Not Bad for 5€

Day Twenty-two: Lourenza to Gontan — As I came into town last night I looked briefly for a pension or hotel for the night, but the one pension I saw looked a little dicey, so I opted for the albergue. It was a modern building with about twenty beds in three rooms and it worked out to be perfectly comfortable for the evening. It didn’t bother me to share the two man shower with a skinny Italian fellow whose name I didn’t get.

Albergue (al-BEAR-gae) living takes some getting used to. There are often many languages spoken as clothes are washed by hand in the outdoor washing sinks, showers taken, and meals cooked in the kitchen, which usually serves as the hub of activity in the evenings. Galician albergues are usually quite nice, as though a government contract was let out to young architects and they were challenged to design something that would be useable and, hopefully even, attractive. The albergue of Lourenza is perhaps 25 years old now, but it has “good bones.” Timber rafters and wood paneling, stone faced walls, and other subtle traces make an observant pilgrim thankful that someone, somewhere cared about footsore and weary walkers slowly meandering through their land.

I ate at a bar/cafe last night so I missed some of the communal life of the albergue, but I slept very well and felt full of energy as I met Julian this morning in the Plaza Mayor at 7:00. We stopped for a quick coffee, then headed onto the camino and up the steep climb behind the albergue for a view to Lourenza below.

Today would be a day of climbing as the topography changes from coastal hills to a higher, flatter region beyond. In between is a ridge of 1500 meters in height, our last big climb of this camino.

About 8 km from Lourenza the mid-sized town of Mondonedo appeared and we scheduled our mid-morning coffee break for a cafe as near the cathedral as possible. Both Lourenza and Mondonedo sport impressive church buildings and as we had coffee — accompanied by a delicious chocolate croissant for me — I strategized about how to get inside Mondonedo’s impressive main church. Julian and I scouted around all the doors we could find, then just as we were about to give up we noticed a priest unlocking the main door off the plaza. Score!

I introduced myself as a Protestant priest (it seems easier for Spaniards to understand than “pastor” which still literally means “shepherd” in Spain) and he graciously invited us in, showed us the cloister and described the reredo. The only thing that could have made me happier would have been to have a go at the vintage organ hanging from the nave walls at the clerestory level, but that was a lot to ask this kind priest and I suspected the organ has not been played for many decades.

Having now inspected and approved the church it was time to head up the hill for today’s big climb. Julian was perfect walking company and we chatted almost nonstop on the asphalt then gravel road until we reached the summit, about 11 km after Mondonedo.

With the difficult work of the day now done it became purely a matter of finding lunch and a place to spend the night. We walked along the new freeway construction for a bit and then, about 90 minutes or so after hitting the summit of our climb we were in Gontan, our goal for the day.

After a quick beer and omelette at the first bar/cafe, we found the Gontan albergue, an even more modern affair than its Lourenza cousin. With a nice kitchen, dining room, showers and living room it’s a pilgrim gem. Albeit there are 28 beds in the single dormitory, but this is as luxurious as an albergue gets. Julian is a light sleeper, so even the nicest albergue doesn’t work that well for him. He chose a room above a nearby restaurant instead while I registered at the albergue, met a couple of Michigonians (Midwestern American sounds oh, so much like home) and threw my pack on a bunk.

I washed my clothes, showered (by chance with the same skinny Italian guy from last night’s shower and whose name happens to be Matteo) and settled in for an evening as comfortable as you can find in Europe for 5€ (about $6).

20120620-161912.jpgRoad above Lourenza. Blessedly no rain today.

20120620-162003.jpgMondonedo Cathedral exterior.

20120620-162052.jpgMondonedo rose window. Note organ in two halves.

20120620-162157.jpgGreen hills of Ireland, whoops, Spain.

20120620-162251.jpgHow green is their valley.

20120620-162333.jpgA freeway bulkhead on the A8 now under construction. Includes scallop shell designs. Julian is a real photographer as you can tell.

20120620-162533.jpgGontan albergue dining room. Hey, that same Italian.

