Journey’s end

Arrival day in Santiago creates a special kind of energy that allows any pilgrim to walk those final kilometers without restraint. Today we were feeling that energy as we departed our pension just outside of Ponte Ulla. We had roughly 21.5 kms to go to reach Santiago. Today’s weather was a carbon copy of yesterday’s, chilly in the morning and much warmer later in the day. The morning mist clung to the hillsides filtering the daylight that struggled to both illuminate and warm us. We made our way into the nearby eucalyptus forest enjoying its fragrance and started climbing towards Santiago. The day passed by as we wandered through and then out of the forest and then down into the outer suburbs of Santiago. It was a vigorous walk. Robin and I typically don’t take many (if any) breaks once we start walking, but today at the 5 km to go mark we threw in the towel and stopped for a coffee break. 15 minutes later we were back on the trail and climbing again. We finally crossed under a freeway that we viewed earlier from a great distance. Progress was being made. We had been in the grind out the kilometers mode for awhile. This mode is perhaps best described as just walking until you bump into the cathedral. But, this afternoon, before we bumped into the cathedral, we saw it over some rooftops. We were definitely in the home stretch.

We love this city with all its myriad pilgrim activities, and moss covered stonework. We have made some great friends and have discovered new promising paths that have directed  our faith journey. All while we have enjoyed the bounty of this beautiful country and the spirit of hospitality that generally abounds. What’s not to like about that.

So we arrived in front of the cathedral, snapped a photo and headed off to the Pilgrim Office to sort out our paperwork and receive our Compostelas (certificate of completion). We then stepped across the office entryway and into the pilgrim chapel where Robin and I offered our prayerful thanks for arriving safely. Immediately after that we walked a few steps up the street to find a plate of pulpo and two very cold beers.

We then checked into the Parador (our usual post camino indulgence), dashed off to the laundromat, met some Portland friends for a drink, did some shopping, arranged a lunch with other friends for tomorrow, and confirmed a lunch date for Thursday with our friend Kathy from Portland, who is now living in Ourense. We will attend the Pilgrim mass at the cathedral tomorrow at noon, and make sure we give St. James a big hug. We have much to be thankful for. So with a busy day behind us and some enjoyably busy days ahead, I think it is time to sign off from Santiago and try to get some sleep.

Peace be with you.

Once before and now, again

Our plans for today shifted while we were walking to Silleda. The weather was perfect, we felt rested and so the question rose, shall we forget about Silleda and just carry on to Ponte Ulla? A quick back of the napkin calculation confirmed that if we could leave Bandeira by 12:00 we could reach Ponte Ulla by 3:00 and still make lunch before everything closes around 4:00 pm.

We had been walking for two hours when we found a bar that was open just outside of Silleda. We dropped in for a quick coffee and caught a taxi from there to Bandeira. That put us back on the camino, ready to walk, at 11:30. So it was that we found ourselves, now in shirtsleeves, bound for Ponte Ulla, 13 kms ahead, hoping to make lunch at the Restaurante Villa Verde, a restaurant with a great reputation, and us with growing appetites.

We had walked this stage before in December, 2015, when we were finishing the Via de la Plata,  and remembered it as particularly nice. Full disclosure, in 2015, Robin had some serious pain in her right heel due to a bone spur. So her rememberances of this stage were colored by that. But today all was bliss. Our bodies were mostly pain free, the weather was clear and quite warm (65-70F), and a great restaurant awaited us. All we had to do was get there. Up and down we went until we found ourselves crossing the bridge at Ponte Ulla at 2:20, and ordering a cold beer at the Restaurante Villa Verde at 2:30.

It was a perfect day by any measure. An additional plus was that we were now going to arrive in Santiago one day earlier. A quick call ahead assured us that a room was available for an extra night at the Parador. So no worries. We will get on the track in the morning and God willing we will arrive in Santiago by early afternoon. This has been a challenging camino in many regards, but it has also been a blessing. We have much to process in the day’s and weeks and perhaps even months ahead. So for now we will just focus on one more day’s walk and then we will see how this remarkable journey settles out. Peace to all from a very warm room near Ponte Ulla.

