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From Spain to Portugal, Then Spain, Then Portugal Again (And Tomorrow Spain Again)

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This morning I woke up earlier than I had in weeks. I tried to get back to sleep but the fluttering in my stomach and the thoughts racing through my head would not allow another minute of sleep. Today was the day I left Ferreira de Panton. I was headed for Portugal and beyond. So far I have been in Portugal for less than eight adventure-filled hours.

After a few sips of a tea that I forgot to drink and triple checking my bags I was out the door. My more than kind hosts, John and Mick, offered to help me by bringing me all the way to Portugal. As it turned out, they would bring to Portugal, then Spain, then Portugal again.

We stopped at the petrol station on the way out of town and kicked off the trip with a pleasant (albeit broken) conversation with Julio the jolly clerk. After explaining our plans for today and beyond he wished me a “buen viaje” and told me “it was very nice to of meet you.” And just like that the car was full of smiles and we were on the now familiar road to Ourense. After we passed Ourense the smell of smoke began to fill the car. The forest across the river had been lit ablaze and the smoke was falling heavy in the air as far as I could see. The mountains of Galicia had been charred a half dozen times since I arrived two weeks ago. This one seemed closer than the rest and by the end of the day I would find myself nearly in the center of a rager (but more on that later).

The smoke faded as we left Spain and entered Portugal. My first stop in this country was the city of Valence. And my first stop in Valence was the Intermache supermarket. More important was the bakery/cafe in the front of the Intermache. Mick and John had raved about the custard tarts in Portugal one evening as we ate dessert and until this morning I had forgotten about them. After scarfing one down I am sure I will not forget again. The beautiful baked pastries were filled with a sweet custard that, for a brief moment, made me consider pulling out every last cent in my pocket and buying the whole tray. After our tarts and coffee we headed for the real market.

The weekly market in Valenca was the reason we tried to arrange the trip to Portugal on a Wednesday. Every Wednesday the streets of Valenca are filled with cars and the massive open square is filled with tents selling all manner of goods. Clothes, cooking wares, fruits, vegetables, purses, livestock, and seedlings were all on sale. One thing that is not for sale in Valenca is the flexible, wide-brimmed, red hat that I have been searching for since I arrived in Santiago almost three weeks ago. However, I have high hopes that Barcelona will have shops filled with such headgear.

From the market we headed up to the Fortaleza. The Fortaleza is a massive walled compound with restaurants, churches, and practically hatless shops. We stopped at one of the outdoor restaurants to get out of the sun and grab a drink before heading back to Spain for a picnic lunch. As we entered the parking lot of the Fortaleza a man signaled us in. Then he came to collect money for the parking spot. John and Mick told me to ignore him and I remembered another story they had told over dinner one day. All day long various people try to collect fees for parking in this parking lot and they often succeed. The trouble is that this is a free parking lot and these fee collectors are just trying to scam out of town tourists.

After our drink on the patio I ran up the stairs, over the path, and on top of the wall that surround the perimeter of the hill. From this vantage point I could see the mountains and the river that flows through them. By this time it was getting late and in order to catch the two thirty bus we would have to get going to the picnic spot on the other side of the Minho River. We passed the old customs house and were back in the town of Tui, Spain.

We brought the cooler with our sandwiches to the lookout point above the unused public park and pool. From here we saw distant villages of Portugal on the other side of the river. After enjoying my favorite sandwich, chorizo and cheese, we went for a stroll to the cathedral. Now it was getting late and we had to get back to the train station so I could get my ticket and get ready for the ride to Porto.

When we arrived at the train station the ticket office was closed. We asked a gentleman who was sitting at a bench in the cool, thick walled station and he told us that the office opened again at two.

We spent the twenty minutes at nearby outdoor cafe. Then we went back to the station. I told the man that I needed a ticket to Porto at two thirty and the moment the words left my mouth he began shaking his head. For once, I was hoping that he meant he did not understand me. This, however, was not the case. Then he pointed out a small notice that was hanging on a flyer board. It seems that there is a strike going on in Portugal until the end of the month. Due to the strike my train would not be running until next month. I bought a ticket for the 6 o’clock train and wondered what I would do for the extra four hours. My time in Porto is now even more limited so I thought it best to do the most I could with my time in Valenca. As it turns out it was just enough time to have a little adventure before catching the train I am currently riding.

