Goodbye to the Sea

Day Twenty: La Caridad to Ribadeo — As Martin and I crossed the highway bridge above the Rio de Ribadeo into Galicia this afternoon I had mixed feelings. I knew the next town, Ribadeo, would be the last coastal town we’d visit on this walk and that the crossing meant a goodbye to the sea and its many beautiful beaches and vistas. I thought back to the states of Cantabria and Asturias I’d crossed, and the Basque Country where I’d begun with Sebastian and felt sad that this crossing also meant the beginning of the end to this journey. Santiago is now just eight days away and most of this month of walking and adventure, like the sea, is now behind me.

This morning I lingered over breakfast at La Caridad out of enjoyment over the nice hotel, the Casa Xusta, I’d stumbled into the night before. My gear was mostly dry after yesterday’s downpour and I was physically ready to push myself out the door, but the hotel’s breakfast of cereal, yogurt, toast, jam, fresh orange and coffee — with linen napkins — was too luxurious to rush. I trusted that Martin wouldn’t mind much if I were a few minutes late to the train station in Tapia where I was to meet him at 10:45.

At 9:00 I set out from the hotel wearing my rain jacket which before long was back in my pack. There was a very light drizzle falling, but the temperature was moderate and the high clouds to the west suggested the rest of the day would likely be dry. I began walking briskly as I realized the distance involved and my relaxed pace at breakfast would mean I’d now be quite late for Martin.

I skipped the camino trail and walked the N634 out of town for the sake of time, then at Porcia I opted for the camino trail as it headed toward the coast in order to see if I could catch some vistas of the ocean. I stayed on the trail through El Franco where it turned to asphalt and appeared to make a straight line to Tapia.

About 4 km before Tapia I saw a man on a bicycle approach. He slowed down and asked me where I was going today. I mentioned Tapia then Ribadeo and he gave me detailed directions about how to get there. I asked him where the train station was in Tapia and he frowned, “it’s 5 kilometers away. Why?” I explained that I was to meet my friend there. “No, he should just take the train on to Ribadeo where the station is right in the city.” He then rode off and I began to puzzle about how I would meet Martin if his train were leaving him 5 km (3 miles) away from the city.

Soon the man returned from the opposite direction and told me he’d show me the way into town and get me a cup of coffee while I waited for Martin. As we approached the town he walked me through the open air market, where everyone seemed to know him. Then he walked me down to a nice cafe overlooking the harbor.

As we talked over coffee (in his excellent and my broken Spanish) I learned that is name is German (pronounced Herr-MON) and that he is a local merchant seaman who’s been unemployed the last four years. Then as we waited for Martin I explained about my blog. The cafe owner opened his laptop and I walked them through the last several days’ postings and photos, including the church fireworks from yesterday, which he identified as San Antonio Day. He explained that fireworks are just part of how Spaniards celebrate and it’s no big deal.

Soon Martin called, so German and I headed up to the Plaza Mayor to find him. Once there, we headed back to the cafe for empanadas de atun, coffee, and photos. Before we left, German excused himself and returned after a bit with a backpack and two colorful bandanas from his hiking club, one for Martin and one for me. With him was the president of the Grupo de Montanas. We were now honorary members of his august fraternity!

Since German also had his backpack we realized he was also planning to escort us out of town, perhaps all the way to Galicia!

He walked us along the cliffside promenade to show us his town’s lively beaches, then said a cheerful goodbye as the trail turned away from the beach. We were thankful for his friendly welcome to Tapia and the bandanas we knew would impress our friends.

After a few km Martin and I shared the cherries and nectarine I’d purchased at the market and then a few km later we heard the sound of a motor scooter approaching. Who should it be but German, this time bearing more gifts of stickers and his email address so we could contact him once we arrived in Santiago. He said his final goodbye from a chapel in a park high above the Rio Ribadeo from which we could see the towers of Ribadeo, our goal for the night.

