Thursday, October 11, 2012

Santiago de Compostela (Oct 11)

We started off when there was just enough light so that we could cover the last 9 km of our long journey and arrive at Santiago in time for the daily mass at noon.

Last night there was a period of very heavy downpour and we wondered if that would accompany us today. It was drizzling as we left and of course when we got to Monte do Gozo at the outer edge, Santiago was hidden behind a veil of mist and rain.

Soon we were venturing into the urban streets of Santiago and as in any other cities we dodged the cars and raced across pedestrian crossings. No worries about cow dung piles anymore!

Up a gentle slope, through one of the gates to the old town (Porto Do Camino) and we were there in Prazo Obradoiro and in front of us, the end of our journey, the end of the Camino de Santiago, was the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

We had more than an hour before the daily noon mass so our first call was to the Pilgrim's Office to have the last stamp on our credentials and receive a certificate of our achievement. The document was in Latin (we would need to read tbe translation but we are sure it said something nice). K's name was entered in the Latin form of Catuarinam whereas mine was wisely left alone in the original form by the lady who received me. We gladly accepted their congratulations.

We left the office and returned to tbe Cathedral for the mass (held in Spanish of course) and the spectacular and eagerly awaited swinging of the giant incence burner.

Outside in the Prazo the crowd resembled a post graduation ceremony celebration. Even the sun came out behind the clouds, briefly.

(This completes the blog but it will be updated with some photos and edited to improve content. For new  postings please revert to

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Salceda to Vilamaior (Oct 10)

At Salceda we were just 29 km from Santiago. We booked accommodation at Vilamaior so that we will have only 9km to walk into Santiago on the next morning.

The morning was glorious by Galician standard - it was not raining. Passing the village of St Irene after a few hours walk we entered a forest that touched us with nostalgia - eucalyptus trees, with the same powerful scent of the oil but trees here were much taller and lushier.

The euphoria for the absence of rain was shortlived. The drizzle came and it became more like intermittent rain. A British type weather one might say; I was told there was a connection in more than one way between Galicia and Gaelic countries of Britain and Ireland further north, for they shared the Celtic past. Of course there are better sources on the internet regarding this bit of history.

Later as we went over a hill nearer to Vilamaior we had the distraction of the noise of aircrafts taking off for we were passing the runway of the Santiago airport. Earlier we had sent a message of bon voyage to Sue and Dave who were flying off from there. In a few days it would be our turn!

The last 5 km to Vilamaior seemed to take ages like it always did at the end of each day. There was a steep hill to climb after the penultimate village of Lavacolla. As we struggled on in the rain we thought we pondered on the reasons why so many Galicians had emigrated as the guidebook told us - must be the weather! Of course in actual fact it was a whole lot of other factors including poverty in the recent past.

When we finally arrived and shown to our room it was literary a warm feeling. The owner had very thoughtfully turned on the heater on a full blast. Before long my wet pants were dry and the wet weather forgotten - for today.

Arzua to Salceda (Oct 9)

We had a short day, just as well. It would have been be difficult to handle the wet over a longer distance. The intermittent drizzle and rain (rain usually returned as soon as we put our poncho away) and soggy ground made progress slow. A village passing by wished us "bueno diaz"  (good day) and K muttered "glad it's good for you".

As we got near Salceda we followed a hand painted sign on the asphalt telling us that the hotel and albergue accommodation we booked for was in a direction away from the Camino route, down a side road on the other side of the main road, quite contrary to the indication on the guidebook map. We followed it for half a kilometre or more before we decided we must have been mistaken and returned to the Camino route. We had been warned that there were instances of practical jokes being played on pilgrims.

A kilometre further we came to an attractive roadside tavern and decided to have lunch there. It was a saver for the otherwise miserable day (mainly due to the weather).  The entree dish of wild mushroom with egg was unusually non-traditional and good but we did wonder where the mushroom came from having seen an abundance of them in the woods. The main courses of fish (hake) and minced pork were good too.

After lunch we asked the publican where our booked accommodation Pousada de Salceda was, he said he would ring for the transport as it was a kilometre away. The transport came and we were brought down the road we were previously heading and continued on a little further. The surprise was it was a modern resort type accommodation that not only had dormitory beds alberque style but also rooms with very modern finishing. Restored from an old stone building it was warm and dry, and very much what we meeded after the very wet day. Another Lestedo type experience!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lobreiro to Arzua (Oct 8)

When we were leaving Lestedo, I asked the Galician manager which were the wet months in Galicia. He said in Galicia it rained every month of the year and every day each month. Since we already had a few days of fine weather our luck would soon run out. So it was not surprising that it was drizzling when we left Lebreiro morning and it continued intermittently throughout the morning. When the rain stopped it became uncomfortably warm and humid.

