Galician Backroads

Yesterday, we headed into Lugo to collect our new NIE cards. At last. 10 minutes in and out at the policía nacional. No waiting. It would have taken even less time but the guy’s computer was being perezoso – lazy. 🤣 I told him we were unconcerned.

We had a list of things to do in Lugo. After receiving our new cards, we made our way to our bank so they could stop freaking out about us not having new cards. Luckily, in six months we can apply for permanent residency. We have to have lived in Spain legally for five years – can you believe it has been this long?!? And we can’t have been out of the country for more than ten months total during that time. Thanks to Covid, it isn’t even close. We will easily meet the qualifications.

After completing all our errands in Lugo, we decided to head south to the small town of A Rua. It’s about 60kms west of Ponferrada, nestled in the Ourense wine country. And it sits on the very picturesque rio Sil. The drive reminded me of driving over Stevens Pass and down to Leavenworth on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I know people travel to New England to see the Fall colors. They are gorgeous. But this part of Ourense is equally stunning. Perhaps, even more so. The wine leaves turned bright red, and the yellow on this beautiful day were like gold rustling in the wind. I will be fishing on this river. I can guarantee it. Fly-fishing heaven.

We weren’t there for the scenery, per se. But it was an added bonus. We needed to visit the tractor dealership. Surprise! But I wasn’t complaining.

I have a penchant for old farm equipment. Perhaps it sprang from visiting my grandparents on their sheep farm when I was little. We would drive down from Portland to Lacome on a road we called The Rollercoaster Road. It went up and down so rapidly and had covered bridges at the bottom of each very steep dip. My Dad would drive really fast in our old American car, packed with four kids and a black lab. He’d hit the bottom and practically fly through the old wooden covered bridges (ala The Bridges of Madison County) and we would cheer. The dog didn’t like it.

Yesterday, I looked for covered wooden bridges. But apparently they are not a Galician thing. We drove along the river through vineyard after vineyard. Jeff was happy to see whitewater.

‘I could kayak that river. Nothing too difficult. Class 2+ , maybe.’

I was happy to see the spark in Jeff’s eyes. Giving up his kayaks when we moved to Spain was rough for him. He didn’t speak for the entire day after he helped load them up onto the guy’s car and shut the garage door. Perhaps he will start looking for a new boat 🛶 to paddle.

We arrived early to A Rua. The shop wouldn’t open for another hour. So we decided to explore a bit. A Rua is on the Camino Invierno – The Winter Way. It’s an alternative from Ponferrada to Santiago. The crowds walking from Sarria can be brutal in summer. Three thousand + people a day. Hence my business. But the Invierno is a nice alternative. And yesterday’s visit made me want to walk it. Such incredible scenery. September/October would be the perfect time for the weather and to see the leaves begin to change. But it’s also The Crush. And this region would be in the thick of the grape crush at that time of year. The smell would be ambrosia. I remember it well from living in No Cal wine country.

As a side trip for Pilgrims with a little extra time – The Ruta do Viño Valdeorras runs through this area. The wine trail! I love it! Jeff and I were talking on the way home. Perhaps we can rent a large passenger van and gather some friends together. Start in Cacabelos and Villafranca del Bierzo. Jeff doesn’t drink wine so he would drive. And we could eat and taste our way from there. Then, up the rio Sil valley to Ourense, where there are two Michelin starred two-star restaurants. A fun weekend of good food, good wine, and good friends. Something to plan.

Finally, we went back and met the tractor people. They were very nice. My Spanish comprehension is getting really good. I interpreted for Jeff and he was very grateful afterwards.

‘You did really well. I was surprised how well. I couldn’t have gotten through that without you.’

‘It’s the food truck.’ I told him. ‘Sometimes I don’t want to assume you don’t understand things so I don’t try to translate, because now things seem so much easier for me.’

Although, the Pilgrims aren’t speaking tractores to me, my ability to hear rapid-fire español is now finely tuned. And, without a mask, I can understand what they are saying. I’m also less shy about asking for clarity. Another thing I have noticed about myself now is that I listen more broadly. That is to say, I don’t try to hear every word and translate it in my head. Which can be a recipe for falling behind in a conversation. I don’t know how else to describe it. If I am unsure I understand, I will say it back, either the same way or in my own español. They will either confirm my understanding, or restate, or clarify more simply. Even Jeff is less intimated now that I can help with communication.

It was strange. When the tractor people asked where we were from and we told them Palas de Rei, they looked at us funny. Then, after an hour the salesman warmed up. They told us they know the people who sold us our tractor. Ironically, our tractor came from these guys. He smiled when he showed us the even smaller one the scammer tried to get us to take, before we got a lawyer. ‘You didn’t want this one.’

Then he pointed to the one we got – which was still smaller than the 40hp the guy sold us. Apparently, the one we ended up with had to be purchased from this place in A Rua – as the dealer near our house didn’t have it and had quoted us the wrong price. We had a contract. He couldn’t afford to buy the 40hp tractor for what he had committed to. And instead of coming clean about it he tried to dodge and weave and deflect. A little honesty and communication would have done wonders.

So, the tractor guy in A Rua had heard about us. The crazy difficult Americans with an Abogado- lawyer. But, by the end, he was very happy to meet us. He told us what he could get and what he couldn’t. Some things available in the US are not sold in Spain. Never mind. We appreciated him being upfront. And he will get all of our future tractor related custom.

We left and drove towards Ponferrada. Through craggy mountains and looong tunnels. Before it got dark by Villafranca and hitting the A6, west towards Pedrafita do Cebreiro and home. But before I sign off today, I will leave you with this little video of driving in a village in rural Spain. Jeff barely bats an eye anymore on these small, narrow roads. For context, all of these are two way streets. Even the village cat knows that.

NOTE: I’m shortly starting a Galician Backroads series for cool, little known places – like A Rua – throughout Galicia for those who have asked me at the food truck for recommendations. ‘I’m almost done with my Camino. I have 3/4/5 days until my flight home. What should I do/see?’ Hopefully, this will help folks develop an itinerary that works for them. All suggestions welcome. Stay Tuned.

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