Monday, 23 July 2018

El Camino (Levante) Cross of Los Milagros above Portocamba (10.9km) to Laza and a bit extra towards Soutelo Verde Monday 16th April, 2018

Hmmm - good start!  My Cambelbak seal got trapped, stretched and didn't seal my water in the reservoir so I felt cold water running down my trousers which soaked me, left my camera drenched and not working and me without water!  It was a fabulous day, glorious sun driving back the clouds and great views - such a shame as I missed some of the best scenic photos of the trip.  My phone camera just isn't quite good enough for that sort of panorama.

It was still a lovely walk and I did manage to capture some wonderful cloud moods over the valley.  There were a number of pilgrims who passed me to day or walked a little while in step just behind or in front.  Most said hello or held a short conversation and we all regularly stopped to look at the views and photograph the blue skies as the clouds moved aside to reveal a glorious and hot day.

The little covered area where a flask and teas and coffees are
left for pilgrims - along with some bales to sit on and rest
My "muy crujente" nuts were much appreciated on the walk down and kept me sustained through the morning.  My energy was flagging somewhat as I neared Laza and the heat kicked in to make it more tiring. As usual some kind pilgrims had built an arrow here and there where there may have been some ambiguity as to which direction to follow, but on the whole I think they were just having fun as it wasn't a difficult route to find.
Decorated marker in Eiras near
the little rest stop

The walk was simply beautiful and there seems to a be a lot of care taken towards pilgrims and their well being on this route.  It is completely serviced by those who pop up from Laza (or so it seems) to keep it looking pretty and make sure there is some refreshment.  All they ask for is a "donative" - a lovely idea but I was not thirsty and did not stop.  The pilgrims I had passed were all partaking of some refreshment and of course this mean they would all pass me again further down the mountain.

Rest area heading towards Laza - lovely place to stop and
picnic for pilgrims

 There were lots of nationalities out today - German, French, Spanish and myself... The French guys were very noisy chatters!  They wished me Buen Camino but later when we passed again they asked what language I spoke.  The main guy asked about French but I said mine was a bit out of date (rusty) and he said something weird like "I expect so" (?)  They asked where I had stayed the night before and I explained that I walk the camino in sections and then M and I are currently in one location this time and stay together.  The friend said that is a convenient and nodded and smiled like it was a good idea.  From the main guy I got the impression he was not too impressed as though I was not walk-in the Camino "properly"... fast forward to later in this blog!  I will leave you with that thought for a moment.....

The most beautiful lifting of the clouds as the warmth of the sun evaporated them away from the valley 
Squashed and dead procession
 The peace was a little more broken today as it was back to the working week, so the view of the amazing viaduct being built over the valley was filled with lorries and workmen busying themselves with the enormous engineering works.  You could see the two tunnels entering the opposite side of the valley today and the silence gave way to the rumble of lorries carrying sand and gravel.  Once around the mountain and away from the works it grew quieter again and the cuckoo accompanied us all the way into Laza.

A very long and very much alive procession!
There were many, many processionary pine caterpillars out today.  Many squashed or that had died because the lead caterpillar had been crushed, some going in circles (which I had read about but never seen!) and others in very, very long lines which unnerved me.  I wonder how many of the other pilgrims are aware of them.  There were so many I was glad I did not have the dogs as their hairs were all over the road.  In fact, they were in such abundance that M and I took our shoes off outside the hotel room door when we got back and left them near it rather than risk bringing hairs into the room and on which we might step in bare feet!

In case anyone is looking for a rests top in Laza - donations for staying here.  Looks good.

At the bottom of the mountain and on the last little off road bit of track before entering Laza there was another sign showing the equestrian route and the hiker's route.

I entered Laza with heavy legs from all the downhill.  Muscles were tight and the heat was rising, but it was still very pleasant.  I was glad that it was the end of the day's walk and M directed me in and waved from a vantage point where he had found a nice cafe for a cafe con leche.

There were more ads for places to stay on route and I thought that there would be an ayuntamiento for a sello but as with so many in this region it was no longer in use.  Fortunately the bar provided a very nice one and was not far from the Albergue which actually looked very cool and inviting.

