I will make this quick, as this internet place is expensive!
Since I wrote you last I´ve acquired a camera (which I have no cable for, so I will show pics later). I´ve had a lovely cuddly visit with Patrick, who took cabs and trains forward and back to be with me for three days between my hikes. (He walked one of the days, between Monforte de Lemos and Castellon de Something...a really tough little stretch of rural blacktop. He very wisely packed it in, as his shoes weren´t suited to the task.) I feel like I´ve had a very privileged camino, what with people coming out to meet me, and a few others owing me favors and paying me back double and triple... and a few others who are just saints.
I know I said this before about the English Way and the Camino San Salvador, but this Invierno Trail is some of the most lovely, untouched Camino I ever experienced. I witnessed the birth of a Jersey bull calf outside Chantada, way up at the top of a rugged bit of medieval road. I rode a couple of miles standing on the plowshare of an old Massey-Furguson tractor. I played with five tiny four-day-old lambs, I prayed in a 9th century church, and I walked miles and miles and miles of asphalt and a good bit of Roman pavement too. I slept at Pension Tropicale, a 15-Euro per night flophouse (the bearded, mumbling, wine-scented men outside could´ve easily passed for pilgrims, except most pilgs would never pay 15 Euros for a bed). and I shared a corner Tower Suite in a 15th century monastery turned 21st-century Parador hotel. I liked the Parador better than the Pension Tropicale. I got a good ten hours of sleep in both places, which makes you wonder. (A simple, clean room, with its own shower, sheets, and towels, averages 30 Euro.)
So that´ll show you one thing about the Invierno: there aren´t many albergues. So you have to stay in pensions. It´s inexpensive, but it´s not cheap. (I may never stay in a pilgrim albergue again. Those clean towels and sheets are SO worth it!)
Another thing you can learn from my experience is this: since I left Chantada, three days ago, I lost about seven hours of hard hiking floundering around trying to find my way. This trail, especially the last two days, is VERY POORLY WAYMARKED. To the point of being cruel, or even dangerous. The etapas are very long, sometimes more than 30 kilometers. There are very few bars in rural Galicia (people must drink at home!) and even fewer restaurants or places to sleep.
I´ve been using a guide posted online by one of the Invierno Friends of the Camino groups, and I warn everyone against using it -- the person who wrote it means well, but having walked the length of this trail it is clear to me she drove parts of it in a car, walked some sections, and cobbled together the rest while sitting in a bar with a pile of maps, a ruler, and a gang of friends who also had walked bits and pieces. I will try to update the guide that exists online, to prevent anyone else becoming as terribly lost as I was. But having lost whatever "real" path is out there, my version won´t be a lot of help. Lost is lost. When you get un-lost, you don´t walk back to see where the mistake was made. (you usually just say a couple of bad words, and keep walking.)
I wasn´t "lost in an Arctic storm" lost. I could almost always see the 7 kilometers of wind-farm on the mountain opposite, where I´d walked the day before. I could see a green hog barn in a valley, and a huge chicken farm atop the next mountain. I´d walk a couple of miles of verdant green valley, or climb a mountain through a million pine trees, and come out on a tractor path... and there would be the hog barn again. And the windmills. Slightly to the west or south of where I last saw them. I stopped a farmer in the middle of plowing a field (at about 17 percent grade!) and he told me Lalín, the town I wanted to get to (the town a mere 14 km. from where I started) was only two kilometers that way. So I headed that way. It started to rain. I eventually came out on a blacktop road. Where I flagged down Jose Ignacio in his Massey-Ferguson. He said the road will take me to Lalín. It´s only six kilometers, he said.
"SIX kilometers?? I´m going to cry now," I told him.
"Don´t cry," he said. "I´ll take you the first couple."
This is where I wish I traveled with a camera crew, because I must´ve been a sight, clinging to the back of the tractor, flying down the road with my backpack under a flapping red poncho -- must´ve looked like the farmer´d been accosted by a flaming hunchback. I actually yelled "yeehaw" at one point, before I realized we were going a good 30 mph and the edges of that poncho were kinda close to the wheels, and thoughts of Isadora Duncan´s untimely end flashed through my mind. What a way to go, I thought. Better this than bleaching my bones in some pine plantation six kilometers back.
Anyway, that 14 km. stage took me seven hours to complete. It was disheartening. I kinda wanted to get to Santiago in time to see Johnnie Walker, one of my fine buds from London, who was in Santiago for a little while but was supposed to go home today.
And then I learned that John is STILL in Santiago, stranded there by a giant cloud of volcanic ash that´s shut down air traffic all over Europe. (How apocalyptic do I gotta get to see my friends?) I am very much NOT rushing this camino, not for anyone, and especially not with my feet running on Injured Reserve Backup status and my boots falling off said feet. But I really want to see John. I think I will need to talk with someone once I get to Santiago. I need to process this strange, choppy, solitary camino, and I´ve been on my own now for several days. Much as I long to arrive, I would really rather not face that city alone.
This morning, outside Lalin, the Invierno joined the Via de la Plata, a big north-south route that is beautifully waymarked. The path today went over mountains and hills and bogs and Roman bridges, very similar to the Invierno, but with reliable arrows and granite markers... I LOVE those! Much as I like being challenged, I´ve had enough of orienteering, thanks!
And in the same vein, think back on my disdain for the radio-toting knuckleheads in Foncebadon. This morning my heart rejoiced to see 20 Spandex-clad bikers blast past me, all shouting "Buen Camino!" as they drove happily headlong into oncoming traffic. Yay knuckleheads!
I am even glad to see some traffic... some. I am a day and a half short of Santiago, in a little crossroads town called Bandeiras, in a bar called Arume, where they have fat cañas of Estrella Galicia beer and a superb Sandwich Vegetal. I´m gonna post that recipe someday.. and a photo. YUM!
I have much more to report, but this will have to do for now. Until I get to Santiago and a proper internet place, and a washing machine, and a haircut/manicure/pedicure place, and a MariscoRama dinner place...
Over and Out