(4/27, 4/28, and 4/29 appear below after 4/30.)
Bread, Pulpo, and Language: Palas de Rei to Melide
It has been very, very difficult to find internet access because we have been in remote villages, and the internet here in Melide is slow and cranky. Suffice it to say that reading on the internet about additional violence in the Middle East is disheartening, especially after seeing people on this trail who come from countries all over the world making friends, treating each other with kindness, and making harmony look easy. For me, this is supposed to be a peace pilgrimage after all. I hope everyone will do whatever he/she can today and in the days to come to be good to each other. I pledge to do the same. Thank you very much.
The rest of the walk is dedicated to the people of what has come to be called the Great Migration, the millions of African Americans who moved in the 20th century from the American south to the American northeast, midwest, and west to escape racism, oppression, violence, and the denial of basic human rights and find a chance at a better life. The recently published masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, is a great way to learn about this. I think you´ll love the book for many reasons.
On this day we left Palas de Rei early in the morning and headed toward Melide, a town renowned for its octopus dishes. Octopus in Spanish is “pulpo,” and it is available in many forms across northern Spain, but the most common version is pulpo a la Gallega, incredibly tender octopus–much more so than tako sashimi or sushi–seasoned in a truly delectable way.
Our departure from Palas de Rei was early enough that we saw a bakery that had been open since before dawn. We peeked into it and asked for some bread fresh out of the ovens to carry with us; we knew it would be many kilometers before we ate again.
We crossed from the province of Lugo into the province of Coruna today. One of the real highlights was seeing an adorable newborn sheep in the arms of a farmer, and we have also seen small, lovely medieval bridges over rural streams.
One subject that deserves attention is language. Walking the Camino shows us how important having some ability in languages that are not our native tongues can be in creating peace. It is so much easier to understand, enjoy, and help other people if we can speak their languages. The languages I know besides English have made this journey incalculably more meaningful, and it is much easier to make friends with these tools. Most Europeans can speak more than one language (sometimes four, five, or six), but if their English is poor, it is very valuable to be able to speak Spanish or Italian or other languages. The difference this can make in building peaceful connections between people is impossible to overestimate, and Americans as a rule lag way behind in this skill. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Two summers ago in China when I was there with some `Iolani students for a peace project doing community service in Xi’an, one of the brilliant bilingual Chinese staff members we were working with told this joke: “What do you call someone who speaks two languages?” “Bilingual.” “What do you call someone who speaks three languages?” “Trilingual.” “What do you call someone who speaks one language?” None of us could guess the answer, but it was: “American.” Though I can converse in four languages (which I mention only to make a point here and not to boast) and thus did not fit the stereotype, still I was very embarrassed for my country. However, the way things are changing and becoming more interconnected in the world now, we have a golden opportunity to change Amercan attitudes toward foreign languages and our methods of teaching them to become much more adept at making friends wherever we go rather than enemies, and at solving problems rather than creating them. 🙂
Fatigue is with us almost all the time, but Santiago de Compostela, our destination, is only about 50 km away.
Sun, Talking to the Universe, and Age: Gonzar to Palas de Rei
Early the next morning we took off from Gonzar, our goal to make it to Palas de Rei. The weather cleared very quickly and we welcomed the first fogless morning in awhile. Rain had been forecast, and thus we felt extremely fortunate that the was already sunny. The trail cut through more small towns and farm fields, and soon we saw sheep here and there. It was another beautiful area. For much of the walk from Sarria to this point, the rural countryside was so similar to images I had absorbed of the French countryside through pictures and movies that I had to remind myself that I was in Spain and not France (the 18 hours I spent in St. Jean Pied-de-Port to start this pilgrimage are the only hours I have ever been in France).
The warmth of the shining sun felt very soothing and was a very welcome change from the chill of the last few days. Even when the trail moved into forested stretches, the air was warm enough to keep us comfortable. Whether we walked through fields or forests, the surroundings were always wonderful to look at. Naturally, we heard cuckoos and songbirds wherever we went.
