Day 29, Tuesday, May 7: Trabadelo to O Cebreiro (20 km, 12.4 miles, [almost] all uphill)

En brève

Here’s the quick and dirty. I made it to O Cebreiro today. While it’s not the highest point on the Camino, the climb from 705 meters to 1310 (2313 feet to 4300) in about 9.5 km (6 miles) is significant. (Note: the climb is done on a very stony footpath. Spectacular views, though!) This climb was completed with no snow, no fog, no mist, no rain, no gale-force winds, all of which are common in the area), but with much effort. Clouds? Oh, yes. One wants clouds and cooler temperatures not only to create “atmosophere,” but to keep one cool while working hard. There were many breaks to take photos and videos which, unfortunately, don’t begin to do justice to the scenery. Not as “brief” as I had hoped, but you’ve got the big picture. Scroll down for photos or check back later for them.

You like details? They follow.

Beyond the sounds of silence…

Because, yes, there was some silence. Most definitely. But so many different kinds of reality came along to break that silence at frequent but unpredictable times. Like, for example:

  • The birds were busy singing up a storm–except for my cuckoo. Is he taking the day off or, now that I’ve stopped arguing with him, has the fun of trailing and taunting me subsided? I guess that remains to be seen.
  • The roosters. I caught many bird songs on my videos, but I couldn’t extract any command performances from the roosters. You’ll have to take my word for it that they were welcoming the day, and even the afternoon….
  • The cow bells were charming. Who doesn’t like their comforting, all-is-well-out-here-on-the-range clang? But the bellowing? The I’m-in-intolerable-distress call? From the looks of the cows making the most racket, I’d say that they were in dire need of milking (it was 10:15 am; come on, farmer Hernández, rise & shine!). About that video where it looks like the two most miserable cows are chasing me, uh…, yes, the footage shows that I was a bit unnerved…. I, however, did not scream and add to the sounds of the day. Surprised?
  • Horses? Check. (The dogs, though? They could not have been less interested in one another or in the passers by. They were mute; just couldn’t bother rousing.  Just what I like in a dog!)
  • The noisemaker of the day, though, was the Valcarce River which flowed beside the Camino for the first half of the day (until the climbing began), and along which I had also walked for several hours yesterday. Hurray for a rather narrow river that is capable of drowning out the sounds of both the local highway and a major national one. The big A-6 and the Camino did a bit of a pas de deux as they continually crossed paths until finally the Camino found its freedom from modernity. (Boy, did it ever!). The river gurgled and cascaded and laughed its way through the valley, often with shade trees blocking one’s view of it but doing little to silence its music
  • Katy’s singing? Not much of it. Some. Even some on the uphill. In general, though, I was more into the sounds of silence, letting the animals have their day on stage
  • Then, of course, the “Buen caminos” to and from pilgrims. The occasional conversations. Mostly, though, the walkers saved their conversations for the small towns along the way in which they rested and took a bit of sustenance. Out “in the wild,” there was almost an awe for the sacredness of the places through which we walked. The mood was somber and peaceful. A challenge, without question, but well worth the effort. (No doubt the lung power required for climbing helps to explain the lack of much conversation along the route, too.)
  • I’m here to tell you, day after, that evening (post 10:00 pm) brought out more sounds as the howling winds outside the albergue competed with the snoring of the weary walkers. The wind alone was consistent enough to be almost pleasant–after all, we were sheltered from it. The snoring? Not so comforting. I heard many commenting about it the following morning….

Encounters of the human kind

Yes, of course there were some.

I had a really nice conversation with hospitalero Pepo before leaving the albergue in the morning. He was a great host to our little party of 5, fixing us a good dinner last night, setting out breakfast eats this morning, having the milk warmed for coffee. I’m not even sure if the other four ever sat down at the table to enjoy it. People rush off in the morning. I bet they were out by 7:00. It was 40 minutes later before Pepo and I had finished analyzing the problems of the world or at least the (possible) ones of the Camino and those who walk it. All hospitaleros, as I have surely mentioned, have been or still are peregrinos as well. Full bearded, a “hippy look-alike” if there ever was one, Pepo has been walking the Camino for years. He’ll do his volunteer gig for another week or two, then he’ll continue walking. Not unlike the David I met a couple of weeks ago, Pepo is inclined to spend most of his time walking the Camino. This summer, though, he’ll walk from Santiago to Rome. Like my host Pedro a couple of stays back, Pepo can’t remember just how many Caminos he has done. It is his passion. He walks the talk. And talks (up) the walk when it is done in the right spirit. (“Most people don’t have that spirit,” he confided.) Nice interaction. Very positive experience at this church-organized facility, tucked into yet another medieval (and crumbling) town which would probably have died of boredom several decades ago if renewed interest in the Camino hadn’t resurrected it.

