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.