the camino from ourense to lalin/no pasa nada!

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clocktower/water fountain, cea, 2016

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……………….after arriving back to santiago from fisterra, my friend jenny comes to town. she is about to do the camino frances and will spend a few days hanging out with me here. i remember very well my own pre-camino experiences here at gerry’s house last year, so the deal is to  have lots of down time, a few laughs and significant stretches spent sitting at tables in front of plates of food and glasses of wine etc. soak up the “caminoworld”  amusement park experience that is santiago de compostela in the summertime.

originally, i was planning to accompany jenny to the beginning of the camino frances and walk with her for a few days over the pyrenees. many people have told me that this is the most challenging but beautiful part of the whole path. i am still looking to get warmed up for the big walk, so it is a good idea. but when the time comes to organise train tickets, which i have left to the last minute (surprise!), we realise that due to end-of-summer madness every man and his dog is taking trains on the day we want to travel to st jean pied de port. it starts to get sticky and complicated and realising that this is the moment to just go with the flow one thing leads to another and we quickly come up with the alternative plan to go to ourense, a city about 100 kilometres from here, spend a couple of days and then walk to lalin (halfway back to santiago along the via de la plata -the silver route- one of the caminos that people come here to walk). from there we can catch a train back

and so it goes that we catch the train to ourense a couple of days later. leaving the station in ourense the heat on the street very quickly convinces us to park in the shade outside a bar, drink tintos de verano, and eat something. wandering on towards the old town across what looks like a giant roman bridge, ourense looks like any other reasonably sized spanish city. but a few minutes later we turn left and we are suddenly in the most gorgeous of old towns. to celebrate, we stop at the next bar and continue drinking tintos de verano and eating tapas for quite a while before going to the apartment where we are staying (thanks sabela! ♥). we dump the bags and head straight out for a wander around  bar-lined streets. these night time street spaces are lively, despite the fact that there are shady corners at every turn. we are trying to find a bar that we had walked past on the way in, a very mysterious bar bathed in purple light and with live music. did we really see this? for the life of us we can’t find it now. no matter. instead, we find a talent contest that is happening on the street. even better. there is a man in a tutu singing. he is followed by another man, also in a dress, singing with a group of four balding male backup singers/can can dancers with beer guts. slightly entranced by the spectacle, we sit and enjoy, watching kids dancing with abandon. remembering my recent dancing session at peter’s house, i am slightly envious………the spectacle ends and the judges retire to decide on the winner. we keep on walking and mmmmmmm it is time for another tinto de verano and within minutes a tractor beam (sign advertising zamburiñas -grilled scallops) locks us in and we are drawn towards another table on the street in front of a bar by the cathedral. despite our holy surroundings, or perhaps in spite of them, gluttony takes hold and things descend. opening my eyes the next morning i am greeted by a twinge of a hangover. we get our acts together and head out in search of coffee. two coffees and a facetime conversation later we haul ourselves up from the table (groan!) and go meandering. the street takes us past cat boxes that have been placed there by the town council to house the street cats that keep the mice population down. the best part of that story is that elderly people take care of the cats….. we walk past statues and graffiti and on and on and truthfully it feels more like i am a zombie shuffling along ancient stone streets, capable only of monosyllabic grunting sounds. yes, i/we are feeling a little foggy until we sit down to lunch, which brings me into contact with a delicious tomato. rich and vibrant, the flavour jolts me back from whichever hell i was in and back into the land of the living. still, if there was ever a need for a siesta, it’s today, so we go back to a cool, dark apartment and lay our weary heads down.

the early evening brings even more wandering, which leads us back over to the train station to get some information. on the way we happen upon a pilgrim’s information office and we end up talking with the woman inside about the camino we are going to do. we finish out the day with more drinks and food before heading back to get some rest before starting our walk. blessed rest 

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the next morning we begin to walk to lalin. you might recall from my camino last year that i walked with a bloke from that town. he didn’t ever stop talking up that place, which is why i dubbed him lalin. now i get to see what all the fuss was about. we set off and have first breakfast. continuing on, it isn’t long before we realise that the arrows have disappeared. of course, an old man appears from out of nowhere across the street and he must be reading our minds because he is standing there silently pointing us in one direction, straight ahead. we walk a little further and another man mysteriously appears, but this one is indicating to us that we need to take the next right. uh oh. well….the only response to this quandary is “no pasa nada!” (no worries!). no pasa nada has to be the mantra if you are trying to relinquish the need for control through walking. after a thoroughly confusing conversation with the second guy we press on and make the decision to take the right. we do this, not entirely because of our guardian angel’s advice but because slowly, memories of the nice lady from the pilgrim’s office and her words are emerging in dribs and drabs out of the zombiememoryfog of the evening before….. i loved encountering those two old street angels though, it has further enabled my conviction that “no pasa nada” is the only way to go. it brings lightness.