In the middle of the afternoon, Charlie started to grow hungry and decided to ask the universe for a place to eat. We hadn’t seen a any place to eat along the trail for quite awhile and were wondering if it might be hours before we did. Charlie spread his arms wide and shouted (not too loud) to the sky, “I want some lunch!” Seconds later, the trail curved around a grove of trees and there in front of us was a farmhouse that had been converted into a restaurant, with tables and chairs out front in the sun and someone barbecuing ribs and sausages under a tent next to the building.
It was not a mirage, just the Camino working its magic yet again. The barbecued ribs and sausage were incredible, and the portions were generous, the ultimate fuel to power us the rest of the way to Palas de Rei. When we arrived there, the clouds that were supposed to drop rain on us much earlier started to move in. The town was much larger and more modern than we had expected.
We hurried to our pilgrim hostel and settled in, just in time to hear thunder and lightning and see hard rain fall. After it let up, we were able to walk to dinner (pilgrim menu) without getting soaked and then had a very good night of sleep in our bunk beds.
Vic’s style of hiking/walking on this day and every day really started me thinking about age. He is 74, but he looks 60 and has the energy of a 25-year-old. His reservoir of energy seems almost inexhaustible. Every day he’s out there on the Camino with his steady pace, intentionally not fast in order to soak it all in better, but very steady and tenacious. His mind is overflowing with creative ideas, and hearing them along the way is an education in itself.
He is a living embodiment of agelessness, and his modus operandi tells all of us quite clearly that age as a number has no meaning. If we are physically active and push ourselves skillfully to do our training and athletic conditioning and challenging sports of any and all kinds, we really are young. Even more, if we keep challenging our minds and hold on to our intellectual curiosity–and act on it–we retain our youth even more effectively. (There is no shortage of material in literature and philosophy that supports this, but that is another discussion for another time.) All of us have met people who are 48 but seem 28, or 60 but seem 40, or 30 but seem 20. At the same time, we’ve had the experience of meeting people who are 30 but seem 50 or 40 but seem 60, and so on. It’s really up to us, and there seem to be unlimited resources and opportunities out there waiting for us that can support us in a worthy endeavor like this one. And if we support each other in it, even better.
Textures, Seeds, and Cuckoos: Morgade to Gonzar
When we left Morgade in the morning, it was almost as cold as it had been the previous morning, and the fog was heavy, the heaviest yet. We had very little visibility, but it lent the way an air of mystery and peace.
Birds were singing, which added good cheer to the morning despite the fog. On both sides of the trail there were walls of stone or of bushes or of trees.
Traditional yellow arrows marked the way and stood out in the dim light. Together with the fog it all created a subdued, ethereal beauty. The texture of the wood (farmhouse doors and tools, for example), of the stones in the walls, and of the greenery, as well as the lighting, made this stretch of the Camino a photographer´s dream.
I think that for every day of walking we did here, it would take a photographer at least a week; he would be stopping every few feet to take another picture.
The third member of our team, Charlie Spooner from Vancouver, who runs a hockey development business there, is a great addition, fine hiking company. He has a fantastic sense of humor–he is wickedly funny–and has had so many different professions (everything from chicken farming to owning a bar to owning oil wells and more) and has traveled so much of the world that there is never an uninteresting moment of conversation with him. In addition, he has a good heart.
As we walked along, it was hard not to notice all the different forms of beauty around us. Putting aside for the moment Nietzsche´s claim that “there are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretations of phenomena,” there seems to be little doubt that there is a great deal of beauty and goodness in the world, and it takes many forms. At the same time, there is little doubt that ther is also ugliness and evil, as we normally define them. I find myself speculating about whether using the power of beauty and goodness can eventually reduce the amount of ugliness and evil to a point where there is enough to help us recognize and appreciate goodness and beauty yet not so much that people and the planet suffer more than they need to. There is some connection also between this and the insistence by the Dalai Lama and others that within all of us are the seeds of good and the seeds of evil, and we must nourish the seeds of good so that they grow and flourish while we avoid watering the seeds of evil so that they wither and die. Just a thought.
