Meat, Maiz and Monks

Day Twenty-five: Deva to Sobrado — Last night at the Deva Natural Albergue turned out to be pretty special. Daniel, the Aragorn lookalike, whipped up a killer vegetarian dinner, including a starter of lentils and rice, main course of whole wheat spaghetti and Bolognese sauce, then dessert of homemade yogurt with chunks of honey. After dinner he sat with me and told me in rapid fire Spanish about how Spaniards don’t understand natural, vegetarian food, about how he makes his Greek-style yogurt from local cows’ milk, and about his two partners who support the albergue with their jobs as a carpenter and fashion designer. Then he topped it off by sharing with me a glass of his personal strawberry/herb liqueur. I’ve found paradise and its name is Deva.

In spite of finding paradise it was time to move on toward Santiago. I awoke at 7:00 after a good sleep and warmed up the coffee and milk Daniel had set out for me the night before. By 7:45 I was out the door for the long 35 km (20 mile) walk to the monastery albergue at Sobrado dos Monxes.

The sky was clear and the temp was just cool enough to require my fleece jacket. A couple of kilometers past Deva I saw two deer — a buck and a doe — who quickly scurried away when they realized my presence during their morning graze. I walked past many pastures, some with black and white cows, other with yellow/brown cows. As I walked I looked at the tags in their ears, realizing each is property of someone, and many of the young and male are headed to the butchery and table.

Since 1987 I’ve sworn off red meat, so the Spanish diet of meat, sausage, and more meat makes restaurants a little bit of a challenge for this pilgrim. Most all are willing to fry me a couple of eggs, so I generally can get the protein I need, though the diet is a little bland. This is one reason the Deva albergue was such a treat. Its menu was the
perfect blend of grains, legumes and nuts that combine the correct amino acids to create a complete protein without the need to slay an animal. As I walked through the pastures I felt the vegetarian’s sadness for our animal friends’ fate.

The first town of any size today was Miraz, a tiny village of an albergue, a church, and a bar. The church, from the 12th century, caught my attention. A kind lady was locking it up as I came by, and I asked her of I might have a peek inside. I took a couple of photos, then realized she was probably there to put flowers at the grave of a loved one in the nearby cemetery. I asked her if she had family members there, which she did, and we both teared up a little as I took her photo in front of a grave belonging to her kin.

As we left the cemetery I asked her about the Galician practice of building horreos, grain storage buildings that accompany each Galician farm home. She described their use as for maíz (corn). The buildings are designed to frustrate bugs and rodents while allowing corn and a few other foods safely to dry. On the walk around Miraz I saw some of the most colorful horreos I’d ever seen.

After Miraz I enjoyed visiting a few camino handiwork stands set up along the road. One was the stand of Puri, who cautioned me about wolves in the mountains, and another was in the garage of a sculptor who carves camino memorabilia all day from his workbench.

After that it was nonstop through isolated terrain, over a low mountain pass, near a quarry and through a forest that had partly been burned in a fire earlier this year.

When I’d finally made it through the forest I began to worry about my provisions for the day. I’d brought nuts and oranges, but had run through those hours ago. I came to the tiny hamlet of Roxica, which consists of one farm, and was pleased to see a sign for Cafe Roxica. I turned off the road to discover a woman standing on the porch of a farmhouse. She invited me in and I realized Cafe Roxica was her kitchen. Her table was spread with bread, cheese and sausages, and I asked her if she could whip me up some fried eggs. She agreed, and then we talked about the food on her table. She had a homemade cheese loaf along with one that was store bought, plus homemade sausages and homemade bread. The bread used flour from the store, but the eggs she served me were from her own chickens. I was thrilled to stumble on a place where local food meant local food. My stomach full, I headed back on the road for the remaining kilometers to Sobrano.