I asked John and Mick to drop me off at the main roundabout so that I could get back to the Fortaleza. They were more than happy to bring me up next to the fort. They parked and helped me get my bags out. I tried to stall them for a few minutes just because I would really miss them and I wanted to try to remember them as best as I could. After making sure that we had enough information to keep in contact in the future (and possibly make a second visit next summer) we said a cheerful goodbye. They drove off with a honk and a wave. I walked away smiling and thinking about the time we had shared. It’s strange how in only a couple weeks I began to feel like they were old friends that I had known for years.

I decided to use my bonus time in Valenca to explore the entire Fortaleza. This meant taking plenty of breaks to sit on the outer edges of the high stone walls and watch the river flow. This also meant finding my way into the beautifully ornamented churches that are betrayed by their simple facades.

After a couple hours I was quite sure I had seen the fortified hilltop so I decided to find a shady spot to eat the sandwich that Mick had insisted I must take because they would not eat it. Like I said these were some more than kind hosts.

I looked for a spot with a view but the view that filled my eyes was not what I had hoped to see. From over the hill I saw smoke billowing up into the air. It was spreading fast and within minutes the sky over Valenca was hazy with a sickly glow. I ran to the top of the hill to see where it was coming from. The origin was just across the expressway and I knew that there was nothing I could do to help at this point. I went down to the expressway and watched as the flames began to burst above the treeline. Then I saw cars, bikes, and pedestrians heading towards the flame on a nearby road. I followed them but before long everyone stopped and turned around. I stood in front of a field watching goats play and butt heads, unaware that they were a half kilometer away from an early demise. I tried to get their attention and after about twenty minutes most of them were standing at my end of the field, which I hoped would give them enough of a head start if the flames did reach their pasture. For a time the smoke grew darker and swirled furiously. Then the black smoke faded to gray, and then white. I had to leave and though the smoke refused to cease completely I was satisfied that the bombeiros were going to soon have the flames under control. By the time I left Valenca, the smoke looked like a thin morning fog.

Note: As I am writing this my train is being surrounded my smoke. I am high in the mountains now and from here I can see two other fires smoking in the distance. The two year drought and rash of arson attacks seem to be destroying the beautiful landscape of northern Spain and Portugal.

So, back to the story- I stopped on top of the Foraleza to eat my sandwich and enjoy the view of the city. I looked at my clock and jumped up to get on to the train station. I was running late and as I got to the main roundabout I tried to remember which way the station was. I guessed and after about fifteen minutes I decided that I had guessed wrong. I saw a man standing outside a petrol station. I asked him if he spoke English and he said he spoke almost none. I asked him if he spoke Spanish and he said he spoke some. I asked where the train station was and he explained that it was very close. He gave me directions and I headed back where I had come from. I spotted the train station and looked at my clock. I had just enough time to run into the store to grab a new toothbrush and toothpaste. I had forgotten mine at Mick and John’s and the thought of not brushing my teeth until I could find a shop tomorrow made me a little disgusted.

I left the shop and bolted for the station. I got there and gathered my bags, which the man at the ticket office held for me due to the inconvenience caused by the canceled train. In Spanish, I asked the man working on the platform which train was going to Porto. My accent must have given me away because he answered in English. I gave him a “thank you very much” and he chuckled a little. I expected that. I always say it like Elvis and people in non-English peaking countries always seem to think it is quite funny sounding.

I caught the train and am now speeding through Portugal, hoping that my room in Porto has not been given away now that I have missed my check-in. It was a day of adventure and good company. I only hope that I can say this about the next week. I am sure I will have adventure but solo traveling can make the kind of camaraderie I have experienced over the last couple weeks something I know not to take for granted. I have some good friends that I hope to see over the next few weeks in Barcelona and Sweden so I think I will have no trouble finding excellent company. Well, I arrive in Porto shortly so there is much to do. Until next time…

P.S.  I have pictures and videos that I will add to this post but I just arrived at my “hostel.”  In reality it is a luxury type hotel that just opened so they are basically giving away rooms for 7 Euros per night to get their name out there.  Also, this city looks amazing at night so I need to get out and enjoy it.  Anyway, more to come.

A Road Less Traveled

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This morning I cleared a spot for a new garden.  The new patch of soil will eventually be the home of a dozen or so tomato plants.  It’s too bad I will no longer be here in Ferreira de Panton when the bulbous red fruits blossom but I am happy to have had a chance to help my gracious hosts expand their horticultural terrain.  After that I built them a pit for smoking meats.  Then it was time for some fun in the sun.

