November 1st, 22km
Letizia and I were so excited about the thermal baths in Orense we were chanting it as a mantra as we left in the rain this morning. But now that we’re here and warm and dry and clean and tired it’s all a bit much. They’re not in walking distance and when there’s only a few hours at most every afternoon for doing everything one might like or need to do, anything above and beyond really does take a big effort.
It’s been scattered showers today, never pouring and never giving sunshine for long enough to take off the raincoat. We four had a lovely morning coffee a few kms into the walk and somehow ending up singing James Taylor and telling stories of the best concerts we’d seen. These sweet and improbable moments of closeness in the funniest places make the long and uncomfortable bits worth it ten-fold. After this stop que had what felt like a bit of a slog on secondary roads into Orense which is quite a big city.
I was about to write ‘it was unremarkable’ then I thought: is that right? What did we come across? Well, I ate six delicious figs from two trees, cool and rainwashed and purple and sweet. And we passed through the industrial area of Orense which was kind of fascinating. There was a quadruple chimney belching smoke or steam in a strangely beautiful way, and the debris of the city: packing tape flying around and collections of cigarette butts where the workers obviously gather for their break; skips full of industrial offcuts and large rubbish, grime in every corner… as well as the natural debris of autumn: dead poplar leaves on the ground, dry stalks, fresh green weeds. Every surface is concrete or asphalt. It’s fully hideous. I don’t know how else to put it. But the Camino has to enter the city and can’t leap over its grotty outskirts. And I think it’s important to see these places too, otherwise it would be just another kitsch tourist trail.
Then there was sweet Seix Alba, an old pueblo (now) just out of the outer edge of Orense, with narrow cobbled streets and overhanging balconies. L’s leg hurts and my feet are sopping wet from holes in both boots where the glue has unstuck, booo! But what’s that? A sign for an artisanal bakery with a special note that pilgrims must come and try the empanaditas. Do we need further encouragement? I think not! The lovely lady in there has sold out of hot and savory, but the cabinet has pains au chocolat and an escargot as big as a dinner plate, magdalenas and palmitas dipped in chocolate. We can’t go past the pains au chocolat and they cost 85¢ each and are warm and golden and chewy and huge and have a massive lump of chocolate in the middle. So we stand in the warm shop, two very happy, wet, sore peregrinas.
The albergue is up a very very long street and is in an old convent surrounded by a garden of rosemary and thyme, just a stone’s throw from the cathedral. The showers are hot and hard, the hospitalero is a bit leery, but who cares? The beds are clean and Orense is ripe for exploring! (Actually, for me this more looks like bar hopping while I write journal and blog posts in between coffees and wine. Happy goose!)
For dinner we choose a hole in the wall restaurant called Casa do Pulpo (the octopus house) which turns out to serve the best tapas ever and Galician cider. Thickly cut smoked salmon on brown bread, deep fried calamari in little soft bap rolls, bitey melty goats cheese with anchovies and gherkins. And you just keep going back to the counter and pointing to the next one you’d like.
It’s just four more days walking to Santiago, and then another three to Finisterre, the edge of the world. But I’m not thinking about that, not one bit.