As Michael joined me for the last few metres to the cafe, there ahead was the disapproving Frenchman... well, he may not have been of course but anyway... there he was, with his friend - getting into a TAXI!  Backpacks were being loaded into the boot and and yet they had given me the impression that they had walked every step since Seville on the Via de la Plata!

I am not one to judge and walking sections of the route is fine - I haven't been against skipping long road sections or busy highways... but this made me laugh.  After their insinuations, it was hilarious to see them getting into the Taxi and I wish that I had been closer to say "hello" with a knowing look!  I am sure that they were skipping the next "hard climb" (and it was to be a very hard climb and not glossed over by the guide book)... and then starting from the downhill to Ourense!  Or maybe they were then starting again from Ourense and just walking the final 100km.  Maybe it was a language thing, but maybe not.... maybe the way I am walking it had led them to wish they had thought of it!  Regardless - it let to M and I joking that they couldn't be trusted!

Laza is known for the Fiestas held just before Lent.  It is known as El Entroido and those who take part are known as peliqueiros - because they are men dressed in colourful costumes with hoods made of animal skins.  They create mayhem and toss around coloured water and often flour.  They "threaten" with long sticks like the old tax-collectors of the counts of Monterei in past times.  The idea is to "escape" and have fun - it looks from the pictures a bit like SongKran!  I can't say I would be keen to visit during this festival.

The full article and photos can be found in the link above... the photos are really nice as they show the costumes.

Entering Laza - turn left at the building in the left of the
photo - you can just see the shell marker on the wall
of the cream building.
The first recorded inhabitants of the region of Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, were Celts, but over centuries other groups, including the Romans and Visigoths, took turns controlling the area. During the Middle Ages, Galicia was under the crown of Castile and it became part of the kingdom of Spain in the late 15th century. A rugged mountain range isolates Galicia from the rest of the country and even today many residents carry on a rural lifestyle with roots in the distant past. The region is often viewed as "poor and backward" by other Spaniards, but Galicians take great pride in their cultural heritage and their way of life. Their Carnival, known regionally as entroido (beginning or entrance), includes some medieval festival traditions, though it is still a vibrant part of village life today. The small community of Laza boasts about 900 inhabitants and entroido is one of the focal points around which the townspeople organize their lives. The Carnival play is acted out through music, dance, and feasting. Ritualized aggression involves participants whipping spectators and throwing ash, flour, water, and dirt filled with ants on one another. Makeshift floats express social and political commentary as does the public reading of a testament that provides comical, satirical, and exaggerated statements about the actions of the townspeople during the past year. 
Clang, clang, clang. Peliqueiros prance in the streets on Sunday morning and the distinctive sound of the large bells hanging from their waists tells everyone that the entroido has begun. These masqueraders, authority figures in Laza's Carnival, carry whips to hit bystanders as a reminder that it is time to play. The exact origin of their elaborate costume and mask is unknown. However, some locals say the peliqueiros' outfit and mannerisms derive from 16th-century tax collectors who carried whips and wore masks with grimacing smiles to intimidate the townspeople.
The lovely albergue in the old part of town, just down from
the really nice cafe and HUGE sello!
Monday is the "dirty" and "wild" day of Laza's Carnival. The farrapada (ragging) in the main plaza begins with one muddy rag thrown at an unsuspecting victim and quickly escalates into an all-out mud war lasting more than two hours. In the meantime a few young men go into the countryside to dig up anthills and collect the ant-filled dirt, which they shovel into sacks and carry back to town. They douse the ants with vinegar to wake them up and then run into the plaza flinging dirt and ants into the air, into peoples' faces, or right down their backs and into their clothes.
he morena, or cow masquerader, appears briefly during the ant-throwing episode. This character acts like a mad cow loose in the square, butting people, lifting women's skirts, and adding to the sense of chaos. Its carved wooden mask is attached to one end of a long pole that the masker manipulates with aggressive gestures as he makes his way through the crowd.
At dusk on Tuesday afternoon people gather in the main plaza for one of the last events of Laza's Carnival. The testamento do burro (testament of the donkey), presents a satirical and mocking recounting of scandalous events that occurred in Laza during the past year. Prepared and read by the testamenteiro, it is a rhymed verse written in the Galician form of Spanish. Using a fictional framework, the reader verbally "distributes" body parts of the donkey to the townspeople he is talking about. For example, a man who lost his pig from the back of his truck on the way to market received the eyes of the donkey so that he might keep better track of his animals.
What appears to be the old courthouse or police station..
some kind of government building anyway
We sat down for a lovely coffee and here I got my credential stamped.  It is the most enormous sello and took up two of my precious spaces!  I was trying to keep with one credential to the end but I will definitely need to contact the Confraternity again to see if I can get a new one sent to the UK.