Mick has been telling me about a particular hike he has spent years perfecting around here.  He would follow a path until it ended abruptly, as many Galician trails do.  Then he created a map that showed the trails that would connect to form this uninterrupted three and a half hour hike, which peaks with a 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

As you may have guessed after a full day of work and hiking I am quite tired.  So here are some pics from today…

  Most of the trails look something like this.

  This is a good example of many of the older Galician structures that we passed on the way.

  As we rounded the bend and were about to enter a paved road for the first time on our trip we saw this flock of sheep.  Chaos ensued.  Watch it here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYk3PzL-ass  As the chaos reigned supreme the struggling shepherd employed our assistance to regain control of the sheep.  Basically, we were supposed to act as human guardrails.  This is how that worked out… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRqlz62Ko4s

  After the sheep shenanigans we passed this gate, behind which lies one of the most important historical homes in the area.  Notice the ornamentation above the arch and the coat of arms to the left of it.  It was a hotbed of political activity before and during the Spanish Civil War.  It most assuredly was used to support to the Galician demigod, Franco.

Before reaching the peak of our journey we came across a lot of dogs.  Some were wild and some were domestic.  Some were clean and some smelled of manure.  These two were just plain adorable… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okAk8sv2SxA

As we climbed the final segment before the top Mick made me promise not to look around until we reached the apex.  I agreed and when I opened my eyes this is what I saw all around me…

And here is a slightly too long video of my view… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqjIQ91ceqo

The walk back was filled with pricker bushes, streams, holes dug by wild boars, and dozens of this same scene…

Well, the rest of the night was spent eating a full curry chicken meal and relaxing in the lounge.  Now it is time for a good rest before another full day of work and fun tomorrow.  Until next time…

 

Monasteries and Mountains

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It has been brought to my attention that I have been “slacking” on my adventures.  Well, let me assure you again that it is not due to a lack of adventures.  In addition to the constant thrill seeking I have been spending a large portion of each day building, cleaning, and fixing things for my kind hosts.  Just to prove that I still have a little adventure in me here is what I did today…

After having breakfast this morning it was time to begin a day of celebration for my new friend, John.  It’s his birthday and to celebrate we would be taking an all day drive through the mountains of Galicia, Spain to tour notable monasteries and wonderful scenery.

Our first stop was Gundivos.  This is a small village hidden in the forested lowland near my temporary home in Panton.  The purpose of this trip was to find mud.  Well, not exactly mud.  You see, John is a sculptor and there have been rumors floating around that the wonderful pottery seen in Panton comes from a man in Gundivos.  John intended to ask him where he found such wonderful clay.  We drove through the village, which I nearly missed when I blinked, but did not see a potter’s home.  John did not seem to surprised or disappointed that this first mission was a failure.  We didn’t really think of it like that, anyway.  It was a pleasant drive with a pleasant guy and I think he felt the same way.

After a brief stop at a coffee shop in Aba Sacra we headed for Castro Caldelas.  We began the mountainous portion of our adventure and before long we were winding around the cliffs on two way roads with only one lane.  John’s husband, Mick, was driving and every time we came around a blind turn John grabbed the door handle in anticipation of a head on collision.  I have to admit that I found the traffic situation a bit unnerving at first but after a while I began to enjoy the thrill of mountain driving.  This is me at our first mirador (llokout point)…

Our first stop in Castro Caldelas was the Castillo (Castle).  Inside the castle there is a museum filled with tools, weapons, and vessels found on the site.  I took a walk up to the top of the castle to get a little footage of the town to share with you.  Here it is… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTpjxwHIY8o

After leaving the castle we walked out to the central plaza.  On the way back to the car we spotted this church…

I gently forced open a door and climbed up to the roof between the bell towers.  It turns out that this would only be the  first of many narrow, dark staircases I would ascend today.  It was the darkest but not the scariest (Iwill get to that in a minute).  Here is a shot of the interior of the church…

Before leaving Castro Caldelas we made one final stop.  It was a cemetery, kind of.  This cemetery holds the remains of the families of the city.  What makes it unique is that no one is buried here.  Instead, their bodies are placed in vaults around this church, which I also climbed.  Here is a pic of the vaults…

We left Castro Caldelas and headed for a much anticipated monastery.  On the way we found another mirador…

We followed the winding mountain road up and down until it ended.  It ended at the Monastery of Santa Christina.  The main hall was closed until summer but that didn’t stop us from doing some adventuring.  This is the exterior of the hidden monastery near the Rio Sil…

