Camino de Santiago: On Galicia’s enchanted forests

July 5, 2014 in Europe, Spain

bosque encantado

The trees of the Galician forests have eyes.

Big ones that are open wide and always watching as pilgrims pass through the bowered paths tripping lightly across the wide stone breached streams and around bogs of thick mud that sucks at boots and squelches between sandaled toes.

Of all the places I’ve hiked through in the past month, the enchanted forests of Galicia are, without a doubt, my favourite. Down from the stone ramparted heights of O’Cebreiro roll and endless carpet of green hills, like earthen waves to a beach I won’t quite reach at Finesterra. The constant climbing and requisite descents are a reminder of the undulations of life and the ripple effect of a stone dropped into a pool, or an individual’s impact on the world.

Oak trees, gnarled fingers reaching for a sky that’s completely obliterated by the dark carpet of leaves overhead are covered with tufts of celery green moss that reminds me of the hair of tiny tree trolls who think they’re tucked stealthily into cracks, peering out from between gaps in the bark. Pine trees, standing in stark rows, inky darkness resting on chocolate needles that soften any footstep to a whisper, seem to leap up and trade places with each other, rearranging their patterns when I look away for even an instant. Lady birches, long white fingers tipped with soft green nails wave at the wanderers below. Eucalypts, silent sentinels, keepers of The Way for untold generations, inspire solemnity and quiet walking.

Stone walls that weep wildflowers give way to fields that laugh in yellow buttercups. Ivy creeps up from between the toes of poplar trees to wend it’s way between high branches and whisper to the wind. White flowers, knocked by the breeze from some unidentified high branch scatter the path in anticipation of some faerie bride in bare feet; just out of sight on the path behind me. Bracken fern giggle behind green fronds as I pass, proof of a bosque encantado.

Today, it rained. Solidly. All day.

The paths were wet; mud, ubiquitous. Within three kilometers my hair was wet and sticking out in every direction. Within five, my boots were dark with mud and water. Within ten, every stitch of my clothing was drenched and water ran down my legs into the top of my socks and dripped off of my nose.


It was a wonderful day.

The forest sang to me and told me stories of witches and wizards, gingerbread houses with bread crumb trails and little gnomes using red speckled mushrooms as umbrellas to move between the rocks. Water ran, in great, grey tears, down the smooth bark of the eucalypts and I measured my steps against the click of the sticks of the pilgrim walking behind me. He was humming and whistling: “dance with me…” followed by, “sunshine, on my shoulders makes me happy,” followed by, “Puff the magic dragon…” I smiled and stole a glance behind me: nothing but a red raincoat and muddy boots and a happy guy. Even in the rain. Even with the hills. Even with miles to go and no hope of warm or sunshine, there’s always something to sing about, we can always, “Choose cheerful,” as my friend Melissa says. I carefully kept within earshot of his humming to buoy my own spirits.

John Lennon’s “Imagine...” has been stuck in my head all day. Someone penned the entire song, line by line, in white ink on the blue trash barrels that line the path. It’s not a song that I’ve ever loved, particularly, but it’s food for thought five weeks into a journey that has lead as much through the hills and long dry flatlands of my mind as it has across the north of Spain. “Imagine… it’s easy if you try…”

hand holders

I passed a couple today for about the fortieth time.

They’ve been walking a similar pace for a couple of weeks now; middle aged, laughing most of the time, and almost always holding hands. They stop and share a kiss at every mile marker, celebrating their own countdown to Santiago together. Today they were singing, back and forth, “All you need is love…” “ba-ba-da-dah…” to each other and giggling as they trudged through the rain. Another apt lesson: Even in the rain. Even on a seemingly endless journey. Even with sore feet and heavy baggage. All we need is love. It is the summation of much that I’ve learned while grinding out the miles this month:

Choose cheerful. Choose love. Keep walking. Never mind the rain.