I hit the trail before sunrise today. The first 6 miles or so were projected to be alongside a road and I figured since the Spaniard generally doesn’t get in his car before 8, I could put the stretch behind me. Road walks when cars are whizzing by at 70 miles an hour can be a little unnerving.
I was walking along the left shoulder when I noticed what appeared to be red splotches on the guard rail in the pre-dawn light. Awesome I thought to myself – the remains of previous pilgrims that started walking this stretch in the dark. Yeah, it turned out to be just rust when the sun came up but it was still unnerving and gave me the motivation to walk that little bit faster.
We’ve traded crop fields for animal husbandry and although every town smells like manure, I still prefer sheep and cattle to the endless wheat fields of 10 days ago. It ended up being road walking for most of the day, but at least it was along gurgling brooks and through shady forests with villages and rural albergues every few kilometers for rest and sustenance. One albergue even featured smoked trout and a fish pond.
Today marked the last meaningful climb before Santiago. It starts out moderate but gets steeper towards the middle before easing again. For some reason, my legs were pretty tired today and the climb dragged a little. Judging by the number of taxis that passed me, I wasn’t the only one. All told it was about 3,000 feet of climb with some phenomenal views once I got above treeline.
I entered my last Spanish state, Galicia, today. And greeting me at the top of the climb was the first Galician town – O Cebreiro. O Cebreiro’s claim to fame is it’s 9th century romanesque church, home to a miracle around 1300 (coincidentally around the time that pilgrimages to Santiago became popular). Local legend holds that a peasant braved a snowstorm to attend the Eucharist. The priest, not expecting anyone to attend the service, scoffed at him. When he turned back to the sacrament, the host and wine had turned into the literal body and blood of Christ, staining the altar cloth as proof.
The cloth remains stored in the church in a gold reliquary and, in a stroke of marketing genius, the cup is on display as the “Holy Grail”, even though it has nothing to do with the cup Jesus allegedly used at the Last Supper. When you’re on top of a mountain, you need to do something to bring pilgrims your way. The village has been fully restored by the Galician government and features a number of pallozas – stone houses with thatch roofs that have been in use since Celtic tribes lived there ~500 BC. The whole thing feels a little Disneylandish with bagpipe music broadcast from from the restaurants and kitsch stores.
Not really my thing, but I was tired so I headed over to the municipal albergue. Big mistake. The place has over 100 beds and I ended up waiting over an hour in line to get in. Thats the first time I’ve had to wait since Roncesvalles on Day 1. Only 6 euros but the bunks are obscenely close together – 4 bunk beds abutting at the corner. Plus I drew a top bunk. The showers are also wide open, offering no privacy whatsoever. Ugh. At least it’s only one night.
Since I’m in Galicia, I had to try one of the local dishes – pulpa, which is seasoned octopus with potatoes. I know it’s a little early, I should wait until I get closer to the coast. But it was still pretty good and I’ll order it again in a few days. You’d love it, Jane.
July 17, 2017
Villafranca to O Cebreiro – 19 miles
I bet this little lamb chop is delicious