Hiking for the Holidays

I haven’t felt ‘in the spirit’ during the holidays for a long time. Between Thanksgiving and New Years is usually the time for coming home to visit and get together with family. I’ve been away or unable to come back to California. I spent my winter vacations in Muslim-majority countries like Guinea, Morocco, and Turkey, or on the road in hostels in Sierra Leone or Colombia. Combined with my more recent uneasiness of the excessive consumption habits and waste between Black Friday and New Years and no real commitment to the Christian component of the holiday, you probably don’t want me anywhere near your holiday party.

We do our own thing wherever we are. And recently that has turned into hiking on the holidays.

When Patricia and I were in the States for the summer, I used a hiking app called AllTrails to find great loop routes that were suitable for dogs and a manageable length. But In Europe, there were fewer routes in AllTrails’ database. So I was happy to find Wikiloc, a similar community-added route database and phone app. It’s also made in Girona, Spain! Apps like this allow you to search for and record your movement to upload them for others, adding waypoints, photos, descriptions, and data (elevation change, distance, etc.).

Patricia has been taking a basketweaving course from the Escola de Cestería in Santa Mariña de Augas Santas, a village of around 50 people to the north of Allariz with an immense church. She told me how beautiful the village was, so we looked up a hike that started there on Wikiloc and took off.

So many things about Galicia impress me. But the opportunity to easily encounter so much history in nature always leaves me dumbfounded. Spain is a living museum. And the national, regional, and municipal governments of the country, as well as private foundations and local initiatives, preserve their historical and cultural heritages. In the short hike, we encountered the unfinished Basilica da Asunción built above a crypt named Os Fornos.

It is here that the cult of Santa Mariña de Augas Santas started, a Roman teenager martyred for her belief in Christianity. From what I can understand, Santa Mariña caught the attention of the Roman prefect Olibrio, who fell in love with her, and punished her severely for his unrequited affections. She was miraculously healed from her injuries during her torture. Then, they tried to burn her alive down in the crypt of Os Fornos before San Pedro rescued her.

A short distance away from the Basilica and Os Fornos, we found a tree surrounded by a small stone wall and a pool of water. This is the tree under which Santa Mariña was beheaded and martyred for her Christian faith. Supposedly a spring of water welled up from the earth where her head hit the ground.

We continued the trail and looped around a bit to the small hamlet of Armeá, where a local man discovered an “enigmatic” archaeological site. Specialists hypothesize it would’ve been a big lodging for people in the first century arriving from the south of Roman Gallaecia.

Christmas Day: O San Salvador and Roimelo

On Christmas Day, we didn’t plan any hike. But a short walk up the monte to stretch our legs turned into a trip to O San Salvador, a small village up the road. The village is nestled in a small, rocky valley. Like many depopulated places, it has a church that seems enormous relative to its current population. We didn’t meet anyone who lived there, and being Christmas Day, we didn’t want to bother anyone either. I checked the census data when we returned home and in 2017, there were three inhabitants.

A few meters from the village is a path heading to a castelo. Arriving at the top of the hill, we saw some ruins but left quickly as we heard the holiday-enjoying hunters and dogs close, which usually makes us nervous with the dog.

After we arrived back home, we bought a YogurtNest, a yogurt maker and slow cooker that doesn’t require any electricity, as our gift to each other and the house.

Note: The Concello de Allariz (town hall) has a tourism page about both Santa Mariña de Augas Santas and surrounding sights and O San Salvador.

Las Médulas, Castilla y León

After a pretty cold night in the van in A Rúa next to its dam, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Las Médulas in Castilla y León for a few hikes. This was an old Roman gold-mining town now famous for the beauty of the fracked mountain tops.

The Romans used a technique to fill the worthless first layer of the rock with water using aqueducts and tunnels to ‘wreck the mountain’, revealing the gold deposits underneath.

As Much of the Universe

This morning, I’m thinking about Fernando Pessoa (or Alberto Caeiro?)’s The Keeper of Sheep, VII:

From my village I see as much of the universe as can be seen
from the earth,
And so my village is as large as any town,
For I am the size of what I see
And not the size of my height…

In the cities life is smaller
Than here in my house on top of this hill.
The big buildings of cities lock up the view,
They hide the horizon, pulling our gaze far away from the
open sky.
They make us small, for they take away all the vastness our
eyes can see,

And they make us poor, for our only wealth is seeing.

I went up the monte twice yesterday, once in the morning with Alqo to stretch our legs, and again in the afternoon before sunset with both Patricia and Alqo. Toward the top, there is a fork in the path. We’ve always turned right, which leads us a little bit further, past a grove of oak, and ultimately to the winding road we live on, further down the monte.

Instead, we turned left. With my new eyeglasses, I can see much clearer (my prescription doubled since the last time I changed them, which was far too long ago). And the view that awaited us when we reached the actual top was spectacular.

We could see the other forest path that we take often, that leads past an isolated goat farm with two very protective dogs, past the heavily-shaded area where Alqo ran off to chase a deer a few days ago after sunset and left us a little distraught and searching for him in the dark for what felt like an eternity, and towards another village, A Aira Vella (pop. 6) that we walked to, meeting only an older woman and three dogs. We could see the rain in the distance and a section the autovía. Some of the trees are turning a faint yellow and brown, adding to the autumnal feeling.

I remembered Pessoa and specifically The Keeper of Sheep, how I was able to share him with a fellow Peace Corps friend, how his translated poetry found me at the time I needed him, how I used read him on the veranda in my small village in Sierra Leone, and our short life in an apartment in downtown Cologne; the constricted vision, and how my walks with Alqo were confined to a city block.

All of it was written in some sense, necessary to have this moment of pure gratitude up there of where we are now, what we do, and who we aspire to be.

I’ll hold on to this feeling for the day.