After several hours walking in the baking heat I finally arrived at the old Roman mine shaft of ´Montefurado where I rested for a while next to the beautiful green river watching numerous small lizards dart in and out of the rocks as several large birds of prey flew round in circles above me.
I was tremendously thirsty so I reached into my backpack for my water canteen only to find it was not there. What must I have done with it I wondered?
Instinctively I glanced down at my watch and a little voice whispered in my ear the famous saying.
‘Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’
But did that apply to a fair skinned Irish man such as myself?
As I bathed my aching feet in the cool river my mind drifted back to the previous afternoon. Yet again I had been walking in the midday heat and yet again I had foolishly ran out of water when an old man appeared and ushered me into his charming roadside bodega.
It had been a funny afternoon, Manolo could speak no English and I hardly any Spanish, let alone Gallego, but we managed to get on well, probably due to his homemade wine and liquors, and a small bottle of Irish whiskey I had in my supplies which Manolo thought was wonderful.
Suddenly footsteps fell on stones close by and I realised I was not alone, and as I squinted my eyes, there before me stood two female pilgrims waving what looked very much like my missing water container.
“This is yours?” asked the taller lady
“Yes, I think so”
“You are English”
“Not quite I´m Irish” I replied.
“Where did you find it” I asked.
“The old man back there,” said the smaller lady handing it back to me.
“The luck of the Irish” I announced before taking a long hard swig, but instead of the refreshing water I had imagined my, throat was filled with fire and my eyes with tears.
“What in heaven´s name” I gasped, choking and spluttering as the smaller lady took the bottle from my quivering hands and sniffed.
“Aguardienthe” she announced with a huge grin.
“Agua de what?”
“Fire water” they laughed as tears fell down their faces.
“Here” demanded the tall lady, handing me a plastic bottle of what I hoped would be water as the good lord intended.
“Buen Camino” they smiled and I watched them head off through the shimmering heat giggling like naughty school girls.
Feeling suitably refreshed I continued on my travels through the peaceful valley, and at almost every village I came to people were smiling, and laughing, “El Irlandes de Aguardienthe, Buen Camino” they grinned.
It seemed I had somehow become quite a celebrity.
Finally I arrived at the beautiful riverside town of Quiroga where I found a lovely bed and breakfast and slept like a log.
The next day I was up early and after a hearty breakfast including several strong coffees, I strode happily into the picturesque mountains and like St Paul´s epiphany on the road to Damascus I knew deep in my heart that taking the winter route of the Camino had been the best choice whatever season you choose to walk it.
As evening came so did the impressive tower of Monforte de Lemos on the horizon and my pace quickened as I was eager to find myself a bed for the night. In the middle of the town I noticed two very beautiful ladies waving at me from the terrace of an interesting looking restaurant.
At first I thought they were shouting at someone else until I heard that all familiar word “Aguardienthe” and they beckoned me to join them.
For a while we sat chatting and of course laughing again about the now famous ‘Aguardienthe incident’ and as more wine’s and tapas were ordered the ladies introduced themselves as Lucia and Isabella who were both nurses from Vigo, and like me they had been on the French route but had taken the winter route of the camino to find some peace and quiet.
A choice to which we raised our glasses “El Camino Invierno”
“Tonight you must dine with us, we invite you” they said in agreement so I quickly booked myself into a small hotel close by, took a nice shower and returned to my charming companions.
The food was truly gorgeous and the ladies were insistent I should try as many Galician delights as well as a variety of superb wines.
Then as the night drew to a close our conversation veered onto Romans and Celts, and witches, wolves and bandits of days not, and last but not least of a mysterious Roman labyrinth in the grounds of an old church close to Chantada. I was intrigued.
“We have a surprise for you” they told me, with dark eyes full of mischief, as the waiter appeared carrying an old earthen ware bowl full of what appeared to be water, lemon peel, coffee beans with twelve heavy mugs hanging round the edge with a huge ladle in the middle.
At first I wondered if it was somebody’s birthday.
Suddenly the lights went out and the whole restaurant let out a cheer. Then with the flash of a lighter the liquid in the bowl turned into a fiery blue which Isabella began to stir, then lifting the ladle full of the fiery liquid and pouring the flames back into the bowl. In all my days I had never seen such a beautiful sight.
Then from all around me an incantation was read, many of the diners, reading from their mobiles as Lucia read out an English translation especially for me.
´Owls, barn owls, toads and witches, demons, goblins and devils, the evil eye of black witchcraft, scent of the dead, thunder and lightning.
Howl of the dog and the omen of death, Hear! Hear the roars
of those that cannot stop burning in the firewater´
‘Burning in the firewater’ I knew all about that I thought to myself.
“What is this?” I whispered
“Conxuro da Quemada, a spell to keep the witches away” she winked.
After a while the flames grew less and less until finally they were no more.
Then the lights came back on with yet another joyful cheer and everybody in the restaurant had a taste.
Now instead of the firewater the liquor had a lovely sweet taste that warmed me from within.
“Now you are safe from harm” smiled Lucia putting her hand on mine.
Enjoy Eddie’s musings? Check out his book Camino Sinners.
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