After a welcome rest, I set off to walk out of the town but with a break from my backpack.  The old town is amazing and very different from some of the other Spanish towns we have passed through.  Lots of stone balconies and almost every house has goats under the living area.  Some are let out to graze in communal areas, but many have the doors open to let in the air and have a barred gate across.  The old ladies take them hay and they seem to be given things to climb on in these under-house barns.  It feels very ancient, like when everyone used to live over their livestock - and which of course provides warmth to the house above in winter!

The big old courthouse or government building of sorts was beautiful.  You could imagine officials coming out onto the balcony.  I assumed it was some sort of court house or police station because there were tiny little slits of windows in the lower level - which were presumably holding cells.

With my Audrey Hepburn glasses
I checked out the route to SouteloVerde, where I would start in two days.  The following day had been planned as a day off and one that would be most welcome visiting the volcanic pools (thermal springs) in Ourense to soak the aching muscles!  The climb would be a last big push and quite a steep ascent over a short distance, but this would be the last one before heading down hill to the flatter valley and Ourense.

Another accommodation option for Laza

Thursday, 19 July 2018

El Camino (Levante) Just beyond Venda do Capela (16.2km) to Portocamba Sunday 15th April, 2018

Despite the original plan to do 16.2km this ended up around 14km as I again did extra the previous day.  I still need in Porta Camba as originally planned.  Although not pouring with rain, this was possibly the wettest day since Font de la Figuera back on the first part of the Camino Levante as I headed NW from Canals.  As usual with all the correct gear on I wasn't cold and felt warm and dry within my jacket and waterproof trousers.  I felt quite exhilarated to be on my way.

Misty, cold and wet start to the day - but it was GREAT!
Soon from out of the mist rose a Casa Rural which caters for pilgrims and which had a lovely little seating area with a water fountain and scallop shell on it.  I was amazed that anyone would know about it in order to stay here - I wish more of these were advertised in the guide books or on the websites.  This was a great place and if there had been a number or contact information outside I would have photographed it to put here.

One of the very few times I have ever
used my backpack cover on the Camino
Despite the mist and therefore the lack of views, it was still an amazing day.  There have been very few occasions when I have never heard a single man made sound.  In fact, this might be the only day!  It was truly only filled with the sound of nature, a few birds, one of which was the cuckoo resonating out of the mist and the drip and tap of the raindrops.  Every now and again I would stop to listen - not even a plane cut through the earth's natural rhythms to spoil this moment.  I truly understood the phrase that the silence was deafening - in fact it felt thick and heavy, not oppressive but more like a blanket of quiet... then, from out of the mist this time, a skylark, somehow finding its way, rising and soaring invisibly above me with its climbing song and one of my favourite summer sounds.

The smiling face in the track!  Thank you to the peregrino
who made it
The route seemed long today and I was grateful for a coffee break and the chance to much on some tangerine and "muy crujente" sweet and salty nuts and corn kernels.  Yum I love those things!  Mercadona will be getting another visit next time and if they are still made, I will be bringing a suitcase load back with me!  They are also the perfect thing to sustain the hiker!