The trail went up and down gently today, and after a couple of hours, the fog cleared and the sun came out. We removed our jackets and switched also to short sleeves. As we had yesterday, we heard cuckoo birds calling out across the meadows (owls, too, sometimes); in fact, every day for the next several days (these blog posts are lagging behind the hiking days, as you know) we would hear the cuckoos, wondering if they were describing us and our activity. If they were, they were a couple of weeks late because we were at our most cuckoo level when we were climbing the Pyrenees the first day.
Ironic that they would be calling out to us during one of the forgiving sections of the trail´s topography. We stopped in the town of Portomarin, where we saw a remarkable 13th century Romanesque church (see photo above) with a stork´s nest on one of its ramparts, with the stork itself visible.
Eventually we came to the village of Gonzar, where we would stay in a pilgrim hostel in a renovated old stone farmhouse.
Right: Stork in its nest atop the Romanesque church in Portomarin.
There wasn´t much to the village besides the inn and the farm buildings around it, and the smell of cow manure was strong everywhere. Since there was no internet available, there wasn´t much to do after dinner besides organizing our equipment to prepar for an early departure and go to sleep, which was just what we should do and just what we did.
Hills, Beauty, and War?: Sarria to Morgade
We left Sarria at dawn and it was so cold that we could see our breath. It wasn´t long before some of my toes were numb and I couldn´t feel them very well. But that´s part of the game and we walked on.
Because it was Vic´s friend (soon to become my friend as well, as it turned out) Charlie´s first day, our plan was to go only 13 km instead of our customary 20-25. We kept the same slow pace. It seems we´re the slowest pilgrims on the trail, always letting others by. (We often meet up with them again at food stops where they have been resting quite awhile by the time we arrive. If we resume before them, they pass us again.) We really like our slow pace because it allows us to walk with awareness, without stress, and with less pain. And we continue to be lucky in the blister department.
A heavy fog clung to the ground and visibility was very limited.
The countryside we could see around us was the most beautiful so far. There was a patchwork of low fieldstone walls criss-crossing rich green fields and meadows.
We could hear all kinds of birds from every direction and distance. Fortunately, the sun burned off the fog around noon and gave us our first legitimately warm day in a long time.
Periodically along the trail there were quaint villages that consisted of loose clusters of stone farmhouses; stone barns; old, small churches, and occasional albergues or cafes.
Instead of reaching our destination around 5 or 6 o´clock, as we often had done, we arrived at Casa Morgade, the pilgrim hostel in Morgade, at around 2:30 while it was still very warm. The hostel was a stone farmhouse with very green slopes that fell away behind it. Though a village, Morgade was not much more than a wide spot in the road consisting of the Casa Morgade and a couple of other homes. Pilgrims who weren´t staying at the Casa stopped for lunch and then took off for destinations further down the trail. We were able at last to spend some time sitting in the sun behind the Casa to warm our weary bodies and enhance the process of recovery. The view of the hills was very, very pretty.
We experienced an amazing coincidence when an American and a Jamaican stopped by and it turned out that the former, living temporarily in Spain, had spent some time walking the trail earlier this year with a friend of mine and Vic´s from Hawaii, and the Jamaican had just recently moved from Hawaii to Miami and knew other people Vic and I knew in Hawaii. When coincidences are afoot, the world can seem really small. In the evening, we had a chance to watch the UEFA Champions League semifinal showdown between Real Madrid and Barcelona with a man from Spain and another from Italy. Barcelona prevailed 2-0 on two brilliant goals by Lionel Messi and will meet Manchester United, whom we saw in Sarria the previous night defeat Schalke, later in May in the finals.
I haven´t been able yet to confirm whether there was any fighting in this area in either the Spanish Civil War or World War II, but the countryside was so beautiful that it was hard to believe, even though I could push myself to visualize it, bombs could drop on the fields, roads, and houses.
I could understand someone wanting to fight to keep this beautiful region from being taken away, but it was still hard to imagine that people could turn such a tranquil, lovely place into a battlefield. There are many places like this around Europe, and I suppose that anyone walking through them on a sunny spring day would find it difficult to see how places so peaceful and happy could become the site of violence and destruction.