The highway bridge crossing into Galicia was just a few minutes away now, and German’s friendliness was a reminder of how kind and helpful all the local Asturians had been all throughout the walk. They frequently volunteered directions and always offered a hearty “buenos dias” or “buen camino” or “buen viaje” as we passed them on the street.

After crossing the high bridge (an act of courage for Martin) we settled into our first Galician albergue, found a cafe, and planned our dinner for later in the evening.

Martin’s knee is still hurting him, so he’ll likely take a bus a few days ahead, once again to give it time to heal. I’ll keep walking — away from rather than along the sea — to see my beloved Santiago soon, then my loved ones and home.

20120618-185913.jpgWet, cold road out of La Caridad.

20120618-190027.jpgInlet before Tapia.

20120618-190136.jpgTapia harbor.

20120618-190231.jpgFrom left: Martin, me, German.

20120618-190339.jpgGerman and Martin leaving Tapia on cliff side promenade.

20120618-190532.jpgView of Ribadeo and Galicia from high bridge over town.

20120618-190637.jpgMartin, conquering vertigo.

20120618-190745.jpgRibadeo skyline.

Why Don’t “Our” Catholics Have Explosives?

Day Nineteen: Luarca to La Caridad — Over pizza last night, when I wasn’t talking to Gail back home by phone, I made myself useful by updating Martin on new developments in the English language. Since most English speakers are in the USA it’s high time that Brits like Martin caught on to current usage of our common tongue. Truthfully, it was good fun to share conversation with an articulate Englishman like Martin. Occasionally he did have to stop for a moment and define some exotic English word. We both knew, of course, that his use of the King’s English is far superior to my West Coasty slang and he can get me giggling by saying something completely silly in his tweedy lilt.

Since Martin wanted one more day to rest his knee he decided to stay in Luarca another night and meet me midday tomorrow in Tapia de Casariego, or “Tapioca” as we’ve come to call it. That will give him another day of rest followed by only a couple hours walking on his first day back. So I awoke at 7:15 and bid adieu to Martin just before 8:00.

Outside it seemed just perfect for a 30 km (19 mile) day — clear, blue sky and moderate temperature. I found a panaderia (one of the few Spanish stores open on Sunday) and bought a pastry to help me get moving. The tasty little treat was finished well before I reached the top of the hill above town.

The camino was very clearly marked out of town and I had no problem making it up to the N634, which the camino would more or less follow again all day. Occasional crossings of this highway were interspersed with quiet strolls through dairy farms and fields of newly sprouted corn.

In a couple of hours I was in Pinera, where a kind barkeeper offered to make me a racion (snack sandwich) of pollo a la parrilla (grilled chicken). It was delicious, and I washed it down with a small glass of beer.

About 100 meters past the bar I heard the sound of church bells from the ancient little church just down the road. I’d been hoping to have the opportunity to go to church today, and the sound of church bells calling from the distance has always evoked in me thoughts of what medieval life must have been like.

Two men standing by the church noted that I’d turned into the church yard rather than onto the camino and they pointed me back to the trail. But I asked them if Mass was soon, which they said it was, and they waved me into the church.

I was about 30 minutes early for the service, so I had time to study the little, stone building. It was much wider than it was long and had a central dome over the worshipers. The main altar was in front of an elaborate, gilded reredo and the side altar had a more modest reredo of carved wood. Opposite the side altar was a Santiago Matamoros scene — my beloved St. James slaying a Muslim.

Although the scene is 1000% politically incorrect, I always feel a little embarrassed affection for Santiago Matamoros. He was seen on a white horse, slaying Moors in a dramatic battle of the Reconquista 1000 years after his death, but today we shake our heads at the inevitable remaining statues that depict the scene. Still, he’s a part of Spanish history, a part it would be dishonest to deny.

