October 22nd (Tuesday) – 10:31 pm
Hotel-Restaurante Xaneiro, Melide
Today’s Walk: Os Valos to Melide
J’Nell and I wake to sunrise outside the large picture window in our room. The orange and gray sky turns yellow with fog drifting through the valley, and the trees in the meadow are silhouetted in the dawn light. From our excellent dinner last night, the comfortable and spacious room with the great shower, to the location, Hosteria Calixtino is one of the finer places we’ve stayed on the Camino.
Although it is eerily empty, and we might be the only ones staying here. All the keys except for our room seem to be on the hooks when we checked-in last evening, and we dined completely alone. We told them we didn’t need breakfast in the morning, and the place is deserted when we leave at 9:30 am.
I was hoping we’d encounter less people on the Camino today since we stayed in an off-the-way place, though I was okay if it didn’t happen. I am truly happy to just be here and walking. However, the solitude and quiet of the Camino does return, along with the sun.
When we reach Palas de Rei, the place most pilgrims spend the night in this area, it seems like a ghost town. After stopping for breakfast, a delicious egg sandwich made fresh and dripping with cheese, we leave town through a forest and ascend steeply. Next it’s down to a path along the highway, and then back through a forest to San Xulian.
The sun continues to shine, warming us up as we walk, and after more forest and a good climb, we reach Casanova and Fogar do Caminante cafe. J’Nell had seen a photo of a stamp someone got there that she thought was cool, so we stop for a coffee and a Santiago Cake. Though the stamp is unfortunately different than the one she had seen online, the cake is homemade and the best we’ve had thus far; also, being at the table in the sun feels wonderful, and the owner is extremely nice.
There are more open fields full of sun, as well as mossy, forest trails with cows and no people in sight. We eventually enter the lovely town of Leboreiro, where we get our first (and what will be our only) wax stamp in our Pilgrims’ Passport. We also tour its 13th century Iglesia de Santa Maria that features a penis sculpted on the side of it. That is not a typo, I’m not joking, and Tyler Durden hasn’t hacked my blog.
Apparently risqué images, including penises, were often put on the outside of churches back in the day to show the sins of the mortal world. This would be to create a dichotomy for the Medieval churchgoer, where once they step inside they experience heavenly salvation. However, as centuries passed and renovations were done on the buildings, almost all of the genitalia were purged from all the churches. It’s rare to find any now.
It’s another 7 kilometers until Melide, and we go over a small medieval bridge called Magdalena Puente, and then up a path past beautiful tall trees in an otherwise open space. There are maybe a dozen or so of them, and what few leaves remain on the branches shimmer in the wind. With the light reflecting off them and the sound from the breeze, there is something very special about it to me.
After another forest with more ups and downs, we reach the beautiful Puente de San Xoan, which is a four arched medieval bridge that crosses the Rio Furelos into the town of the same name. The colors are so vivid there, with the blue sky, white clouds, dark blue river, green trees and grass leading down to the water, and also the orange-brown of the roofs in the town.
After crossing the bridge we see some guys restoring an ancient stone building. It makes me think l would love to do that someday, work I’d be proud to complete. How meaningful to put back together something so old and aesthetically pleasing, and allow others to enjoy it for hopefully centuries to come.
Reaching the end of our walk, we have a long, steady climb to Melide. Getting to the top, we pass its most famous pulperia (a restaurant that serves octopus) called Garnacha, and are given a taste of their iconic dish; well, actually, the guy leaning out the window (playfully) demands us to try it. He hoists the purple creature from the pot, snips off two samples, and we eat the octopus. I think it tastes good, though J’Nell isn’t a fan.
It’s only a few more minutes to Hotel-Restaurante Xanero, where we have a reservation. After showering and resting, we return to the pulperia for some appetizers (we are the only ones in there not eating octopus), then go to a bar up the road for a Fernet.
Later in the evening we see Trevor in the window of another cafe. We go inside and talk for a bit, and he insists on buying us a beer. So nice getting to spend time with such a long-time Camino family member!
We return to our place for a nightcap, and chat with the friendly bartender who is probably in her 60’s and speaks perfect English. She recommends an excellent Spanish brandy called Cardenal Mendoza, which is delicious, strong, with a hint of sweetness. There is also a lively group of locals chatting, boozing, and eating chestnuts, and it’s a fine way to end the day.
October 23rd (Wed)- 9:28 pm
Albergue Turistico Salceda, Salceda
Today’s Walk: Melide to Salceda
J’Nell and I are out the door a little after 9 am with churros as our incentive. We go back to the same place, Chuscos, where we were denied them last evening. It was recommended to us by our great friend Russ, and there are lots of locals there and zero pilgrims.