Early on today there was Oscar from Latvia. He’s making speedy progress on his Camino–though note: not as speedy as Barb–and thinks he’ll wrap it up in a total of 28 days. Nevertheless, he slowed down to chat with me for a while. As we were talking, I kept seeing things out of the corner of my eye that I felt I couldn’t stop to look at or photograph. (That’s one of the reasons why one ideally walks alone.). But soon there was a tempting fountain at which to stop, and Oscar moved on.

Around 2:00, just as I had settled down to have my lunch at a particularly scenic spot, a man with whom I’d been leap-frogging for an hour or more came along. “I’ve plenty for two if you’re hungry,” I offered. He wasn’t, but he was happy to answer my inquiry about the very tall/long walking stick (maybe 6.5 feet in length) which protruded significantly from both sides of his pack (making it, as you might imagine, challenging to pass him on the often narrow trail). A gift from some friends back home in Slovenia. York (sp?) explained that the carved initials C, M, and B were symbolic of both the three wise men (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) as well as…. oops, I forget the exact meaning, but something to do with bringing a “blessing” to homes/albergues at which he arrives. That’s when he detaches the big pole from his back and uses it, rather than his hiking poles, so that he’s ready to bring that blessing to towns and to albergues within the towns. An etching of “MM” on the other side of the pole stood for the Latin “mementum moris,” a reminder that we’re all going to bite the dust at some point and so should … well, should keep that in mind as we make our way through life. We’re not such hot shots after all, not the big deals we sometime think we are; we all share that mortality thing. I asked York if I could take his picture with the pole and he said: “Why don’t I instead take yours with it?” Ok! Why not? Hey, that sucker was adding a bit of extra weight to York’s packI I hope he was lightening the load with each blessing given. And that this wise man finds a treasure when he reaches Santiago and/or Finisterre . Traveling wise men should be rewarded before they return home. By a different route.

A brief conversation with the four girls from British Columbia with whom I had shared a pleasant hostel experience a few days ago. I seem to come upon them at the most opportune times to snap photos of the four of them with one or more of their cameras. Spotting them means a chance to speak and hear English with no struggles on anyone’s part. A nice break from the more challenging conversations where first it must be decided if there is a common enough language to have an interchange.

Short encounters or waves with the French couple whose names I never remember but with whom I exchange smiles and brief commiserations as we make our way. We seem to be choosing the same daily mileage for the last few days.

At my end of the big dorm tonight: a Spaniard, a Columbian, an Italian, a Polish couple, and a bunch of people whose faces have been in their cell phones all afternoon and evening. (Oh! “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”…)

The really kind priest who said the pilgrims’ mass and gave the blessing tonight. Big smile, big heart, great liturgist. Easy message: “Go and be happy. And share the happiness.” The church needs more servants like him.

Then there’s the (certainly paid) overseer here at the albergue. She got her training in the military most likely…. Oh, but the central message in church tonight was about “love.” I take it all back about the lady. She probably was giving back what she had received from too many cranky pilgrims today. Like maybe pilgrims who couldn’t figure out the WiFi instructions or who looked disappointed when they learned that there were no blankets here… (Guilty as charged…)

Up, up, and away (without the beautiful balloon) OR Macchu Pichu without the llamas and the Incan ruins

The thing about long blogs, written over the course of several days, is that you tend to forget what you’ve already said. No doubt I’ve already described all the climbing involved in this journey and have, as well, mentioned how beautiful it was. But the above sub-title is such a perfect “fit” for the experience that i just had to use it, whether I have anything new to tell in this section or not. Forgive me.

And yes, my ears popped several times as I moved upward from La Faba to O Cebreiro.

Signs along “the Way”

So many! Like when I entered Las Herrerías and found a series of Burma-Shave-like signs but instead of promoting the right to bear arms and to defend myself, they recommended “love” and “unity” and “awareness.” They proposed “meditation,” “taking it easy,” and stopping to breathe and to observe.

Then the sign: “What are your dreams?” And an invitation to write them down and leave them in a waterproof tube so that someone (?) would tie them onto a nearby tree. Or one could tie them oneself, I suppose, with some ingenuity. The tree was full of dreams. Sweet idea, no?

