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Are you my mother

Sharon thinks I’m mean is too nice.

Today we set off for Caldás de Reis, 23 kilometers from Pontevedra.  Caldás de Reis is known for its thermal spas, the waters consistently at 40 degrees Celsius, or a steamy 104 Farenheit.  It was also the birthplace of King Alfonso VII in 1105, the son of Queen Urraca.  Just the sound of that name… I imagine Urraca must have been a very stern mother!

Anyhow, back to me being mean.  (Sharon just called me that, making it official now.)

The Pilgrim guides warn you that there are very few services on this stage of the Camino, so when a café appears, most pilgrims stop.  We stopped in San Amaro, maybe eight or nine kilometers into our day.  Some 15 other pilgrims thought to do the same, so the café was bustling.  We sat to enjoy our coffee, and overheard English at another table.  Sharon, the kind one in our group, turned to say hello.  Conversation is easy among pilgrims, with standard questions (Where are you from?  Where did you start the Camino?), as well as more difficult questions (What is typical food like in the US?  Is it really all hamburgers?).  These two young women were from Minnesota, having just completed a college semester abroad in Geneva, Switzerland.  They were very nice, and truly seemed to have enjoyed their semester abroad.

I must admit I may have been distracted from another conversation I had had with a Spanish pilgrim at the same café.  I overheard her telling the bartender that she could not eat foods with wheat, so we dug in for a conversation about bread.  Aaaaand…  I learned through her that there IS Galician bread available made with other grains as well as corn!  All I have to do is go into a bakery and ask for it!

Bread on my mind.  (Sharon ate a croissant for breakfast yesterday, then confessed three kilometers later that it was one of the best croissants she has ever had in her life.)  (Did you see that you can get your bread delivered in Galicia, as well as your mail?  How cool is that?)

Pan encargado

Bread on my mind.  Will we make it to Caldás de Reis before the bakeries close?

We paid our bill and left the café, only to coincide not too much farther ahead with the young women from Minnesota.  Conversation continued, and we learned more about their travels through Europe: leaving Geneva most weekends to visit other parts of the continent.  We talked about their programs of study and the courses they had taken in Geneva.  I do quite a bit of work related to study abroad at my home institution, The College of Saint Rose.  Their experience was similar to what I hear from my own students, and what I experienced several decades back when I was an undergraduate student.

Then my phone rang – I finally got my local phone working, and was waiting for a call from home.  Stephen and the kids would just be starting their day, getting ready to get up and out for school and work.  I dropped back to talk, and ever-kind Sharon did the same.

So did the young students from Minnesota.

After my phone call, we continued our conversation with the students.  While I had been on the phone, they had asked Sharon where we were staying, and details about what it might cost.  The pilgrim hostels do not take reservations, and sometimes fill up.  They were concerned.

We fell behind the students for a bit, and I confided to Sharon that I did not feel like taking care of them.  Falling back was just fine.  “Oh, but they are nice!”  “Yes, they are, but they are looking for a mother.”  “No they’re not!”

Round the bend, and there waiting for us, our two young friends from Minnesota.

Renewed conversations, more information, and this time, the students begin asking some questions.  I like that – ask questions about what you see and experience, instead of assuming you can figure it out, or instead of assuming you already understand what you are seeing and experiencing.  Cultural values are so different, and it is too easy to assume incorrectly.  (Eighth grade math teacher Mr. Hutchinson taught me well – when you assume, you make an ASS – [of] U – [and] ME.)

Again, Sharon and I fell back a bit, talking about news from home.

Again, we rounded a bend, only to find our young friends taking a short break.  Coincidentally, as we passed by, they picked up their bags and joined us.

They asked a few more questions, and it became clear to me that we could make up just about anything and they would believe us.  “Oh, we’ve learned so much today!”

Yes, I am mean.  Maybe they were just happy to have someone to talk to in English, since they do not speak other languages (some French, some German, they had reported earlier).  But it started to feel like they wanted to lean on someone.  It started to feel like they were tired of being on their own.  It started to feel like they looked up to us as mothers.  And they were not going to let us get away.

We finally ditched them went our separate ways in the center of Caldás de Reis, only to meet up again checking in at our hotel for the night.

I am mean.  Sharon and the students are nice.

Great things from this mean pilgrim today:  vineyards and vineyards and vineyards!  Every plot of land had grape vines trellised – some Albariño grapes, in vertical trellises, with other grapes from Cataluña (¿Xarel-lo?  Did I hear that right?) on horizontal trellises.  (Should have asked more questions, like my friends from Minnesota…)  We also had expected rain for most of the day.   All forecasts indicated rain, all pilgrims talked of rain, all café workers told us to be prepared.  At times, the wind would turn cold, the clouds would gather, and I would get my poncho out, but we stayed dry.

Today’s walk was mostly classic Camino, with Roman bridges and roadways, as well as paths winding through fields and vineyards.  Yesterday was saw a husband/wife team returning from working the fields, him driving a small tractor about the size of a large suburban riding mower, her riding in the attached cart.  They were in their 80s.  Today we saw a woman balancing a large pack on her head.  Definitely not normal Spain, but worth a look backwards!

Tomorrow:  Padrón, a mere 18.1 kilometers away.  We could do that with our suitcases on our heads!  We will most likely run into our new friends from Minnesota, and I will be nicer.

Caldas de Reis

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!

One comment

  1. haha – love everything about this post! it’s tough when you’re traveling and deciding how much to give of yourself and your time and how much to hold back . . . on one hand, it’s great to meet people and the conversations that you have with fellow travelers (and locals) are how you figure out where to go next or what to avoid or the best place to eat in town (not to mention the deeper things you learn in those conversations). on the other hand, you have to protect your time and personal space a little bit. still sounds like you had an amazing time!

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