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.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard

The good weather continued today with partly cloudy skies and highs forecasted to be in the low 60’s. As we made our way to breakfast it was 46 F so we made a mental note to gear up accordingly just to get started. Layers would certainly get peeled off as the day warmed up and we started climbing. We opted to jump ahead to a small village called Alvaredos. This reduced today’s walk from 26.3 kms to just a bit over 19. As it turned out this was a wise move.

Today’s terrain was ever changing at best. We did have some nice flatter sections, but those were more than offset by a seemingly endless sequence of challenging climbs and steep descents. The spectacular vistas that were gifted to us as we wandered the upper reaches of the river valley offset the effort required to get there. But, in truth, it was a challenging day’s walk that eventually brought us into Quiroga at 2:45, after 5.5 hrs of non stop high energy walking. We were tired, and footsore, as we were buzzed through the door of the Hostal Quiper in search of a room. Good fortune was with us and we got our (very clean) room. Now with the post walk chores of showering, doing the laundry, and finding  something to eat are finally in hand (we even made a reservation for our hostal for tomorrow night) we are just kicking back and relaxing until tomorrow rolls around and we get to do this all over again. It seems crazy, but Robin and I love it. Buen camino.

A quiet day by the river

Due to the need to break up what otherwise would have been an unnecessarily long stage we opted today to walk only 11 kms to A Rua. This will set up a 26 km day tomorrow, but we might reduce that a bit as well. It seems 20 kms is a nice distance for us these days. As we had such a short day we lingered over breakfast and lounged in our room until around 10:30 when we started to saddled up to head for A Rua. It was right at 11:00 when we stepped out of the hotel.

This camino route is all about the River Sil. It is always close at hand. This morning we ambled along close aboard the river simply enjoying the sounds and sights. At one point a guy in a truck pulled up alongside of us and asked if we wanted to get our pilgrim credential stamped. He had the stamp in his hand and was gesticulating with an up and down stamping action. Of course, we chimed in and out he sprung from his truck eager to get the stamp onto our credentials. We thanked him, wrote down our names and where we were from, took a photo, and off he went smiling like he had just won the lottery. My guess was that he was a member of one of the local camino associations that is actively promoting this beautiful camino. We have encountered a few others in the short time we have been walking, and Robin has been actively engaged with the Spanish Camino Invierno Facebook page. Lots of chatter and energy are flowing from a variety of sources into making this a more well known and mainstream camino. I believe it should and will be in the near future. That’s my Nostradamus moment for today.

 

What has caught our eye is how much effort the various local camino associations have put into making this a safe, comfortable, and therefore enjoyable camino. So far from what we have experienced, they are succeeding. Well done to all involved.

All good things must come to an end (I guess bad things do as well for that matter) and our delightful stroll along the river finally led us up a hill and then down onto the main street of A Rua. We got our bearings on where we were booked in for the night, did a bit of resupply shopping and then headed uphill to our night’s lodging the Casa Rural Pacio do Sil.

Julia, our host, and her husband met us at the door and made us feel right at home. We made arrangements to have dinner at 7:00 and in the meantime a plate of cold meats, cheese, bread and wine were delivered to our room. All is well. The laundry is done, Robin has had a nice soak in the tub and the smells from the kitchen argue that a delicious dinner is near at hand. I’ll confirm tomorrow. Buenas tardes from A Rua in Galicia.

 

On the pilgrim super-highway

The door to the Hostal Torre creaked open   at 8:30 this morning as Robin and I crossed the street to the cafeteria where we would find life sustaining coffee and settle our account. It was a warm still morning that gave one the feeling that someone had hit the pause button and we were stuck in some sort of time warp waiting for someone to make the first move. It felt stagnant yet surprisingly hopeful. A crazy mix of feelings indeed, but Camino mornings can do that to you.

The señora was quite kind and cheerful as we ordered a couple of cafe con leches while waiting for our bill. A few stragglers drifted in, coffee cups rattled, the espresso machine wheezed away and a faint gray started to creep across the black windows. Another sleepy town in Spain was awakening. Two guys, obviously pilgrims, said hello and wished us a buen camino as we made our farewells and shifted out the door. The bar owner had gifted us with a little swag, a logo’d buff, and a pen for both of us. Very kind.

So out the door we went into the muggy dim dawn and set out for O Barco some 20 kms down the road. It was a still quiet world that embraced us us daylight slowly illuminated the Sil River valley. In short, it was a perfect start to another wonderful day on the Camino Invierno. We climbed out of Puente De Domingo Flórez and set a good pace to O Barco. It was at this point we realized that Robin had lost our guide book printout for the day. No worries we had a pdf. So off we went, up and down, enjoying the beautiful walk along the Sil River. We could see particularly between  the villages of Pumares and Sobradelo a great deal of work was going on to grade and level the trail. Someone had funded some significant trail maintenance. Bravo.

We pulled into Sobradelo around 11:45 and shortly thereafter our two Spanish pligrims arrived, and lo and behold they had our lost guide book pages. As it turned out they were from Salamanca and had walked this route five years ago, and were doing it again. We thanked them for their kindness and after wishing them a Buen Camino we shoved off for O Barco where we arrived, in the center of the city, at 1:30. We made good time today in large part due to the beautifully prepared trail between Pumares and Sabredelo. It truly was like a super-highway, wide, level and dry. We stopped for lunch at the Restaurante Casa Galaica, which was packed on a Sunday. A table was found for us and a most enjoyable lunch followed. We jumped in a taxi after lunch and found ourselves at the Hotel Calzada in neighboring Arcos a few minutes later. We only have to walk about 10 kms tomorrow to arrive in  Rua so an easy day is at hand. I could get used to this. More tomorrow. Saludos.