Camino de Santiago (Santiago de Compostela)

I decided today was interesting enough to write a little. 

We stayed up later than we have all Camino last night, so it’s no surprise we all slept in until at least 7:00 (some of us—Andy—slept until 8:00. After leaving the apartment, we got some breakfast at a small cafe and began exploring Fisterra a little. We quickly ran into Nina, Maura, and Maura’s boyfriend Dustin (who has been with them for a while now) at another cafe, before we took a walk down to the water. The tide was low, so there were many exposed rocks. We took a moment to touch the water. (It’s cold.)

Then we walked along a pathway beside the water and discovered another beach, much nicer looking than the first but harder to access at high tide. Fortunately, we were able to get down to the sand, leaving our backpacks and shoes on the rocks, and stand in the ocean. It was freezing—or at least really uncomfortably cold. 

None of us felt like spending a lot more time in town, so we caught the bus back to Santiago. It took a longer route than the one out, but that meant we got to see a lot of pretty coastline. Back in Santiago, we checked into our hotel (amazing! Such a nice place!), took our backpacks off for the last time until we fly home, and set out to find lunch. We found Carly and Carolyn from Centerville and Dianne from Perth while we hunted. I still love running into people we’ve met along the Camino. 

After lunch, we went back to the hotel for showers (towels big enough to wrap around you! Free soap and shampoo!) and to just rest for a bit. We stayed inside lazing until dinner, when we ventured out for sandwiches and hamburgers. Then we wandered the streets a bit, catching two traveling groups of musicians playing bagpipes (and other instruments). As Andy put it, it was “the least annoying bagpipe music I’ve ever heard.”

The Spanish evening was just getting started at 9:30 with street entertainers and preparations for a concert of some sort, but we’re still acclimated to the pilgrim schedule, so it was back to the hotel for us. 

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Camino de Santiago (Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela)

We made it!

We left our albergue at the usual time, which meant we were close to the last group out. The walk itself was rainy but pretty until Monte de Gozo, where you can see down to the city of Santiago. After we walked to the pilgrim monument to look out at the spires of the Cathedral, we followed the road down into the suburbs of Santiago. 

I remember the suburbs dragging on forever 5 years ago, but even with a stop at the bus station to get our tickets to Fisterra, we reached the cathedral pretty quickly. It was unexpectedly emotional to arrive, and it still doesn’t seem real that we finished. 

We took a picture in front of the cathedral, despite the blue scaffolding all over the facade. Then we moved to the wall to touch it with our hands and feet—Woodruff tradition states you haven’t completed a journey unless you touch the ending point. 

After taking a moment to let it sink in that we’d arrived, that after 38 days we had finished, we left the plaza and the cathedral to find the Compostela office. We joined the line to get our certificates, and about 5 minutes later huge numbers of people showed up—mass had ended at the cathedral. Eventually we got our Compostelas (they’re in Latin), we rested a little, then we went to find lunch. 

 As we searched for lunch (and even before leaving the Compostela office) we ran into several people we knew: Robert from Belgium, Nathan and Ruby from the United States, Edith from Austria, and then Nina, Sandra, and Maura. We chose a restaurant near the office and had a pilgrim meal, finally eating more like Spaniards with a big meal around 2:00. 

After lunch we walked around the outside of the cathedral before settling in my favorite little plaza in Santiago, Plaza de Fonseca, just south of the cathedral. Five years ago, I spent much of my time reading in this plaza, and today I did the same. We began by sitting in the sun, but eventually the group occupying one of the two shaded benches left and we moved. While we sat there, a flamenco performance started on the nearby street, lasted for maybe four songs, then disappeared. I remember things like this happening when I was here before. The city always surprised me with small shows of culture like that. 

Shortly after 5:00, we put on our shoes, picked up our bags, and walked back to the bus station, stopping on the way to get some meat and cheese from the grocery store for tonight’s dinner. There were two buses to Fisterra at 6:15, so we had to ask to make sure we got on the direct one, which was scheduled to arrive at 7:40, not the other bus which wouldn’t arrive until after 9:00. 

We had a small hiccup with our hotel reservation when we arrived in Fisterra—apparently there was a problem with the credit card and they’d canceled the reservation. Of course, they’d sent me an email about it, 3 hours before canceling, when we had no wifi and couldn’t have possibly known. Fortunately the woman at reception called a man who rents out rooms in an apartment nearby, so for less than the hotel cost we have two rooms and a bath (shared with a couple in a third room). It’s not what we’d planned, but it works. 

