it has exceeded my expectations. There is something to be said for spending time with no greater objective than walking through a few miles of pleasant countryside, finding an albergue and washing your clothes for the next day. I haven’t discovered any deep truths and I haven’t become a better person. I’m the same, tangled, mess of evident virtues and less obvious virtues that I was before. But I wasn’t hoping for an epiphany, so I don’t feel short changed.
I decided to make these updates public as a way to thank the people who helped me on this journey. I’m hoping that my account might help them to promote this Camino and encourage others to try it. But, as you might have guessed, I haven’t put much of a filter on my words. I’ve tried to make it a bit Gonzo; in the moment, subjective, provocative, personal, accurate… but not very factual. I’m relieved that I only had one negative experience with this. There are a couple more things that I’m hoping to attempt with my photos but they will be quite silly.
I might not have made it past the first week if it hadn’t been for the Camino associations in Almeria and in Guadix; great hospitaleros like Peter in Alcaudete, Lacho in Alquife, Padre Blas in Fuenterroble; experts and inspirational bloggers like Michel Cerdan, Michel d’Auzon, Maggie Woodward; the people who walked with me. All these people and others (no doubt I’ll keep adding to this list and updating this post) have been very generous with their time and efforts to ensure that I was safe and happy on my journey. It has been written that this particular route (starting with the Mozárabe route from Almeria) is not suitable for a first timer with little Spanish ability. However, I think that the support that I received more than compensated for my inexperience and lack of Spanish.
Tomorrow I’ll update from Santiago – probably just a few photos because I want to get out and celebrate with Uwe. After that I may spend a day or two in Santiago and then head for the coast.

Categories: 2017 Camino Mozarabe (Almeria to Finisterre)

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