Then I discovered a door that I believed would lead to something worth seeing.  This was the scariest staircase of the day and this is my climb to the top (warning: some explicit content and a lot of darkness)… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxzvli_07J0

After Santa Christina’s and a quick stop for some bocadillos (sandwiches) we headed for the final stop.  We ended our day trip at the Monastery of San Estavo.  The monastery has been used as a parador (Private Spanish government hotel) for many years but much of the original architecture remains.  Here are some shots of the interior of the main cathedral…

After leaving San Estavo’s we headed back to the house for John’s specially requested birthday dinner.  Apparently, American food is quite a treat to a Brit living in Spain so he asked that I cook southern fried chicken with hash browns and coleslaw.  We all ate like it was out birthday and now it is time to get some rest.  Tomorrow we have a full load of work to get done and I am excited to see the gardens nearly ready to be planted.  Well, I hope you enjoyed my adventure.  I know I did.  Until next time…

The Man of Montforte

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(Written on 13 March 2012)

I woke up early and finished packing my bags.  When I was satisfied that I had not forgotten anything I grabbed them and went down to the common room at the hostel.  One of the girls I had met the night before was there having breakfast so I joined her.  We made light traveler small talk as we ate some fruit and pastries.  Then it was time to get to the train station  for a ride to Montforte de Lemos.

I grabbed a newspaper for the train and took one last pass by the Cathedral de Santiago.  I passed workers hustling to their jobs and a man chugging a liter of beer on the sidewalk.  After a few minutes of confusion I found the platform from which my train would depart.  As I waited I began reading my paper.  Before long I realized that this paper was not in Spanish.  I shouldn’t have been surprised by this but it was still kind of disappointing that the local language, Gallego, was just different enough from Castillian Spanish that it made many words indecipherable.

The train arrived and after settling in I continued to read.  I got the gist of what was being said but it was growing increasingly frustrating and I wanted to relax on the train.  My solution was to read the personal ads.  The language was basic and the thirty word ads were entertaining, if not a little sad at times.  Eventually, I found my eyes drifting off of the pages and out the window.  The frosted fields were surrounded by shallow mountains and scattered with cottages.  As the sun came up the frost faded.  Soon we were running alongside a river lined with bright yellow mimosas.  An hour later I arrived in the 130 year old station of Montforte.

I stepped out into the street and admired the tasteful design and noiseless streets of the town.  The station praza featured a simple flowing fountain.  I ran my hand through the water on the way past and headed for… well, I don’t know.  I had about four hours until my new host would be here to pick me up and I had never so much as Googled Montforte.  I was getting a bit hungry, though, so I figured that I could wander the town until I found a market.  I walked for about twenty minutes.  Then I saw a sign that said “urbano centro.”  My pace quickened and I knew that I would soon find something interesting, or that it would find me.  I soon passed the Praza de España.  It was larger than the other plazas I had passed and the steps surrounded flowerbeds with yellow and brown flowers and green stems waiting to bloom.  Then I saw a market.  I grabbed an empanadilla and walked back to the praza.

I sat on a cold cement bench and watched a local beggar go to work.  It was very different than what I had seen in larger cities.  He seemed to know most of the people who passed by.  Many even gave him a double cheek kiss.  Some he would argue with and others he would bombard with half-joking insults.  As siesta neared the shops in the plaza slowly closed their doors.  By two I was alone in the plaza.  It seemed so empty and I felt like I had been given this opportunity to do something fun.  I thought about how I could turn an empty plaza into something fun.  Then it hit me.  I reached into my backpack and got out my MP3 player.  I put in my headphones and turned the volume up.  I searched my playlists for the perfect song and as soon as I saw it I knew what I had to do.  I blasted LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” as I danced like a fool around the empty plaza.  I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, even as it was happening.  When the song ended I looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching.  I am glad to report that I was still alone in the plaza, though now my lack of sleep and slight exhaustion had been transformed into maniacal excitement.

I strutted back to the train station, where my ride would be picking me up, with a distinct swagger that Montforte has probably never seen.  I sat down on the edge of the fountain and pulled out my journal.  I thought about writing in it but decided instead to read it from the top.  I relived my days in Dublin and thought about the great new friends I made there.  The bitter cold of Poland sent a shiver up my spine as I thought about what it feels like when the air is 18 degrees below zero.  There were parts that seemed so perfect that they were hard to believe.  But they were real and I felt honored to have been there.   Then Mike showed up and helped me pack my bags into the car.  We drove off to the village of Ferreira de Panton and a new adventure began.

