Octopus and Bagpipes – Oh, Galicia!!

IMGP4466

Did you ever think of bagpipes when you thought of Spain?

I never did.

I thought of vineyards and museums. I thought of bullfights and oranges. I thought of the architecture of Barcelona and of paintings of Toledo.

I never, ever thought of bagpipes.

But, there they were. And I was loving every minute.

I had walked into town to find the “Ezequiel” restaurant, which is known for its octopus. Octopus – pulpo – is the regional specialty,  cooked, seasoned and cut into bite-size pieces.

Are you feeling squeamish, Dear Reader? My upbringing is Hispanic and eating octopus is not a new thing for me.

Plus, my Dad was an adventurous eater. Frogs legs? Check. Snails? Check. On those very rare occasions when Dad purchased those weird, almost unheard of foods (in Flushing in the 50’s), he could always count on me to tuck in my napkin and enjoy.

Chances were nil that I was going to pass up this regional specialty in its heartland.

I walked around in the sunshine, soaking up Melide, saying a rosary in the nearby grand Church, and searching for a grocery store to pick up a snack or two for the next day’s journey, which promised to take me through few towns.

I found a grocery and who should I see wandering the aisles but Christina.

She had settled into another albergue earlier and was also preparing for the next day. I told her about how I had tried to save her a bed at the Xunta and about my big mistake.

I would have to be on my very best behavior at the albergue that night to restore the honor of my country (no sneezing, snoring, coughing, getting in late, dropping things on the floor, taking up too much floorspace with my pack/poles/boots/clothes, etc.)

We laughed about what a strange and unexpected journey the Camino had turned out to be. It was still providing adventures and keeping us humble even though we were so very close to the end.

I told Christina that I was going to try to find the octopus restaurant and we decided to go together.

After a few wrong turns, we found the place, simple, unassuming, very local. It was relatively empty and the evening light reflected off the polished picnic tables and benches. It looked like a big BBQ shack, not a touted restaurant.

There was a big screen T.V. hung up on the wall with the news/weather/sports playing on the local channel. All this information had become irrelevant to me as a pilgrim.

We looked at the menu. Poor Christina. She immediately knew that she did not want octopus but the other choices were slim. She settled for salad. I admit it looked really good, especially on a greenery-deprived journey like the Camino.

I, however, dove in. I asked the waiter what the specialty was and ordered it, along with a nice cold beer. I didn’t know what to expect and was not completely ready for the plate put in front of me within minutes.

IMGP4454

It was a pile of one-inch long pieces of octopus legs. Olive oil and a reddish seasoning were sprinkled all over. These were big octopus legs, not the small ones I was used to in the luscious black rice dishes of my family

These octopuses (Octopi? Nope, dictionary says octopi is very incorrect, so octopuses it is) were big suckers with big suckers. They looked like they could be doing tricks on a late night talk show. They could be twisting caps off jars. They could be unlocking their own cages. They could be scaring the bejeezes out of little kids in an aquarium.

And I had a plate full in front of me.

Well, millions of Spaniards had eaten these before me and raved, so I dug in.

I couldn’t say “tastes like chicken” because it had the rubbery texture of squid (Oh, come on, now you’re going to tell me you’ve never eaten calamari???). But the flavor was fantastic. The olive oil and seasoning was really good.

I polished off the plate very quickly, then ordered another. And ate it quickly, also.

Christina looked on pityingly. How crude to enjoy such disgusting food.  Then, we both laughed. Ah, Camino!!

Meanwhile, the restaurant had filled up. A rowdy group sat at the table in front of us and spilled over onto our table. We were all in a great mood. Suddenly, someone started singing. And playing. Playing what?

The traditional Galician instrument called the gaita. It looks and sounds like a bagpipe. I was told that the person at the table next to us, who was playing, had made this one himself and was carrying it on the Camino. I have no reason to doubt it.

The groups were as joyous as any I had met on my trip. Their happiness spread throughout the front section of the restaurant and I would have joined in if I had known the song  and spoken the language.

IMGP4463

The restaurant manager encouraged the music and the songs continued.

Eventually, a bottle of homemade Spanish ‘grappa” appeared from the back of a shelf and we were asked if we would like a glass. How could we say no?

IMGP4461

Excellent, burning heat slipped smoothly down my throat.

The meal, the music, the drink. One of the memorable meals on the Camino.

By the way, are you wondering how to cook pulpo? Get coolers full from the fish monger. Put them in boiling water. And, then . . .

Advertisements

A Time to Rap – Day 38 – Eirexe to Melide, part one

IMGP4415

Is it excitement? Anxiety?

For whatever reason, I wake up early, pack up, and leave the albergue as Christina is waking up. I can’t wait. I need to get on the road.

You know by now that Christina, the boys, and I – my Camino family – share our fondness, no, our need, to sleep late on the Camino. So this is very unusual for me.

