Camino 13a – 1 October 2014
By Parson Thru
Palas de Rei to Arzua, via Ribadiso - Part 1
1st of October. A new month. A few days from now we’d be in Santiago. We rose early. There were no other signs of life on the landing as we walked down the stairs and exited the pension by the side door. N tapped me on the shoulder once we were outside.
We pressed together and grinned into the camera – the very act of which lifted our spirits. The aches and feelings of exhausted detachment were joined by something else. I felt the bond between us tighten as the spirit of the Camino filled my soul again.
We kissed quickly. “Buen Camino!”
N’s eyes, though tired, burned with the light of adventure. We squeezed each other’s hands and the lane down to the plaza suddenly became inviting as we crossed the road, swinging our walking sticks beside us.
We passed the restaurant and the bar where we’d spent the evening and continued through the plaza to a broad road. We waited at the traffic-lights as a refuse truck swung through the junction and cars wound around the street that skirted the plaza. Palas de Rei was beginning its morning routine.
On the far side of the junction, a yellow arrow pointed the way. There were sufficient pilgrims strung along the path to just follow in line.
My feet were feeling better with the new insoles and I’d taken a couple of Ibuprofen tablets, washed down with rehydration salts.
The first three or four kilometres were steadily downhill, which was harder on my leg muscles than climbing, but we took it fairly easy to start with. The route was flattening out now, anyway. The map showed it undulating over successive shallow river valleys, crossing and re-crossing the busy N-547 road.
After about an hour, we passed through the village of Casanova. I couldn’t resist having my photo taken under the sign. N displayed her usual heroic patience.
We passed through villages with ancient Romanesque churches, their small graveyards a tightly-packed jumble of monuments and crosses. The landscape varied from woodland to dry scrub with occasional avenues of birch, sometimes giving way to views across rich farmland. Bridges as old as the churches carried us across rivers where it was tempting to stop under the cool shelter of trees. We paused only to drink water from our bottles and to eat biscuits and dried fruit. N insisted that we keep going to the mid-way point at Melide.
As a minimum, Melide is significant for the following reasons.
It’s there that our Camino, the Camino Frances, is joined by the Camino Primitivo. The Primitivo is one of the oldest pilgrim routes and runs just inland of the Cantabrian Coastline. Nine days before, outside Oviedo station, we’d chatted to a man who was about to walk it. The confluence of the Frances and the Primitivo would further swell the number of pilgrims during the final days.
Melide’s other point of interest is its pulpo Gallega, or Galician-style octopus. N, having a gastronomic interest, was keen to sample it, so there would be no breakfast stop today.
The weather continued to be kind to us. It had been unusually dry and clear. We’d scoured the forecasts on-line before heading to Spain and all of them had warned of squally rain and thunder. At best, the weather in this region is changeable, and we hadn’t expected anything else. We’d had the storm at Sarria and low cloud and mist often shrouded the hills, making early starts cool and damp, but from late morning the sun always burned its way through.
In some ways, it took away some of the atmosphere and mystery of the Camino. The remote mountain villages such as Cebreiro are probably more remote and atmospheric for being shrouded in mist. Personally, I didn’t miss the rain and was happy to trade a little atmosphere for sunshine.
As we took on the steady decline from O Coto to Melide, I‘d stripped down to a T-shirt and was still getting hot. We came upon the footballers Andrés and Javier about to scramble down a riverbank to soak their feet in the cool waters – it was probably the Rio Seco. It seemed the best plan in the world. The boys grinned and waved us to follow, but N was having none of it.
“No stops before Melide.”
I looked back to them and shrugged. Javier was already at the water with his shoes off.
Andrés waved back and disappeared down the bank.
Later, we were joined for a while by a Spanish man in his twenties. He had the look of young graduate professionals everywhere: tall, slim and energetic – I could imagine him skiing or kite-surfing when not walking the Camino. He wore long khaki shorts, a red T-shirt and a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun off. He introduced himself as Arseño and we chatted in English for a while.
He was doing the Camino with his brother, Miguel. I looked around. Arseño’s brother could have been any one of many men chatting as we strode along in the flow. He mentioned that Miguel was struggling with blisters. I told him about the problem I’d had with my cheap shoes.