On the road again

Today was just a road walk to the surprisingly busy town of Lalín. There wasn’t any remarkable scenery or any noteworthy historical sights to see. It was just a day of walking to get us just that much closer to Santiago our ultimate destination. So after the usual Spanish breakfast of coffee and toast we said goodbye to our hosts in Rodeiro and made our way out of town and onto the road to Lalín. One nice bit of good fortune was a service road we found that paralleled the main road pretty much all the way to Lalín. This made today’s walk a lot safer, and certainly more enjoyable.

We arrived in the center of Lalín at 1:30, and it was jammed with people. It seemed as though half the town must have been out enjoying the warm sunny weather or perhaps a Sunday afternoon lunch with friends and family or both. It certainly had a festive feel to it. Robin and I were following map directions to a restaurant that specializes in Cocido (mentioned in yesterday’s post). We must have looked a bit lost because a nice local guy offered his help and got us back on course. A couple of minutes later we were being seated in the dining room of the Restaurante Mouliño. We had a wonderful lunch and then took a taxi to our hotel, which was located just on the outside of town in the direction we would be traveling tomorrow. So once again, our camino day is done. Tomorrow it looks as though our next stage to Silleda might also be on the road. Robin and I are working through the route information and will decide later as to what is the best way to proceed. However it works out, it is all good. More tomorrow from Silleda. Buenas tardes from Lalín.



Windmill ridge

Ian, our host at CR San Estevo, agreed to drive us to Chantada. We had spent some long hours last night, after dinner, discussing world affairs with a young Spanish couple (he from Bilbao and she from Madrid) and our hosts Irene and Ian. Of course nothing got solved but the orujo bottles did suffer a plunge. We got to bed sometime after 1:00 am and woke up at 5:00 ready to go. Irene was up and about at breakfast while Ian was a little slow to answer the bell, but to his credit he had us in the car at 8:30 as promised, and off we all went through the ever present Galician mist that draped the hillsides as we set out.

Ian dropped us in Chantada right on the camino route. It was a Saturday and he cautioned us that some of the coffee bars might not be open at 9:00. But, luck was with us and we found a nice bar that was open and stepped in. The bartender was a helpful guy and before we knew it we had two coffee con leches sitting in front of us while he called a taxi to shift us along to the tiny village of Penasillas from where would start our climb up to Monte de Faro the highest elevation for today. We started our climb from Penasillas at 9:30. Almost immediately we were going up. We reached the summit an hour and ten minutes later. There was light snow at the summit and patches of mist and low clouds below us. It was also quite cold. My backpack thermometer read 37 F and we were walking into a 15 mph headwind so it felt a bit colder than that. Down we went following along a ridge filled with windmills. Their blades slowly carved through the overcast creating an other worldly appearance as we walked close by them for over an hour. Anyhow we walked along trading solitude for the whine of wind turbines. All we could do was to try and make the best of it, while we continued our descent. So down we went bundled up with almost all we were carrying watching the thermometer slowly inch its way upward. At last we parted company with windmill ridge and settled down into the much warmer valley below. Off came all the arctic gear and off we went through the emerald green fields of Galicia. We found ourselves at the door of the Hostal O Guerra in Rodeiros, our home for the night, at 1:40 pm.

We went in and inquired about our room. It was not ready and lunch was about to begin so could we just wait a bit until the staff got the lunch service underway. We decided to take advantage of this delay and have some lunch ourselves. We ordered from the daily menu and lingered on over our lunch until about 3:00 pm. At this point a flood of locals streamed in and filled up the dining room, and interestingly enough they all ate the same thing, cocido. Cocido is a generally applied name for a stew of meat and vegetables. When it is served the meat and vegetables come to the table on separate platters. The meat is frequently those hard to define bits that started out somewhere on our in a pig’s head. Nonetheless, it makes for a wonderfully festive meal. Judging by the number of platters being shuffled amongst the tables, it was a big hit. The restaurant servers put some serious effort into making sure that everyone was well fed and having a great time. Another hour and a half later we finally were shown to our room. Free drinks had been poured to assuage the delay. Despite the delay, the room was perfect and spotless. Robin and I are now in the unwinding part of our camino day. Tomorrow we off to Lalín. Once in Lalín, it will be just three more nights until we arrive in Santiago. Sadly our time in Spain is drawing to an end. But, not just yet. More tomorrow….

