NOTE TO READERS:
Several weeks have passed since my previous post and since the completion of my thirteen-day trek on the Camino Invierno. Two factors are behind this delay. The first is the inadequacy of internet bandwidth in most of the locations where I spent the nights along the way. The second is my sheer exhaustion at the end of each long day of walking and climbing. I simply didn’t have the energy or time to write and post, choosing sleep over everything else. That said, I’ll try to recap the rest of my journey through rural Galicia over the next several posts with accompanying photos.
In the post of September 4th, titled “Day One on the Camino Invierno…” I wrote of the disappointing surprise that awaited me at the end of a very long day. The “Casa Rural” in Orellan where I had booked a room had no running water that evening, so staying there was not an option. Nor could I stay in either of the other two lodging places in this tiny mountain-top village as both were “completo,” booked solid. This meant that my day’s trek was extended by another 5 km, and into the darkening hours, to the next village, Las Medulas, where I was able to get the last available hotel room.
This change was irritating beyond the obvious extension of one day’s already-long and tiring walk, but it also wiped out my plans for the second day on the Invierno. I had looked forward to the night at Orellan because it would allow me to start the next day with a short hike to the “Mirador de Orellan” one of several high-elevation overlooks above the Las Medulas ruins of ancient Roman gold mines (see post titled “Where the Romans got their Aurum”).
Viewing this fascinating archeological and geological site was something I had been looking forward to from the moment I first started planning this trek on the Invierno. Sadly, though, my Day One extension took me downhill to a village at the base of the Las Medulas ruins, exactly the wrong place from which to get the high-elevation overview of the massive site that I had been anticipating. Additionally, a morning in Orellan would have allowed me to visit two historic sites near the village, the remnants of the pre-Roman “Castro de Orellan” and the nearby Roman settlement. “Castros” were fortified clusters of stone dwellings and workshops – essentially small forts – inhabited by the people indigenous to the area before the Romans arrived and transformed the area with their two-and-a-half-century long mining operations to extract gold for the empire. In order to see any of the sites around Orellan would have required sacrificing the second day to backtrack and climb up to that village and then out to the Mirador and the settlement sites. My limited timeline to complete the Invierno simply didn’t allow for that; I needed to move on at least by mid-day.
Although I was deeply disappointed, I chose to make the best of it. After sleeping in, I rousted myself up in time for the 10am opening of the small archeological museum across the highway. While it didn’t provide the overlook I had hoped to see, it offered a good and reasonably understandable explanation of the gold-rich geology of the area, the massive human and technological efforts expended by the Romans, and the principals of the “ruina montium” mining methods. You’ll find my attempt to capsulize this in the prior post.
After viewing the museum I opted to hike up to a site called “La Encantada” that would bring me to the very base of several of the red sandstone remnants of the old mountains. From this location I was able to see, close-up, several of the “galleries” hand-dug by Roman workers – or more likely by slaves or indigenous freemen (Castro-dwellers) – through which huge volumes of water were eventually flushed, causing the mountaintops to collapse, thereby exposing the gold-rich lower strata of rocks. But by noon I had to stop exploring and begin my onward walk toward the second day’s destination.
It would be one of the shortest days of walking as well as one of the least inspiring, but I had anticipated that, thinking my previously-planned morning adventures would compensate for that. They weren’t quite what I had hoped for, but still I couldn’t complain about what parts of the Las Medulas ruins I did get to see, and they remained in my sights for quite a distance as I climbed a gradual rise coming out of the valley to the Southwest. Eventually, though, I passed the crest and then began an equally-long forested descent into the Sil River valley and the gritty town of Puente de Domingo Florez. The town marks the border between two of Spain’s 18 “autonomous communities,” Castille y Leon behind me and Galicia ahead of me. The former is the country’s largest region, geographically, and classic Castillian Spanish (i.e. textbook Spanish) is spoken there. The latter is independent-minded, not fully embracing the fact that they are part of Spain, so they speak Gallegos which more resembles Portuguese than Spanish. From this point forward I would be walking through Galicia, and what little Spanish I had been learning would work only if the other party would be willing to cooperate and make an effort to understand me.
Day Two ended without drama. I went into a noisy bar, picked up a key to a room in a nondescript building across the street, and then cleaned myself and my sweaty clothes from the first couple of days of my trip. Finally I went back to the bar and ordered the first meal I’d eaten since my flight to Spain three days earlier… eggs, fried potatoes and Serrano ham. I was asleep before 9pm.