But the sun is shining, the mist is disappearing off the fields, and I can’t stay in bed any longer. By now it takes me only about 15 minutes to go from bed to packed and out the door. Quite an achievement.

IMGP4414

The municipal albergue looks basic on the outside but was very clean and modern on the inside. The hospitaleros were friendly and we talked for at least an hour the night before.

The Saints have me covered. The Camino consistently provides what, and who, I need. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Every day is filled with more joy and adventure than I could ever have expected.

I would meet Christina later today, somewhere, somehow. We hadn’t spoken about meeting up but I know we will.

I walk through tiny, rural towns, with chickens nonchalantly crossing the road to get to the other side. Horses lazily swish their tails as they watch me follow the yellow arrows down the lane between houses.

Dogs bark in the distance and I pass new cars parked in old converted stone stables next to quiet stone houses.

I am invisible and I don’t disturb these scenes. I photograph them in my mind and will remember them forever.

I pass small village parks and picnic areas made  ready for the passing pilgrims, with fresh, cold running water and well-trimmed lawns and hedges. Rustic towns and villages show their surprisingly cosmopolitan edges.

Local people might seem to be of another world but they are surely part of mine and I am the newcomer. Their worldliness makes me smile and I shake my head at my own biases and incorrect assumptions.

I wasn't expecting to seee this in a rural park along the Camino.

I wasn’t expecting to see these sculptures in a rural park along the Camino. This picnicker is enjoying an early breakfast surrounded by . . . nature.

I walk past an encampment of tents, the first time I’ve seen tents on the Camino.

I will later learn that they belong to an Irish Church youth group whose leaders take about 20 young people on this section of the Camino every year. They arrange with a local tour guide who sets up their daily camping spots and who goes ahead with the van carrying packs and food.

The young people walk from camp site to camp site and set up when they meet the van. They have dinner, talk, sleep, and breakfast and breakdown the site each morning. It explains all the young people racing up the hillsides laughing and singing. I thoroughly enjoy their exuberance and energy and absorb their excitement.

IMGP4419

I hear two of them coming up behind me on a rocky, narrow wooded path. They are singing rap songs at the top of their lungs. There are other pilgrims going uphill and they are passing them all.

Dappled shades of green color the rocks as the sun shines through the new leaves. Birds are singing and there may even be a stream nearby. But the rappers closing in on me from behind present me with a dilemma.

Can I ask them to stop singing?

I don’t mind singing, I don’t mind rapping. But here, in this setting, it seems inappropriate. If I ask them to quiet down, will I just be an old fogey? Will they ignore me and keep on doing what they’re doing? Will they give me a hard time? Do I just forget it and let them sing their way into the future? Am I asking for trouble?

Their fast approach demands a decision on my part.

They climb on the rocks next to me, rapping away (I don’t think they understand the lyrics, either). They clearly have no clue that they are being so loud. I smile and nod.

Then I say, smiling, “Por favor, como un iglesia (Please, like a Church),” as I indicate the surrounding woods with a nod. I don’t know what language they speak so I go with Spanish. With my clothes and my pack, they can clearly see that I am a pilgrim who has been in it for the long haul.

They look at me, look at each other, and continue walking and singing.

Then, within 10 steps, they stop singing as if on cue. They don’t say a word as they silently hop from rock outcropping to outcropping on the trail. The birds and, yes, a stream, become the music of the Camino once more.

I thank Big Tess for giving me the guts to ask for quiet and risk being seen as a cranky old person who doesn’t like new music.

I also silently thank the adult leaders of this youth group who have created a considerate, friendly and cheerful group of young pilgrims. In a few hours I will meet up with one of the leaders and I will tell him of the incident and will point out the boys involved. I will tell him how impressed I was with the consideration and respect the boys had for the Camino and for me!

He gives me a little of their background, where I learn they’re Irish, they camp, etc. I again tell him that the boys are a credit to the group and to their leaders and they should be proud. I want to make sure the leader understands that the boys behaved well.

He does and is happy.

IMGP4429

Family Movie Night – Day 34 – VillaFranco to Vega de Valcarce

What is a family? How do people come together? How do unwritten relationships develop?

Do you stick together always? Can you choose to become unglued? How do you find that delicate balance between being together and being separate?

People floated into and out of my circle of Camino family members on an almost daily basis. I would walk with people for days, then lose them for the rest of the trip.

My journal was full of names and incidents which would have been forgotten yet had made it into my journal because of their importance to me at the time. But some names were beginning to appear again and again.

My Camino family was coming together  –  Andres, Juan Carlos (the boys), myself,  and Christina, the bright, friendly college student from Virginia.

The four of us began to run into each other more frequently.

We usually split up at the end of the day since we had already decided where we each wanted to stay, for whatever reason (“This place sounds cool,” ” I heard this place has good breakfast,” ” I need a washing machine,”  etc).

Anyway, since we were walking the same basic plan (last one to leave the albergue, frequent stops for coffee and/or beer) we stood a good chance of running into each often.

