Monday, 15 September 2014

Deep and steep

(Posting this from a slow wifi cafe in Ferrol which is a great little city.... access to email, internet and wifi is really not easy where we are.... But the scenery is amazing. JWTurner would have loved the whole atmosphere).
We're staying up on the hillside above Pontedeume now, PG to the Finnises who have rented a bare stone house with a view over the valley, and a primal hush apart from about one car an hour going past. Last night we watched someone's wedding-party fireworks down on the edge of the town. The little dawg was frightened, trembling. Only a hour or so before, the thunder and lightning had bashed down around us, in another of the torrential rains which keep this district so green, and give life to the mossy, ferny Fraga (Atlantic rain forest).

That is where we went today - nosing through the prosperous suburbs and little farms, and then up the side of the mountain, snaking along beside the river which dropped down below us, dark and green, with great boulders interrupting the silky smooth surface.  We were heading for the other monastery (having seen Monfero the other day). Here you can approach only on foot, or by bus - but they are not clever at telling you you must have a ticket to board the bus until you have driven a mile or so past the ticket office.  The ticket is free, but obligatory.  We shuttled back down to get our tickets, and scramble onto the half-empty charabanc which proceeded back up the narrow river-side road, forcing hardy pedestrians onto the precipitous verges, or to squeeze into the rockface on the upper side.  Disgorging, we cross the river far beneath, and breathe in the delicious fragrant forest air. All around are ferns and mosses of every colour and size. 

The path up to the monastery (Caaveiro) is quite steep, about a kilometer according to me, and made of lovely end-on slate slabs. We are the only English around, and most other people seem to be Galician rather than Spanish. The monastery was built and rebuilt during various ages on a promontory between the Eume and a smaller river, all this way high up, with waterfalls and cliffs all around. That geeky urgent pious urge to hermitise in groups pushed them to attempt the almost-impossible. It reminds me of photos of Chinese monasteries. A series of sturdy stone halls and accommodations are linked with steep steps and tiny courtyards. The chapel is pleasingly simple. Modern intrusions of gantries and stairwells are made of iron or steel, and clang and ping as you clamber up or down.  A few books and faded display cases reveal remarkably little.   On a side 'road', down the other side, is the remnant edifice of a watermill which must have been very exciting when it worked - grinding chestnuts perhaps, or the faces of the poor.

We ordered a little bocadillo and glass of water, stomped back down to the bus which was jam packed this time, and rocked back to the carpark. The forests are so steep, and human activity so tightly confined to the road, that any wild animals (reputedly boar, stags, wildcats etc) must feel pretty much free to do what they want as long as they stay away from the road, and don’t mind standing at an extreme angle on the ground.  

Back to town - a trip to Mr Wong's amazing supermarket to buy a couple of extra pillows, and some nails - and then a snack lunch at Zas - berberechos, anchovies in vinegar and zorza y patates. Madame makes a kiss to us all with her fingertips because we all three have blue eyes ('ochos azul'). 

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