We passed through small farming settlements. For days we’d been seeing tall, narrow structures made from brick or wood with tiled roofs. They were ventilated and stood at about the height of a bungalow. They were no more than about a metre wide. The whole thing was built on stilts and a ramp led to a door at one end.
We asked Arseño if he knew what they were. He thought they might be hen-houses or maybe animal food-stores. That was roughly what we’d been thinking. Pretty-much every farm seemed to have one. I got into photographing them for some reason.
The arrows directed us along a winding track that felt like an access road to an industrial estate. As we passed units, people standing by the track waved us in. We took a look at what they were offering. It was pulpo. Perhaps we’d arrived in Melide. We looked at the map. At best it was a suburb. We decided to keep going. Somewhere, we lost Arseño.
We walked on for maybe hour, occasionally cutting onto the road again, before taking another track past more pulpo dens.
The path began following the bank of the Rio Furelos, under shade trees, before crossing a bridge. It led into a jumble of terracotta roofs, above which rose a bell-tower. This was the mediaeval town of Furelos. A little further on, we entered Melide. We arrived at a junction opening onto the town centre and on our left was a pulperia. Through the window, large steaming cauldrons of pulpo were being stirred. We went inside.
The place was pretty busy. The bar was doing steady business and a white-shirted waiter ushered us up a level to an area of long benches. We parked ourselves, gratefully dropping off our packs, and ordered a bottle of water and two glasses of Rioja. The waiter set out the menu options – pulpo Gallega in various portion sizes. We ordered two medium portions.
Peregrinos were scattered around the long tables. Below the mezzanine, the bar was busy with regulars. We’d made it for around lunchtime.
While we were waiting, Arseño walked in with his brother and sat across from us. He introduced us to Miguel. They’d just bought blister plasters from a pharmacy along the street.
A few minutes later, the pulpo arrived. The waiter laid two wooden bowls on the table. Sucker-festooned chunks lay in glistening heaps, smothered with paprika. Even to a half-starved man, denied breakfast, it seemed a lot of octopus.
We took our time and sipped at the wine, chewing steadily through the pile. It was good – very fresh and simply cooked in the cauldrons around us. The paprika provided a good foil to the chewy meat. I was determined to eat it while it was hot. I never find octopus quite as appetising when it begins to cool.
After around twenty minutes of steady chewing, N decided she’d had enough. I wanted to clear my bowl if I could, but I was close to full. In the end, I was getting to the point where you’re chewing it and it isn’t going down any more.
The waiter wasn’t too surprised when he came to take away the unfinished remains. It must be a regular occurrence. Maybe order a small bowl each next time. We paid the bill and I walked across the restaurant to use the toilet. My feet were sore after being off them for a while and my legs felt heavy and stiff.
I enquired how Miguel was feeling as I passed, and saw the blisters on his feet. Nobody seemed to mind that he was dressing them in the restaurant. The whole place was strewn with packs and walking sticks, so who would complain? A few minutes later, we called “Hasta luego!” to them both and headed outside. The bar was still busy.
Out in the bright sunlight we continued on to a large junction, where we spotted the pharmacy on the opposite corner. Compeed plasters must be one of their best-selling lines. I bought two more packs.
We carried on until the blue and yellow Camino signs directed us down a smaller road to our left. The road gradually led out of town and up into woods.
Fifteen or twenty minutes out of Melide I happened to look across a field and there, in the long grass under a spreading tree, were the French pilgrims, Maria, Claudache and Lionel. They had their picnic blanket spread on the ground just as they had the day before. We stopped and waved to them.
“Bonjour!”, “Ca va?”
Claudache shouted something back in French and I, caught up in the moment, responded “Vive la France!”
Maria stood up and I couldn’t help but launch into the “Marseillaise”. I don’t know the words, but N joined in and we bellowed out the tune while the three of them supplied the lyrics. N stood beside me photographing them as Lionel videoed us from under the tree.
That field can seldom have witnessed a more rousing rendition of the “Marseillaise”. At the end, we cheered each other. N and I wished them “Buen Camino!” and continued on our way. I’m not sure what other passing peregrinos made of it all.