Since then I have been tirelessly working and playing harder than ever.  I have visited nearby villages and distant towns. I have spent afternoons on the patio drinking tea, eating biscuits, and discussing the past while planning the future.  I already have a slew of new adventures to share and will do that as soon as I can type them up.  Until then…

Lay Down and Relax

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It was day two in Santiago de Compostela.  I hit the sidewalk and soon realized that my day was starting off really well compared to the guy I just saw walk out of his house looking fresh and clean, only to dump a cup of coffee down the front of his shirt.  I hope his day got increasingly better because mine sure did.

After a quick stop at the Renfe train station to get a ticket to Monforte I was back on the sidewalk with some very pedestrian goals.  I needed to find some food eventually and I wanted to buy a hat.  I knew what kind of hat I wanted.  I wanted a flexible, wide-brimmed hat that was bright red.  The first place I looked in was one of the many Chino Bazars in Santiago.  They had everything: dog toys and treats, toiletries, toothpick holders, clothes, umbrellas, jewelry, travel gear, tupperware, silverware, and every other ware you could imagine.  One thing they were lacking was a flexible, wide-brimmed red hat.  So I moved on.

I went in to the Gadis grocery market and grabbed a hunk of cheese and a fresh from the oven, still hot baguette.  This, I figured, would make a good lunch.  After leaving the market I stopped in a fruteria to grab an orange for breakfast.  After all, I had a big day of hat hunting ahead of me and I needed to keep my energy up.

For the next three hours I searched the shopping district, the monumental district, and even the outskirts of Santiago for my red hat.  I went into every shop, no matter how remote the chances of them having such a hat might be.  To be perfectly honest I knew that many of the places I was visiting would have no such hat.  What they did have were friendly people who were more than excited to hear a thick American accent speaking to them in their native tongue.  And to be even more honest I was doing it because I really got a kick out of the fact that they understood me and I understood them.  I felt like I had broken some kind of barrier (like a language barrier).

As we approached the siesta I decided that the flexible narrow-brimmed beige hat that I had seen at the first Chino Bazar was leading the pack in both style and function.  So I scrambled up and down the nearly identical roads in the shopping district looking for the bazar.  I got to the front door just in time to catch the lady trying to close up shop for the midday break.  She remembered me from earlier in the day and I explained that I thought her hat was the best in all the city.  She laughed and gave me the hat for 2 Euros.  I was pleased to have a hat that I could put over my face to block the sun during siesta but I was disappointed with the width of the brim and the color of the cap.

I went to the garden park where I spent yesterday’s siesta and picked up where I left off.  I had my baguette and cheese.  I watched the people.  I listened to music and then I napped.  After the nap I headed back towards the bus station to get my bags out of the consignor and check my email.  I had sent a message to a hostel in the morning asking if they had any vacancies for the evening.  I was told about the place by the people who would be hosting me near Montforte for the next few weeks.  They said that their previous guest had just left to work in the hostel and he told them that the rooms were clean and cheap.  Having slept on buses and in bus stations for half a week this sounded like something I might really enjoy.

The reply affirmed that there would be a spot for me when I got to the hostel.  I threw on both my packs and took off on the right road going the wrong way.  Eventually, I realized this and headed back to where I started.  I recalculated my route and before long I was in front of the hostel.  I checked in and immediately headed to the shower.  After cleaning up, shaving, and putting on some nice clothes I felt like a new man.  I went to my room and one of the girls that had checked me in was now checking me out.  Okay, that may not have happened but the word play was irresistible.  Sorry.  But we did start chatting and she asked if I had seen certain major sites around Santiago.  Of course, we talked about the cathedral.  It really is the centerpiece of Santiago.  I told her I was going out to see it all lit up at night.  She told me that the best thing to do is lay on your back in front of the cathedral and just enjoy it.  So I headed out to grab some tapas and see the cathedral.

It was Monday and the narrow brick streets in the monumental district were mostly empty.  I could here my footsteps echo through the alley-like passages.  I went into a little restaurant and had some snacks while I thought about how close I came to skipping Santiago and going straight to Montforte.  What a mistake that would have been.  I am very grateful that my future hosts had told me that I might want to spend a couple days here before heading out to see them.  And to think that I nearly missed the moments of nirvana that were coming up now makes me realize how important it is to take opportunities when they present themselves.  If I was looking for a reason not to risk it, I could have found one but I didn’t.  I looked for a chance to take and I took it.

