Knights of Santiago

Orense Travel Blog

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Bici pilgrims passing through the hamlets outside of A Guidina

There was something lacking in this Camino for me and I knew what it was but was not sure how to create the same sense of it. On my previous Camino (Camino Frances) in 2003, I was treated to many beautiful Iglesia´s (Churches), normally open in the evening and most of them would provide a mass for Pilgrims in the evening.

Christian, Catholic or something else, all were welcome and even though the words were in Spanish, they were always heard by each Pilgrim as a personal message. I was spellbound and loved going to the Pilgrim Masses. The difference for me this time around has been that the Churches are nearly always closed except for the weekends. As there are so few Pilgrims on the Via de la Plata, there are no special Masses and therefore this spiritual experience has been limited to my own interpretation of special events and personal adventures.

Central Heating! (animals under the home provide radiant heat in winter)

On the 9th July, this all changed for me when I met my ´Knights of Santiago´;my protectors and friends. The three members of a wonderful Spanish family who were completing a section of the Camino on foot. They had devised a complicated and intriguing transport system to get their car to the final destination, Ourense via short bus trips every couple of days. I met them in A Gudiña at a point when I had been experiencing some trouble and frustration on the Way. Without going into details, I was receiving some inappropriate attention from another pilgrim and the Knights were able to provide a buffer and give me some space and a feeling of safety once again.

Luisma (Luis Maria) is the eldest of six brothers, a man of great intelligence and integrity and the most like me (of the three).

He has a nose for adventure and if it wasn´t me seeking out fun experiences, it was Luisma.

Javier is the next brother and a wonderful caring man who sensed my fear through my bravado and took steps to ensure I was protected. He is a man who loves his family with his whole being and spoke of his son Javi with so much pride, it took my breath away. I was so blessed to have him share these personal feelings with me. He speaks very little English and was therefore careful to ensure I understood his meaning every time we had a conversation, usig a combination of castillano and broken English.

The youngest member of the family, Javi (son of Javier) is just the greatest 19 year old I have ever met. He has a beautiful naivety in one sense but yet is mature beyond his years.

Carmen, Javi and Javier (Luisma in back)
He has the kindness and wisdom of a sage. With near perfect English we shared deep convesations forging a lovely connection and involving many laughs together. I am sure that we will form a stronger friendship as time goes on and one day I would love to host him in Australia if he chooses to travel that far.

All three of my ´Knights of Santiago´have a special place in my heart and that is why I am dedicating an entire blog to them.

I want to retrace a few steps since the last blog to cover some important ground and explain how this bond became so strong in a few short days (as life often does on a Camino).

In A Gudiña, we all had a lovely menu del dia together - the first supper! It was here that I realised how lovely my Knights are.

First dinner with the Knights
They ensured I was included in conversation and understood what was being discussed. Javi practised his English (he is fantaaastic!) and I practised my Castillano as much as possible.

They explained some customs and various things about Galicia that I would not otherwise know. I learnt about the Ribeiro and Albariño wines, sometimes served in shiny white ceramic bowls (Taza´s) in parts of Galicia. We had the local Orujo de Hierbas to finish our meal and it was a fun-filled night getting to know the Knights!

The next evening we all shared another meal in the Albergue in Láza and by morning we had become comfortable friends. We woke ready for a big day and like a sister (I adopted myself to them), I made a pot of coffee and shared magdalenas to keep us going for the steep ascent.

Rustic Bar Carmen
At the first stop in Algerguería (the bar with the scallop shells in previous post) it seemed fitting that the four of us should share a shell to write our names. Although I was a little uncomfortable that I might be intruding on the family, they were totally happy to include this crazy Aussie/Kiwi. It was the moment we cemented our friendship.

As we walked during the day, I would spend time talking to each one of the Knights individually and really came to understand their personalities and the strength of their extended family. I would love to meet the rest of the clan and be a ´fly on the wall´ during Christmas celebrations. There would be much laughter, singing and eating!

In Villar de Barrio, Luisma knew of a place called affectionately ´Bar Carmen´.

Grace and Carmen
He has already completed several Caminos (both on foot and bici).  Bar Carmen is a ´restaurant´without a sign or any indication that it even exists. It looks like a normal house from the outside but once in the door you are transported back to the 1950´s in every sense. There are a few rustic wooden tables with matching chairs and some longer tables on delicate wrought iron legs. A tiny wooden bar sits in the corner and seems to be used to store a few glasses and bottles of assorted alcohol. As soon as you enter, you are embraced by Carmen, the motherly cook and natural Abuela (grandmother) to all who enter. It is her home and the ´bar´is her front room.

She remembered Luisma from his last visit and set about ensuring we were comfortable and felt at home.

Bar Carmen, home style
 Her first customry act is to bring out a lovely old worn tablecloth (like Nana used to have) from her collection and before long we then had a tasty platter of Queso and Chorizo to calm the raging appetite.

Luisma ensured that my experience was the best it could be by asking her to serve the cool Albariño wine in Taza´s. She proudly returned form a trip upstairs and placed the cleaned and polished ceramic bowls lovingly on our table. It was a precious moment and the cool wine tasted fantaaastic (that´s for you , Javi!).

Her home cooking is a tonic for tired Pilgrims and Knights alike and we were treated to a platter of chickpeas and spicy sausage followed by an even bigger one of steaming boiled potatoes, cabbage and chunks of juicy slow cooked beef.

Ribeiro from a Tazo
The crusty bread was eaten to the last crumb and we waddled back across the road to the Albergue to continue Pilgrim business (washing, internet, siesta).

That night we had a choice to either eat in the Albergue or return to Carmen´s for a light supper. Have a guess what the concensus was! Need I even try to explain how delicious her freshly cooked Tortilla de Patata and salad was?