We had only two hours until sunset, so we dropped our stuff and set out quickly for the walk to the lighthouse. At the point, we walked past the lighthouse to the rocks at the end then admired the peace pole. We returned to the road and headed for the picnic tables for dinner.  

We had no cups so we swigged our wine from the bottle while we ate our meat and cheese. We stopped most of the way through dinner to watch the sunset, then walked the 2.2 kilometers back to town in the waning light to our original hotel where we shamelessly used the wifi to check email and update blogs. 

I may or may not post regular updates for the next few days, depending on what we do in Santiago. 

A small reflection about today

Today would have been Grandad’s 100th birthday. Finishing our Camino today feels like a fitting tribute to a man who was a dedicated walker well into his 90s. Watching the sunset over the Altantic also seems appropriate, given how often we joined him and Grandma in watching it in Ocean City. We toasted him with wine as we enjoyed sunset (only because we couldn’t figure out how to keep the more appropriate toast—ice cream—cold for the hike up). It seems that whether or not we realized it at the start, this Camino was for him. 

Camino de Santiago (Arzúa to O Pedrouzo)

Tonight we’re in our last albergue. It’s hard to believe that after 37 albergues we’ll be in a hotel tomorrow night. 

This morning we left before dawn again, using a lamp to guide us. We were back at the start of a typical stage so there were a lot of people walking (and passing us). The morning was misty, and as the sun began to rise we were treated to a brief moment of pink fog. 

The day stayed cool, so we were glad to stop (at the second town, since the first was mobbed by everyone who passed us) for our Cola Cao and café con leche. Almost every bar and cafe we passed after that was full of pilgrims as we walked. We’ve been staying off the main stages for a while, so the crowds jarred us again. Fortunately we walked slowly enough to be left behind by most groups. As we walked, we admired all the beautiful flowers along the trail, both in gardens and wild.

When we arrived at our albergue, it was still a few minutes until opening time, but the hospitaleros were inside and opened the door for us. We got to choose our beds before registering! Our entire current Camino family is here: Sandra, Nina, Maura, and even Stephanie!

We got lunch at the grocery store a few doors down from the albergue and ate on the upstairs terrace. Then we spent several hours relaxing, reading and possibly dozing. Around 5:30 we set out to scope out dinner choices, finding a restaurant with a good number of options. At 7:00 we headed to dinner with Stephanie. 

Tomorrow we walk the final 20 kilometers to Santiago before catching the bus to Finisterre/Fisterra. It feels both like we’ve been walking forever, and that we just started. 

Camino de Santiago (Melide to Arzúa)

Despite today being a short day, I still got to have new experiences!

We got up later than usual since we weren’t in any rush, so there was actually some light outside when we left the albergue after breakfast. The morning was cold and we were all grateful for long sleeves.

We walked with Sandra all of today, and at one point I entertained us both with my shirt shenanigans. I’d taken off my long sleeved shirt after a hill, only to decide later I still wanted it. I managed to put it back on the under my short sleeves shirt, while walking and wearing my backpack. I felt quite skilled. 

Like yesterday, we walked along hard dirt paths among trees, many of them eucalyptus. We quickly reached the first town and chose to keep going before taking a break, but not before stopping in the small church for a stamp, or sello, for our credenciales. At the second town, we sat down for some Cola Cao/café con leche and got some complimentary coffee cake. We lingered there for about half an hour, killing time to make our arrival in Arzúa a bit later. 

The walk into Arzúa took us through a small, picturesque village on a river before dumping us on the main road to walk through suburbs. Our albergue is in those suburbs, but despite our best efforts at wasting time we still arrived before it opened. The restaurant next door was open, however, so we sat down for lunch. 

We ordered some raciones to share, and two of them were things I had no intention of eating: pulpo (octopus) and pimientos de padrón (fried peppers, some potentially spicy). I got my usual croquetas, only to find out once they arrived that they were fish croquetas, not the usual ham or chicken! Fortunately, we also had some pork and bread so I didn’t go hungry. And I got very brave, and tried a pepper (okay, but still too pepper-flavored) and some pulpo (does not taste like seafood and wasn’t half bad—I ate a couple pieces!). I’m feeling very proud of myself right now. 

Our albergue was open after lunch so we checked into our room. We have a view of the countryside instead of the street and are in a room with 10 beds and a private bath. I have an upper bunk for the first time in weeks.