J’Nell at first only orders 3, but they are small and preternaturally delicious, so we get 4 more to go along with our coffee and hot chocolate dipping sauce. The chocolate is supposed to be for drinking, but it instead compliments the churros perfectly. I could have eaten ten more.
On the way out of town we pass by Sancti Spirtus, the main church in Melide, but a mass is going on so we settle for taking some photos outside of the old building with puffy clouds over it. We walk up a steep path only to go down again (we do that all the time on the Camino, but today might set the record) to what will be one of my favorite churches we visited. Iglesia de Santa Maria de Melide dates back to the 11th century and has a Templar connection, as well as beautiful frescoes from the 1400’s.
We read that the caretaker Antonio gives tours in English, and is passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the place and the Templars. With most of the churches this late in the season being closed, and Antonio having a full time job as a fireman, we are very lucky the doors are open and he is there. A young guy, maybe in his late 30’s, he’s energetic and is as passionate as advertised. He compliments me on the Templar Tau cross I am wearing and shows us his, which is much more ornate. Antonio takes our picture, and poses for us as well. It is very special visit and the highlight of the day.
A little further down the Camino we see a little Korean boy petting a white horse with his dad. The Mom is walking with them too, and we’ve run into this nice family for a few days now. Very cool the boy is doing the Camino, what an experience for him, as he is probably only around 8-10. We try to pet the horse when they walk away, but only get our hands slobbered on as it is thinking we are trying to feed it.
There is more forest walking and ups and downs, including crossing a bridge made of big boulders over a stream. We then come upon on a wood shack where I buy a small bottle of raspberry liqueur; not that I need it, but I really like a little bottle. We finally reach the town of Boente, and put our hands into Fonte de Salcente, whose water is supposed to have healing powers. It doesn’t say it’s potable, so I rub some on my arms, legs, and neck.
Not long afterwards we reach an extremely steep hill. As I am almost at the top, I turn around and gaze at the beautiful mountains in the distance with epic Cumulus clouds hovering over them. A cyclist passes me while I take some photos, and then a few minutes later I overtake him due to the severe incline. Probably the first time in my life I’ve passed a bicycle while walking.
We’ll next amble along a peaceful country road, and then down into a beautiful valley. We pass cute sheep, including baby ones, and then keep going downward. J’Nell and I both know what this will mean, and sure enough, we have another long and steep hill to crest.
Then its down once again into the charming town of Ribadiso, where after traversing the short medieval bridge, we stop for lunch. At Meson Rural Ribadiso we have delicious homemade lentil soup and split a perfectly made-to-order cheese, prosciutto, and tomato sandwich on savory fresh bread. We still have a good amount of walking to do, but we each get a beer anyway. Why not live a little.
Though the beer and the lunch make our backpacks seem heavier as we have to go up yet another steep road to reach Arzua. Cars zoom past us in either direction once we arrive there, and after the forests and quiet we’ve had, it’s a bit unnerving. But the Camino eventually takes you away from the busy road to a historic area that is quiet, with lots of places for pilgrims to spend the night and nice cafes.
Arzua is billed as the land of cheese, and I want to stop at a shop to buy some since I have a profound love of queso. But we still have about three more hours to walk on this 25 kilometer day. The famous local cheese is semi soft, and it likely will not fare well in my backpack.
At the end of town we enter another forest, and for the rest of the day we’ll only encounter a young French couple, two German women, and a group of 6 from San Diego who are walking four days on the Camino as part of their vacation. They seem like they’d be a lot of fun to share a few drinks with, and are impressed we started from France and have carried our backpacks the whole way.
It is another 11 klicks to Salceda, with lots of forests, cows, open fields, puffy clouds, and ups and downs. We’ll pass by (though do not stop for a drink) a bar decorated with thousands of beer bottles. We also see a garden with hiking shoes as flower pots, and plenty more cows more until we finally reach Albergue Turistico Salceda. It is a slight detour off the Camino, but turns out to be a terrific place.
J’Nell and I have a private room at this modern, spotless, very comfortable and friendly albergue. We eat an outstanding dinner there, served by the wonderful couple who run the place. When we pay they ask if I am a famous writer from Germany (they saw the name and were hopeful), and find it funny when I say instead I am an unknown writer from America. They sell us a bottle of vino tinto para llevar (red wine to go), and we drink it in our room and write in our journals.
J’Nell and I have hiked 465 miles across Spain thus far. That’s actually just the westward movement we’ve done, and doesn’t include all the walking once we actually reach and explore a town. Almost impossible to believe we’ll be arriving in Santiago in two more days.