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.

Ten Minutes of the Camino in Pictures

Day Twenty-three: Gontan to Vilalba – Yesterday afternoon as Julian and I poked our heads into the Gontan albergue the hospitalero (host) told us there were already two Americans who had signed in. We found them in back, washing their clothes, and introduced ourselves to Pete and his friend, Pete, of Michigan, USA.

After Julian left and I was blogging yesterday’s post I listened closely to their voices and watched their mannerisms as they cooked their dinner, in order to guess the kind of work they do. I kept coming up with the same hypothesis: they must be either teachers or pastors.

When I returned from the supermercado (supermarket) with my dinner ingredients they were still at the dining table, and as we talked I learned Pete is a political science prof, and Pete is a ….. United Methodist pastor. I could barely contain my surprise that a) my guesses were spot on, and b) in faraway Spain I was having dinner with another United Methodist pastor. About 5 minutes later they got around to asking me what I do, at which point I revealed my membership in the guild of United Methodist clergy. Now they were astounded too, and we enjoyed an evening of church and seminary tales together.

Sometime in the evening I lost track of Julian, so at 7:45 this morning I headed out alone under drizzly skies, first to neighboring Abadin, and then on a detour path along the highway, to Castromaior. In this blessedly flat stretch of camino the biggest challenge of the day was figuring out whether to have my rain jacket on or off. The early drizzle was soon replaced by a cold, dry wind, which was soon replaced by sun, followed by more cold, dry wind. I eventually settled on jacket-in-pack, choosing to shiver in the shady or open areas rather than sweat in the sunny spots.

I stopped for coffee off the camino at Martinan, where I caught up on emails from Gail. While I’ve been gone, gallivanting through Spain, she’s been handling our old home sale and new home purchase back in Seattle. Gail is more than capable of managing this, but she’s always busy at work, so I’m amazed she’s been able to keep it all together. Today the last part of the deal closed, so from here on out it should be much easier for her.

Caffeine enhanced, I continued on past the lovely 17th century bridge of Martinan and then decided to try an experiment: take consecutive photos of the camino track at specific intervals and share them in sequence. The goal would be to give blog readers an idea of what a random section of real camino actually looks like. You can see the results below. The two people you can vaguely make out ahead are Pete and Pete of Michigan and Michigan.

By 1:20 I reported to the front desk of the albergue here at Vilalba and signed in for my 5€ bed. I’m with the same crowd of pilgrims from yesterday, which includes youngish Spaniards, Italians, a Dane, a Pole, and Pete x2 of Michigan. There’s a fine kitchen here in the albergue, but unfortunately there is no hint of a pot, pan, knife, fork, spoon, or plate. But there’s a restaurant just across the parking lot and there are rumors of a supermarket in the town proper which is about 1.5 km away.

I’m planning my stages ahead now, and have decided to walk the remaining 124 km (74 miles) to Santiago in 4 days rather than the usual six. I’ve made a reservation for tomorrow night at Deba, a “natural” albergue with a vegetarian restaurant and will meet Martin anew at Sabrado dos Monxes. I’ll then go to Arzua, which is on the Camino Frances, and do a whopper of a 40 km day (like last year) from Arzua to Santiago. This gets me to Santiago a day early which allows an extra day to enjoy one of my favorite hotels and more time to rest before heading home on June 28.

I calculate my distance so far as 554 km (346 miles) over 23 days’ walking, which comes down to a 24 km/day (15 mile/day) average. I’ll average 31 km/day over the next 4 days, which shouldn’t be an issue.

I’m getting excited about seeing Martin again, and Jacqueline, another Camino Frances 2011 alum, as well as my dear Santiago de Compostela and best of all, Gail and home.

20120621-141759.jpgProfessor Pete of Michigan.

20120621-141918.jpgRev. Pete of Michigan.

20120621-142044.jpgMartinan main street.

20120621-142144.jpgMartinan’s cool medieval bridge.

20120621-142352.jpgOK, your ten minutes start now. Meter 0

20120621-142431.jpgMeter 50.

20120621-142504.jpgMeter 100.

20120621-142725.jpgMeter 150.

20120621-142806.jpgMeter 200.

20120621-142858.jpgMeter 250.

20120621-142943.jpgMeter 300.

20120621-143023.jpgMeter 350.

20120621-143126.jpgMeter 400.

20120621-143253.jpgMeter 450.

20120621-143334.jpgMeter 500.

20120621-143421.jpgMeter 550.

20120621-143514.jpgMeter 600.

20120621-143604.jpgMeter 650.

20120621-143648.jpgMeter 700.

20120621-143806.jpgMeter 750.

20120621-143908.jpgMeter 800. Took me ten minutes, how about you? (Squint and you can see the two Petes).

20120621-144029.jpgCemetery at Goiriz.

20120621-144127.jpgChapel at Goiriz.