finding the Dingle Way

first day on the trail brought us lots to see and lots to photograph. the path follows a towpath out of Tralee and into the village of Blennerville, whose claim to fame is a functioning windmill that also serves as point of tourist interest, thanks to the Tralee Urban Council, who procured it in 1981.

after passing through Blennerville — and the last shop (for procuring useful goods such as sports drink, chocolate, or peanuts) we saw for several days — we headed up onto the shoulder of the Slieve Mish Mountains. one of the peaks we passed, Caherconree, is named for a stone ring fort found two-thirds up the peak and overlooking the “road of stones.” myth claims the Cú Roí mac Dáire, a one-time king in Muenster rumored to possess magical powers, was able to raise the stones of the for up at night and spin it around so that enemies could not find the entrance. in another myth, a woman held captive in the fort by Cú Roí signaled her rescuer by pouring milk into a stream. that stream that originates near the ring fort is now known as the Finglas, a name derived from a word meaning “the white stream.”

the day stayed cloudy enough to be pleasant without a hint of rain (as it remained throughout the entire hike). the guide pages upon which we relied routinely cautioned how mucky various parts of the track could become given a bit of rain, and it was easy to identify those sections and give thanks that we hadn’t faced that challenge. we saw an assortment of all the livestock we’d see elsewhere along the hike — cows, sheep, horses — though some of the terrain was restricted from grazing. at one point we encountered a herd of brown and black cows grazing directly on top of a crossroads through which we were directed to proceed. we opted to tramp off over the boggy ground rather than get too close to an unknown herd of mothers and their calves. once past the mucky bit we had our first encounter with the biting flies and humid closeness of hedgerows we’d come to know so well. then down over the Finglas river and up into Camp for a much anticipated sit.

the ever-changing Camino

there isn’t much to say about Arzúa or our thirty-third day on the Camino. evidence suggests the town was heavily settled before the arrival of Rome; following the expulsion of the Moors, the people who resettled the area came from the Basque region. it sits in the middle of prime dairy land and we saw warnings for cows crossing the road in many places (as seen below). in recent years, however, increasing tracts of land once used for grazing have been given over to eucalyptus groves, which is harvested and used in furniture and paper production. this proved particularly evident in the hike from Arzúa to Arca. several species were imported from Australia in the 1860s and have proved demanding in the ways of all non-native species — without natural controls, they consume resources local species would otherwise use and suck up copious amounts of water.

fortunate for the plants forced to compete with the eucalyptus, water is in plentiful supply in Galicia — rain shadow and all. this particular day provided us with deceptively numerous ups and downs, dropping down and climbing out of narrow river valleys and crossing over creeks. outside one shop (perhaps attached to a tiny not-yet-open-for-the-season albergue) we saw one of the more unique pack transportation mechanisms of the Camino: someone had attached their bulging pack to a golf cart. there were lots of places earlier on the Camino where this modification would have been more of a hindrance than a help, but on the well-maintained sendas of Galicia it was probably immensely useful.

somewhere earlier on the Camino, when the terrain was still rugged (i.e. before getting into Castilla) we saw a guy with a waist harness that hooked up to a bike-sized trailer with kid-buggy size wheels. unlike the golf cart version, this guy didn’t have to tire his arms out by pulling his stuff behind him; he’d just shifted the weight he carried so it didn’t rest on his shoulders. we saw another, larger cart in a village just outside Astorga. a parent at a cafe saw the cart (painted red with slogans on the sides) and wanted to get a shot of his kid standing atop it. they hoisted the young one up and he let out a wail of dissatisfaction that echoed down the main road. 

no-so-helpful maps of Galicia. where are we on that?