One of the usual helpful arrows
that pilgrims construct when there
may be an ambiguity in the direction
to take
There was a lot of up today, quite hard going as the roads were gravelly and uneven.  The climb seemed to go on forever and it was hot wearing all the waterproofs.  As I plodded, head down and focused, below me there seemed to appear a face... surely not... was it???  Yes, indeed it was! Some wonderful and humorous pilgrim had decided to build a smiley face on the track to uplift others - and perfect because in the weather and with the climb I had had my head down.   As I stepped back I realised that the face was actually a head on a long "stick figure" body made out of the shale.  It cheered me up no end and I was very grateful to whoever had had the time and inclination to make it.  It worked!  Uplifted, I headed onward and literally upwards with renewed vigour.

Direction marker and in the background the scallop shell
with the "yes!" written on it
The route twisted and turned and I was for a while disoriented and expected to turn back toward the reservoir, but in fact it curved around us and although I felt like I was walking straight on, as I nearest he the top (another Alto) I saw the next high speed train construction site stretching below me and realised that the reservoir was curled around us - but out of sight due to the cloud.

I love this - I like to romantically think someone accepted
a proposal or came to decision about one at this point on their
camino and posted a photo back to their loved one
As we had driven to the starting point we had passed a couple of peregrinos leaving A Gudiña and joked that they would have to go some to catch me up as I was starting quite a bit ahead of them.  However, as I started my decent to Campo Berceros, they came steaming past me, practically scree running down the slippery and loose shared slope!  A quick "buenos dias and burn camino" and they were gone!  One came past before the other, but I later saw them hiking together companionably after a drink and collection of a sello in a bar in the town.

I also collected my sello from the lady there but got the third degree as to where I had started and why was it 4 years since my last time!  Not such a friendly or pleasant experience but it was a good cafe con leche - coffee and caña 1.20 Euro.  I couldn't find Michael and thought he would be in this bar as he had mentioned one that was open.  I didn't expect to see another but as I left, there he was and at another open bar with a friendlier lady who also promised a sello.  Sadly I had missed her and although I waited to accept a drink because I felt sorry he had promised her we would visit, she never reappeared so I headed on my way again.

The railway construction that follows the pilgrim all the
way and often interrupts or interferes with the route
or possibly in this case, the accommodation!
The steep scree decent - this does give quite a
good impression of the gradient!  

At this point it should be noted that there IS and albergue here!  Not mentioned in the guide book or any of the places I looked but of course it may have been set up since the guide's publication.  There aren't any newer editions as this point (writing this in July 2018) as I checked.

When I looked for it specially I found the info (below) but also a pilgrim who said that the locals told him it was closed for peregrinos because the AVE (high speed rail team) had hired it exclusively.  He was not happy because he said it was then 36km to Laza, and I agree, it's a hike too far and through hilly terrain.

The info on the Camino sites say it is open all year 11.00 to 22.00 and exclusively for pilgrims at 8.00 Euros per night.  There seems to be another hostel in town too - Casa Nuñez at 30.00 Euros per night and with 4 rooms (  It is not far from the albergue and there is a map on this link.

+34 988 077 624
+34 608 887 835

For the Albergue...
Albergue Rosario - C. Cardenal Quiroga, 9
Localidad: Campobecerros

+34 650 53 05 47
+34 988 30 89 43
32626 Campobecerros, Province of Ourense, Spain

The following includes a review from November 2017, so it was still open then for pilgrims.  The reviews are good and suggest good food.

Cairn on the way down into
The other thing to be pleased about in Campbecerros, considering it seems like it may lack life, is that there are bars open and food available on a "Sunday" not always the case in Spain as we have found out a number of times in the past!  It is well worth stopping here before heading to Laza and I would suggest staying in Laza also before the big climb out of Soutelo Verde!

Opposite the cairn on entering
The decent on the loose shale into Campobecerros is hard work, especially with tired and very sore legs from the steep uphill sections.  My heels were so painful and each step was agony.  By the time I got to the bottom my legs were shaking with the effort, but as always it is so satisfying and that tiredness later when showered and in bed is wonderful - the sleep it brings is like no other!  There were sad looking mastins everywhere.  Many looked pregnant and miserable and I felt terrible at the bar as a sad dog desperately begging for food came close and as I removed my backpack the walking pole hit his head.  He cried out and gave me the most injured of looks.  I am sure he is often chased off and beaten, but I felt terrible and apologised but had nothing to give him.