Although the region was very remote, much of the path was on small asphalt roads which, as the day got warmer, proceeded to warm up too. Sobrado seemed always to be just over the next hill, but it wasn’t until 4:30 that I finally rounded the corner into the Plaza Mayor of Sobrado dos Monxes. It was a joy to find Martin there, along with Jacqueline, another alum of last year’s Camino Frances. We shared a beer and nuts as Julian of Honolulu stopped by, as well as Karina, the Austrian from Deba. Here also are Jose of Madrid, Franz of Holland, Matteo of Italy, and many more increasingly familiar pilgrims.

Jacqueline, Martin and I had all looked forward to Sobrado dos Monxes because of, well the monks. Sobrado is an ancient monastery which for the last forty years or so has been home to a group of about 25 Trappist monks. Before dinner we three headed to Vespers with the monks and enjoyed their heartfelt singing and prayerful spirit.

Afterwards it was off to a restaurant for dinner then back to the monastery albergue for rest. Spain just finished beating France in the Europe soccer cup, so many of the Spanish pilgrims have come back from the bars rather loud and relaxed.

Tomorrow is the end of the Camino del Norte, as it spills into the Camino Frances at Arzua. There we join a crowded stream of pilgrims making their way to our common goal of Santiago de Compostela.

20120623-225004.jpgone of the more flamboyant horreos.

20120623-225053.jpgA more typical horreo.

20120623-225130.jpgMy favorite horreo of the day.

20120623-225216.jpgSculptor and his wares.

20120623-225255.jpgCafe Roxica and homemade everything.

20120623-225354.jpgPilgrim reunion — Martin, me, Jacqueline.

20120623-225444.jpgSobrado monastery.

20120623-225512.jpgVespers with the monks.

20120623-230005.jpgLady at the grave in Miraz.

Amor Es Una Perra (Love is a Female Dog)

Day Twenty-four: Vilalba to Deva — Now, before any Spanish speakers get the wrong idea about the title of this post, I want them to know I am not making a play on words with the English translation for female dog (“perra”). However, they will have to wait to the end of this post to find out what I mean.

I decided to be ambitious today and make it out of the Vilalba albergue before 7:00. With 27 km (17 miles) to walk today I didn’t want to dally, but also I’ve become a little antsy to wrap up this camino and get back home. That’s probably a good sign — I’m rested and renewed and ready to face our move at home, as well as whatever new challenges might await me at work. Also, after nearly a month of being a Caminoist I miss my real life. So at 6:45 I was the first one of today’s 15 or so pilgrims out the door.

First thing I did was stop and put on my fleece jacket. Though the sky was clear, the air was brisk and there was just enough breeze to make me consider getting out my gloves, too. The Vilalba albergue is about 1.5 km short of Vilalba, so the first sights and sounds were of Vilalba, stirring to life. I noted an open cafe on my left, but passed it by since I’d just downed a few cookies and a couple of nectarines I’d purchased at the supermercado on my scouting adventure last night. As well as stopping to pick up food yesterday evening I had stopped at a Farmacia to weigh myself (most Pharmacies here have coin-op scales for patrons) and after discovering I’d lost 13 pounds in the last four weeks I’d celebrated with a big chicken sandwich and a plate of French fries.

I followed the markings past the Parador, located in and around a 15th century tower built by local nobility. Paradors are fancy hotels owned by the Spanish government that often inhabit old, restored buildings. Past the Parador the track left town and entered the long series of farm roads and muddy tractor trails of which the camino mostly consisted this morning. The wind stayed steady and cool, and though the clouds increased through the day the sun did come out a few times and cause me to pull off my fleece jacket. I passed within a few dozen meters of a few towns, but didn’t stop for coffee until a little before 11:00.

Just before my coffee I saw a man ahead of me with a young German shepherd on a leash. The man was carrying a rake, too, and the dog was obviously afraid of the rake handle, cowering as it swung toward him with the man’s stride. As they rounded a corner out of my sight I heard a harsh word from the man and a yelp from the dog and I started to construct Spanish sentences that would express my anger that the man had hit the dog. However, when I passed by, the dog was peacefully tethered to a gate post and the man was raking some tall grass into piles. I said “Buenos Dias” and received a smile and greeting in return.

