Between #VanLifing and House-Hunting: Was That a Vacation?

I’m becoming an expert of the towns in southern Lugo. Silleda, Melide, Bóveda, Pantón, Sarria, Láncara, O Incio. But before we left a week ago to celebrate Patricia’s mother’s birthday, we thought we were going to A Coruña to visit Fragas do Eume, or perhaps some of the province’s incredible beaches and forget about fincas and casas rústicas.

Nature had a different plan for us, however. The tropical storm Kyle came, producing an almost ciclogénesis explosiva. Next, we thought of heading east towards the Navia Valley in Asturias (which Galicians consider as part of Galicia or Galicia estremeira) but short on time and in a different mood, we decided to stay closer to the area between Sarria and Monforte de Lemos.

After a day or so around Silleda and Melide, and learning about marian apparitions, their inspired movements, and seeing el Santuario de la Saleta, we started visiting some of our favorites from idealista, the zillow/Redfin of Iberia.

And as probably anyone who has been in a position to buy land or a house can tell you, it is not a walk in the park.

There have been a few places, affordable for us to in need of lots of time and work to make them habitable, with their different and respective pros and cons.

  • In Ver, Bóveda, we discovered a mini-oasis next to el río Mao, a parcel that was so fertile from the wells that it was like a fairytale. On higher land, there was complex of stone structures, a small workshop, an attached narrow stone house with an incredible veranda, and a huge traditional casa grande that was a bat guano factory. The owner’s father lives up the hill, in a sixth-generation Galician ironworks and casa rural that he inherited. After a tour and a nice conversation with him and his wife, we returned to camp on the property. But my love is a notorious mosquito magnet and we had to flee in the evening, back to Vilasouto reservoir in O Incio.
  • In a small aldea close to Oural and Sarria, we returned to see a house we’ve been thinking about for a month or so; an old stone house with an attached brick barn that could be transformed into a very open floor plan with lots of natural light, enough land to create a rural tourism/workshop space, a small lake, and a grove of castaña, apple, and pear trees. Coincidentally, we met the owners taking a day to weed the area.
  • After Patricia’s macramé workshop in O Garaxe and one shower in the last week or so, we drove south, back to Ourense, to enjoy our own bed and kitchen. But not before momentarily stopping in a small village near Pantón. We’ve been around here before. Perhaps it was the light, a little after golden hour, or the road we were on. But the meadows and forests became enchanted and we saw the area with much different eyes than previously. As we followed Google Maps to a house in which the owner and I had been in contact for a few weeks, we met the neighbor, a woman who was actually born in that house. In the meadow in front of the house were horses and llamas, a nice reminder of Peru en plena Galicia.

While all of these were special in their own way, we’ve also talked to owners and neighbors who have different pieces of advice for us; don’t restore, it’s a money pit, build something new, etc. All of which is great advice but produces a headache and a feeling of vertigo in the beginning of this process.

Whatever happens, it will be a long process. But one advantage of this impromptu trip was solidifying our search area. Now, it’s time to talk to an expert in bio-construction, as we continue to dream of an ecological, and economical, project.

Second Lockdown for Lugo’s A Mariña

Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to combat against the coronavirus. After the worst of it had passed, the government instituted a deescalation period of various phases. It seemed hasty, but for a country that never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and depends on summer tourism, it was clear regions were looking to return to normal, even if we qualified with it the adjective ‘new’. Now it’s back.

Public health officials from the Xunta of Galicia have closed the coastal region of A Mariña in Lugo, at least until Friday. More than 100 people have tested positive in only a few days

Within the containment zone, people are still free to move around without extraordinary restrictions, but without a good cause, no one enters or leaves A Mariña. Around 70,000 people live in the 14 concellos, municipalities there with undoubtedly many more vacationing for summer.

We knew a second wave would come sooner or later. I haven’t read anything about patient zero for this outbreak. We knew the first in March came from Madrid, which isn’t surprising. Talking with friends and acquaintances here, some of us had wished for summer of Spanish residents remaining in there autonomous communities. These regions are big enough to allow city-dwellers to escape to the countryside (sorry to La Rioja, and the North African enclaves), promote local tourism closer to home, and reduce the points of contact and potential travel of the virus.

This would have angered a lot of people, definitely some of the 80,000 madrigallegos who live and work in the capital, and eagerly await the summer months when they can relax at their beach house or return to their home villages. Not to mention the sons and daughters Galician emigrants who left for Basqueland and Catalonia while they were rapidly industrializing and Galicia was still practically a pre-capitalist society.

But as the husband of a family friend said, “It’s one summer.” We’ll see what the rest of the months brings.

Photos From Ribeira Sacra Lucense

As the first trip out of our town since the quarantine, we started north to Ourense, then headed northeast to explore the towns just before Monforte de Lemos on the lucense side of the Ribeira Sacra. The weather was mostly dry but a little chilly, the end of an unusual cool streak.

We passed the small railroad town of Canaval (or Canabal in castellano), right off the highway near Ferreira de Pantón, quite a few times this week. Along with the train station and a cluster of old homes was an old brick industrial smokestack that reminded me of Cologne. For whatever reason, memories of driving through rural France on the way to Germany came to mind. The town felt forgotten, but in peaceful way. Perhaps its train service and proximity to Monforte de Lemos.

After Doade, a touristy town dedicated to the area’s signature viniculture, comes the Lookout of Souto Chao with its great views of Canón do Sil and its granite statue of a grape picker.

