El Camino Fonseca

Northwest via Ourense

Over the Mountain Passes

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Puebla de Sanabria to Vilar do Barrio

A Gudiña to Laza: 16 June 2006
A Gudiña

The café bar on the main street was open for coffee and cakes for breakfast and I was able to buy some slices of empañada for later. Felipe from Pamplona joined us for breakfast and we then set off together. The Camino follows a quiet street parallel to the main one until the sign is reached marking the division of the ways. The left hand route goes towards the town of Verin near the Portugese border but we went to the right to follow a country route to Laza.

The climb is very gradual on this route but much of the walking is along asphalt roads. The ridge is very exposed and can be difficult in bad weather. For most of the day the Camino follows a string of villages which were built around vendas or country inns. In the old days these sheltered seasonal agricultural workers travelling between Galicia and the meseta of Castille. Later they were used for workers on the railway which we can regularly see passing via tunnels either side of the road.

Serra Seca

This is a desolate place known as La Serra Seca or dry ridge. In good weather the views are magnificent on either side and for most of the way the reservoir of As Portas is below and to the right. The bus stop shown is very isolated but, if the bus is late (hours? days?) there are two large rocks to sit on.

firewood

The villagers make the most of the sparse resources of the ridge and on several occasions I came across stacks of tree roots used for fuel. These are dug out of the thin soil after trees have been cleared by logging gangs.

There were a few vegetable patches in the villages and we met a shepherd moving his flock across the Camino.

Embalse de As Portas

The Camino alternates between the road and short diversions on tracks without any serious climbing.

Venda da Capela

At the village of Venda da Capela there is a small railway station and a row of identical cottages. These were used to house workers during the construction of the railway and a few of them are still occupied.

Venda Bolaño

I was lucky this day because the weather stayed fine and I could enjoy the views on either side of the ridge. There was a distant view to Venda do Bolaño which is the last of this string of vendas on the ridge.

I was not able to see anywhere that could sell supplies to walkers but, about three km after Venda do Bolaño the Camino begins a steep descent towards Campobecerros. This descent is mainly by road but near the end we took a shortcut down a shale slope to enter the village.

Campobecerros

During the walk down to the village I could see the road climbing out of the far side which is the route of the Camino over the next hill towards Portocamba. On the way down we were caught by two young lads from Galicia who had started their Camino that day in A Gudiña.

Campobecerros is much larger than the other villages and seems to be a centre for country leisure pursuits on the lake and in the hills. Felipe had booked some private accommodation in the village because this is his first day on the Camino and so we all stopped for lunch in the largest of the three bars. When the others settled into the comedor for a long lazy lunch I ate my picnic of empañada in a shady spot on the terrace.

Portocamba

After my lunch I left the others in the bar and set off alone towards Portocamba. It is only about 3km but entirely by road. The village is entered next to the railway station (very basic) and the line immediately enters another tunnel to disappear from the Camino for a few days.

Portocamba

Portocamba is another one of the villages in this corner of Spain where the traditional houses have been allowed to fall into disrepair. There are signs that some of them are being restored and improvements to the road system has made it more viable for residents to commute to find work.

Portocamba

Another stone carving by Nicanor Carballo directs us out of the village and, after climbing for a short distance, the road begins a long and steep descent to Laza. There are more good views down into the valley from this stretch of road but in places the scenery was blighted by the remains of forest fires. 2006 was a very bad year for fires in this part of Spain and, later in the summer the fires reached to the outskirts of Santiago.

As Eiras

Part way down this long descent the village of As Eiras has more old houses and, at the exit from the village, a modern rest area. This has a fuente and covered seating and barbecue areas.

I made good use of this place and stretched out on one of the tables for a siesta. Jugo and the two lads found me here and, after sheltering from a shower, we continued towards Laza.

nests

The road passed through an extensive area of fire damage where I came across a local resident digging tree stumps out from the burnt earth to use as firewood. There were also some unusual birds' nests hanging from a tree which seemed to be made from spiders' webs.

The rain recommenced as we reached the entrance to Laza and became very heavy as we reported to the office of the Protección Civil to have our credenciales stamped and receive keys to the Albergue. This was a short distance away and very modern. The five of us were given a six bed room and, after we discovered how the automatic lighting system worked, settled in.

The heavy rain continued all evening so the three youngsters went to a local shop to buy food. David and myself walked through the village looking for a restaurant and, when we found one, we were the only customers. Laza has a reputation of being very lively at times but the weather had put a dampener on this tonight.

The main celebration in Laza is Carneval just before Lent. Villagers in ornate costumes with large hats and masks are allowed to hit people with sticks. This seems to be a recurring theme in this corner of Spain. These characters are known as Peliqueiros after the old Galician tax collectors.