Once we all showered, I brought down our laundry for washing, and received gummy bears when I paid! Sometimes being the Spanish speaker in the family has its perks. Then I sat in the lobby/lounge area reading and watching well over a dozen people show up, and only three of them with backpacks. The pile of backpacks and full luggage that had been sent ahead slowly diminished as people checked in. It’s so strange to see so few people carrying their bags; before only a handful sent their bags, usually because of the weather or health issues. It seems to be the standard for many starting in Sarria to send suitcases ahead of them. I have to work hard not to judge them for having a completely different approach to the Camino than I have encountered before. 

Around 3:30 we decided to explore the town. While Andy and I waited for Dad outside, we saw Nina and Maura! They still had 4 kilometers to go, and were quite tired, but they’ll have a short day tomorrow to make up for it. 

There’s not a lot to see in the old areas of Arzúa—it lacks some of the old city charm of other places we’ve stayed—but we did find some potential dinner spots and a place that sells the local cheese. We chose not to get any since the plate they advertised would require us and all our closest friends to eat it. At the grocery store we bought breakfast, then came back to the albergue to bring in our laundry. 

Our dinner was typical fare for a pilgrim meal, although in ridiculous quantities. The best part about the restaurant, however, was the bathroom. They had spectacular stone sinks and…a toothbrush vending machine. For that last minute garlic breath, we assumed. 

Tomorrow we’ll get up early again as we have no reservation and places will fill up quickly. That means it must be time for bed now!

Camino de Santiago (Ventas de Narón to Melide)

It’s hard to believe we’ve only got three days of walking left! And every day still brings us something new. 

Today started chilly, but not so cold that we needed long sleeves. We walked the first hour or so in dim light, made more dim by the cloud cover. For the first time in days the waning moon wasn’t visible to accompany us. The clouds threatened rain, but didn’t deliver…yet.

The first few hours of walking brought us to Palas de Rei through mist and fog. We stopped there for a mid morning snack and saw Robert again! As we walked into town I remarked that I couldn’t remember where I’d stayed last time I was there, until we suddenly came to the end of a street and I recognized the albergue. It’s strange how well I remember some things and how little I remember others. 

As we left the city, we decided to get our rain coats and rain covers out; it was the right choice as it began to rain lightly but steadily. The path left the road to wander through trees, and as I turned down it I saw a woman with two horses—one of them a miniature horse! With her permission I petted them both. Eventually the rain tapered off enough that we removed our jackets. Naturally, it began to rain hard five minutes later. 

We pushed on through the cold rain until we came across a small bar for lunch. The rain stopped as we ate our hamburgers (Dad and Andy) and ham and cheese sandwich (me). But the clouds still loomed in the sky as we left, so we kept the rain coats on. Sure enough, we finished most of the rest of the walk in the rain. 

When we arrived in Melide, the rain slowed and stopped. We walked through most of the town on the way to our albergue, passing numerous pulperias (pulpo=octopus). Andy tried a sample one was handing out and liked it; I’m not that brave. 

Our albergue, Montoto, is new enough that it wasn’t in the guide book, but it’s fabulous.  We had real sheets for the bed, a towel, and a cookie waiting for us upon arrival. They also have a jacuzzi! The kitchen/living room area is big and open, and each bed has an outlet. 

After showering and refreshing ourselves, Andy and I sat down with the guide book to look at tomorrow, and discovered that, thanks to our albergue’s location in Melide, the 16 kilometer day we had planned will be closer to 14 kilometers. There aren’t really any good slightly longer options (unless we want to go 23+). So we’ll have a reward of an easy day!

Next, we set out to explore the town, finding the church and a variety of restaurants. We came across one whose menu offered pulpo, so decided to come back later for dinner. A quick stop at a grocery store and a fruit market got us breakfast for tomorrow, then we came back to the albergue to collect Sandra, who was also staying there. 

Contrary to their sign, the restaurant did not have pulpo, but what they did have was really generous quantities! We couldn’t finish any of the dishes, although we tried. After dinner I returned to the albergue to reserve tomorrow and the day after, and was halfway successful. Tomorrow’s accommodation is all set, but the first albergue we tried for Friday is already full and the second doesn’t take reservations. So we’ll aim for that and cross our fingers!

We’ll sleep in tomorrow since we have a short day, but I still have much to do before sleep, so I will end this here. 

