I have met many characters on my two week walk on the Way of St. james. One guy that will stick in my mind I ran into just as I was summitting the last ridge before the albergue at O Cebreiro. I had hiked around 30km from Villafranca de Bierzo and the last 8 km was beautiful but grueling with 4 false summits that were rather discouraging. Anyway, back to the guy. I was walking along, looking at several large chunks of snow and wondering when the last snow storm was, and I see this guy walking towards me. He is tall, at least 6’3″ and athletic but borderline skinny. He has some funky hiking tousers on that reach right below his knees, with strings hanging down. His backpack is huge, and reaches a least a foot above his head. His hat, for whatever reason, reminds me of the traditional stocking hats worn iduring the French Revolution.
We stop to talk. He is German and he is walking the trail reverse, and then will contonue to walk until he gets home to Germany. I notice as we are visiting that he is missing probably 6 of his front teeth and he bounces his eyebrows for effect. He is just the aboslute friendliest guy. With his eyebrows bouncing for effect, he tells me I should carry a walking stick in Galicia. He tells me stories about having to beat off two dogs and knock another down with a stone. He didn’t know if that dog survived or not. As I was talking with him, I was cold from the wind and the temperature. It was close to 5pm, when the sun starts going down, and he told me he was hiking down the ridge and to a pueblo approximately 20km away. Better him than me, I was thinking.
He impressed me. I bought a walking staff at the next store I could and honestly, it has come in very handy during three occassions with dogs so far. I only have had to swing it menacingly to make them back off. The dogs along the Camino know what sticks and rocks are, that is for sure. Most of the dogs I have seen in Galicia have been large Mastiff, Shepard and Saint Bernard varieties. I have only seen two Border Collie type dogs, and no Austrailian Heelers or Shepard dogs. They are all big watch dogs and they watch over the stock not just the house.
Another character I will remember is an old lady that flagged me down. Leaving O Cebreiro the next day, I Summitted the Alto of St Rock (San Roque) at 900+ meters and then mostly walked down hill for the rest of the day to Triacastela. On this downhill tramp, I passed through what I would term “settlements”. They were not villages, but instead clusters of buildings which in many cases included a dairy, milking shed and a closed albergue. As I was leaving one settlement, I heard a sort of screech behind me. I stop to see an old lady standing in the middle of street behind me about 75 meters. She was beckoning to me. I wave her off and point that I will keep walking. She ademantly shakes her head beckons me and then turns around and heads back to her house entry way. I see no other alternative so I decide to humor the old lady and I walk back to her entry way.
She is short, maybe 4’11” dressed in what I can only describe as simple, home spun wool clothes with years of wood smoke in them. She has a dress, and also a heavy shawl of some sort. She doesn’t have army boots on, but something very similar. Her head is covered with a bonnet, and she has an incredibly big smile of beautiful teeth. She is lively, friendly and spry. I guess her age to be between 65 and 85. It is hard to tell, but she is clearly very healthy.
She whips out a plate and says she has a present for me. Then she raises the cloth and I see crepes. She has a plate of crepes! She gives me one as we are talking, and then she runs back into her house to get a sugar shaker. I end up eating two and they are delicious! She quizzes me as to how many Pilgrims were staying in the O Cebrerio albergue last night. I say there were six of us, and she shakes her head with frustration. She said she missed the first three that went through, but would keep her eyes open for the two behind me. I realize at that point, that this is her winter business. She is as poor as a church mouse. I take all my change (about five euros) and it give it to her. She turns her head sideways with a huge smile and says “thank you” in English – almost with a wink. She was fun.
The edge of Galicia is very rural and remote. The roads are small, and farms dot the rolling landscape. The stone houses look like they have been there for hundreds of years. Many of the homes have a winter gardens. The pace of life is definitely a little slower in back country Galicia.
Thanks for reading. The next blog post will close out the walk to Santiago. Many of the final days of the walk were rain soaked. Cherrio Steve