As I neared the Praza do Obradoiro I stopped under the thirty foot stone arches to listen to a clarinetist and guitarist float there melodies through the air.  I entered the square and watched the palace on its west end.  I did not want to face the east until I was ready to engage the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.  I walked to the long series of round arches that make up the front of the palace and closed my eyes.  I laid down under the central arch and pointed my head to the sky.  As I opened my eyes the main facade of the cathedral came to life.  The spotlights bathed the monumental masterpiece in white-yellow splendor.  The figures were pulled out of the darkness.  As I continued to stare the sounds of passing couples faded into the background.  The stars and the darkness around the cathedral disappeared.  There was nothing but me and the baroque magnum opus.  I don’t know how long I was there.  When I stood up I felt the coldness of the air and the lateness of the twilight.  I walked around the emptied center of Santiago alone.  I thought thoughts that had no beginning and no end.  After hours of introspection I instinctively headed back to the bus station to sleep.  It was not until I arrived at the bus station that I remembered about my room a few minutes away.

I entered the empty hostel and grabbed my backpack.  I snacked on what was left of the bread and cheese in the common room.  My imagination had told me that this would be a good night’s sleep.  I had been nearly a month since I slept in a bed indoors.  As my head hit the pillow the night ended suddenly.  There was no laying awake.  There was no worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  There was only rest.

Well, this is how I spent the day and night.  I can only hope that I have more of them like this.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and I will share the next day’s excitement very soon.  Until then…

The Santiago Cathedral (Or Is It?)

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I arrived in Santiago de Compostela at about 8 in the morning.  Within an hour I was out in the street making wrong turns and accidentally making interesting discoveries.  To be fair, though, when you have no plan and no map, accidents and wrong turns are pretty much all you’re left with.  Or maybe they aren’t wrong turns and accidents.  Maybe they are the right place at the right time.  At least that is the way it seemed to me today.

As I neared the city center a bicyclist asked me if I knew where he could find the Santiago Cathedral.  At the time all I could tell him was “no.”  If he had asked me a few hours later I would have had quite a different story to tell.  As I passed the many buildings that line a large avenue near the east end of Santiago I came upon a clearing.  It was a small cement plaza with a few benches.  On the other side was a one lane street with houses and shops.  Above the street I could see the top of a cathedral.  I figured that this must be the famed Santiago Cathedral so I decided to get my energy up before making my visit.  I stopped and ate more of my bread and cheese from the shop in Granada, accompanied by a tin of fish that I was hesitant about eating at first.  It wasn’t so much that I was against fish, or fish in tins.  The problem was that my Spanish is far from perfect and sometimes that leads to confusion.  When I first saw this tin of “caballa” I thought “how strange that they have onions in tins with oil.  Then I remembered that “cebolla” is onion, not “caballa.”  This realization prompted a bit of horror inside me when I thought of what this word really meant.  Within a few seconds, though, I remembered that the word for horse was actually “caballo.”  What a relief that was.

So I enjoyed my little meal and headed for the domed cathedral.  As I walked the grounds below the cathedral I came across something that promised to be entertaining.  Inside four high stone walls were three mazes constructed of six foot flowering hedge bushes.  I entered the first one and before long I was right back where I had started.  I kept on, though, and found the center of the maze.  Today was shaping up to be quite a productive day.  I mean, it was not even noon and I had already solved a life-size maze with two more to go and the promise of more adventure ahead.  So after solving the final maze this is how I felt…

Since I had such incredible momentum building I figured I would be a fool to slow down.  I rushed to the top of the hill towards the cathedral.  When I tried to enter the building I was vexed.  There was no building.  It was a facade of a cathedral with a slab of cement for an interior.  I walked down the street and came at the building from the other side with the same results.  Then I went back to the entrance of the skeleton cathedral and used the lookout point to scout the city.  I quickly surmised that the building I was standing in front of was no the cathedral.  Off to the west, partially hidden by the buildings of the city center, was a much grander cathedral.