Camino de Santiago (Ferreiros to Ventas de Narón)

Today was more difficult than it should have been, given that the distance wasn’t overly long and we should be stronger by this point. But hills are the bane of Dad and me. 

We started the morning in the dark and fog, searching for the 100 kilometer marker to show we’re making progress. We found two of them before the official one, so I guess it took us 10 minutes to make no progress! The paths were tree lined and hard packed dirt, leading to a pleasant walk. 

At the next albergue, we ran into Nina, Maura, and Sandra. We walked together for a bit and stopped for a photo op. They peeled off at the next cafe for breakfast so we walked on through alone. As the sun began to burn off the fog, we were treated to a great sight—a fog bow! 

We stopped for our usual café con leche/Cola Cao in Portomarín and ran into Robert, whom we first met in Roncesvalles! He moved on while we stopped, but we were all glad to see someone from the first day. After the flood of people yesterday (Sarria is the minimum distance from Santiago for people who want to get their Compostela by walking, so those with limited time off start there), today was quieter and much more what we were used to. 

After Portomarín, the day grew warmer and the shade decreased (although there was still enough to give us plenty of breaks). We stopped at the next town, about 8 kilometers after the city, for some pineapple juice, and the woman behind the bar also brought us some bread and sausage, so we had some energy to finish the day. 

Dad and I really struggled with the uphills the rest of the day. Somehow I expected them to get easier as we got stronger, but I think we’re also getting worn down by the sheer number of days of walking. Andy doesn’t seem to have this problem. 

We were all glad to see the albergue when we arrived. After checking in, we had some lunch (queso, croquetas, and empanadas), then showered and visited with Sandra, who ended up at the same albergue. We also booked an albergue for tomorrow, something we try not to do too often but that I felt was necessary given that tomorrow is a 25 kilometer day and how slowly we walk. 

Shorty before 7:00, we sat down to dinner with Sandra and another woman, Anja from Germany. The fare was pretty standard, but tasty. For dessert, I had chocolate pudding! Usually they only have vanilla on offer. When we paid for dinner we also brought some food for tomorrow’s breakfast. 

We’ll spend a little time relaxing before heading to bed to get plenty of rest for the long walk tomorrow. It should be cooler, but there is a slight chance of rain. Fingers crossed we don’t get wet!

Camino de Santiago (San Mamede do Camino to Ferreiros)

We had to work hard to maintain a good attitude today even though it was a shorter day. 

When we left this morning, there were a few other pilgrims passing us, but it was relatively quiet. That only lasted for the first 4 kilometers. As soon as we hit Sarria, we found ourselves in the midst of a flood of people. We passed a couple dozen on the outskirts, and over the next several hours found ourselves being passed by well over 100 people. They were loud and talkative (Andy pointed out that they hadn’t had a month to run out of things to say to each other) and jarring to us all after over a month of relative quiet. 

We were determined not to let seeing more people in a day than we had in a month (or so it seemed) disturb our Camino. Because we’re so slow, eventually we did get left behind and things quieted back down. It helped that we weren’t staying at the major stops. By the time we reached Ferreiros the flood had slowed to a minor river and at our albergue we were the first in the room. 

Before showering, we headed down to the bar for a small lunch. Andy and Dad split some pimientos de padrón, and all of us split an empanada gallega and some soft cheese from Arzúa. Andy and Dad both also had some Galician beer. It was all delicious! We came back to the room to find some more people had arrived, but the timing was right and the showers were all free. 

There was a lounge with tables and chairs in the albergue so we settled in to finish the game of canasta we started weeks ago. Needless to say, Andy won. Being the gracious loser that I am, I insisted we start another game. In between hands, we also dealt with our laundry. 

We quit the new game after a few hands to bring in the dry laundry and move out to the lawn chairs. I had to dance across the lawn from the clothesline because the pokey grass kept striking at my feet. Dad dragged the chairs into the shade and we all sat and tried to keep cool in the heat of the afternoon. I’ll be glad when this heat wave ends. 

Eventually our stomachs won out over our laziness and we headed down to the bar for dinner. We all showed great lack of creativity and ordered the exact same thing: pasta and beef. (We did get different desserts.) The bar also had some fruit and granola bars for sale, so we got breakfast as well since they don’t open until 7:00. 

Tomorrow we have a longer walk, but we’re still not ending at a major stop so the albergue shouldn’t be full when we get there. Unfortunately that is a concern for these last few days as hundreds of new pilgrims are joining us on the Camino.