The stream beds and drainage ditches
were overflowing with the melt
waters and recent rains

The gourd and shell markers indicating the way to go
through Campobecerros
On leaving the town there was a moped all decked out with flowers and a lady calling to a gazillion cats!  They seemed to come running from everywhere - it was actually rather unnerving and I assume there is no plague of rats in this town!  I called to her that she had many gatos and she laughed and waved cat food at me.
The many cats and the lady with the that brought out the
cat food!
The flower laden moped

Oh joy - on leaving Campbecerros there was another hugely steep hill to climb.  I was determined to get to Porto Camba today and go a bit beyond in order to shorten the next day's walk.  I was still quite early and really wanted to make it to the next point.

Portocamba itself is yet another ghost town, but with some amazing old houses and again some falling down yet with a pristine renovation between!  I would worry that they would bring down the renovation and we were warned about this sort of thing (although a rarity) in the UK when we looked at a house in similar condition but semi-detached.  No such worries here in Spain though.

As in Venda da Capela (I keep meaning to mention the weird way that both the Spanish and Portuguese languages seem to have combined to form Galician...) there were young people who have taken over some of these houses and made them very smart and they look very well off.  Maybe more affordable, maybe a family home... I don't know, but it is certainly quite a commute from here and in winter I would think well night impossible even with chains!  There are many "Venda" villages here - from "vents" or inn which suggests that many people used to pass this way in times gone by - sad then that now there are very few inns or rest stops and that the villages are almost completely deserted.

By the seat on the way out of Portocamba
Mentioning Venda do Capela reminds me of the "gags for the day" from yesterday... passing "A Capela" Michael's wit decided this was a village of people singing without musical instruments (actually quite clever... and our GPS lady as we go through Seixelbo call is "Sex Elbow"... this conjures up quite a bit of amusement as you can imagine and some mental acrobatics!  We swear she can hear us though - as on the way home, she decides to pronounce it correctly!  In fact, by the end of the holiday I think she gave up completely on the Sex Elbow!

One of the many abandoned
homes in Portocamba
One of the old door latches
Leaving the village was again all uphill!  I was really tired by now and very glad to see a fountain with cold and refreshing water.  I stopped to splash some over myself and rinse my hands.  It wasn't far now but it was taking every ounce of energy that I had.  I stopped to take many photos of the old route out of the village and included some of the old door latches, the now disused gas lamps, ancient steps and old doors.  I was very, very glad to see the tall cross marking the end of my day's route and which is mentioned in the guide book.  This is the cross that the friars of the monastery of Los Milagros gave in memory of deceased pilgrims and which is now surrounded by all sorts of stones and mementos left by pilgrims.
The refreshing fountain at the exit from Portocamba when
heading towards Laza

Old lamps no longer in use

There are some hand written directional signs which inform the pilgrim which way to go.  There is no bar in Eiras which is just under half way between the cross and Laza but there is the cutest little balconied building where there is an honesty box with a flask of hot water and tea/coffee etc for pilgrims to help themselves and take a small break.

The base of the cross
From the cross and down into Laza the way is all downhill and it leaves the legs shaking again.  It is also a route of pines and at this time of year it is important to beware of the processionary pine caterpillars which for the first time ever I witnessed processing in long and scary lines across the roads and down the trees!  I was VERY glad not to have the dogs with me on this occasion - they would have picked hairs up on their paws and this can spell disaster for dogs.

As we drove back down the hill and toward Laza and the hotel for the night we stopped to overlook the amazing rail works - it looks like there will be a huge viaduct across the valley above Laza and to an extent the scene is somewhat scarred at the moment.  It is impressive engineering and possibly won't effect the pilgrim route.  The infrastructure needed to service the works is amazing - drainage and access roads all have to be built in addition to the railway itself!  The markers we passed were all concrete - not temporary things - so this is a huge amount of work alone.  There are terraces hundreds of feet high and they must have had a plethora of theodolites... for some reason tis created hysterical laughter which I guess goes to show how tired I was!  Writing this it doesn't seem nearly as funny!

For those who wish to make a note of up coming accommodation - the following looks like a good deal at Xunqueira de Ambia - Casa Tomas.