Strange adventure at Casa da Agua

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Breakfast was very good in the dining room with fresh juice and good jams.  We saw our Ohio friends and Manfred in the lobby getting ready to go.  When we got back down there, it appeared that they had already taken off, and we didn’t see them the rest of the day.  Since our hotel was on the far end of town, we only had to go about 100 yards up the main road and take a path to the left that led us directly to the Camino.  The rain held off for most of the day, and we went through a series of small farm towns.  The Italian biker near O’Cebreiro had told me that I would be able to smell the sea, but all I could smell now was manure.  More and more I was content just to know that it would be only a couple of days longer before I got to Santiago.  That’s what kept me going in spite of the pain from the blisters.

By mid-afternoon, the sun was out, and the rest of the day was pleasant.  After climbing (who said there would be no more big hills?) up to Alto de Santa Irene, we came down into the village of Santa Irene and down a long hill to A Rua.  There, we joined up to the N-547 that led into Arco O Pino.  When we reached the outskirts of town, we stopped at a Repsol gas station and decided to ask someone there for directions to the hotel which was called Casa da Agua.  Greg waited outside while I went in to see what I could find.  After determining that the attendant spoke no English, I pulled out the voucher as I was asking him in my rudimentary Spanish, “Donde esta la Casa da Agua, por favor”.  He shrugged and picked up his phone and dialed a number.  I wasn’t certain he had heard my request and I was attempting to shove the voucher in his direction when he held up his hand to stop me and he began to converse with someone on the other end of his phone.  When he hung up, I said “Casa da Agua?”

“Si senor, Casa da Agua”, he said beginning to be somewhat irritated by me.

“Donde esta” I replied.

“Aqui, senor” as he pointed to the station office in which we were standing.

“Casa da Agua esta aqui?”

“Si, aqui.  Diez minuto, aqui.”  Then he abruptly returned to his duties as gas attendant.

So, it appeared that he had called someone from the Casa da Agua who would be here in ten minutes.  I went outside and relayed this information to Greg who was skeptical.  He thought that the attendant had called a cab for us who would then come and pick us up and take us a few blocks to town and drop us off at the hotel and charge us a fortune for it, when we could just as easily walk there.  Greg suggested that we just keep moving and walk into town and find the hotel on our own.  My thought was that perhaps the attendant had indeed called the hotel owner and that it would be rude to have him come all this way to find no one around.  Greg assented, and we decided to wait for ten minutes and then proceed.  As I examined the hotel voucher again, I noticed that there were no general directions as there had been with previous vouchers.  While we waited, we watched other pilgrims pass on their way into Arco.  Some we recognized and they waived to us.  With every car that pulled into the station, we thought our mysterious driver might be here at last, but they were just filling up on petrol.  Soon, a small white sedan zipped in and came to an abrupt stop.  The driver got out and walked quickly to the rear of the car and opened the trunk.  I approached him and said “Casa da Agua?”  The stocky middle-aged man grunted in the affirmative and motioned us over.  He took our backpacks and put them in the trunk.  Greg got in the back seat and I sat up front with the driver.  He backed around nimbly and headed out of the station onto the main road.  It soon became apparent that he spoke no English as well, and his Spanish was textured with a heavy dialect. Communication was going to be difficult.  Shortly, after we set out into town, I asked once more, “Casa da Agua, si?”  “Si, si,” was his reply.  I looked back at Greg and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.  We drove through town and took a right.  After about a hundred yards, the driver pointed to a path leading through the woods and uttered, “Alli, el Camino, amigo”  I thought I saw a Camino directional sign and nodded affirmatively to the driver.  In less than a minute we were out of town and headed deep into the woods.   A five-minute drive through dense pines and eucalyptus trees brought us to an intersection with a main hiway which we crossed and proceeded further into the woods.  After a mile or so, the forest gave way to a wide expanse of hilly farmland, dotted with cottonwoods and sycamores.

