Summer Camino – day 12 > excerpt 1

Day 12 – Ruitelán to Triacastela (30.5 km)
Not all albergues offer breakfast and only occasionally did I make use of this facility. It was always the same: thick slices of white bread placed onto the bare table or at best on a serviette, but no plates, with butter and marmalade as the spread. There were always a number of large jars with jam but never cheese or polony, not to mention fried eggs and bacon! Coffee out of an urn was available in abundance and was drunk from one of an assortment of mugs.
Today we had a long climb up the mountain and I did not expect to find a bar on the way, which was the reason for having my breakfast in Ruitelán. I soon was on the way, first along the Valcarce valley, and then up the mountain flank to reach O Cebreiro. I looked forward to the village, described in my guidebook as a mystical place with a strong historic background of ancestral clans stemming from Celtic movements.
Groups of people were, and still are, defined by their language families. For example, we speak of the Latin language, also known as the Romanic language group to which Italy, Spain, Portugal and France belong. The Anglo-Saxon language belongs to the Germanic language group, which includes England, Scandinavia, Germany and the Benelux countries.
Similarly there was at one stage a large Celtic language group in central Europe and in Galicia – the north-western corner of Spain where Celtic language influences, as well as Celtic cultural practices and traditions are still strong. The Celts lived in Central Europe between 800 and 450 BC and from about 450 BC to Roman times they had spread from the Black Sea in the east to France in the west and from England in the north to the Po valley in Italy and right across to Spain and Portugal.
Around the time of Christ’s birth the Germanic influence and later the expansion of Asian tribes into Europe displaced the Celts’ language and culture, so that ultimately they survived only in lonely and rugged regions. Remnants of their inheritance still exist in Ireland, Scotland and some northern British Islands, in the French Bretagne and in the inhospitable areas of Galicia in Spain. In Roman times the Celts were called Gallus, hence the name Gaul given to a large part of France under Roman rule in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. It is also the name used by the author of Asterix and Obelix, a book series loved by many.
The landscape in Galicia, and especially around O Cebreiro, is rugged and mystical to say the least. The countryside is undulating; mountain ridges are as high as 1900 m and deep valleys criss-cross the landscape. Today there are highways supported on gigantic columns spanning the valleys, but in former days the main mode of transport was probably provided by donkeys – and obviously people travelled on foot, just like the pilgrims traversing this rugged landscape nowadays.
Being at a high elevation and relatively close to the ocean, morning mist was common and rain could fall at all times of the day; this added to the magic. Villages consist of a mere clutter of farm buildings facing in all directions. The dwellings are stone structures with small windows and low doors, often clinging to mountain slopes.
If one disregards the presence of some tractors and more modern farming equipment, these villages take one back centuries to an era when life was harsh and demanding, a time when there was no electricity or running water, when fields were ploughed with the help of animals, evenings were long and dim and shadows in the light of oil lamps were dancing dark and mystically on sooty walls. People lived a cave-like existence. No wonder that this area was and still is known for its resilient inhabitants. They appear rough on the outside but are most hospitable and friendly if you knock on their doors. Nowadays the world is full of opportunities and young folk leave for more modern lifestyles and better employment opportunities. This drastically raises the average age of the remaining population.

Posted in Blog, Summer Walk permalink

About Dieter Daehnke

Born in 1941 in Gdansk, Poland. In March 1945 the family fled the Russian army. Met my wife Uta in Hamburg and as she is South African, I followed her home. We live in Cape Town, have 3 children, and 2 wonderful grandchildren. I established an Engineering company and since its sale, I enjoy walking Caminos. I have recently completed my book 'Journey of a Stickman'.

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