Chapter 4: On My Feet Again
May 12th, 2017
The next morning I awoke. My feet felt significantly better as I skidded barefoot down the concrete stairs where an already awake party of three sat chewing on their baguette, cheese, yogurt, and sausage picnic. It was raining of course, just as predicted. Moreover, the forecast predicted nothing but muggy rain and thunder until nightfall. Rain wouldn’t have been a hindrance except I learned while walking the Camino, that my water proof biking jacket was actually just a bike a jacket… I wasn’t the most eager beaver to start this journey on soggy feet, I assembled a baguette sandwich and restlessly stared out the window waiting for an opening in the clouds.
By noon the situation was in a delicate state. The rain had stopped although it wasn’t clear whether it was an elegant trap set for me by the gods for discrediting their existence. I called my friend Karina in Lithuania hoping to hear some words of comfort before I depart for the unknown. I prized her friendship because unlike most other influences in my life, hers helped ease my nerves when I contemplated questionable decisions. I felt stressed. The kind of stress your body undergoes when it’s preparing itself for the unknown & unfamiliar. I had to do it.
I hung up the phone, turned on flight mode and stopped by the kitchen to bid farewell, then I mounted both of bags on me and started eastward.
Down the hill and left on the road I went, past the intersection, past the scattered houses on either side and towards San Xurxo beach. Hesitant to walk alongside traffic, and also to fill my shoes with wet sand, I took the middle route behind the beaches dunes. The previous rainfall and paltry vegetation provided some solid footing though otherwise, I was battling friction as my feet sunk in the sand. I was barely fifteen minutes into my departure and I was already wondering, “How am I going to make this work?” Half a kilometer later I notice a dirt path open up through a bushy forest. I try my best to avoid the wet backlash of the ***privacy invading*** branches. Soon enough I hear the clinking of cowbells in the not so distant forefront. Making my way closer I encounter a shepherd with a herd of at least twenty sheep having a gala. Why else would so many sheep be walking down a narrow unpaved path in the forest? I reasoned it off as “That’s just Spain, I guess” and I continued straight until the path dumped back onto the road. At best I could hope to hitch a ride eastwards.
I hiked down the bike lane against oncoming traffic with my right hand revealing a big fat thumb to all cars going my way as they passed. I had never hitchhiked before in Spain, nor was I optimistic that some village man would stop to pick up a Gringo on the rainy side roads of Northern Spain. To my astonishment, the fifth car passed me and slowly came to a halt on the side of the road!
I jogged up the road in elation and quickly deduced from the surfboards, taking up all of the prime head space, that it was the Jean & Jacque! I barely fit in the backseat of their rental sedan which was brimming with backpacks, surf gear, and Swiss men though I managed to rest both of my bags on my lap and ignore the discomfort as we drove off. I quickly learned they were on their usual hunt to find surfable waves. The drove me several kilometers to just past the only two markets in the area to a street leading through treeless cow pastures.
I thanked them for saving me close to an hours worth of walking, bid farewell then started again. I could tell I’d be walking a lot here. I walked on for fifteen minutes before the view finally changed from flat grassland with dilapidated concrete structures every few hundred meters to a hilly grassland with dilapidated structures even further spaced apart.This felt like a continuation of the Camino de Santiago.
This felt like a continuation of the Camino de Santiago. If there’s one thing I got from walking the Camino was the confidence to walk for mind numbingly long periods of time. Previously I would have written off 25 kilometers as a ludicrous distance to walk. After I walked 44 kilometers over flat land my second to last day of the Camino, I arrived at the realization, I can walk the 15 remaining kilometers to Valdoviño, the next city on my route, I just really, really, really, really, really, really didn’t want to. Furthermore, I wasn’t going to waste good money on a taxi to take me there and I had no idea if there were any buses going that way, I was without internet.
And so I walked. I walked through winding sidewalk-less roads up the gradual slopes of hills and valleys. I made a wrong turn after a stable house and wandered into the backyard of an unsuspecting grampa. He greeted me with a distrustful glance and I responded in a confused facial contraction followed by an Oopsy look, then I returned part of the way I came from. Further along, I walked past suburban houses belonging to who Spanish people who I assumed were living the American Dream, only in Galicia. The two story houses resembled Spanish versions of family homes I grew up around, with short concrete driveways and infant’s play toys scattered dispersed on the lawns. I wasn’t interested in seeing this anymore. The only people I saw were hiding behind their fences or the wheels of their cars. Moreover, I was exhausted. I’d make my way to the main road going into Valdoviño and from there I would take a break, make a sign and try to get a ride.
I arrived at the AC-116 and found a spot where a car could pull over and I pulled out the paper map I had obtained at the tourist office in Ferrol. Seeing as I had sharpie markers but no paper to make a proper sign, I used the map. I carefully markered in the black contours of “VALDOVIÑO” and afterward, I cast out my hitchhiking fishing hook.
Not fifteen minutes into the wait, a red sedan pulls over and opens the doors for me to come in.