I took off for the Santiago Cathedral with the quickness of a man who knows that his time here is short.  I went up and down street after street until I was poured out into a plaza.  The plaza was on the back side of the cathedral but it was enough to make me stop in my tracks.  I immediately took a seat on one of the steps and sat staring at this for a while as I tried to think of how I could describe it.  I wrote about a page and a half in my journal but I still think that this picture probably gets the point across better than my words…

So as I finished writing I became very anxious to see what the front of this cathedral looked like.  I took a little walk around the plaza and tried to circle the cathedral.  I had to go down more stairs and through another plaza to reach the public square that housed the Santiago Cathedral’s main entrance.  Along the square were buildings that would have made a proud showing anywhere else but when stacked alongside this behemoth of  balance and beauty even the town hall, museum, university, and palace that fill out the square appear comparatively tiny and plain.  I could barely find the words to describe the extreme rear of this monumental cathedral and when faced with the task of describing the main facade I fall flat on my face (which I nearly did as I entered the square).  In fact, the edifice is of such magnitude that even my camera fails to capture the whole of it but here is my best attempt…

Here is a little closer look at the facade that took over fifty years to build on the site where Saint James the Apostle is believed to be buried…

I took numerous laps around the open “praza” (Galician for “plaza”) looking at the cathedral and assisting people who desired to have their photo taken in front of the spectacle.  After I felt that I had enjoyed it quite thoroughly I decided to go inside.

As I entered the silent but nave I noticed the many chapels and devotions to the “Cult of Christ.”  Then a church organ began.  Then things got really weird.  There was a rock or something hanging from the ceiling in front of the chapel that was pouring out smoke.  Next thing I knew I looked up and this was happening… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsneJ8bc5m0

Then the  strange ritual concluded like this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CC7v45i2gUU

This strange ritual is known as the Botafumeiro.  It only occurs during special holidays and for groups who have made the famous pilgrimage to the cathedral.  The “rock” is actually known as a thurible.  It is a brass vessel that holds 80 kilograms of incense and charcoal.  This ceremony began at the cathedral about one thousand years ago and continues to be one of the more popular attractions at the church.  Here are some of the other interior attractions…

   This is the Tomb of Saint James.

Well, there is a little more to tell but after two hours of sleep on the bus platform it is now time to get back out there and do some more adventuring.  I am excited to be heading to Monforte de Lemos tomorrow morning and I am sure that it will bring many more adventures to share.  Until then…

A Spanish Transition

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Hey friends, I have a lot share with you so let me jump right in…

My last night at my temporary home in the mountains of Andalucia was spent at a riotous birthday party.  There was music and mirrorballs (complete with a laser light show), dancing and singing (“Happy Birthday” was sung in both English and Spanish), and feasting on a gargantuan spread of vegetarian dishes (over the last three weeks the members of my host family have turned me partially vegetarian through their non-carnivorous culinary prowess).  Long after I went to bed I could still hear the music reverberating throughout the canyon.

I woke up early the next morning so that I could finish packing for my next adventure.  I stoked the heater in my caravan and finished drying my clothes.  I stuffed and restuffed my backpack until everything fit just right.  As I was tightening the last strap I heard Will, the family patriarch, coming down the trail.  He greeted me with the typical “hi-ya” and told me that everyone had woke up early so that they could send me off.  I hurriedly double checked the caravan to make sure I had everything and headed to the house.

Will, Selma, and Kevin, their younger son, chatted with me over breakfast.  We reminisced about some of our adventures and shared our gratitude with each other.  Then it was about time to leave when I noticed that Tim had still not come out of his room.  This was not unusual because Tim refused to leave his room before ten but I was hoping he would make an exception just this once.  I yelled through his door and told him how much I had appreciated his hard work during our three weeks of tutoring.  I walked outside and the rest of the family followed.  Will put my bags in the car and got in as the rest of the family gave me hugs.  I found this moment to be particularly challenging as I fought to hold back my tears.  Then Tim came out of the house with a big smile.  I took a few minutes to tell him how impressed I was with him and how bright of a future he has.  I finished by telling the rest of the family what appreciated most about each of them.

Will and I got in the car and took off down the mountain.  As I looked out over the town of Orgiva, the valley of El Morreon, and the teepees of Beneficio for the last time on this adventure I became engrossed in a conversation with Will.  Apparently, we both have a very deep respect for one another.  He told me how rare it was for him to meet a fellow such as me.  I told him how impressed I was with the community he had helped build over the last eighteen years.  He explained that there were beautiful places all over the world but what makes this one special is the people.  I agree completely.  By the time we reached the bottom of the mountains I was beginning to wonder just what this experience would come to mean to me in the future.  As of yet I still do not know completely but I have a feeling this three weeks has changed me in ways that will improve my life in many ways.