A nice altar boy noted my presence and kindly offered to stamp my pilgrim credential. A few minutes later the little church began filling with people. At precisely noon the 100 or so present fell silent, a woman coughed, and the priest appeared from a back room. The worship began and I realized immediately I’d set myself in the middle of the choir. All the women around me erupted into exuberant singing.

Rural Spanish churches seem to share a common concept of “choir.” About a dozen women of all ages sit at the front of the church and sing the worship songs in loud, unison voices. Their husbands sit quietly and respectfully in the back pews. The priest and the women seem sometimes to be in musical dialogue as the service progresses.

The Mass proceeded as normal, with the exception of the sweaty pilgrim sitting in the choir pew. I’m sad to say, though, that my quick sandwich and beer made it hard for me to stay awake during the sermon. I was awake enough to notice that the sermon text very oddly was from Holy Week and was about the Last Supper.

But the oddest part of the service came when the priest announced the Hocus Corpus (“This is my body”) which as always was followed by the ringing of a small bell. Today, however, the bell was followed by something like this:

Riiiiiiiiiiiiip BOOM!

A baby started crying, and then the priest said, “This is my blood shed for you.” Ring, ring. And then:

Riiiiiiiiiiiiip BOOM!

I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded like there was a small cache of explosives just outside the door and they were being set off precisely at the most dramatic moments of the Mass.

After everyone received their wafer (no wine today) the remaining host (the blessed bread) was put by the priest into the clear center of a sun-shaped silver and gold vessel. Six men came forward and picked up poles that support a silken canopy and another picked up a pole with a red flag. The rear doors of the church were opened, bathing the priest and altar in sunlight, and then he, the men, the host, and everyone else got up and walked out of the building.

As they walked out there was the sound of:

Riiiiiiiiiip BOOM! ….

…. a sound which rang out at least another dozen times, to the accompaniment of bells ringing and babies all crying anew at each explosion as priest, congregation and host paraded once around the building. It turned out that a dark-haired man was setting off fireworks from his car as part of the religious festival. He’d light the fuse, it’d rocket into the air (Riiiiiiiip) and then explode in a BOOM! that echoed through the whole valley.

When it was over the priest and host were escorted safely back into the church. The first question that came to my mind was, “did everyone count their fingers and toes so we can be certain no one was injured?”

The second question was, “why don’t our Catholics back home have cool fireworks like this?”

Party over, it was time to get back to walking. After another 7 km I made it to the riverside town of Navia, where I had a salad for lunch. Then I headed on to Jarrio, where I met a nice Hungarian man named Carman, and where, unfortunately, it started to rain.

By the time I got to La Caridad I was dripping wet. I found the lux rural hotel, Casa Xustes, and am comfortably ensconced in a room full of antiques, my clothes drip drying onto towels in the bathroom floor. Apparently there’s an Italian restaurant 150 meters away, so between rainstorms I’ll head there for pasta.

Just 10 days left of this camino — I can’t quite believe it. Today, though solitary, was a good day of reflection and meditation. I’m adjusting to the balance here between solitude and fellowship. I’m also missing home, family, pets, and church friends. But I’m thankful for this adventure and am enjoying how each day contains a surprising, new delight.

20120617-182808.jpgMartin on the pier after pizza. Note church and lighthouse above.

20120617-182924.jpgLuarca sleeping in on Sunday morning.

20120617-183710.jpgLandscape near Otur.

20120617-183748.jpgPersonal park for pilgrims. Thank you!

20120617-183844.jpgSweet yellow dog walked 1 km with me.

20120617-183936.jpgPinero church bells called me to mass.

20120617-184054.jpgChurch’s Santiago, slaying the demon Moor.

20120617-184148.jpgProcession pauses outside church for explosives.

20120617-184232.jpgPriest and posse make it safely back inside.

20120617-184324.jpgWatch your step, pilgrim.

20120617-184412.jpgNavia bridge.

20120617-184452.jpgHungarian Carman at a Santiago fuente.

20120617-190948.jpgNot sure you can make out the heavy rain coming down outside my comfy hotel room.