down the hill into the rain shadow

the hike down from O’Cebreiro proved dramatically different than the ascent the previous day. it was overcast and windy in the passes and stayed much cooler well into the middle of the day. (once we got to Triacastela and the day washed off, I was a bit wishful for a warmer pair of clean pants.) the main roadway down from O’Cebreiro cuts over a 1,264 meter pass at Alto San Roque, where there’s a large statue of a peregrino gripping his hat and bracing against the wind. (of course we had to cross the road and pose with it.) the bronze Monumento do Peregrino stands atop the peak near an old hermitage of the same name. the first record of the hermitage dates from the early 17th century and is known for its unique architecture and wooden facade.

not long after posing with the statue, we stopped for a quick bite at a small cafe in Padornelo where a hopeful, speckled rooster hovered around our table, hoping for flakes to drop off our bocadillo. it wasn’t the last close-encounter we had with livestock or wildlife in Galicia which, similar to western portions of Ireland, has a disproportionate human-to-livestock ratio. because the Camino often follows farm tracks and narrow back-roads, we encountered lots of evidence of cows or sheep heading from their lodging in one of the tiny farming hamlets that led to Triacastela off to their pasture for the day. on one memorable occasion, we encountered a herd of lovely caramel-colored cattle heading uphill rather late in the morning. two younger Spanish women (maybe college-age) walking just ahead of us seemed fascinated by the cows … in a way that made it seem obvious they must live someplace where one doesn’t run into cows very often. or ever. one of them walked right up to one of the cows to pose for a picture; the cow, obviously freaked out by this strange person approaching her, stopped and halted the progress of the herd up the hill. the farmer, who was leading them to pasture, came storming up at the rear of the herd and ripped into both of them for stopping the cows. I couldn’t understand precisely what either side was saying (as it was in Spanish) but the sentiment needed no translation.

for much of the descent, as the guide book alerted us (correctly and reasonably for once), was through clouds — visibility wasn’t more than a few hundred meters at best for quite a ways. it was a nice change from the heat of the previous days, even if my hair did some wacky curling. the increased precipitation meant an array of new flora, including blue lilies, wild roses, blackberries, hawthorn, broom, gorse … as well as more fauna. likely because of the smaller human population, there’s a diverse wildlife population in Galicia, too. apparently, if we’d been observant, we might have seen evidence of wolves, harriers, short-toed eagles, martens, wild boar, sparrow hawks, and ermine. if I’d been Galician wildlife, though, I’d have gotten as far away from the tromping peregrinos as possible and leave no trace of myself behind!

cow mailboxes

have a glass of fresh milk!

today’s post strays from our usual theme of travel and general history in favor of something from my personal history.

it’s a drive that I’ve made many, many times in the last nine years, and one that I mostly hated half the time while I was at school and it stood between me and getting home or me and getting back to Galesburg. I can tell you precisely how long it will take to get from my front door to campus — with variations for a pit stop in either Savanna (where I turn south onto the River Road) or in Freeport (where I often stopped for a snack at Culver’s), how many counties the route goes through (9), not how many times I’ve been stopped at the train tracks that cross the highway in Fulton (because it’s been that many), where houses were foreclosed on long before it was the norm, where buildings have burnt down and been rebuilt … if you’d told me a dozen years ago that I’d make this drive dozens of times, I’d have scoffed. mostly because I’d never heard of any of the towns I drive through south of the border, let alone Knox and Galesburg. now that I only make that drive once a year, at most I’ve come to really enjoy it; it’s novel once again, rather than tedious from making it so frequently, and while I no longer get to watch the changes wrought by the seasons, I do get to watch the changes wrought by the years.

my absolute favorite thing about driving to and from Galesburg is passing the cow mailbox at a farm just south of Freeport, Illinois. over the years, I’ve passed three different versions, the most recent of which went up in the last year. unfortunately, I never got a shot of the first one, but haven’t made that mistake with subsequent ones. I always thought of the first one (above left) as Lucy. this new one seems more like a Buddy. we’ll see if the name still suits him the next time I drive past, or if he’s been replaced by someone new in a few year’s time.

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