Will parked across the street from the bus stop.  We got out and he got my bags for me.  He helped me strap them on and then we hugged and said our goodbyes.  I was very happy when Will told me that I was welcome back for as long as I want anytime I am looking for a little time in the mountains while I am travelling.  I asked him to thank the rest of the community for me.  I smiled and headed off to the bus stop when one of Will’s friends spotted him and they began chatting.

I waited at the bus stop, watching the stray dogs and hippies wander the sidewalk, for ten minutes before the bus to Granada arrived.  I was last in line and as I was waiting for the driver to get my change I heard a voice from behind me.  It was Will.  He told me that he just wanted to make sure I had a “proper” send off so he waited until I was gone to leave.  While the driver fumbled around trying to make change we exchanged compliments.  I will never forget how Will put his hand over his heart, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me that it was an honor to have met someone like me. I took my seat and waved goodbye as I beamed with pride over his final comments.

As the bus pulled away and we traveled the winding mountain roads that brought me to this place three weeks ago I noticed something.  The cliffs and turns that had previously given me some discomfort were now simply beautiful.  There was no fear.  There was no apprehension of the “what ifs” of this mountain road.  There was just beauty and acceptance.   I wondered if this might be what I learned on this adventure.

A couple hours later I was in Granada.  I secured my bag in a locker and went out to spend my half day in town.  I walked to the grocery store across the street and got some bread and cheese.  I figured that I didn’t have much time in Granada but it would be nice to have a little picnic somewhere nice.  I wandered the sidewalks of Granada for an hour or so before realizing that I would not be able to see most of the town in a few hours.  I resigned myself to be content with my picnic.  I found a public square with a fountain and some benches.  I posted up in the shade and got out my lunch.  The bread and cheese tasted as it always did.  As usual I spent lunch doing some people-watching.  I watched the runners, the walkers, the business people on lunch break, and the bicyclists (some of whom were listening to music and doing little dance moves as they passed).  It was nearing two in the afternoon at that point so most of the city would be closed for a few hours.  I packed away my things and laid down on a bench that was in the sun to partake in the afternoon siesta.  I awoke from my siesta and continued walking around Granada, trying to see as much as I could before leaving.  I saw enough to make me want to come back for a proper visit on a future adventure.  The plain white buildings with orange latticed roofs sprawled out from the city into the nearby snow-capped  mountains.

I went back to the bus station and soon departed for the first leg of my trip to Santiago de Compostela, which would take me as far as Madrid.  We left mountains that were covered with soil resembling a mixture of clay and cement and packed tightly with rows of olive trees and headed for the reputed greenery of the Galician mountains.  I tried, with great futility, to get comfortable.  The guy behind me was coughing and blowing his nose raw so I tried breathing through my blanket in order to avoid getting whatever close relative of the bubonic plague he was afflicted with.  Every hour I woke up to change position due to my legs alternately falling asleep.

After a short wait at the Madrid bus station I was on the final leg of the journey to Santiago.  It was much the same as the first half of the trip, only longer.  At 6 AM I woke up and saw signs that signaled my arrival in Galicia.  The rumors were true, partially.  The mountains were much greener and the trees much bigger.  One thing that was not true, however, was what I had heard about the weather.  Whenever I told someone in Andalucia that I was going to Galicia they would say “Oh, it’s going to be cold up there.”  That turned out not to be the case.  The weather was sunny and comfortable even at 6 in the morning.  The sun was rising to the east but the moon had not yet set.  I watched the moon disappear an then watched the end of an old Buster Keaton film on the on-bus entertainment system.  I was looking forward to stretching out taking in some sites and some sun.

Well, I definitely did that and more on my first day in Santiago de Compostela.  I planned to write the rest of the day’s adventure here but I noticed that this post is getting a bit long already.  I also have some photos and video to work on before I put up Day 1 in Galicia (which, just for fun, is Day 59 of this trip).  It is now getting late here and I am already in for the night.  I will probably put up my next post in a few hours because there is not much to do in the middle of the night when you are living in a bus station.  Until next time here are a few fun pics from my time in Andalucia…

  These are the rocks we jumped across when we toured the other side of the river.

  A dilapidated dwelling deep in the valley near the Guadalafea River.

 A sheep that I took a picture of from the other side of a gate.  He was very upset that I was passing through.  Later, I was trying to get back down the mountain and I was on the same side of the gate as him.  I took the long way home.

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