Day 21 (September 15th, 2016)
The rain that came in and the fog that set in about the grove of oak trees meant a wet night even wrapped in my sleeping bag. But the bag, it still kept me warm.
There aren’t many pictures to tell of this day, at least the early, walking portion and I mostly just passed through gray-stony faced buildings pervading entire villages to match the gray skies above.
Something I’d completely forgotten about, something I haven’t seen since France, are the roadside crosses dotting alongside the Camino. This is the only one I’ve seen in Spain so far. In France, I learned that they used to be the markers telling pilgrims they were on the right path; I’m not sure why they disappeared from sight here in Spain, but it was nice to see one again.
Above a freeway overpass on the way to the large city of Lugo, I saw this graffiti, plainly put there by a pilgrim from who knows when. I had a good laugh, and agreed with its sentiment. I dislike being negative much and I’ve written at length about the wonderful aspects of the Camino, particularly the kindness you see daily and the changes that occur within. But if I could complain about one thing on the Camino, this message epitomizes it. In albergues, people tend to fall into the exact same schedule and routine as one another, and the independent Andrew strongly dislikes this routine even though I’ve fell into it on sometimes in days past, which is why I’ve taken to sleeping in a tent, on ruined roofs, under chapel eaves, wherever, just independently.
The routine goes something like this: someone always wakes up around 5:30 AM to begin walking by 6 or 6:30 AM, which is insanity to me because it means they are walking 1-2 hours in darkness before the sun is fully up. When the first person wakes up, then everyone wakes up because soon beds start creaking, packs start being packed, and so on. Pilgrims generally walk continuously with sporadic short breaks here and there for coffee and maybe lunch. I’m not sure why they walk continuously, as once people arrive at the planned destination, early in the afternoon, sometimes 1 PM or 2 PM, mostly they sit and enjoy a beer or talk after taking a shower and washing their clothes. Any sites to be seen in between are often skipped, and siestas are rarely taken. It’s like racing to a red light: everyone gets there eventually, it’s just a matter of taking it easy until you get there, or sitting with your hands under your seat while you await the green light.
Anyhow, soon after the graffiti, the tall blocky apartment buildings of Lugo met my eyes, and they were unimpressive, at first.
Those long stretching blocks hide an old Roman city within dating from the time of the emperor Augustus, the Roman name for it being Lucus Augustus. I decided finally to take a stop at the pilgrim’s albergue to dry my belongings after the long wet previous night, carousing about the city’s cathedral and winding old streets lined with cafes, bars, well-dressed men and shops of every kind, including the frequent all-important pastry shop. After a shower and washing my sweat-stained hiking clothes, I even walked around the entirety of the old Roman walls. I started at one end of the city, and walked, and walked, and walked, and ended at the same end, the somehow still-standing walls encircling the entirety of the old quarter. Walking through the city’s lanes, the Roman relics there too remain, underneath streets protected by see-through glass, ruined temples once standing alongside the walls, milestones marking the distances in Roman Galicia.
In another place, it took me awhile to realize that the strange lion figures on a random wall were dropboxes for mail to various location in Galicia, Spain, and the world.
The more I think about Romans–how their armies marched 50 kilometers daily, their still existing and used roads and aqueducts, their relics like walls and other ruins still standing the test of time today–the more I think they were some kind of superhumans brought here from outer-space by aliens, producing an empire so far advanced that the rest of Europe didn’t catch up technologically in many ways until 12-1300 years after their collapse.
After a restless night in the albergue, I started lazily from Lugo at the cool hour of 11 AM. The Spanish have the day figured out I think: start a little later, work a little later. After 50+ days of walking, no amount of waking up early makes me a morning person and I’ve found more and more each day that walking into the evening is best for me. The shoulders hurt a little less from the weight on my back, the feet coast easier, I’m not as thirsty, and it’s a pleasure to walk into the setting sun.
The day before, I walked along the entire walls of Lugo without my pack. I’ve lost my mind it would appear, as I walked back along them on the way out, with my pack. The sun started to finally poke its head periodically, but more or less it looked the same as it did without having a pack on. Here were some final looks as I came back down to the street-level and left the city along a stretch of gentle river.
Soon after leaving Lugo, it took me awhile to realize what the numbers along the bottom of frequently seen Camino markers meant. By the time I did, it dawned that Santiago de Compostella was down to three digits away in distance.
I walked along a recently re-surfaced asphalt road this day in a repetitious pattern: each 3-5 kilometers, the path entered a different region, parroquia, with various agricultural towns dotting alongside each comprised of perhaps 80 or 90 people. An informative board at each town described minute details about churches, towns, histories, important people, etc. In one town, I forget which by now, a man yelled at cows to cross the road in front of me to another pasture. My Spanish is poor, and to my ears it sounded like the English word “chubby,” with him giving each cow the threat of a light whip to keep them moving.
A frequent sight this day was the Galician Horreo, a different version of the same aloft hut from Asturias that protects crops from humidity and rats. In Galicia’s version, crosses often dot the roofs, and the building tend to be much smaller as a whole too.
Opposite one horreo, an age-old Roman milestone marked some long-lost distance from a Roman Gallic road.
At another junction, I passed an old building with a cow looking forlornly out at me, at the distant far-removed world.
I’ve talked before about some of the positive aspects of Spanish culture, but one that troubles me is the way animals here are treated. Along The Way, almost every house has a dog, and most dogs are aggressive. With dogs, like humans, their personality it mearly a reflection of how their life is going; an aggressive dog is simply treated with aggression by its owners, living in a condition that’s not particularly filled with happiness. Cows often eat feed between gates that prevent them from moving their head, rabbits live their lives in small cages until big enough for being slaughtered, and stray half dead cats and newborn kittens are strewn about the landscape in villages near and far, some apparently living with bellies full, many others half-dead to my eyes. Looking at culture is only possible relative to other cultures, and coming from France–where dogs are kinder, cows graze always in pastures, horses and sheep roam along large swathes of pasture near sea level and on mountain tops–the animals here, along the part I have walked, are not living happy lives. This is critical, perhaps, but it would be dishonest to talk endlessly about the great aspects of a country, of a walk, and blindly ignore those parts which are less great.
I planned to walk late into the evening this day, but I’ve become a slave to spontaneity it seems, as in Ferreira I saw the three Brazilians I mentioned previously, who alerted me to their presence with shouts of “David Crockett!” They invited me to sit, pushing drinks and plates of appetizers in my direction to wonderful demands of “Drink please!” and “Eat please!” Soon after, my plans of going further evaporated amidst cries of laughter and yelling in the small bar, with talk of how boring and dry they felt most pilgrims in the albergue were as well as talk of a couple of beautiful Italian girls staying there. Soon, they gave me the honor of saying that before they were three, but now we were four, calling me brother too. I decided to stay in the albergue with them as the entertainment, companionship, was so rare to just to pass up so quickly.
On a side note, I tend to learn a lot about the openness, friendliness of strangers while traveling. In no culture so far have I encountered such an abject warmness towards random people from the onset of meeting as with Brazilian people. When I first met them several days previous, they gave me the honorable nickname of Davy Crockett, and on this meeting it was as though I was a long lost friend, all for my doing nothing except simply coming into their line of sight. Anthropologists could probably rate cultures on their degrees of openness, their appreciation of strangers and their willingness to include them into their lives, the most appealing aspect a culture can have. It’s hard not to appreciate, and quickly I had visions of someday visiting Brazil and its friendly, open, Samba-induced atmosphere.