First Breakfast, Second Breakfast, First Dessert ….

Day Twenty-six: Sobrado to Arzua — As Jacqueline and I waited for Martin to get ready this morning I mentioned to Jacqueline how much I’d like to have seen the old church of the monastery. The building, given its size and decrepitude, is unsuitable for the monks’ use, but I was intrigued by its exterior and when Jacqueline told me she knew how to get in, I jumped at the chance. We left Martin to his steady work of arranging his things and cleaning up, and Jacqueline took me through the cloisters to the church’s side entrance.

As we walked into the vast building I was immediately enthralled. Yes, plants were pushing their way between stones into the church interior, and yes, sparrows flew from perch to nest inside the empty place. But the church retained the majesty of its original design, and its mouldering condition had a tragic grandeur that pushed me into a momentary fantasy: I could offer the monks my skills at church building maintenance! I could conquer my acrophobia and pull weeds from the towers. I could offer my painting skills to bring the wooden windows of the cloister back to like-new condition. I could even offer my organ tuning skills to fix the sour notes of the monks’ pipe organ to better support their singing.

This vacation thing must be getting carried away if now I have energy enough to imagine fixing other people’s churches when I have a church of my own back home that needs my care.

Jacqueline and I returned to the albergue portion of the monastery to see if Martin was now ready to go. After learning the answer we two headed to a cafe across the square to have first breakfast while Martin completed his preparations.

First breakfast on this camino has meant the early morning caffeine and calorie injection that helps propel us onto the camino. First breakfast is a little iffy sometimes because you can never be sure if a town will have a cafe that opens before 8:00. Second breakfast takes place mid morning at the closest cafe at the stroke of 10:00. It’s another coffee/calorie break designed to propel a pilgrim ahead for the next few hours. By noon, one is ready for first lunch which may involve trying to convince a Spanish barkeeper that non-Spaniards get hungry at noon and that a sandwich is needed to help us march onward. Second lunch unfortunately coincides with Spanish siesta, so any hope of real food in mid afternoon requires extra kindness from a Spanish chef who otherwise would be resting. First dinner happens at early evening when most of the civilized world eats dinner but when Spanish restaurants are closed, while second dinner coincides with Spanish dinner, which happens at the pilgrim bedtime of 9:00 pm. At any time during the day a pilgrim may enjoy first, second or third dessert which occurs whenever one is near a cafe or shop that sells ice cream bars.

Finally, Martin joined us for a first-breakfast-in-progress of coffee and croissants, and given the day’s short distance goal of 22.5 km (14 miles), we made it a relaxed meal. Detlef of Germany and his wife, Diana of Mexico joined us, and before long Karina of Austria was also part of our group. After some time we headed out, the six of us, for the next-to-last day of walking in this year’s camino.

Detlef and Diana set a slower pace from the start, so Karina, Jacqueline, Martin and I stayed together for an easy day on quiet, asphalt roads under sunny skies on undulating terrain.

Second breakfast was taken 9 km later at Carredoiras, and we lingered over a first lunch of empanadas at the town of Boimorto, a scant 2.5 km later.

When we came to the town of Sendelle we noticed a makeshift pilgrim aid stand at the roadside. Martin took the opportunity to enjoy an ice cream bar as first dessert. As we talked with our hostess we learned that just across the road is a 12th century chapel with recently discovered paintings from the sixteenth century. She offered to unlock the door and allow us inside for photos of the simple, but eloquent art.

We continued on from Sendelle, sensing that Arzua was always just around the next corner. Anxious for a cool spot in the shade we were delighted suddenly to find ourselves in the outskirts of the town. Martin, Jacqueline and I dropped off Karina at a bar while we searched for lodging, then we returned for a second lunch of bocadillos. Karina is heading on to Salceda in an attempt to break up tomorrow’s 40 km into a longer walk today and a shorter walk tomorrow.

Our hostal includes a washer/dryer, so we were thrilled to have the possibility of clean clothes for tomorrow’s last, long walk of 40 km into Santiago. After laundry and 8:00 pm Mass at the local Catholic church we will head to second dinner (oops, we missed the first one), while enjoying the English vs. Italian “Europe Cup” match on Spanish TV at Martin’s request.

Tomorrow we will rise early and walk long, arriving in the very late afternoon at the end of our pilgrim road. We expect reunions with many pilgrims from the past weeks, and have already heard from Michael, Stefan, Amelia, Lauren and others that our arrivals will converge. In the coming days we will request our completion certificates from the cathedral office, share in a pilgrim mass and then hug the apostle in joyful gratitude for a beautiful and safe walk over many miles in the company of beloved new and old friends.

20120624-172549.jpgVerdant monastery towers at Sobrado.

20120624-172651.jpgCeiling of the main, though empty, monastery church.

20120624-172747.jpgNave of the monastery church.

20120624-172829.jpgPilgrim Jacqueline silhouetted under cloister arches.

20120624-172928.jpgFirst sign of Santiago. From left: Martin, Karina and Jacqueline.

20120624-173010.jpgSixteenth century paintings in twelfth century apse of church at Sendelle.

20120624-173214.jpgGreen countryside before Arzua.

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.