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.

Monte Penamá

I’ve often seen these towers in the distance while walking in the monte but didn’t know this was Penamá, most likely the highest point in the area.

We woke up earlier to avoid the heat and hiked 2 hours to reach its “peak”, which was mostly flat and without any spectacular views, at 927 meters (3041 feet) above sea level.

The village thirty minutes down, however, has a great lookout and we even saw what most be Ourense.

I didn’t take many photos but did get this later in the afternoon while in town.

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.