I had expectations about Galicia before arriving there, both good and bad. As a celtic land, I knew it shared many historical and physical similarities with Ireland, especially the West. I knew it's reputation as a poor agricultural society, mocked by the rest of of Spain as being backward and devastated by generations of migration. On the other hand, stories abound of it's strong cultural and spiritual wealth, enriched by it's own language, Galega. I guess I was quite fascinated to see what echoes of Ireland I might stumble across. I also knew it would probably be wet, very wet. Yet this was somehow balanced out by tales from my Spanish colleague Alberto of some excellent nosh, especially shellfish. The final gem of knowledge came from my sister. She had dated a rugged Galician man whilst living in the states, she warned me the men were bastards.
I'm afraid my initial experiences were not good. After a four hour steep ascent in the lashing rain I arrived at O'Cebreiro, a village at 1200m and barely visible under a blanket of thick swirling fog. I was soaked to the skin with rain and sweat and cooled down so quickly upon stopping in the village that my teeth were chatterring madly within minutes. I stopped in one of the bars, excited at the prospect of my first bowl of caldo gallego, the thick hot soup of the region. The couple behnd the bar had enough negative energy coming out of them to kill a herd of cattle. I was told no hot soup and had to settle for a cafe con leche and some cake. I then ventured to the shop to buy another plastic rain mac. They are nothing but a piece of plastic, but when you are in dire straits they add another layer of warmth and rain protection. I was promptly overcharged. The 9th Century church of Iglesia de Santa Maria Real is a beautiful, calm and serene place. However I felt very strange in it; very emotional, as if my sensory perception had been altered. Dear God I thought, am I about to have a spiritual experience? Is a vision about to appear, is this the moment that my life changes imperceptibly? Part of me was saying bring it on, the other part was petrified. At the back of my head I thought I might be getting sick.
The fog continued to be impossible and the visibility was bad enough for the locals to shoo us off the path and onto the main road. I was finding it increasingly difficult to put one foot infront of the other. A few hours later I arrived at a place called Alto de Poio, essentially an albergue/ bar and a hostal on opposite sides of a main road, way way up high in the mountains. Nothing else. Nada. Asides from the cold and the rain of course. I couldn't manage any further, I would have to stay there, despite my sense that the place was to be avoided. But there was a fire in the bar, maybe it would be ok.
Needing some hot food in my system, I made my second attempt of the day to order a caldo gallego. The girls behind the bar looked at me as if I'd asked for a glass of champagne and a zebra burger. I sat down by the fire and had been there no longer than a minute before the granny of the outfit promptly told me to sling my hook, she wanted the fireside all to herself. Oh the joys of a warm Galician welcome. I ate my soup accompanied by a glass of red wine. I wasn't looking forward to entering the dorm and I thought some vino tinto might dull my senses. Despite the alcohol the dorm was filthy dirty, putrid. I didn't want to think about what might be in the mattress or indeed the blankets as I would need to put them on top of my sleeping bag to keep warm. Within a few minutes of lying horizontally I started to gag and just about managed to get to the filthy bathroom before throwing up alovely mixture of cabbage soup, peanuts and red wine. So in the one and only bathroom for the 16 bed dorm, I had sprayed a layer of vomit over on top of a thick layer of grime. Although all I wanted to do was crawl back into my sleeping bag I had no choice but to head back to the bar to explain the situation and ask about cleaning materials. I brought a spanish speaker with me. Once all was explained, the girls did nothing but give me their death like stare. The granny eventually emerged from the kitchen with a filthy dirty cloth and told my spanish translator I was to clean up and chuck the cloth way. Hospitality eh. And thus poor Jane found herself giving the bathroom it's first clean in a decade, heaving and gagging throughout. That evening my fellow pilgrims returned from from the bar across the road with horror stories. The landlord had been dubbed our place as an abbatoir and convinced them they had already contracted some contagious disease and would either perish during the night or die a slow death. I obviously had a bit of a fever on the go. Being hot and reasonably delerious, I found the whole thing hilarous. But I knew that first thing in the morning I needed to get the hell out of there.
Next morning I was still too ill to walk. My plan of action was to to seek help from the bar across the road. Surely they would take pity on my plight. I explained my situation in pidgeon Spanish and a little bit of acting. The bar man's response was to put his palm out for money. He took an euro off me before getting out his mobile phone to calll a taxi. In the hour I waited, I had plenty of time to examine the photographs of half naked women that adorned every wall in the bar. It felt like a rural pub in 80's Ireland. Although to be fair to the proprietor, the women's toilets had their very own picture of a well endowed senor in a very small pair of speedo's. So no sexism there. The taxi came and took me the 10k to the next village, charging me a hefty 30 euro for the priviledge. I tell you, I was cursing the Galicians that day. And then it all changed, I was in lovely Tricastella, I had a bed in a comfy spacious modern Albergue, my clothes, which hadn't been washed in 10 days were placed in a washing machine and the sun came out.