The next day was the final day of walking for the Knights and also for me (for a few days). It started early for Javier, Javi and I (Luisma was meeting us in Xunqueira with the car and a swap of drivers).

We three had another crazy adventure in a small Pueblo, about 10km away, after asking if there was a Bar open for café. We were directed to what looked like a house and as with Carmen, we were treated to coffee in the front room of the home of an elderly couple.

Orujo and cafe
This was even more rustic. In one corner sat a singer treadle sewing machine (complete with a half finished apron!) and in another corner, a 1950´s foozball table. When Javier asked for Orujo for our coffee, the elderly lady (still with sleep in her eyes as we had literally gotten her out of bed) disappeared for 10 minutes then reappeared (after a visit to the neighbours we supposed) with an old pour-top glass bottle of the powerful clear fire water. Totally ´classic´ and the three of us laughed about it as we told the story later to Luisma.

After Xunqueira and a change of drivers, we stopped walking for a picnic lunch. It was so bizarre as Luisma, Javi and I were exhausted from about 12km of road walking and as we rounded a bend we saw a picnic table set up with a banquet that Javier had bought and thoughtfully laid out for us.

A meeting of like minds - the delightful couple caring for children from Sahara
The car radio was playing Opera music. I was speechless, yet again. How does life keep outdoing itself?

And after 15 minutes an elderly lady walked past with two adorable African children (9 and 13 years old) , obviously not her own. Luisma explained that they are children who come from the Sahara every year for a month or two: kind people in Spain take these poor children in and give them an experience of life in Spain. She invited us to her nearby home for coffee and I was again treated with such generousity and kindness that I was fighting the tears. Her husband was a simple and loving man also and they were so proud that they gave me some of their lunch to try; a stew made with famous fava beans from Asturia. Although I was full, I politely accepted their special gift and the beans were both divinely delicious and enormous (made with love).

Now do you believe me about the size of the Spanish dogs!

As we left, I could see that Luisma was fighting back tears hmself and he explained that the couple had lost their only son a few years earlier in a motor accident. My Knights are such caring people, I could see that he needed some quiet time to process all of this. We have promised to send the family the photos we took of them and the children. Such simple people and they opened their home and their hearts to complete strangers, aware of the power of the Camino.

Arrival in Ourense was then only a matter of eight more kilometers through a dusty industrial suburb. The Albergue was lovely and built in an old monastery but because there was a hospitalero in attendance it had strict rules and closed at 10.00pm. This meant that we had little time to see the old part of Ourense and experience some of the magnificent buildings and the Catrhedral.

Sitting outside the Albergue in Ourense

We were able to take some time to visit the Cathedral (while a wedding was in progress) and then the Knights attended a Mass at a smaller but very beautiful Church nearby while I updated my diary. It was important for me that they had some time alone to process their own Camino and complete a special journey as a family unit.

While I was in a small bar updating my diary, I had an very strange experience. It was one of those Camino moments that are inexplicable and beautifully timed. A young man noticed me writing and came to chat. He did not speak English but I could see he was asking about my writing. He took my pen from me (I was a bit shocked), peeled a clean serviette form the holder and wrote these words ´You write a novel´

It was not a question, it was a statement and I have been torturing myself this entire journey with the question of whether my experiences here would be of interest to anyone else if I wrote them down.

Final breakfast before driving to Salamanca
Is this the answer to the question I have asked myself over and over?

After Mass we all met up again and shared some lovely Tapas for a light dinner (the last supper). It was simple but so Spanish and very fitting. To finish the night we needed coffee so found a cute (For you Javi!) little bar and settled in to complete the journey. Just as we were about to leave, a songstress and pianist arrived on stage and we were treated to a sultry song, strangely in English. It was the sort of place you could stay until the last light was turned out but sadly, we had to be back at the Albergue.

By morning the mood was already a little solemn and we shared croissants and churros for breakfast. At the table, the final act of generousity for My Knights was to gift me their precious Camino talismens.

My very special gifts - entrusted to me to take to Santiago
Luisma had painted each of them a tiny smooth stone, taken from the River in Mérida (his home town).

Javi has a red Santiago cross, Javier a yellow arrow pointing the direction to Santiago and Luisma had the white cross symbolic of all pilgrims. I was overcome and did not have the words to explain my heart bursting open. These wonderful people have given me back my spirituality and this Camino can now be completed.

Right now I am in Salamanca on sabbatical for a few days. All will be revealed in the next post.

Ultreia and Suseia, Grrrace (that´s how My Knights say my name and it is now my new name!)

MermaidLilli says:
The "white cross" is the Greek letter Tao, a symbol of the Camino as well. I saw them alot in the Camino Frances, but not on the Via. I saw many men wearing necklaces of the Tao in wood.
Posted on: Nov 17, 2008
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Bici pilgrims passing through the …
Bici pilgrims passing through the…
Central Heating! (animals under th…
Central Heating! (animals under t…
Carmen, Javi and Javier (Luisma in…
Carmen, Javi and Javier (Luisma i…
First dinner with the Knights
First dinner with the Knights
Rustic Bar Carmen
Rustic Bar Carmen
Grace and Carmen
Grace and Carmen
Bar Carmen, home style
Bar Carmen, home style
Ribeiro from a Tazo
Ribeiro from a Tazo
Orujo and cafe
Orujo and cafe
A meeting of like minds - the deli…
A meeting of like minds - the del…
Now do you believe me about the si…
Now do you believe me about the s…
Sitting outside the Albergue in Ou…
Sitting outside the Albergue in O…
Final breakfast before driving to …
Final breakfast before driving to…
My very special gifts - entrusted …
My very special gifts - entrusted…
The end of the trail in Salamanca
The end of the trail in Salamanca
photo by: alvinszyslak