Last day of the Camino and Santiago

I meant to write this two days ago when I had just completed my second Camino. But things always get crazy in Santiago. I say “always”, but really it was only my second time arriving there from a Camino. But I imagine the next time I go it’ll be the same too. 🙂

Anyway, the day we arrived there we had gotten up earlier than usual. We had a 24 km long walk into Santiago and wanted to try to get there before the pilgrim’s mass at noon. According to the official Camino sign posts, we were on target for getting there in time.

The countdown seemed right and seemed like we would actually get in a bit before the mass. All was good until I was expecting to see a Camino marker under 6km. They had been placed about every half kilometer and the closer we got, the distance between them was less. Instead of seeing one starting with a 5, we saw it jump up to 7. Talk about aggravating! We wondered if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on one of the variations, but we hadn’t. Anyway, we arrived in Santiago as the church bell was sounding off at noon. Since we couldn’t take our backpacks into the cathedral, Rachel and I grabbed all four bags and told Nina and Justine to head in. They only got to see the tail end of the mass and didn’t get to see the Botafumeiro. This only happens once a week, or if someone pays 400 euros for it to happen. Either way, seeing the mass at the end in the beautiful cathedral makes for a good end to your Camino whether you’re religious or not.

After we had all arrived we checked into our hotels and just enjoyed Santiago. It’s a pilgrim city and a tourist city. During the day the streets are packed with both. My favorite thing to see is the pilgrims just arriving…laying on the ground with friends new and old just soaking in the moment.

As my Camino family last time told me, the rooftop tour of the cathedral is amazing. Whether you’re a pilgrim or a tourist I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Santiago. Five of us went on the tour after a day of shopping and exploring.

After the tour it was our last dinner together. The goodbyes are hard, but as I had learned after my first Camino, you stay in touch. Also most of this family was people I already knew, so it’ll be even easier for me to stay in touch. 🙂

Day 9 – Caldas de Reis to Padrón

A member of my family told me I should try liquor 43 while I was in Spain. I hadn’t been able to find it until 8am this morning at our “first breakfast” stop. That was a bit too early to try it, considering we still had 16km to walk. Luckily the bar attached to the pension we are staying at tonight had it, so Maurice and I are blogging/journaling and trying liquor 43. It’s pretty tasty but would make better for a dessert drink.

I’m told John decided to walk despite his three broken ribs and broken toe. At least Rachel and Nina are with him in case he needs any help. We were all prepared for him to take a taxi today and meet us at the pension we booked. But leave it to the stubborn Irishman to sway from the plan. To be honest, this close to Santiago, I likely would have made the same decision. John does live in the part Ireland where my ancestors on my dad’s side come from, so maybe we are related. This would explain the common stubbornness.

Today started off with a misty morning. Luckily it only turned into a real rain one time during our walk. The moment I put my poncho on, it faded to a mist again. Though the mist can be annoying, it’s also a bit refreshing. You must walk on despite the weather, so you just have to decide to make the most of it. Justine and I definitely make the most of it.

Today went pretty quickly since it was only about 20km. It was nice running into our German friends Anna and Markus who we hadn’t seen in a couple days. Always good to see the smile on a familiar Camino face. It doesn’t matter if you only smiled at the person once before, that simple recognition of a face is enough to help a pilgrim light up. There are two women that we’ve never talked to but the smiles on their faces grow each time we run into them. I don’t think they speak English and I’m not sure where they are from, but that doesn’t matter. We are all pilgrims on this journey together.

About 2/3rds of the way into our walk today, Justine asked when the “big hill” was coming. I told her that according to the guidebook we were already on our way down from it. I think she and I both have hit the point of being in shape enough that hills aren’t something you dread anymore. This is good, because in a few days I’ll be climbing the highest “hill” in the United Kingdom (Ben Nevis).

While I’m partial to everyone in my Camino family, I must say that I’m so incredibly proud of my cousin Justine. She has been the ultimate trooper on this walk. It’s not easy to be a teenager walking with a group of adults but she has taken everything in stride. She’s pushed through blisters, long days, random types of shoes and rainy days and always manages a smile even if she’s feeling pain with every step. I’m so glad she choose to join me on this adventure. It’s been so much fun to get to know the young woman she has become. I’ll be so happy to walk into Santiago with her and the rest of our Camino family.

