Not many wild animals left in old Europe. Thousands of years sodomizing nature, left us with almost no other “wildlife nuisance” larger than a mosquito bite. When talking to Americans, they’re still surprised when they realize we’ve killed everything that could become a threat to human greed or our serenity. Only a handful of places still have big carnivores like wolves or bears on the whole of Western Europe.
Galicia is one of these places and wolves live not too far away from the big populated nucleus. Wolves occupy aproximately 26,500 km2 of Galician land, i.e, 90% of the region. In 2017 about 90 breeding packs were recorded, which means about 1000 wolves in early spring.
WOLF POPULATION BY COUNTRY
A long time has passed since 1974, when a lone wolf in the village of San Cibrao, in Ourense, killed an 11 months old boy, a 3 year old girl and left another child severely injured in 3 separate incidents in the same week. The tragedy provoked a collective psicosis ending in the slaughter of hundreds of wolves. Massive poisonings with strychnine, traps and shootings put the wolf on the path to extinction. Only years after the wolf was declared a protected species and banned its kill. Since then the population has totally recovered and no other human attacks have been recorded. As scary as fascinating, the wolf has always been El Solitario’s spiritual animal but still up to date we have never encountered one face to face. But that day will come I have no doubt. What will happen then, only time will tell but surely we won’t forget.
The more we dip in the inner Sierras of Galicia, the closer we feel the presence of the wolf. It grows stronger, reaching the point where you can almost hear it, smell it. This weekend Marcos said we should ride back to A Serra do Suido and look for o Foxo do Lobo. The biggest wolf trapping pit ever made in history. We had already tried last Summer but couldn’t find it although were pretty close. Friday night we prepped the bikes and got some provisions to spend a long weekend off the grid.
When we ride “plastic”, we are invariably trying to avoid paved roads at all costs, and this isn’t always easy when you don’t know your way and half of the times leads you into undesired destines, ending up navigating in circles. To avoid this, the best solution, before using the boring GPS, is to ride high to the top of the mountains and once there figure out which way to attack the next track. Following Marcos is always fun and enriching. This weekend we had Manu on the tail closing the group.
Spring is always the best time of the year to ride. Temperatures are milder and the colors and the weather are exploding! Dust is minimum, animal activity is frenzy and textures are exhilarating. You may find rocks, dirt, water and mud in just half a mile, making the ride the adventure of your life, every second all day long. 4 hours after we had left the comforts of our garage, we were already entering wolf country. The first sign of the wolf’s supremacy was a dead horse’s carcass half eaten on the side of the path. The mere sighting of this scene kickstarted the butterflies in my stomach. This time we wouldn’t fail. We would get a glimpse of our revered beast.
O FOXO DO LOBO
More precise this time, it wasn’t long after that we encountered o Foxo do Lobo. Nowadays, it is the son of man who represents a real danger to the existence of the wolf, but surely it wasn’t always like this. Historically the wolf was man’s nemesis. Since the appearance of man in these mountains, until very recently, the wolf roamed free across this territory killing and feasting over man’s cattle and every now and then even killing some of man’s siblings. The pressure imposed must have been so brute on the man by the canis lupus, that in medieval times, organized men arranged the building of these foxos de lobos, (wolf pits), throughout Galicia, being the biggest one o Foxo do Lobo do Campo.
This foxo is a V-shaped stone built enclosure, that uses the slope of the terrain as a funneling tool, making impossible for the wolf to escape with its high walls, once it had entered. The whole building was designed to push the wolf to the circular vertex (5 meter diameter and 2.5 meter deep), to meet its destiny. When the wolf had fallen into the pit was killed, either bled to death by sharpened sticks pointed upwards placed at the bottom of the pit, or dispatched by hunters waiting nearby. Locals would regularly organize “batidas” on the way to the mountains, equipped with objects that caused loud noises frightening the wolf and thus leading them into the “V” trap. There are documents that talk about the existence of this foxo from as early as the year 1650 although it is known to be older than that.
The magnitude of this death trap is so breathtaking that we spent the next 2 hours wandering around the foxo, trying to feel and understand what it must have taken to be the haunted wolves or the bloodthirsty locals trying to win the battle against their most feared enemy. In todays ubiquitous and overcrowded world, we couldn’t but feel blessed to be able to contemplate such an incredible ancient edifice all alone and from the seats of our bikes. The thought of how many laws we should be already breaking, and yet, had not done anything wrong or destroyed any property of the land made me a little bit sad. It probably won’t be long until they will fence this magnificent construction and build an asphalt road to “facilitate” the monument’s conservation and push the “local economies”… !@#$% Only outlaws will be free… I know.
As the sun was coming down we realized it was time to go. We needed to find a good spot to set our camp. With Marcos at the helm we set off. We knew what we were looking for. Small creeks are the best place to set your camp. Follow their trail until you find some Oak trees growing on their beds. Protected under the Oak trees nothing can go wrong. There is no better place in life! Around the fire, chicken soup and a bottle of scotch was the best end to a perfect day with friends.
We hadn’t seen the evasive wolf, once again, but definitely got closer than ever to their struggle and the millennial enmity with man. Sleeping in their domains, surely, closely watched by them, with an axe under my sleeping bag was already quite intense.
Special thanks to REKLUSE, Pivot Pegz, YOSHIMURA, Barkbusters, Baja Designs, Kriega, Dunlop, Alpinestars, SHOEI & The Dyneema Project for keeping us safe and fast and for their endless support
Wonderful article and makes me yearn for the wilderness and escape the confines of a dark edit suite
viva los lobos
Excellent photos and commentary
The ‘ asphalt road ‘ comment at the end . Edward Abbey said it best when he coined the term ‘ The Industrialization of Heritage & Wilderness ‘ in his book ” Desert Solitaire ”
PS; re; Outlaws ;
A) Remember all outlaws are not criminals
B ) watched Joss Whedon’s ” Firefly ” TV series and the followup film ” Serenity ” yet ?
Hayduke lives ! 😎
By the way .. your map is somewhat incorrect in regards to wolf populations across the US and CDN . Though pure bred wolves are scarce … the new CoyWolf ( coyote / wolf hybrid )breed is proliferating across the US and CDN from both coasts all the way down to the Mexican border .
So what does one of these magnificent new CoyWolves look like ? Imagine a wolf sized coyote with the broader shoulders and muzzle of a wolf blending the colors of both breeds with all the intelligence and conniving of a wolf and coyote combined .. along with the assimilation and comfort coyotes have with humans … e.g. they aint the least bit afraid of you and exist right in your own backyard !
I’ve had the pleasure of making their acquaintance on more than a few occasions ( both in the wild and in the ‘ burbs ‘ ) and let me tell you … the first time is a bit disconcerting .. coming face to face with all the power of a wolf … and the complete lack of fear of a coyote .
Excellent and very interesting. Miss my place in Galicia so much more. Still just need a bike in my garage there.
I love wolves, and bikes. But the two don’t mix too well. Bikes are noisy and wild animals too wary. Find a good tracker and go on foot, quietly. Leave bait in places where there’s evidence of wolves, watch and wait.
Like hunters, but without the guns.