But how do I explain the fact that, even when there were two or three choices of routes to take, we all seemed to magically pick the same one.

The Camino was pulling us together.

My albergue the night before had been glorious – clean, quiet, bright and  spacious.  I had seen several familiar faces and I was one of the last to leave in the morning.

On my way out, I asked the hospitalero which route he recommended I follow – there were three options. His answer, short, sweet,  logical – “The easy one, of course!”

I took his advice, again an alternative route, which offered some stunning views, avoided traffic, and was not uber-challenging.

IMGP4231

The route followed a river valley . The stream running on my left was peaceful and the bird songs were some of the most beautiful I had heard during the Camino. It was as if the Audubon Society played all their recordings at the same time.

After walking through such a Garden of Eden, I was surprised to stumble upon another place where the owners had decided to drop out of the rat race and start a new life on their own terms. Of course, at that hour of the morning, I was like a moth to a flame when I read the sign out front – “Fair Trade Coffee.”

IMGP4234

As I drank my coffee and ate breakfast, I enjoyed the peace, the music and the  really good food.

I asked the owners how they ended up here and where they got fair-trade coffee.

He was from the Netherlands and enjoyed cooking for people. They had local family who had told them about this spot. They pointed to the truck stop across the stream, next to a highway. They said that most drivers go to the truck stop but they did OK with the pilgrims on this side.

As I was finally leaving the coffee shop, who should come along but the boys, Juan Carlos and Andres.

By this time I had forgiven them for introducing me to “Botillo” the night before, that classic local dish which was mainly a ball of meat parts and which had endured in my stomach long after the sun had gone down.

The marvelous bird songs,  great morning coffee, and dazzling blue sky and sunshine had put me in a wonderful mood.

I thought the sign said "Walk without dying." What it says is that the stream is "catch and release." Don't kill the fish. OK, so my Spanish still isn't that good.

I thought the sign said “Walk without dying.” What it says is that the stream is “catch and release.” OK, so my Spanish still isn’t that good.

Andres, Juan Carlos, and I walked together the rest of that day. We talked about every topic under the sun. They explained Spanish culture to me – history, language, geography, politics – with generosity of spirit and passion.

I learned they were brothers.

We talked about our families, our careers, our homes. I began to understand their deep love for their country.

IMGP4254

When we arrived at our stop for the day, we were crushed to learn that the albergue had only one bed left  If I took it, where would the boys go?  The small village had only one albergue and there were no pensions in town. Heading up the mountain so late in the day to find a bed in the next town was out of the question.

I did not want to leave them without a place to stay – it had happened inadvertently weeks earlier and I still felt badly.  We needed to find a place for three people.

The young hospitalero at the albergue was determined to find a place for us in spite of the fact that he had a full house of pilgrims to look after. He made phone call after phone call on our behalf.

He was finally able to find a local who had some empty rooms we could share, the double for the boys, the single for me. The problem was, the price of the single was twice the price of the double – way over my budget.

Then, the boys decided to split the total cost three ways. It would reduce the cost for me, but would increase the cost for them. But they did it anyway.

The Camino was gracing  me with undeserved blessings, this time in the form of a true Camino family.

The side door led to our home for the night.

The last door led to our home for the night.

The rooms were in a four-bedroom house being renovated and we had the house to ourselves. When we went there with the owner, she discovered that the last person to stay in the house had left the double room unmade.

The result was that each of us would get a single.

St. Julian, patron saint of hospitaleros – You Rock!

After I settled in.

After I settled in.

Heavenly!! Soft, clean sheets, flowers at the windowsill. A huge double bed. A bathroom – with a bathtub!

The kitchen had a wood burning stove which seemed to be in good working condition.

The kitchen had a traditional wood burning stove.

We went to the only restaurant in town and Juan Carlos was excited to introduce me to the tiny little fish which were now in season. Eat the bones or not eat the bones? It was an ongoing topic of discussion.

Being an adventurous traveler, I ate the bones. This time, the boys’ culinary suggestion was spot on. That meal was one of the  memorable ones of the Camino.

The end of a delicious meal

The end of a delicious meal

After exploring the village on the way back from dinner, we made our way back to the house. They managed to plug the right plug, switch the right switch and, for the first time in weeks, we had television!

They found a classic movie channel and they were appalled to learn that I had no clue as to the stars of the movie, their legendary status in Spanish cinema or their legacies that continue today.

That night, the three of us stayed up late watching Spanish movie musicals. Can you imagine hearing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” for the first time, unaware that it’s a classic? That was me, unaware of this entire aspect of great movie history.

We knew we had a rough day ahead of us but we stayed up late anyway. When we finally retired, and I crashed into bed, I slept like a person who had already climbed a  mountain., No traffic, no snoring, no animal sounds – I was out.

La Hija de Juan Simon (1957). Starting out as a traditional flamenco singer, Antonio Molina’s amazing technique and good looks made him a star.