A chilly day in the hills

Today our goal was to reach the Casa Rural San Estevo just outside the village of Diomondi, where a 12th century Romanesque church captivates visitors. We took a taxi to get out of Montforte and with fog and narrow roads it was a good choice. So with a few kilometers already under our belt, and knowing that our destination was 8 kms before Chantada, we set our speed to arrive in Diomondi around 2:00 pm where our hosts for tonight had previously agreed to pick us up.

It was a mixed bag kind of day weather wise. We started off in a cold fog but then it cleared and I almost considered peeling off my jacket. But, then the blue sky turned gray, the temperature dropped, and showers claimed our hillside. Out came our umbrellas and on went the waterproof gloves. Moments later the process reversed, and so it went. We walked always on paved, quiet, country lanes, following the signs to Diomondi. At one point we cleared a forested section and were rewarded with some spectacular views over the Minho valley beside us. We have left the Sil River valley and are now following the River Minho as we head northwest towards Santiago de Compostela. We arrived at the church at Diomondi at 2:00 and called for a lift. Ian (of Ian and Irene, our hosts) came about 15 minutes later and rescued us from another round of cold rain showers. Ian is an eastender from London and his wife Irene is Dutch. They own and operate the CR San Estevo, which is right next door to an eponymous 12th century church. Apparently (according to Ian)  much of the stone carving on the Iglesia San Estevo was done by Maestro Mateo who did a huge amount of incredibly beautiful work on and in the cathedral of St. James in Santiago.

We are now settled in and are enjoying a glass of wine while Irene prepares dinner. Robin has retreated to our room to get horizontal and I am just finishing this post as I try to maintain a semblance of a faithful scribe. It was a fun day and we are now in good hands. We have also secured (with Irene’s help) accommodation for tomorrow night in Rodeiro. So our “to do” list is complete and now we will just relax until dinner is served at 9:00 pm (nobody eats early in Spain). Sunshine tomorrow and Santiago is drawing closer. All is well.

A little road walking

Not much to report today. It rained heavily overnight (and occasionally during the day), and with the poor drainage of many parts of the camino path Robin and I agreed that staying on the road today made a lot of sense. It was only about a 13 km walk, and the roads we were on were secondary roads with light traffic, so it all worked out well. We did not have to stomp through many kilometers of bogs and we arrived in good time with clean boots. What’s not to like about that.

One slightly crazy thing we did, immediately after checking into our hotel in Monforte, was to arrange a taxi to return us to the village we just left (A Pobre de Brollón) so the we could enjoy a plate of pulpo gallego (Galician style boiled octopus). Apparently a local guy sets up his cooking pots in front of the Hostal As Viñas on the 11th and 25th of every month, all year round. He is quite a character and had an amusing running commentary as he rapidly snipped pulpo onto wooden plates. The pulpo is then sloshed with olive oil, and topped with coarse salt and Spanish paprika. He sold a lot of pulpo from what we could see, and it was good. Two large platters later we were in another taxi heading back Monteforte. A kind of crazy, but fun day. One more day of rain is in the forecast and then dry and warmer weather should be with us right through the rest of our time in Spain. Brilliant, if the forecast holds. We shall see. But now back to sampling some of the local (D.O. Ribeira Sacra) fruits of the vine. All is well.

Into the woods

Robin and I decided to walk from door to door today. We had 23 kms to walk to get  to our destination for the night in the village of A Pobre de Brollon. There were a couple of climbs that dragged on a bit but never amounted to more than a moderate grade. We did have a couple of steep, but short, climbs around mid day, but that was the worst of it. We walked strongly, without a break for 5.25 hours. Full disclosure. there was no place to stop and rest even if we wanted to. But the day passed by as we moved inland away from the river and into the forest. These were our paths for today, beautiful forest logging roads that made for easy traveling.

Even though the elevation gain was not breathtaking the length of the climbs and the steep descents reminded us how challenging this route can be. Yes, we are in good shape, and yes we can handle the varied terrain, but at the end of the day we were tired and ready for a break. In short, today’s walk was doable, but not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Such were the thoughts Robin and I shared as we stepped through the door of the Hostal As Viñas at 2:00, looking for a place to lay our heads.

Once again good fortune was with us, our room was ready, lunch was still being served, and most importantly, we discovered that the hostal now has both a washer and a dryer. So after a  quick shower we handed over our laundry and headed for the dining room. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing. Bruno, the son of the owners of the hostal, speaks good English, and has been very helpful. So all in all it was another very good day.