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Our driver began to explain things to us about the surrounding area.  He gestured to buildings and churches and explained something about them, none of which we understood.  By now, it was clear that we were miles from the Camino and my imagination was getting the best of me.  A modicum of fear began to enter my consciousness.  I looked back at Greg with a non-verbal “I don’t know” sort of expression and he seemed to be feeling the same way.  I began concocting all sorts of stories in my mind, like was this abrupt fellow, pleasant as he was, taking advantage of these two tired pilgrims?  Worse yet, were we going to some sort of rendezvous with some other bad guys who might try to roll us?  Sizing up the driver, I figured that Greg and I together could take him if he tried something.  That is, of course, unless he was armed, and if that were the case, we were clearly up the proverbial creek.  And yes, what if he had accomplices wherever he was taking us?  Had we walked all this way from France to come to this end?   I closed my eyes and briefly prayed for protection until that was interrupted by more incoherent descriptions of things that we were passing.  I nodded, trying to show some gratitude for this “guided tour”. Finally, after several twists and turns on very narrow roads that produced no reduction in speed, we reached what appeared to be a farmhouse that was set on a picturesque hill.  We pulled in the driveway and drove around to the rear of an old stone house that appeared to have some modern additions to it.  Our strange driver turned off the ignition and said, “Casa da Agua!”  There were no external signs to indicate hotel or Casa Rural.  Greg came up with the understatement of the trip, “Well, we would never have found this place!”

From the gas station, it was about a fifteen minute drive, I figured.  As we retrieved our packs from the trunk, and followed the man inside, it soon became apparent that he was indeed our host.  He directed us into a small lobby that had a high desk and telephone and asked for our passports, making some remarks that seemed to indicate that he could take care of the formalities later and leave our passports at the desk.  He was now intent on showing us around the place. The interior of the old house had been remodeled within the last few years, and it was indeed a wonderful job.  Stairways and parts of the house were blended with the old stone walls that produced a rustic but Frank Lloyd Wright sort of feel.

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After a brief tour of the downstairs area, the man led us up the stairs to our room.  As we moved down a wood-paneled hallway with tile floors covered by occasional rugs, we came to room. Our guest opened the door, and there was Greg’s bag sitting on a luggage rack!  I was suddenly relieved more that I can say.  The man then motioned us to a room next door and opened that door.  There was my bag too.  It appeared we each had our own room.  The man asked me something about la cena that I couldn’t quite understand.  I responded with “A que hora est la Cena?”  More incoherent responses from our host until he finally settled on “Ocho hora, senor?”  “Si, bueno,” I replied.  After giving me a key to the entrance door of the house, our host scurried off to the downstairs area.  Greg and I stood there in the hallway, stunned, greatly relieved, and just really amused by the entire situation.  By now it was about five pm.  We decided to retire to our rooms and get showers and take a nap before dinner at eight o’clock.

The bathroom was arguably the best one we had encountered on the entire trip with the possible exception of the Hotel Carris Alphonso IX in Sarria.  I turned the towel warmer on, washed my sole-surviving handkerchief and hung it up to dry.  After the blister bandage removal ritual I had come to know and love (ha!), I stepped into a hot and soothing shower, dried off, and put on some clean clothes.  As I am sure Greg was also, I was enjoying my own private room and stretched out on one of the two queen-sized beds.  Before long, I had fallen asleep.  At 6:30, I woke up and ventured out into the upper reaches of the guest house.  In a stunning living room at the far end of the house, there were great clear views through wall-to-wall windows of the hills we had traversed all the way from Melide to this point.

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There was no available WiFi so I just snapped some pictures of this part of the house and returned to my room to get ready for dinner.  This involved most importantly, the bandage application ritual which would carry me through the evening and all the next day.  It occurred to me that this would probably be the last of these detailed procedures, and oddly enough that thought was met with mixed emotions.

At about 7:30, there was a knock at the door.  It was our host who let me know something about dinner amid some confusing gestures and then scurried off downstairs once again.  Before leaving, he tapped his wristwatch, muttered “ocho hora” once more, and I nodded as if I understood.  Gathering my rainproof jacket and a fleece top, I knocked on Greg’s door.  He was awake and fairly ready to go.  While he was finishing getting dressed, we joked about the bizarre happenings of the day and then headed downstairs.  At the desk we found our passports in a neat pile, but no sign of our host anywhere.  I also found a stamp and an ink pad at the desk and stamped both our pilgrim credencials (passports) with the Casa da Agua sello (stamp).  By now it was clear that we were the only people in the guest house!  We decided to scout around and see more of the place and were able to determine that there were two wings in the upstairs living area that had about eight rooms each.  Downstairs there was a large dining room that would probably seat 50 people if it was packed full.  Nothing was set out for dinner, and there was no sign or smell of anything happening.  Back near the desk area we found a formal guest book that had been signed by people from all parts of the world.  Some of the comments that we could read also referred to the fact that they also were the only people in the house at the time.  Greg and I pondered this from an economic viewpoint and resigned ourselves to the fact that it, as well as many other things we had experienced in Spain, made no sense at all — at least to our rather narrow American sensitivities.  At the other side of the room that contained the desk was a large walk-in fireplace that showed no signs of any recent fire as well as a huge cooking grill in the center of the room with a big vent above it.  It, too, appeared to have not been used for quite some time.  Greg wanted to check the entrance area at the back of the house where we came in earlier to see if there was a soda machine.  We stepped outside and found nothing of the sort.  Back inside, we noticed that it was eerily quiet and I felt as if we had stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone or, more appropriately, a chapter in a Bram Stoker novel.

