Yesterday we continued our pilgrimage by heading toward the town of Trabadelo, a small mountain village along the way. The hike followed very closely a highway on one side and the Pereje river on the other side. The highway used to be a major thoroughfare but, with completion of a nearby freeway, the traffic has been greatly reduced and really wasn’t too distracting at all. The scenery was lovely as we gradually ascended into the foothills of the Galician mountains. We also passed through a region of vineyards supplying grapes for the wonderful local wines that were starting to display their lovely autumn colors as the weather has cooled.
We stayed at a very nice albergue in town and had a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant. It is still amazing to us the quality of food we receive on the “pilgrim menus.” This night we enjoyed leek and potato soup (homemade), vegetarian lasagna, two bottles of local wine, and a homemade brownie for dessert – all for only 9.50 euros! As a bonus, the owner of the restaurant brought out some of her homemade liquors. She had used a local grappa as the base, which she then infused with blackberries in one case and herbs in the other. These were wonderful. While we were enjoying this treat, she brought out a jar full of local cherries which she had macerated in grappa. It was a special treat and we counted it as another Camino grace – one of the special, unexpected gifts that make the Camino so special.
Today we crossed over into the province of Galicia and are no longer in Castilla y Leon. Galicia is the final province we will traverse on our pilgrimage. It contains the city of Santiago as its crown jewel. The trail today was the most demanding since our first day crossing the Pyrenees. Our destination was the town of O’Cebreiro which sits in the top edge of range of mountains known as the Galician Mountains. The hike was grueling as we saw an elevation gain of over 700 meters during the final 7-8 kilometers. It was steep and challenging. Parts of the trail were in very difficult condition and rain from the past few days made the going muddy and slippery in many areas. But, we were rewarded with stunningly beautiful scenery and were blessed with a day without rain. Plus we made it to the top and found beds still available in the local albergue, so we ended up well.
The town of O’Cebreiro is yet another town that has provided support and comfort to pilgrims since the start of the last millennium. It is small in size but has many beautifully maintained stone homes and shops as well as one of the oldest surviving buildings on the Camino – the O’Cebreiro Iglesia, which dates in part to the 9th century and is the oldest extant church associated directly with the Camino de Santiago. There is an interesting miracle associated with this church. Our guidebook states that “a haughty celebrant of the mass, dismissive of a devout and humble peasant, saw the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ as he offered them to the supplicant who had risked life and limb to attend mass in a terrible snowstorm.” The chalice and paten are still displayed inside the church.
By the way, our guidebook indicates that the proper pronunciation of O’Cebreiro is “Oh- thay-bray-air-oh.” The “th” sound for the “C” is common in Galicia (which the locals pronounce Ga-lee-thee-ah). We also hear people thanking us by saying gra-thee-as (for gracias.) The story I heard was that this custom originated because one of the region’s kings had a lisp and the courtiers, in order to show loyalty to him, also began pronouncing words with a lisp. Later the custom was continued in order to provide a tangible difference between the language of their region and that of other competing regions. I’m not sure how much truth there is to this story, but the custom of pronouncing words this way has endured.
By arriving in O’Cebreiro we have completed the last of the major ascents on the Camino and will only be dealing with level ground, descents, and a few minor ascents from here on out. We have now walked about 633 kilometers and only have about 155 kilometers to go. The biggest other change we will notice is the dramatic increase in the number of pilgrims hiking with us. To qualify for a compestela a pilgrim is only required to walk at least 100 kilometers. So, many pilgrims do just that. And, as we approach that magic distance (near the town of Sarria) we will encounter many new pilgrims hiking with us, which will perhaps make the walk less enjoyable and may make finding a bed more challenging, but we will do our best to keep in the spirit of the Camino and welcome these new pilgrims as they join us on the way.