Another sign promoting renting a bicycle to do the climb from Villafranca to O Cebreiro. I sure hope no one chose that idea thinking it would be “easier.” I can’t imagine anything I would have wanted to do less than ride a bike up those grades. (There has only been one short stretch of the Camino where I thought: “Hmmm, that would be nice to do on a bike.” It was also a stretch that was perfect doing on foot as well.)

Another entrepreneur rents horses to pilgrims who want to save their legs en route to O Cebreiro. For 34.5 euros, one gets a horse and a guide for the two-hour, 8 kilometer climb. So the sign says. I did not see any takers, but I saw evidence that there had been some. Just after setting up my lunch stop along the trail, around 2:00, I saw the horse caravan returning from a pilgrim delivery. The timing was perfect for me to grab my camera and video the horses descending from O Cebreiro. Another case of being in the right place at the right time.

The last one I’m going to mention: advertising on the side of a small delivery van. There is, apparently, a beer in the area called “Peregrina.” The sign, in Gallegan–yes! There is such a language, looking for all the world (to this non-linguist, please understand) like a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese–that says: “Et ti, peregrinas [that word refers to “female pilgrim”], a cervexa do teu camiño” [And you, lady pilgrim, the beer of YOUR camino]. Whatever it takes, right?

Cleanliness is next to godliness?

Oh, I’m in trouble! But really, don’t you think that cleanliness is a bit overrated? Why wash those gray pants whose permanent dirt stains are covered with fresh dirt, and which, if cleaned, will just get dirty again. Don’t I have better things to do?

The body I did clean, just because something tells me that I should probably do so every couple of days. It’s a bit of a pain because then it means, at least when the weather is cool as it so absolutely is up in the mountains, staying indoors for a couple of hours until it dries.

Overrated, most definitely. How often did those 10th-century pilgrims wash themselves or their clothes? Come on!

Ya gotta eat!

And you have to relieve yourself from time to time. Behind bushes works better when it is warmer. At least for me.

So yes, I’ve been eating. Lots, actually. Here’s May 7th’s breakdown:

  1. 7:00 am: the yogurt I didn’t eat for dinner last night
  2. 10:15 am: wonderful stop in Las Herrerías at a lovely cafe (fire in the fireplace there! And yes, I sat on the sofa near it and did email for a while after my mid-morning snack which consisted of apple cake and café con leche
  3. 2:00 pm: trailside picnic of half a loaf of “French bread” filled with cheese and morcilla; not a sandwich to die for as the one I’d eaten the day before had been. Same sources for meat and cheese, but the bread was inferior to what I’d had before
  4. 6:25 pm (too early, but I wanted to make it to the 7:00 pm pilgrim mass): a thick Galician/Gallegan soup with slices of good bread, followed by a platter of fried eggs served with ham and fried potatoes, topped off by almond cake. (I know, I know: two pieces of cake in one day…. I told you I was eating!)

End of (food) story.

And ya gotta sleep!

Or try to sleep! I’ve already mentioned the wind and the snoring. I’ve already mentioned the lack of blankets. Which caused me to sleep in my long underwear and the Smartwool top that has been on my body at the start of every day since April 2!

Here’s what I haven’t mentioned: the albergue must have a thermostat designed to turn the heat on each evening, needed or not. At some point in the middle of the night the warm clothes and socks were replaced by my little short pajamas. In the morning everyone talked about how hot it had been (and how noisy with the wind and the snorers). I caught my Columbian neighbor reading–on his cell phone–at some point during the night. As for me: I may actually have slept better than usual.


Any PSs?

  • Unexpected sight: solar panels on a hillside in an area that rarely sees the sun…
  • A farmer with a sense of humor: in an as-yet unplanted garden he had marked out a very large dirt arrow indicating the direction for pilgrims to head, his own small contribution to our successful journey
  • Chapel/small church in La Faba was open (pretty unusual, actually) and very welcoming; I lit a tall candle there
  • As I climbed, the roar of the river became a gentle murmur and then disappeared, unable to compete with the breeze or reach the heights to which I was ascending
  • Thought: there is a contemplative inside each of us waiting to be discovered
  • And, finally, to answer the question you have been polite enough not to ask: No, I really don’t share every thought that comes to my head. It just seems that way. Really, you have no idea how many thoughts can come to me some days…