After shoving the dresser back to it’s rightful place this morning, I went back out to the stairwell to hover about trying to snag some WiFi (pronounced WeeFee in France and Spain) and then stopped in the restaurant (the main business of Casa Benigno) for a cafe con leche. If it seems like I keep mentioning cafe con leches, it’s because they’re a hiker staple in Spain. They get us up and out the door. Bars in Spain are not exactly bars as we think of them in the States. They’re restaurants that happen to serve alcohol as well, maybe more what we would think of as a locally owned cafe. These people who work in the restaurants/bars work at a speed that would kill a racehorse, and often one person is doing everything. All day and all evening.
The Wikiloc tracks said 26.7 km by the “Camino Verde”, but I didn’t make it past 3 circuitous kilometers. I’d scouted out the exit the night before to at least get a smooth start the next day. In the morning, I walked the pretty park by the river to the first turn, found the next arrow and then quickly missed the following faded green arrow about 12′ off path on a low rock. A navigation trick that Nicole taught me showed that I was off-track, and after backtracking about 0.5 km, I found the obscure marking and headed down the correct path……..but ten minutes later found myself dropped onto a small blacktop road with no indication for which way to go. Per maps.me, I was getting farther away from my reference of the LU 934, so I decided that if less than 3 km were this ambiguous, 26.7 km would probably be a real mess. I walked the small blacktop road back to connect with the LU 934 and decided it would be better to stick to that instead of spending the day lost and wasting time. The road walking wasn’t any better than the prior days with 18″ shoulders, intermittent fast cars, and it became increasingly remote/isolated and mountainous. And because this isn’t an official part of any Camino yet until the Norte joins farther on, the locals and the dogs seemed unaccustomed to visitors in their midst.
Some tech-loaded people with the Wikiloc files superimposed on an offline map who don’t mind following on their phones as they walk probably would do fine, but I just wanted a well-marked, less-worry walk.
For those here via the tag, one good thing about the LU and AC 934 (the letters in front change because the Province they’re passing through changes from Lugo to A Coruña) is that there are signposts for kilometers starting in Friol. It’s a fairly direct 23 km, so roadwalking saves 3.7 km, which can amount to an hour for a tired person. You can get an Empresa Freire from Lugo to Arzua and then wait for the evening Monday – Friday bus from there to Sobrado dos Monxes, but then you’d miss the monks’ Vespers. Get there for Vespers if you can – you are a witness rather than a participant, and to me, even as a rank heathen, it was a unique and powerful experience. It’s possible that you must be staying overnight to attend. Or, at least, I saw none of the many day tourists attending.
There was absolutely nothing (unless you count a ton of barking dogs, a few of them loose) excepting a few residences, until O Meson about 5 km from Sobrado (the cafe in O Meson is run by a kind, accommodating woman and her family). This was on a Tuesday in late June.
At about 8 km the next of the seemingly deliberately intimidating men showed up. He slowed down in the oncoming lane on this deserted road, crossed over the other lane to park at the only place near me on the side of the road where it was possible to stop a car, and quickly got out with a huge/4′ branch pruning tool. As if there were some branch that just had to be pruned immediately on this featureless, remote stretch of road with no other humans for several km in either direction. I nodded and said a firm “hola”, to which he just stared. I’m getting tired of these guys who…..if you read the forums ……seem to be very deliberately trying to “teach a lesson” to those women who do this alone. And some of them have been bizarre, such as the man who cruised alongside a woman slowly, glaring at her, so she would notice that he had plastic-wrapped the seating and the dash of his vehicle. That’ll teach us. They can’t be charged for glaring and menacing, and you will not know whether there is going to be violence or not. And once again, none of this behavior is directed at males or those walking in groups, so those people will continue to insist that none of this is happening. Must make these men feel big.
Then suddenly, at around 11.5 km from Friol, there was the first Camino sign, so that’s probably where the Norte joins. It made me very happy, as if from then on I was back to Camino civilization. At one point when the most recent in a number of fast-moving concrete mixers passed far too close, I looked back to see a string of dispersed walkers behind. I could have hugged them all. Most were English-speakers with a guided tour, and they were fun to talk with. All the women had thought about going alone, and they had questions about what it was like to do it alone and female, but all had decided it was better to go with their husbands and a group. I tried to reinforce the wisdom of their decision, and was grateful that they turned up. Connection really helps and a little will go a long way toward feeling better.
It wasn’t a walking day I’d want to repeat, but the goal was to get to Sobrado dos Monxes. Mission accomplished.