it isn’t long before we meet up with the arrows again and we are on our way up and up and up out of ourense, past barking dogs, wide open spaces and tight little forest paths. it is damned hot. there are different textures underfoot and it is brilliant walking with jenny because she is comfortable with space and silence. we each move at our own pace. the day gets hotter and dustier and sweat is coming out of every pore and there is that clean feeling again because it isn’t just sweat coming out of my pores, it is expectation, it is fear, it is doubt. this takes me to hala’s sweat lodge in eumundi and to our collective donations of sweat to the earth. hala’s philosophy of non-judgement leads me to an old brown sofa on the side of the camino where i sit for a while to recuperate and take shelter from the brutal sun. jenny comes along not long after and we go on our way again, finally arriving in cea, the place where we will sleep the night. but first, the bar, where we eat burgers and drink beer, after which we wander into town in search of the albergue.

cea is a beautifully well-kept old town. a rich old town. it is famous across spain for its’ bread. the praza maior has a stunning clocktower and a fountain that is pouring forth clear crystalline water. the albergue is lovely, and after hot showers we head out again in search of refreshments and nibbles. we wind up in a bar near the clocktower and we spend a couple of hours hanging out there before heading back to the albergue as the sun is going down. this town is gorgeous to look at, particularly watching the silouhette of old rooftops against a fuchsia sunset. it is jenny’s first night in albergue, and after that hot walk it is time to dive into some rest.

we head off early because the walk to lalin is going to be around 26 kilometres and we need to be there by 2.00 to catch the train that is (apparently) travelling back to santiago. we are absolutely hanging for coffee and food. there is nothing to be had in cea at that hour, so we shuffle off, gloomily munching on yesterdays biscuits. well, in all fairness, they were actually pretty nice. and to be honest, it wasn’t all that gloomy either. still, i am hurting for coffee. interestingly, when i travel somewhere where it is an epic poem to get coffee (like india) i am fine. but it is painfully tantalising knowing that those coffee machines and coffee beans and cups, saucers and teaspoons are sitting there, abandoned in the darkness, with no-one to appreciate them. then, lo and behold, a couple of kilometres later, when all hope has been lost, we find an open bar glowing like a shining beacon in the darkness and bless that bar owner for being open in galicia on a sunday morning at 7 .30 am and the coffees that he makes us and the tostadas con tomate y aciete that he prepares for us and bless everything because life is so good… aho!!!

after that, there is no stopping us. we power up and down little hills, through forested spaces, and i am feeling absolutely amazing. i experience my body once again through the senses as if it were an organic machine, which of course it always was, but the walking reminds me that i was always so distracted by thoughts and now the thoughts are that it doesn’t matter if you are tired, because you know in your depths that you can just keep going if you want to, always moving forward. this is the liberation that comes with walking.

a semi-second breakfast happens in the next town and we head back out. at this stage it is beginning to dawn on us that it is possible we will not get to lalin by 2. shortly after this brainwave hits we come across a restaurant that is pulsing with the tantalising smells of roasting meat. jenny has been lusting after meat for the past few days and at my place it has been vegetarian and mostly raw, so she sniffs it out like a bloodhound. we concoct the plan almost instantly to just cut it short here (we are about 10 kilometres away from lalin). it is bloody hot! there is a lot of asphalt!! and if we don’t get the train then we will have to leg it for 3 more kilometres to get into the town itself to catch a bus that may or may not exist!!! this is where i draw the line at no pasa nada. no. so we head inside and order cold drinks and a taxi.

arriving at the “train station”, what we find is an abandoned building that was clearly once a fully functioning train station but now has weeds creeping up through the cracks, staging a slow invasion. we experience a sudden awareness that the taxi driver’s expression of confusion this whole time must have been about our decision to get dropped off at an abandoned train station 3 kilometres out of town. no pasa nada! he is lovely and, not without a certain flourish of the hands, he magically pulls a bus timetable out from a hidden compartment and gives us all the information we need in ten seconds flat and takes us to the bus station. an hour later we are heading back to santiago, flopped into our seats, empty yet full of appreciation from feasting on the fruits of the trip from santiago to ourense and back again……………………… 

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