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.

First Brown Bear in the Central Ourensan Massif Since the Late 19th Century

Some good news in nature conservation. A brown bear between 3-5 years old came from A Serra do Courel in Lugo and probably spent the winter in Parque Natural do Invernadeiro, where it was caught on cameras set up for a documentary.

Patricia found this article in National Geographic España. There’s also a short English version at The Guardian.

We moved to Galicia in September, first on the coast near O Grove. We were preoccupied with finding work and a place to live so we weren’t in the adventurous spirit, other than a small road trip to find where we live now. Now that the quarantine deescalation and true spring have begun, I’m itching to get back to camping in the van, going on hikes, and exploring some of these places so close to us, like the central Ourensan Massif and of course, back to Ribeira Sacra. Hopefully we won’t disturb this guy when we’re there.

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.