Trails + Trains… Part Two

If you’ve read “Trails + Trains… Part One” you know that I was balancing the mismatch of distances that I had to cover on two consecutive days. One was short, and the other was long, but there was no logical place in the middle where I could spend the night unless I was ready to camp under the stars. I wasn’t, so I extended the short day by walking to a village that had a train station, nothing else, and only one train per day in each direction. From there I caught the eastbound train back to A Rua, where I could spend the night. The next morning I took the westbound train back to the same village from where I’d start the next day’s walk. And so I arrived back in Montefurado.

The station sits just above the river – the Rio Sil – which defines the valley and the general path that I’m on. Pilgrims, for centuries, could follow the river and navigate around the highest peaks of Galicia during the winter months when the traditional routes of the Camino de Santiago were impassable. Hence the name of this route, the “Winter Camino,” as Invierno is the Spanish word for Winter. What has changed, though, is that the relatively flat trails alongside the river have now been taken over by the rail line as well as a highway. Consequently, the walking trail that I’m now on climbs up into the higher elevations above the river, away from the traffic and noise that are part of contemporary transportation. So, for several days in a row, the pattern of my walks is to climb up to higher trails, then to walk along mountainside paths, often through forests, pastures or vineyards, and then to descend again, near the end of the day, to spend a night and replenish food and water in a valley town.

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Exiting the train at Montefurado, I’m a short distance below the village – or what little remains of it – hidden in the trees above. The most distinct landmark is the magnificent Igrexa de San Miguel, a hillside church, the scale of which would cause you to believe this is a thriving community. It is not, but the size of the church reflects what Montefurado once was, namely a busy crossroads market town where regional commodities were traded or where transport routes for local mineral and agricultural goods once intersected. The railroad, highway and other changes in how commodities are traded and transported changed all that and made this scenic hillside town obsolete. Consequently there are only a handful of residents living there, and the village offers no services – such as overnight accommodations – that might’ve obviated the “trails + trains” workaround.

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The course of the day was as I described above. It started with a steady and very manageable climb up through the village, passing the church and a handful of houses, including several remnants of what must’ve once been grand homes. Beyond these I found myself on a steep trail of slippery slate, overlooking the vineyards below, that eventually led to another ghost-town, Ermidon.

Now, mind you, I’ve had minimal contact with others – either fellow pilgrims or locals – up to this point. But this changed, if only briefly but memorably, in a minuscule mountainside hamlet in rural Galicia, seemingly far from modern sources of news. While resting briefly in the village plaza an elderly man approached me. We were clearly going to be challenged to communicate but both of us tried. He asked if I was “Ingles.” I said, “No, Estados Unidos” whereupon he uttered a grunt and immediately said “tu presidente es malo.” Well, obviously he’s well informed despite the remoteness of his home and the great distance from the US; I certainly agreed and we both chuckled. Then, he offered an imitation of the “malo presidente,” pursing his lips and making a pouty face. We soon said our good-byes, and I left this hillside pundit to share his insights with another Estados Unidos pilgrim who might come by, but probably not any time soon.

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The day’s trek continued like this, along the hillside, sometimes up, sometimes down, on a variety of surfaces and through diverse surroundings. It passed through a series of sparsely inhabited villages, none providing public services such as food or drink. I knew this in advance, so I had packed additional water bottles that morning, sacrificing the burden of additional weight for the peace of mind that I wouldn’t become dehydrated. And, like all the days of this journey, I was blessed with spectacular late summer weather, which meant that it still got quite hot in the afternoons.

Two habits made each afternoon’s heat more tolerable. The first was a nap. At some point every afternoon I’d start looking for a shaded soft spot – grass, a bed of pine straw, moss – any place near the side of the path where I could stretch out flat. I’d set my phone alarm for 30 minutes and quickly fell into a peaceful state of rest, if not full-on sleep. It was always quiet, peaceful and restorative. Then at 3pm every afternoon I’d call Nancy back in Boise. It was 7am back there and she’d be getting up, so we had a chance to connect and assure each other that all was OK, plus catch up on family and other news. Hearing her voice was also restorative and briefly broke up my loneliness. After that, I was ready to complete the last stage of that day’s trek.

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During my downtime on this day, I realized that I had made a planning error. I had booked a lodging some distance out of the town – Quiroga – that was to be the destination of the day. Spontaneously I decided to cancel it, regardless the cost, and take my chances to find a bed in town. In the words of my Camino companion of four years earlier, having no reserved place to sleep was “flying on a trapeze without a safety net.”

By the time I finally reached Quiroga, a charming riverside town surrounded by vineyards, it was approaching 8pm. I had already prioritized the two “hostals” (low budget hotels, often attached to a bar) and knew there was an albergue (a public hostel) as a back-up. I found my first option but the door was covered by a sign in large block letters, reading “COMPLETO.” That means no vacancy, but I stood there slightly despondent just long enough that a woman suddenly approached me and took the sign away. My first impression wasn’t relief but apprehension. She had big hair, heavy makeup, and was dressed much more provocatively than you might normally find in a small wine-country town. If she was planning to proposition me, it wouldn’t have been the first time this happened on one of my Caminos, but that’s another story from two years ago in Portugal. But I was wrong. She was the owner, just dressed for a fun Saturday evening. The sign was actually meant for Sunday night, but she still had a few rooms for this night. Soon I had a bed and a bath, so all would be perfect. After my usual end-of-day shower and change of clothes, I joined the hostess and other locals in the bar where I had a bite to eat, watched “futbol” on TV and did a little writing. Tomorrow would be another challenging day. Little did I know.

6 thoughts on “Trails + Trains… Part Two

  1. What a day! I have to admit I love seeing your updates after a week or two as it prolongs my enjoyment of your journey. Walk, nap, chat with N, shower, futbal, party . . . sounds like a great plan! Onward!

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    1. Party??? Where did you read that. Maybe because I went to the bar, but that was to eat and rehydrate – with nothing stronger than orange soda.😂 I’m shocked that my “malo presidente” story didn’t get a rise out of you. Frankly, it was the highlight of my day as it was so totally unexpected, especially in that tiny hamlet. Thanks for your kind feed.

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      1. LOL, what else would you call it! And yes, I did love the “malo presidente” exchange with that gentleman. Proves again that we are wonderfully connected with these lovely people we meet on the streets of tiny villages around the world!

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    1. Thanks Diane. It was a beautiful Camino in terms of scenery but frankly more challenging, physically, than I had anticipated. Because of lack of services, I had to carry more water (weight) and it’s a trail of constant climbs and descents. The hardest part, though, was the total loneliness. Very few people do this. I crossed paths with fewer than ten – nine to be exact – pilgrims, all Spaniards and three of those were dropping off as I saw them (one of their group was having a health problem). I’m glad I did it, but I don’t need to do that again. Most likely this will have been my swan song Camino. Take care and Best to you both. TO

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  2. Tony, I just gobble up eat camino installment. I am still amazed that at 70 you have the will, stamina, physicality, and courage to do all that you do. I simply love reading about your journeys. This is a page turner. Keep ’em coming.

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