The monastery lodging doesn’t accept people until 16:30, so along with a few others we lined up our backpacks at the designated entrance for the Albergue traditionally indicating the order in which you are taken in to register. I’d sent an email from one of the restaurants in Sobrado where I stopped to eat in hopes of getting a private habitacion in the hospederia, but had not yet received a response.
So, at the designated time I went back to get registered to find the hall filled with other pilgrims, mostly kids, standing in line……. and the age-old backpack place-saver tradition ignored. A man at the front of the line evidently knew about the practice and invited me to go ahead of them at the designated door, but then a rather obnoxious man came out and started commandeering those waiting through a totally different door and locking the door behind (?) us. I didn’t know whether I would have a room in the hospedería yet, and the guy couldn’t be bothered with details because he was busy cattle-herding. Once again, I was literally the last in line after being one of the first to arrive and having followed the standard Albergue practice. Tired and getting frustrated, and as the albergue would be full of kids by the looks of it, I decided that if I had to, I’d go to the badly rated hotel in town. When what was indicated as the Hospederia door opened, they were only taking tourist entrance fees for visiting the monastery rather than processing those staying overnight. Once again I was asked to move to the side. I waited and waited until a large number of day-visitors and tour groups were processed to go in and see the monastery, and then the monk staffing the desk called the monk who evidently takes care of the hospederia rooms. Eventually, not getting overtly frustrated and being persistent paid off again, and for 35 Euro the very kind monk walked me to the very private, separated hospedería, gave my instructions in French (French to the rescue again), and I have a simple, comfortable room in this renovated, very private area. I had an unexpected teary-eyed moment at his kindness and to have some peace and comfort on this long and grueling road.
Those staying here have free run of the cavernous compound all night. At first, it looked much like many other monastery and cathedral compounds I’ve seen, although the face of this one is wildly baroque and unique (see image). Eventually I stumbled unexpectedly into a side-door (the main entrance is no longer used) for the massive church part after passing through the cloisters and some other chapels. It was overwhelming for its sheer size – cavernous and empty and freezing cold, like a vast and secret place in a dream. There were side rooms with gisantes and a back room with some newer murals that a young man from Valencia wanted to show me (I would have missed them had he not). It has to be seen rather than told about, and to call the place atmospheric would be an understatement. I am glad to have put the extra effort into being here, and would not have wanted to miss this. I’ll not soon forget it.
There was the latest comedy of inter-cultural misunderstanding. When I arrived around 3pm, a guy around age 35 was at the entrance to the monastery compound in baggy shorts, baggy T-shirt, barefooted and limping badly on the cobblestones. I got out my foot care bag and offered to help with his feet basically by holding out the plastic bag as if offering. He said (what was that accent?) “after duche” – as if he wanted to shower first, which made sense. It’s the order of things on Camino, and why cleanse and treat and dress a foot before a shower? About an hour later, as I sat in the ticket office waiting to see if the monastery would let me have a hospederia room, he inexplicably came into the room and stood in front of me looking at me as if he’d showered and was ready for some foot care. I told him I was “trying to get a room”, to which he seemed to take offense and walked off. Concerned that I’d seemed dismissive, I went looking for him after I got showered and took my foot care ziplock bag. No one seemed to know who he was. The very funny British abbot and I had a good laugh about looking for a younger man with foot problems because, obviously, there was a whole Albergue full of males fitting that description. Later I saw the limping guy in front of the entrance and offered the contents of my bag, but he just looked annoyed and said something about doing it in the morning and that he had many things for his feet. There was something extremely serious and intense about him. Ok. So maybe the problem was that I just wanted too much to help and had misunderstood.
The next morning, he was starting his hiking day as I was waiting for the bus and I realized that although the night before he looked like a limping, baggy-shorts novice, today he looked like a hard-core trekker with bandana skull cap, really tattered backpack, worn cargo shorts and beaten-up hiking shoes. I’d missed the super-hiker calves the night before, although I’m not sure how because they were impressive. This was a guy who could probably have amputated his own foot and not winced. He was probably the last guy on any Camino to want some old nurse fussing over his feet.
Like I said. Committing international faux pas – its kind of a chronic issue.
Vespers was at 7 pm – the monks’ evening ritual of responsive singing and reading with each other (we were as witnesses). There were what could be described as powerful periods of silence and darkness. The periods of absolute stillness gave a sense of being at once completely alone but completely whole, and at the same time also a sense of being at one with every other totally still, upright human present. It was an honor to be there as their guest.