We are staying on the outskirts of Padrón on the Santiago side to help give us a slight advantage on our final walk tomorrow. I believe we are about 24km out from the cathedral in Santiago. As with the last time walking into Santiago, there are mixed emotions. My body feels like it could use a rest even though I wake up each morning ready for another day but I know the bottoms of my feet are longing for a day where I walk less that 13 miles.

Day 8 – Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

There are now three broken toes and three broken ribs among our Camino family. Maurice broke his toe four weeks before heading to Spain. Laurel broke her toe a week before and last night in a very unfortunate incident, John broke a toe and three ribs. He insisted on having a top bunk even though he was offered a bottom bunk. But as I know, us Irish are stubborn people. He missed a step while trying to climb into bed around midnight and I woke up to a very loud thud. We all feared the worst at first, not knowing if he hit his head or had some internal issues. After talking to him, we knew his side was sore and we suspected broken ribs.

Maurice offered to stay behind today to help him at the hospital where he learned the damage. Adding insult to injury and joining the common theme for our group he was told his toe was broken in addition to the ribs. In my mind, John is the fittest of the bunch despite having a few decades on me so to see him in pain is heartbreaking.

My goal for today was to find us a comfortable hotel so John could try to have a better night’s sleep tonight. I know, it’s stepping away from the pilgrim lifestyle, but it’s best we all take a night off bunk beds.

Justine and I started out of Pontevedra with beautiful views of the river. It was quiet, cool and peaceful.

We didn’t stop a lot today, but being a short day we didn’t really need to. We kept running into our German friend Carsten so it was nice to say hello to a familiar face.

There wasn’t anything amazing about today but I really enjoyed the countryside and the forest that was straight out of a fairy tale.

There was a geocaching power trail of about 50+ geocaches so occasionally I stopped to log some along the way. This made the day go quickly for me. The caches were placed specifically to be found on the Camino and most were fairly quick to find so it didn’t set us back time wise.

At the end of the day, Justine and I were ready to be at our destination. The rain started. The poncho came out. By the time we made it to town my feet were soaked and Justine’s crocs just weren’t doing the trick for walking in the rain. We were ready to get into somewhere dry and find food. It took some time for us to locate Maurice and John, but shortly after we did we had our hotel for the night.

I’m now sitting in the hotel restaurant watching Spain play against Russia in the World Cup with a room full of locals. Go Spain!!

Day 7 – Redondela to Pontevedra

Just watching my beloved Argentina lose to France in the World Cup. A few pilgrims, an Englishman and some Brazilians have been sitting here watching the game, but I’m the only one that was rooting for Argentina. Watching the World Cup in Europe is incredibly fun. So many different cultures coming together in bars around the cities to take in the world’s game. What could be better?

We ended up in this croquette restaurant because we ended up in the albergue next door. How did we end up there? We were walking door to door to hotels and hostels in the city because the only albergues we knew of were far outside the city center in a very boring part of town. As we were getting frustrated in our search a local man walked up to us to ask if we were trying to find an albergue/hostel. It turns out his parents just opened a place 15 days ago and it was only a couple blocks away. Brand new albergue? Why not…especially when you’re tired of walking.

Today was another blur of a day to be honest. It’s the first day that my mind was tired. My body feels fine, but mental exhaustion from the days of walking has caught up with me. Maybe it was the gray skies, the weird night of sleep where snorers, thunderstorms and high temperatures in the albergue kept waking me up. Or maybe walking roughly 175 km in six days just messes with your brain. Either way, I was tired.

It was beautiful scenery yet again today. We had two small mountains to climb today and the humid weather didn’t make it easy.

We got rained on a couple times but not enough to warrant getting my poncho out. Mostly it was pleasant for walking and taking in the countryside and Camino decorations along the way.

Again we walked on old Roman roads. Some that even showed grooves of wagon wheels. It’s neat knowing that the path you’re walking has been traveled on for centuries.