If there’s one thing I would change about Spain it would be how people in this country treat their dogs. Many pilgrims come to Spain and worry they’ll be attacked by angry dogs as described in some camino travelogues from the 80’s and 90’s. In truth, most Spanish dogs are chained in the yard and are no threat to pilgrims. But watching dog after sad dog chained up and alone, I have to feel that Spaniards aren’t keeping their end of the human/dog pact.

Dogs are pack animals and don’t do well alone. They bark to defend their pack, hence their value as guards, but in return they should get the comfort and attention of their pack. I’ve looked into the vacant eyes of too many chained Spanish dogs that have been driven mad by exposure to the elements, too little care, and no attention or affection. Today’s walk included the usual quota of chained dogs barking fiercely, sometimes lunging madly at their chains, circling ferociously behind fences mostly, I believe, out of fear and loneliness. I was relieved that today’s walk also included a few untied dogs who relaxed in the sunshine on their front porches and seldom moved a muscle as I walked by. They were at ease with the steady stream of pilgrims who walk by their homes and know their place comfortably within their pack. They receive comfort and attention and probably work, too, to occupy their minds.

By noon I’d made it to Baamonde, the typical end of the stage for most pilgrims. I passed by the albergue, noting it would open in an hour, and I stopped at a corner cafe and ordered a tortilla Frances (an omelette) as lunch. I’d planned to breeze through Baamonde and try out the “natural albergue” 8km later at Deva. This private albergue had flyers at the last two public albergues that described its 18€ fee that includes breakfast, as well as their vegetarian restaurant and optional massages. I can gain a day by combining tomorrow’s partly completed stage with the 26.5 km of the following day’s stage into one 35 km (22 mile) walk. The day after that will be 22.5 km to Arzua and then my last walking day will be a 40 km whopper into Santiago. Martin, who walked today from Baamonde to Miraz, will meet me tomorrow at the monastery in Sobrado and hopefully will be up to walking the rest of the way to Santiago.

After Baamonde the camino takes the N-VI highway for a couple of kilometers, then crosses to the left, over the train tracks, for a tranquil walk on a gravel path through pine and oak forests.

After a couple of peaceful hours in these woods I arrived at the albergue and was oriented by the host — a man in the spitting image of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings movies — then I settled in. The first sign that this is a natural albergue is that all clothes washing is, of course …. done by hand. Another sign is that hot water for the shower must be turned on and takes an hour to warm up. But the albergue inhabits a beautiful, old, rambling home in a very quiet hamlet and has enough modern touches to make it a delight. Dessert after tonight’s dinner will be homemade yogurt and honey.

After clothes washing and almost-warm-water showering I set myself on the sunny patio to write this post. There I met Sua, a sweet yellow dog who is obviously well loved by her “natural albergue” family. She leaned into my leg as I scratched her back, then rested her head on my leg and closed her eyes as I scratched her forehead and nose. I caressed her like I’d wanted to caress all those lonely, barking, Spanish dogs along the way, and like I would caress my own dog at home, too, right now if I could. When I was done she contentedly walked over to the planter, curled up, and after a few minutes could be heard snoring loudly.

20120622-144848.jpgThe Vilalba Parador, where I didn’t stay, but was intrigued by the historic tower.

20120622-145113.jpgMorning mist outside Vilalba.

20120622-145249.jpgCemetery near A Estrada.

20120622-152455.jpgOne of many tumbledown houses along the way today.

20120622-152602.jpgSadly, a few km parallel to the road after Baamonde.

20120622-152650.jpgStep into quiet at Capilla San Alberte, across the stone bridge and up the gravel road from the RR tracks and highway.

20120622-152858.jpgSunny patio at Deva, the natural albergue.

20120622-183816.jpgSua, my favorite dog in Spain.