We bounced around between lugares and parroquias in Sober, Pantón, and O Saviñao looking at different houses from idealista, talking with neighbors, and getting a feel for the rural life in this corner of Galicia. On the way, we found a lake near Rosende. It turned out to be private property but we still managed to have a nice lunch and walk around without disturbing anyone, or them us.

Alqo has been getting braver with going into the water and swimming a bit since we showed him the Arnoia river by our house. The last time he swam was in Long Beach and I think the waves scared him!

Van camping is fairly easy in Europe. While not exactly legal, if you’re off private land and and not conspicuous in you’re vehicle, you shouldn’t have a problem. When you camp off-season and in less-populated places, this becomes easier.

Alqo and I are almost always the first out of bed.

Many of the fincas we looked at have been long abandoned. Occasionally all that is left is the stone foundation, like this house that was built in the 19th century. Other times, we’ve seen houses with the bedspreads still on and knickknacks on the bookshelves. The older generation emigrated out of necessity. The Galician land inheritance system of minifundium prevented families from growing enough to sustain themselves, so they left; to Cuba, Argentina, to Catalonia or Basque Country. The younger generation inherited these places but either can’t or won’t live in the rural world for myriad reasons. No jobs, no option to telecommute, used to city life, etc.

Perhaps there will come a de-urbanization phenomenon due to the pandemic and financial crisis that pulls young people away from the cramped city life back into España vacía, empty Spain.

This mirador is actually on the Ourensan side of the canyon. Our last night we decided to cross over the river and camp near Paradela and Castro Caldelas. The mirador As Penas de Matacás offers a stunning view at sunset. I don’t think it’s possible to tire of looking at the canyon walls, the vineyards, and the villages nestled close to them.

There’s been a lot going on in the world, and I need to disconnect a bit. So I brought Castelao’s Sempre en Galiza, translated by Craig Peterson, with me on the trip. It’s a very interesting book. The publisher Francis Boutle sums the book up quite nicely:

Forever in Galicia is the most extensive account of Galician identity ever written, an idiosyncratic text that spans and erodes the traditional genres of memoir, political treatise, historical essay and revisionist analysis.

I’ll share more after I’ve read more, but suffice it to say that it’s a compelling read for another interested in the history and cultural diversity of Iberia.

Lastly, on our route home, we saw a few reservoirs on the map. We stopped at the small beach near the town of Pradomao and found a great potential camping spot for the future.

The trip was both refreshing and intimating. Refreshing as it removed us from the monotony of the quarantine life while still being safe and socially distant. But intimating as it made us confront new potentialities.

  • How big of a rehabilitation and agriculture project can we both handle?
  • How far is too far removed from nodes of denser society for economic and social futures?
  • What will the area look like in ten, twenty, thirty years?

And so many more. Patricia said it didn’t feel like a vacation since her brain was in constant overdrive with possibilities. I agree.

Next week, we head back to the Rías Baixas area for a few days to visit family and plant a small garden.

Galician Culture and History on WordPress with Tim Ginty

I’m drawn to places very easily. It could be the way I feel while there, or something read or imagined about the history or contemporary culture of the place. I start daydreaming about what life would’ve been like in the recent or distant past and what it might look like years from now.

What has changed recently is my desire to understand these places through the perspective of others rather than facts and dates. And so, I’m interested in reading more about my new home of Galicia much more than what’s happening in U.S. politics for example.

Other than Wikipedia and information about walking the Camino de Santiago, I don’t see much blogging on Galicia in English. While I can read castellano, it does not come as easy yet, and I struggle with written conjugated verb forms and less-frequently used vocabulary, slowing down my progress.

So I was delighted to stumble onto Tim Ginty’s blog Lives and Times this morning. He has a few posts about Galicia from last year:

  • Unearthing Gallaecia: The Ruins of Monte O Facho for an overview of castro culture, their subsequent romanization by the Roman legions, the unique syncretism of the society it produced, as well as photos of O Facho. “Even today, in Galicia there still exist signs of this fusion of Latin and Pagan, hints of a latent indigenous culture found in their Carnivals and Solstice celebrations, and in their mythology of mouras (siren-like women of the forest) and stories of meigas (witches).”
  • A Conversation with César Lema: On a Rural Return for a window into Lema’s worldview on communalism in rural Galicia and within the long-arc of history, the possibility of utopias. “Modernity, in contrast, offers an atomised community and alienated production, living beside people you might not even know and working to generate a profit you will never possess – that is, the absolute contrary of the shared life.”
  • The Eternal Wall of Lucus Augusti for a look at the fortified wall of Lugo and the building of of them symbolizing power and splendor but also insularity. “Only a few decades after the construction of the wall Lucus Augusti would fall. Its formerly all-powerful rulers – a slave-holding class of indolent elites – would wave the white flag to the invading Suave tribe from the north. The Germanic barbarians did not even need to lay siege upon the fortified city, and some say that the elite of the city were celebrating a feast when the occupiers came, too drunk on sweet wine to organise a resistance.”

I’m inspired by Tim’s writing. The posts on Galicia are just a small sample of what he has. He also wrote about Marinaleda, the communist pueblo in Andalusia. He effortlessly blends history with personal essay and photos, which makes for interesting reading.

I feel allergic to blogs that try to push or sell something; an ebook, a course, ads, more posts, etc. Blogs give everyday people a platform and a space to flesh out ideas, share something with the world, valorize practices and ideas. As I go on with Among the Stones, I hope it can also be a place to share like Lives and Times.