Despite the fact that walking long distances day after day may sound monotonous to some, it is not. Each day’s journey promises to be unique. Not only are we propelled forward by the motivation to reach a daily goal, and finally the end-point of the various Caminos, but also by the promise of what may be new each day or even what sights may lie just beyond the next bend or the momentary horizon. On more populous Caminos there’s also the promise of human connections throughout the day, either with fellow pilgrims from earlier stages or possibly new companions. As I’ve written previously, that expectation is absent on the very solitary Invierno.
After a more difficult stage the day before (see prior post), I end my first full week on this journey knowing that it would be one of the shorter daily stages and an overnight treat would be awaiting me. But as always it starts with a reluctant wakeup after too short a night in an unfamiliar bed. As I open the blackout shades of my window all I see is dark grey fog, a thick wet soup. I’m reluctant to get out into that, but the anticipation of the end of the day is a strong motivator so I take a hot shower and repack. Since I know there’ll be at least one place to refill my hydration pack, and the day is short, I don’t need to carry extra water, so immediately the pack is several pounds lighter than it had been 24 hours ago.
My lodging is across the courtyard from the “O Forno” bar where I had checked-in late the night before. When I get to the bar the door is locked and there’s no sign of life. I think about leaving – the host has my credit card information through “booking.com” – but my conscience keeps me there, thinking about how I might wake him up, maybe call him to say “buenos dias, tengo que pagar.” Plus, I’m famished. Yesterday I had eaten only several slices of toast plus a stack of Pringles for a late dinner. As I’m pacing back and forth in front of the locked door, I finally see a dark figure coming through the fog… the host. He doesn’t say much, and neither do I, except to ask for a “cafe’ con leche, grande poor favor, y tostada con marmalade.” It is 8am on a Monday, and we remain silent, as neither of us wants to be up at this time. As I finally eat some breakfast he labors over his laptop, trying to process my credit card payment. Both of us were finished in 10 minutes, and then I threw on my pack, said my good byes, and headed out the door, back into the fog which was now beginning to lift.
The night before, as I finally arrived in Salcedo well after dark, I had a difficult time finding this bar & hotel despite the fact that I was in a tiny hamlet. I was looking for signage that didn’t exist. Now in the morning light, I finally saw it. Perhaps you’ll concede the point that you might not have found it in the dark yourself.
The first three miles of the day are a steady downhill stroll on a country road through one dairy farm after another. The cows were still in their barns, but the mooing and the distinct farm-country air left no doubt as to the local economy. By 10am I arrive in the town of Pobra do Brollon. A tradition on all Caminos is “second breakfast,” IF you can get it. Because of the scarcity of towns with services along the Invierno, I’ve gone for a week without this treat, but here in PdB, at mid-morning, I’ll have it.
On the main street I stop into the first welcoming bar where a handful of men are sitting at two tables outside and another group – all men as well – around the U-shaped counter inside. The hostesses are two young women, sisters I surmise, who ooze a fascinating charm as is evident in the faces and speech of the men surrounding them. I take the last empty chair and draw only minimal attention from either the other customers or the very busy two servers. Still, I do get a cafe and a light breakfast of more toast and two fried “huevos.” My entertainment is simply watching the other men as they and the two women carry on a steady and obviously familiar banter. As an obvious outsider who doesn’t speak the local Galician, I’m exactly that, an outsider. I should point out here that, unlike many of the other Caminos, not only is the Invierno very sparsely traveled by pilgrims, but of these, the vast majority are Spaniards from other parts of the country. It’s hard to describe and possibly unfair, but the welcoming warmth that I felt in many places on my two previous Caminos seems to be mostly absent here, except for the “Bar Mar” experience in Sobradello several days before.
After a good respite, I head back onto the trail, a mostly flat affair through more farmlands separated by occasional small forests and an occasional community of a handful of solidly built farmhouses with barns or other outbuildings. There’s no guessing the age or specific origin of some structures, but I fantasize about when they were first built and who might have inhabited them. Sturdy Castro – fort inhabitants – people for sure (see my post titled “Where the Romans got their Aurum” for a further explanation of the Castro people).
As I enter the city itself, it’s like any Spanish town or city in mid-afternoon…empty. No people, no cars on the street, stores closed, quiet. I wind my way up the steep road to the hilltop, needing to stop and catch my breath several times. It’s so steep, in fact, that I need to lean forward during these stops, resting against my hiking poles, to avoid losing my balance. Finally, there it is, the walls of the grand Parador, a former convent – like all Paradors around the country – that now serves as a luxury hotel. Monforte de Lemos is of a size, historic significance and spectacular beauty in its setting that it attracts tourists, which few of the other places I’ve gone through can claim. Consequently the hotel offers amenities that tourists – and the few humble pilgrims who arrive by foot – expect. Like overnight laundry service and, better yet, referrals to a masseuse. I need both, and I make that very clear as I check in for the afternoon and night. By the time I go to dinner at the appropriate Spanish time of 9pm – yes, a REAL dinner in a fine restaurant – I’ve already gotten my laundry back, ironed and folded in a lovely basket, and I’ve had the very best – possibly the most needed – massage in a very long time. It’s still an unfamiliar bed in a strange room, but after all those rewards on this day – one week into the Camino Invierno – I sleep soundly and am reenergized.