20120620-162634.jpgCan’t get over this cool albergue stairway with the glass wall.

20120620-162816.jpgFive Euro bed in the Gontan albergue. OK, I choose the top bunk because I don’t like someone sleeping over me (but don’t mind sleeping above someone else).

20120620-165133.jpgAlbergue stairway from outside.

20120620-165247.jpgGontan albergue from front. OK, that’s the last albergue photo.

Into the Clouds

Day Twenty-one: Ribadeo to Lourenza — A new word should be invented for weather that is somewhere between heavy fog and drizzle. “Frizzle,” maybe? “Drog”? Whatever it might be called, that’s what it was doing all day today, making it a wet, cold and dreary 26 km (16 mile) stage.

I said goodbye to Martin this morning knowing full well that this could be the last time I see him. With his knee acting up again he needs rest, and one of his options is simply to go home. If he does go, today’s goodbye could be the last. I chatted with him, hugged him and wished him the best, then headed out for a very late start at 9:00.

His last words to me as I walked out the door were, “You’re a better man than I to go out in this weather.” Indeed, a cold wind was blowing at about 10 knots from the ocean, and a low mist made everything instantly wet. Less than 20 meters from the albergue I put on my jacket and pack cover, hoping that the farther I walked away from the ocean the warmer it would get.

I walked through Ribadeo, losing the way markers twice, but getting helpful directions from bartenders before I got too lost. My focus was on finding my way, but as I look back on the day I realize I should have picked up some food before I left Ribadeo. At least a few calories would keep my stomach from rumbling, but as it turned out there were no bars or restaurants open for almost the entire extremely rural stage.

Soon after Ribadeo, which is at sea level, the camino climbs on a combination of paved and gravel roads to an elevation of 320 meters (1040 feet). The track wanders through eucalyptus forests, tiny hamlets and green pastures of sheep, goats, cows, horses, and donkeys. Today, any scenic vistas were obscured by thick and wet clouds. Gains in elevation included gains in the thickness of the fog that kept my clothes and me quite wet.

Knowing I’d started late I walked quickly, using energy from last night’s late supper. By 10:00 I was already hungry. Surely there’ll be a bar/cafe at Vilar, I thought to myself. Nope. Well if not there than certainly San Vicente. Uh-uh. Probably San Martin Pequeno then? Zip. San Martin Grande? Zilch. Gondan? Nada, unless you count the soda pop vending machine at the shuttered albergue. Finally, at 3:00, I walked into a restaurant at San Xusto and wolfed down a Caldo Gallego and some huevos fritos (soup and fried eggs). Then it was up the hill for another big climb, and finally down into the comforts of Lourenza, a town with bars and restaurants enough to satisfy any pilgrim.

As I arrived at the albergue I recognized I was within a couple of hours of being too cold, too wet, and too hungry for my own safety. My pants, jacket, hat, socks, and boots are all wet, and before even thinking about more food I needed a nap and warm shower in order to feel human again.

As I walked out of the albergue to find some food I met Julian of Hawaii who’s caught up now. He was cheerful and looking for company, so we agreed to meet tomorrow at the Plaza Mayor and walk together to Gontan-Abadin.

Tomorrow I will certainly carry food with me — at least some cookies — to provide calories for an even bigger climb of 440 meters (1400 feet). The weather report says more frizzle/drog tomorrow, so it’s time to figure out how to make this chilly, wet walk through remote Galician countryside be safe and fun.

20120619-190856.jpgRailroad bridge on outskirts of Ribadeo.

20120619-190939.jpgGalician way marker, complete with km remaining plaque.

20120619-191044.jpgMany walks through woods like these today.

20120619-191134.jpgMisty day.

20120619-191210.jpgThe welcome is sincere, if worn.


20120619-191359.jpgOK, bye.

20120619-191249.jpgChapel at San Martin Pequeno

20120619-191517.jpgAbove Lourenza.

20120619-191545.jpgLourenza albergue exterior.

20120619-191633.jpgGreat to see Julian of Honolulu.

20120619-191712.jpgAmazing interior of Lourenza church.