Pontevedra is a larger city and is several steps away from the typical pilgrim feel. It’s busy with locals and tourists instead of a small town overrun by pilgrims. You still see people you recognize walking the city streets, but not in the same way as the small villages where the only two restaurant choices are filled with pilgrims you’ve been seeing on The Way.

Tomorrow is another short day I believe. I’ve honestly only been looking at the guidebook the morning of. Hoping the threat of rain tomorrow holds off.

Day 6 – Tui to Redondela

This is pilgrim life. Right now, this feels like the best meal I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t even heat it up.

This is what you might see in an albergue after a 22 mile day. Not wanting to move but still you walk a mile more round trip for a cold thing of spaghetti that makes you so very happy.

Today we left the municipal albergue in Tui around 6:40am. Because we are now in Spain, we are an hour ahead of Portugal and that means it was nearly still dark as we left town. This meant we started bout last epically long day with a nice sunrise.

To be honest, that sunrise feels like two days ago now. I also can’t remember half of what I saw today…so I’m glad I took plenty of pictures. On the Camino, days just fuzz together sometimes. You get into a zone of get up, start walking, take breaks, complain about the pain, find an albergue, shower, find dinner and sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Today as it was starting to feel like we weren’t going to find one albergue to all stay together in, we finally found a parroquial albergue where we were greeted by a very sweet nun. She had beds, showers, laundry and WiFi for us. Everything a pilgrim could want. The only downside is our room is up two flights of stairs. Just what we needed after such a long day.

The scenery today was mostly beautiful. We opted for the longer scenic route which took us through a nice forest with streams and old Roman paths and bridges. We climbed a hill and and came down to an amazing viewpoint looking down on Redondela.

Our feet are too tired to do much exploring around Redondela this evening so cold beers and dinner will likely be it tonight. Earlier in the day we had grand ideas of going to the beach nearby and swimming. But at the end of the day Justine made the comment “Normally I love my crocs but today they feel like a feet prison.” If I had crocs, that’s how I’d feel.

Since I’m too tired to remember much of the day and I’m sitting and having a pint with John from Ireland, I’ll leave you with some photos…

Day 5 – Rubiães to Tui, Spain

My current view…

If you know your beers, you’ll recognize from the picture that I am now in Spain. I’m watching the end of the Colombia/Senegal game while rehydrating from the day. Today’s walk was only 12.6 miles but with other wandering around I’m now at 16 miles on my Fitbit. Even though the walk wasn’t strenuous, the sun made sure I did my fair share of sweating.

Justine, Maurice and I took off a bit earlier than the rest of the group today and made good time on our way to Valença, Portugal. This Roman times town has a fortress around the original city and overlooks the Minho River (the border with Spain). While exploring the fortress walls, I found a geocache that looks over the river to Tui, Spain. Our home for the evening.

Leaving the albergue this morning we were treated to the best morning view yet. It was a view that reminded me of many mornings on the Camino Frances.

The walk had some steep downhills through beautiful countryside early on and flattened out for the rest of the day. A few times we walked over old Roman bridges or roads. It’s impressive to see how they have lasted over time but definitely don’t make for the easiest walking on the Camino.

I was sad to leave Portugal today as it’s one of my favorite countries. I love the people, the scenery and the food so much. But at the same time I was looking forward to the familiarity of Spain. I get to say “Buen Camino” again!

So far Tui is an adorable city to explore. With a long day tomorrow I am afraid to walk around too much as I’d like to spare my feet a bit. But the area around our albergue is a busy and fun spot with lots of restaurants, hidden walkways and churches to explore. I’m also enjoying seeing all the familiar faces of pilgrims we’ve been meeting or passing on The Way.

Five more days to Santiago. I definitely don’t want it to be over that quickly. I’m just starting to feel comfortable in the pilgrim routine again.

Day 4 – Ponte de Lima to Rubiães

Can I just say yay for short days?! After three long days, having a 12+ mile day was so delightful. The scenery only made it better. Sure, there was a mountain to climb, but being in nature in the mountains was worth the work of the climb.