My first ride with a stranger in Spain. The driver is a bright haired and lightly tanned woman in her late 60’s, early 70’s. “I picked you up because I know that no one else here will”, she tells me in Spanish as we drive off. She asks what I’m doing here and I relate my story so far having finished the Camino and she shares with me that last week she walked the route with an American couple who flew in from the States, “I used to speak good English back in the day when I hitchhiked myself. Now my foreign friends come here to improve their Spanish and we explore my country.” I appreciated her young and curious nature, she was warm like a grandmother though beaming with an adventurers spirit. “I’m on my way to a funeral in a town beyond Valdoviño. I can drop you off by the ocean in Valdoviño and if you’re around at 16:00 I can take you to Cedeira, the next bigger city along the coast.” After my tiresome two and a half hour long walk through wet roads where no cars stopped, I felt a rush of hope breathe into me over the course of the ride.
“What’s your name?” I asked when she dropped me off on the deserted beach. “Rosemary”
I decided I’d spend the next hour and a half around here before attempting to rejoin Rosemary to Cedeira, some 17 kilometers away from here.The clouds hadn’t changed their angry expression since leaving that morning. The coastline to the right of me, after where the beach ended resembled a sharks jaw-line jutting pointed black teeth out of the orangish-brown sand. I walked through the gallery of stone formations noticing the eroded crevices which now served as tiny ponds where green algae flourished. Down the sides of such figures hung droves of petite black clams, everywhere on every wet drenched rock
With time to kill, hunger made me aware of its presence. The best part of lugging around too much weight is that a lot of that weight is food. I found a flat dry surface along the raw eroded cliffs and I unpacked my foldable bowl, spoon, carton of milk, raspberry jam, and oats then I prepared one of my favorite meals, mixing the three ingredients together. Call me weird but I loooooove cold hard chewy oats with something sweet; it’s like a desert for me. While chewing my oats, I noticed off in the distance, rain clouds raining down on this great expanse of water, slowly approaching the small peninsula to the left of the beach. I took my time, finished my first serving and refilling the second, all while knowing that my clock was ticking if I wanted to stay dry. Soon enough, I could feel a big wet soggy cloud coming my way.
I found a restaurant a few blocks away with internet and sipped a wine over the next hour and a half. I had time to kill until 4 pm rolled around.
When four O’clock finally did roll around, you can bet your ass I was standing and staring at the oncoming traffic with longing eyes at the intersection Rosemary mentioned to me. I had already been standing there fifteen minutes around when an average looking blue car pulled over to the side of the road for me. Sorry Rosemary, but I’m taking the sure bet!
The views along the coast line kept revealing more unbelievable lush mountainous formations up on the water revealing a stunning bay with sailboats lining the harbor along the next city on my trajectory, Cedeira.
My driver mentioned something about another pilgrimage site up this way before dropping my off where the road met the beach. A carnival was in the works of being built up this street leading towards the city center.
“I made it to a new city!”, I thought, so I found a bar not far from the mouth of the río Ortigueira and treated myself to another wine while plotting my next route. My goal was Cabo Ortegal, what from images of the landscape looked insane to me. All that lie in between me and there was around 25 kilometers. Seeing as I got three rides in one day, I was hopeful I could get a ride part of the way. I walked around to sightsee that city of 7,000 then started my way out of there with my thumb glaring at every car.
An hour went by… I was several kilometers out on road DP-2204, exhausted and enchanted, simultaneously. Getting a ride out here would be a challenge, hardly any cars passed by. Furthermore, there wasn’t anywhere for these cars to stop; the road was an asphalted stretch, barely narrow enough for two cars to pass, let alone for a backpacker walking up it.
Another went by and I realize I’ve walked astray from my route. Oh well, looks like I’m going this way now.
My map tells me that I’ve passed two villages without noticing it. I veer onto a path towards the ocean and the village of Vilar. I realize why I missed the villages; I dismissed them as houses. A handful of houses, all that Vilar, and all these other villages were. Just beyond Vilar, my map pointed me up a barely visible pathway littered with fallen logs, branches and stones. Damn Google Maps, how do you know about this?!
I was hoping to uncover a bomb camping spot at the top of this mountain though I soon realized I’d have to seriously search for it. As soon as I got out of the brush covered forest, the path opened up to a brush covered pathway among a sea of yellow blossoming Gorse flowers, the same I’d seen in A Coruña and Ferrol except here they were unleashed. The pathway dangled with the thorny vines of these plants. I reached the top of the mountain and all I could see was an expanse of flowers and bushes. Aside from parts of the pathway and the steep cliffs of the mountain below, I couldn’t see any campable ground.
I turned right onto the path guiding along the top of the mountain ridge. To my right was the edge of the forest and to my left was the unrelenting ocean some hundred meters below and thorny bushes everywhere in between. Several minutes further, I descended towards a point on the pathway where my tent could just barely fit on a semi flat & tilted ground. It would have to work, the sun was winding down over the hills and I needed rest. What an intense first day!