July 17, 2010 As Eiras to Vilar do Barrio

Last night in the distance I’d heard the barking of wild dogs as I fell asleep and then dreamt about confrontations with hungry canines as I lay on my picnic table. Rather than being eaten by wild dogs I’d slept soundly through the evening and woke up first at 4:45, then snoozed until 6:30. It seemed incredibly cold and I dressed in extra layers, then headed down the hill at 07:00 toward Lasa, the place I’d hoped to reach last night. The 6.5 km were all on pavement and I made it there by a little after 09:00.

Lots of teenaged pilgrims with tiny backpacks were leaving town at this cushy hour. I realized then it was Saturday, one week before Santiago Day and I was seeing the first of the fiesta crowds. I’d see these teens and their supply van a few times over the next days.

After a cafe con leche I began looking for bottled water and food for the day’s journey. A lesson from the Via de la Plata: stock up the night before because when you wake up everything will be closed. Sure enough the tienda was closed (no water or actual food), but a panaderia was open. They gave me tap water and sold me two chocolate covered, cream filled croissants. These would be my provisions for the 423 meter/8 km climb that awaited me — the climb the guidebook says is hardest of the Via de la Plata.

I walked through two tiny towns, covering 6.7 kms of fairly flat ground, then began the ascent at Tamicelas. Of course neither town had stores of any kind.

Immediately I felt the effects of yesterday’s 41 kms. Every step was a slog, with my feet tired and sore and the morning mist having been replaced by a blazing sun. The climb was relentless and sweaty and the morning’s croissant was a brick in my stomach. I arrived at the town of Albergueria, famous on the Via de la Plat for its pilgrim bar and my best hope for a real lunch today, only to find it closed. A nice man assured me in Galego that the owner would be back in a half hour. An hour and a half later still no owner. Fortunately, though, the grocery truck (tienda on wheels) arrived, allowing me a lunch of nectarines and cheese. One of the bar’s customs is to hang a scallop shell from the ceiling with the name of each pilgrim who stops there. I was also hoping for a sello for my credentiale with the bar’s name. No luck. Armed with carbs and protein but no memorial shell or sello I set off at 14:30 for the day’s final walk — 7.3 kms downhill to Vilar do Barrio.

The wait at the bar had given me a chance to rest my feet and even catch a short snooze on the bench across the street from the bar. This rest allowed me to push through this challenging phase without a pause, and I arrived at Vilar do Barrio at 17:00. My first stop was the albergue, which I was told was full because of the arrival of a busload of young pilgrims with small backpacks. The kind hospitalera set me up in a casa rural for 40E that offered all the comforts of home (except for Gail, our dog, and our cat). Manuel, son of the owner, did my laundry smelly and wet laundry (no charge). I wrote on my iPhone to Gail as I waited for a bar of soap and a shower. No answer from Manuel or his mom yet on a bar of soap, but I did get a restaurant suggestion and I’ll head there at the traditional Spanish dinner hour of 21:00.

My big walk yesterday put me 1.5 days ahead of plan. I’ll spend the extra 1/2 day tomorrow by walking only the 13.5 kms to Xunqueira de Ambia. I look forward to seeing the 12th century monastery there. With my extra day I will probably take a rest day at Ourense, but may instead get to Santiago a day early.

Here are distances so far:

  • July 14 – Puebla de Sanabria to Lubian. 29.5 kms
  • July 15 – Lubian to Vilavella. 12 kms.
  • July 16 – Vilavella to As Eiras. 41.1 kms.
  • July 17 – As Eiras to Vilar do Barrio. 25.1 kms

Total distance 107.7 kms (27kms per day)

July 16, 2010 Vilavella to A Gudiña to As Eiras

This very challenging and frustrating day began with a nice breakfast at the Vilavella Hotel. Along with ordering a few croissants I had the waitress make a bocadillo to go. She made an enormous one of turkey, cheese and tomatoes. This would come in very handy later.

I left the hotel at 07:30, walked downhill through town and caught the camino at the base of the village. The next 14 kms were a delight as I passed farm after farm, nestled between creeks, with ancient stone walls separating them and huge, light brown cows watching my every move until I passed by. After 14 km the path veered out of the verdant area and joined the highway.

In about a km the town of A Gudina came into view. Since it was only 11:00 I was torn as to whether I’d continue on or stay in A Gudina as planned. I sat on the sidewalk and considered my options as I ate half my bocadillo. The next village with services would be Campobecerros, 23 kms away. It would take me 5-6 hours to walk and I’d be gambling that the town’s one hotel would have a room available. Still, it was only 11:00. Finally I decided to go for it, and I entered the town to get extra food and water. By noon I was on the road with fruit, more water, and two nice looking chocolate croissants.

After leaving A Gudina the camino joined a secondary road following a high ridge at 1000 meters +/- elevation. It would follow this road for about the next 12 kms, crossing tiny hamlets one by one. The gravel road then cut across a ridge and soon began a quick descent on loose shale to Campobecerros where I arrived at 18:00.

Exhausted, I stopped for a beer at a tiny bar, then found the hotel. I asked for a room and was told to sit and wait for a few minutes. Twenty minutes later, still no room. I asked what was going on and was told they had no rooms. By this time – 18:45 – I was getting concerned. I knew it was 14 km to the next town with services, Laza. That would take over 3 hours to walk, and I knew it would be too dark to walk by 22:00. I asked if they could call a taxi to take me to Laza, and they agreed. No answer from the taxi driver. Just wait a few more minutes they said. Got hold of the driver. He’ll be here in maybe 20 minutes. By now it was 19:15 and, frustrated, I decided to hit the road and use what little outdoor camping gear I had with me if I couldn’t get to Laza before nightfall. I wasn’t sure why it had been so difficult to communicate with the staff at the restaurant, but I chalked it up to the Spanish/Galego language difference.

I made it 8 km downhill before my body just could not go farther. At the town of As Eiras, 44.6 kms and 14 hrs after I began, I found a camino rest area with three covered picnic tables. I slept the night on the westernmost table with the sun’s last glow on the horizon and a crescent moon in the southwestern sky, typing a note to Gail on my iPhone in my sleeping bag atop my sleeping pad at 22:36 in the evening. Beautiful pine forest was around me here, with the tiny village seemingly deserted, at least from the vantage point of this tiny picnic area on the outskirts of town. Next village, Laza, is 6 km away. Too far that night for this tired body.