Suddenly, Greg looked over my shoulder out the window towards the road we had come in on and asked me, “Hey, Don, what kind of car was that guy driving when he brought us here?”

“It was a little white sedan”

“Well there is a little black sedan just pulling up out by the road.  Our guy is talking to the driver.  And now it looks as if he is motioning us to come up there.”  We stepped out the back entrance door and made our way around the side and up the path to the waiting car.  Our host opened the passenger side doors for us and we got in.  “Por la cena?” in my broken Spanish.  “Si, senor”

We sat there for a couple of minutes while our host talked with the driver about some other subject entirely.  They both laughed and finally our host stepped back and the driver put the car in gear and sped off.  “I take you to dinner, amigos,” he said.  “Bueno!” I replied, then looked back at Greg who was giving the thumbs up sign.  Things were beginning to make sense.  Since we were the only people staying at the guest house, there was obviously another place we were to go to eat.  This was not unusual for us since there had been several hotels along the way at which we had stayed that did not serve dinner.  We were then directed to restaurants nearby that were often really good options where the food was delicious.  But, being out in the middle of nowhere, our host had arranged for someone to come and take us to a restaurant somewhere.  That was probably what he was explaining to me earlier that I was unable to understand.  The driver was pleasant enough, and his English turned out to be better than our host.  He, too, seemed to enjoy pointing out various historical buildings and spinning some stories about them.  I was able to catch most of it.  The drive to the restaurant lasted about 10 minutes and we arrived at the Hotel Bello in the little town of Santiso.

The driver led us inside to the bar area of the restaurant and gave some instructions to the bartender who appeared to be quite deferential to the driver.  Then the driver looked at me and said that he would be back when we had finished so as to drive us back to the guest house.  It was then that we noticed that there was one other guest in the Hotel Bello.  It was Richard, whom Greg and I had referred to as Gandhi, because he bore a striking resemblance to the great Indian leader.  We opted on the side of being cordial and said hello.  The bartender turned out to be the waiter in the restaurant also and showed us to a table.  Moments later Gandhi walked up to our table and asked if he could join us for dinner.  We both sensed that it would be rude to refuse since there was absolutely no one else in the restaurant and we asked the waiter if we could move to a larger table.

To our surprise, Richard then told us that a lot of people called him Gandhi Ji because of the unmistakable resemblance.  Greg and I both chuckled to ourselves on this one.  As it turned out, Richard proved to be a delightful dinner companion.  He was from Sydney, Australia and had been a CFO for an international corporation with clients all over the world.  Now retired, he was on the payroll of several international clients that he had worked with throughout his career.  He would travel on assignment for two to three months out of the year and spend the rest of the time going on adventures such as the Camino de Santiago.  In fact, two of his corporate clients from the Middle East had flown their private plane to Santiago and rented a car to drive to Portomarin to join Richard for his birthday.  Richard showed us the watch they had given him that evening.  He went on to tell us that he was married and showed us pictures of his wife back in Sydney.  Apparently, he had booked this room in the Bello Hotel and taken a cab from Santa Irene.  At one point he went up to his room and returned with some cold medicine that he gave to me for symptoms that I was having.

Our dinner was indeed delicious.  Richard and Greg had pulpo (with the tentacles) and I had a steak that was wonderful, along with some red potatoes in a really good sauce.  We all shared a bottle of vino tinto and after some fruit and flan for dessert we said good evening.  Our driver was waiting for us in the bar and showed us outside to the car for the trip home to the Casa da Agua.  It turned out that the driver was the owner of the Hotel Bello and he and our Casa host were good friends.  We let ourselves in with the key our host had give me and hit the sack for a well-deserved sleep.

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