We started off later this morning because we knew we had a shorter walk. Unfortunately due to Laurel’s broken toe, we had to say our goodbyes to Laurel and Craig. Though it was a tough decision for her, it was the right one. Her toe wasn’t able to heal and so she wasn’t able to enjoy the walk. So the two of them opted to make the most of their vacation time doing something somewhere in Europe that doesn’t require use of ten working toes. We will miss them but I want them to enjoy their vacation time.

It was a beautiful day to walk the Camino. Warm and sunny but not uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean I didn’t sweat…cause I sweat a lot today while climbing the 405 meters. The climb was steep in parts, but I felt good. The view was definitely worth it.

Tonight we are staying in a small village. I’m not sure what the restaurant situation is in the area. But for now we are all enjoying beers, snacks and watching Germany and Korea play in the World Cup. With three Germans in our crowd, I’ll opt to root for Germany. 🙂

Knowing that a new geocaching promotion is starting today I was keeping an eye on geocaches to find along the way. There aren’t many in the area but I found one along the route and it looks like there’s another one in the village that I’ll try to look for after the game.

Tomorrow we will reach the border of Spain. Likely we will stay one more night in Portugal as we’ve heard the Portuguese side of the border is more interesting but then that sets us up for a long walk the next day.

Day 3 – Barcelinhos to Ponte de Lima

I have three blisters. Two years ago I walked for five weeks and only got one blister at the end. But today alone, I was gifted with three blisters. Also my legs and feet are dead tired. Fitbit currently has me at 24 miles for the day. And I may still walk to get dinner.

The savior after walking until my feet felt like they could fall off was that Laurel, Justine and Maurice had tracked down a great place for us to stay. The albergues in town were all full but they found a place that even though it feels plain, it’s like living in luxury. This is the view from the room Justine and I are staying in…

Today I woke up early after a surprisingly good night’s sleep on a bed that some rocks feel softer than. I felt motivated to get going. So I took off ahead of the group. I walked fast and took few breaks as I wanted to get to our destination as early as I could. The countryside was endless fields of corn and grape vines set alongside mountains full of eucalyptus trees.

I saw very few pilgrims throughout the day and even less cafes or bars along the way. Of the 21 mile walk, I only stopped twice for short breaks.

It was worth it to get to Ponte de Lima early as the town is the oldest villa in Portugal, has an amazing Roman bridge and is just a great place to explore.

Now I debate between going to dinner…more walking….or just going to bed.

Day 2 – Vila do Conde to Barcelinhos

My body feels like it could have kept walking after the 18 miles we walked today. My mind was done though. The midnight fireworks show with festival music and a hot hostel room last night didn’t provide a good night’s sleep. Between the one hour of sleep I got the night before we left Porto and the maybe 5 hours I got last night, my brain and my body are tired.

We left Vila do Conde around 7am in the mist, which was the perfect weather to walk in. The first third of today was pretty lackluster scenery wise. John asked me if we would ever get to some “Camino trails.” I knew what he meant by that. Yesterday we walked the coastal route which doesn’t have the Camino infrastructure or amount of pilgrims that you’re used to on the French Way. It’s a beautiful route but it doesn’t feel like you’re walking the Camino. The first third of today wasn’t that pretty and also didn’t have the feel of the Camino. It was just walking with the purpose to meet up with the central route. The moment we got to the central route it was the Camino that John and I are used to. This made me happy inside knowing that I’ve finally reached that familiar Way.

It’s the path that leads you past churches, through the cute villages, cafes that don’t seem like they charge you enough for your beer, soda, coffee or food, endless yellow arrows or shell symbols to signify the way. It was so great to be back in a place that fills my heart – between walking in beautiful countryside and saying Bom Caminho to other pilgrims.

Justine got to learn the reality of “the Camino provides” today. Her blisters from yesterday were killing her and her shoes weren’t helping them. She looked like she could barely go on. Our new friend Nina asked if she wanted to borrow her Crocs. This kind gesture was a life saver for her. Even though she was tired, the Crocs helped ease the pain of the blisters so she could go on. Since we’ve arrived in Barcelinhos, Laurel helped her acquire her own pair of Crocs. The Camino will provide what you need. You may not always know when or how, but it will.