Five weeks of sunshine has made for easy walking, and tinder dry conditions. Yesterday, despite the beautiful blue skies, in the middle distance I watched towering clouds of smoke as I walked and I tried not to worry. Reason being the thing to resort to in such situations, I noticed the wind was blowing the fire and the smoke away from us. I hoped those closer to the fire were okay.
Last night, at dinner, a chance glance out the window by people along the table alerted us to a fire – a flaming string of red in a nearby field. Initially, it was difficult to believe it was a threat.
While the owner of the albergue called the fire brigade we wondered how long it might take for them to arrive. Eventually, a Spanish speaking walker told us the fire-fighters wouldn’t be coming. They were off fighting bigger fires. The locals had been told to sort it themselves. And the farmers of Fonfria did sort it – the fire was out within the hour.
But what an exercise in trust it was to take myself off to bed. The wind was rising. Embers! Flare- ups! Who would be on fire-watch for the night?
Well, the villagers of course, and me. As the night wound on and on, the wind howled, and I sniffed. At first my sniff test was reassuring. But by 4 or 5 I could smell smoke.
I couldn’t see fires around us. But Google told me then it was a bad night in Galicia and Portugal. People had died, some fires were under control, but thirty or more in Galicia were not.
By 6:30 we’d been told not to walk, to wait until the situation became clearer. There was at least one fire between us and the next main town, Triacastela. At around 8:30 the all-clear came. All clear meaning, no direct threat from fire – not clean air. Some began walking, others, us included, decided to wait.
At 9:15 we could make out the ridge line and we set off.
It was a quiet walk. Most who decided to walk were ahead of us. There wasn’t a lot to say. I took comfort from the cows still in the fields.
The thing is with walking in smokey conditions, that which is only mildly annoying to start with becomes significantly irritating as time goes on. I wasn’t feeling very happy when we approached Triacastela.
I’d spent the two hours of walking time trying to identify what my bottom line would be. Turns out, I knew it when I saw it:
Yup: flames! They’re difficult to see in this photo but they are there, all right! The fact they were on the other side of the river was no consolation. That river needed to be as wide as the Amazon at its mouth – it’s not.
The air at Triacastela was acrid, the smoke thick. My throat and chest felt as if I’d chain smoked a packet of cigarettes.
Over a cafe con leche and tostadas y tomate, we considered our options.
Actually, I faced up to letting go of that goal I talked about yesterday: to walk into Santiago de Compostella, my pack on my back, knowing I’d taken each and every step along the way under my own steam.
It took an hour to make the call. Others have continued walking.
We took a taxi for the last ten kilometres to Samos. During the fifteen minute drive we passed three live fires.
The air in Samos is relatively clear. I can’t smell the smoke, or taste it on my tongue. Everyone is continuing their day to day routine.
But at 3:00 pm it was like night.
If I’d been walking in that, I’d have been, well, freaked!
John and I went for a wander around town, and within a few minutes the light had returned – sort of.
It’s 5pm now and it’s light outside, with a strange yellow tinge. I think the strange light is likely caused by thickening cloud trapping the smoke, or causing some sort of inversion layer.
Ex-cyclone Ophelia, the storm bearing down on Ireland, has caused the winds which have contributed to the problem here in Galicia, and in Portugal. It’s expected she’ll also bring rain.
We’re planning to spend two nights in Samos which, depending on the fires and the forecast rain, we might make three.
I’ve been watching the news as I’ve written this. They’re talking arson.