A walk under the Rio Miño

My good friend Felicia, is a woman in a million. She comes up with some excellent ideas for days out, but this was so good that we did it twice (sort of).
I think there was an item on tv Galicia, which highlights various fiesta, activities and oddities.
This week on a lunchtime news roundup, the news items were delightfully varied.
A farmer had discovered an annual oddity – the giant puffball. These fungi, whilst being fairly common in the UK, are so rare in Galicia that they make the news. This one was six kilos and still growing. I just hope that the farmer realises that it’s good to eat.
Actually, better than that, I hope it matures and releases spores and that I find one next year.
Next, there was an item about the Escairón donkey race. This is an annual and longstanding competition. The donkeys race around the old football field, the perimeter of which is about 300 metres.
Now, most people think ‘donkeys’ and see in their minds’ eye, a small creature with a shaggy coat and a mind of its own.
These particular donkeys are huge. They are the size of horses and in general grey, or white with grey dapples.
The winner, called Manolo was groomed so well, that he resembled a thoroughbred racehorse. I have never seen a donkey trimmed so well that his muscles ripple beneath his gleaming coat.
The favourite, ‘Ferrari’ didn’t win.
‘Manolo’ wasn’t even local. Oh no. He came all the way from Asturias. Even ‘Ferrari’ isn’t local – he’s from Ferrol. This is an important event.

The week before the race, there was an item about the Miño and just how low the water levels have dropped to.
The Rio Miño to the north, at Rabade and then Lugo, looks like it usually does. Something odd happens inbetween Lugo and Portomarin, which is a town on the Camino de Santiago. By the time the Miño reaches Portomarin, there is a severe deficiency of water.
We drove out to Currelos, to our north and then down to an iron bridge that crosses the Miño and provides a helpful route to Taboada.
When we first visited Galicia, we drove out to this bridge one day and looked down at the water, some 10 metres below the bridge.
‘I wonder how deep the water is?’ my husband mused. ‘Ten, twenty metres?
¡Carallo!
We saw the Miño as it had been viewed for thousands of years. Well not quite – it was still 20 or 30 metres higher than it was originally.
The depth of the Miño canyon is approximately 200 metres. When the river is full, it must be 150 metres deep. We had no idea that the dam at Pesqueiras (Embalsar de Belasar) had affected the Miño valley so greatly.
We were about to do something that happens rarely now. We drove down the old ‘new’ road that would be far underwater normally.
At some time in the 1940s or even 1950s, the government had decided to build a dam. To get people there to build this dam, they built a new road, which connected Taboada with Pesqueiras. Twenty years later, it gradually disappeared under the water.
The Xunta even built a concrete bridge over the river, which some of us, the Preguiceira Club, were going to walk across.
The first thing that you notice is that the sunken road is covered with a good three or more inches of dried mud.
After a few minutes, we were covered in Miño mud; it flew up under our feet, covering our feet and legs with brown dust. We tasted the Miño (not particularly pleasant) and noticed that the old houses were also the same colour.
The Miño was (and is) covered in terraces of vines. As the drowned valley didn’t have a strong current, the terraces were intact. The old stumps of the vines remained, but alas, there was no magical resurrection of the drowned grape vines, but one can hope.
We drove on and stopped at a picturesque bend on the road and below; we could see the ruins of what had been a fairly prosperous village.
There had been a chapel, a rectory, a mill and several houses. There were once pastures, with chestnut trees, and all had been drowned. The skeletons of the chestnut groves remained, which struck me as being rather sad. A community had lived there and now fifty years later, their old homes were just memories.
Was the damming of the Miño a good thing?
As one of my neighbours’ explained, that to most people, this ‘new’ road, brought them something that they had experience very rarely – cash in hand.
Life before the dam had been subsistence living. People weren’t rich, but they weren’t starving. They all had one or two cows, sheep, pigs and fields to grow wheat to make bread. Their children walked three or four kilometres – or more, to get to school. Life became difficult when something out of the ordinary happened – an accident, or a difficult labour. This meant a doctor. Doctors weren’t free.
For the first time, people had money in their hands to pay for a doctor – or to buy a ticket to Lugo to get work there, bringing more money into the community.
I think that for about twenty years, before the river rose and rose, the communities by the upper Miño, must have thought that the world was opening up to them.
In a way it was, but they lost so much. As with all huge changes, people forget in time. This summer, we were reminded of past lives.

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