We passed through much the same terrain but the tracks were more even. We wanted to call in at the local tourism office at the major town of Melide to find out more about the services we could expect to have in Santiago on Sunday Oct 12 (our free day in Santiago after our arrival there) for we had just discovered that it was the important St Columbus Day, a public holiday all over Spain. Before we knew it, the Camino had taken us out of the town without passing any tourist office and we were unwilling to walk back into town. We also missed tbe main church where we had hoped to get a stamp on our credentials. But we did not miss seeing the series of restaurants serving pulpo that the town was famous for.

Another 5 km on at the village of Boente, the local priest was on duty as the guidebook said he normally would, meeting pilgrims, giving blessings and stamping their credentials. In fact he was the first Catholic priest we have met after over nearly 40 days of walking. On reflection, over the past few days in Galicia, we have noticed that Galicia was rather deficient in fine restored churches that we had come to expect in each village and town in Castilla and Navarra provinces, and where even small villages had some very important religious links to the past. It wss a bit of history that we had not totally understood.  Still, the province impressed with it lushness and natural beauty (when the rain and forests were not hindering the view).

Just before Arzua, we saw a moving sight. Four young men vigorously pushing a sick youth on a mobile bed along the Camino route. The sick youth must wished to go on the Camino.

We wanted a more comfortable day after yesterday's surprisingly tough 14km but the location of towns and quality of accommodation were such that we ended up having to do more than 20km or so. The stop we chose was in fact beyond Arzua, which at the end of the day was always a struggle.

The hotel we stayed in was a disappointment. It was one of those that we could sense the moment we walked in that our washings would not dry! In fact the heating equipment was leaking water into the room that surely made the matter worse. The restaurant had a good menu but my steak was not defrosted properly before the chef cooked it and I had to have it sent back. Not a good ending to the day except that we had good news from our friends Sue and Dave that they had arrived at Santiago, mission accomplished!  They started at Sarria a couple of days before we got there.

Lestedo to Lobereiro (Oct 7)

 It was such a pleasure to stay at the Rectoral de Lestode and we made a point of sleeping in after the previous day's long walk. We woke to a very nice breakdast (more than just toast and coffee, we even had fruits, spanish sausages and Santiago cakes).

At Lestedo we were about 73km from Santiago. It was time to plan the walk into the ultimate destination. The young and enthusiastic could do it in 2 days but given what we were capable of doing and wanting a 10 km half-day leisurely walk into Santiago on the final day, we settled on a 5 day final journey instead.

A few kilometres from Lestedo we reached at the fringe of Palas de Rei where we had a long stop to use at the facilities of the local municipal albergue, including their internet and cafe. (Lestedo was so small that it had no internet connections).  It was interesting that many alberques had very good facilities that included facilities for washings and the internet, but not more personal space which we preferred.

12th century church at San Xulian.
Though we set ourselves just 14km day it was tiring because of the ups and downs over numerous small streams and rivers and the hot and humid conditions of the wooded terrain. We were relieved when we finally arrived at the the casa rurale we booked at Lobreiro, a renovated country house run by a kindly woman and her family. She quickly told us that it being sunday there would be no cooked meals anywhere in the small hamlet. However the entreprising lady also ran a small cafe at tbe back of the building in a semi temporary shed that served a good jamon boccadillo.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Portomarin to Lestedo (Oct 6)

Leaving Portomarin we went up a gradual incline to a peak that was hardly discernible. Many walkers leaving Portomarin head for the major centre of Palas de Rei but the 25km would be too difficult for us so we looked for a closer day destination. Instead, from a list suggested by our comfortable hotel at Sarria, we picked to stay at a place located at the quiet hamlet of Lestedo, a mere 20km away. We were secretly pleased that by that stage of our walk, we were able to consider 20km as acceptable distance.

The weather forecast in the morning was unfavourable but the wet did not eventuate apart from a few drops. In fact the overcast sky with gentle breeze should be ideal for walking and the terrain throughout the day was green and gently undulating with forests and tree-lined tracks. StIll we struggled a bit, probably because we were not used to consecutive long days. We had lunch at a quiet cafe (jamon and boccadillo of course) and felt better after that.

Sign near Ligonde says Pilgrims' Cemetery but we could see any graves.

As usual we met other walkers on the way. With most we were too engrossed with walking to exchange more than "Buen Camino" or even just an "hola", but with some we chatted. A Venezuelan now living in the US asked us where we came from etc, and when I said I grew up in Singapore, he immediately said he used to sell sardines for the Ayam brand of the canned fish!  (Singaporeans reading this will know the brand well). We sometimes got surprises like that.

With the denser population, the hamlets in Galicia were getting closer together as we approached Santiago, and while they appeared as distinct markings on the map, they were not easily identified. As we walked on, it was often hard to keep track of where we actually were. With the frequent ups and downs of the tracks, we could not tell the change in elevation and the peaks marked on the map were often as distinct as we expected. It was not until we saw the sign for Ligonde village that we knew we were nearly at our day's destination.

The place we booked to stay at Lestedo was converted from an old pilgrims' hospital. When we stepped in, we had the biggest surprise. Instead of simple hostel that we had got used to and had come to expect each night, we found ourselves in a modern resort type accommodation with modern furnishing that reminded us of some of the restored palaces we stayed in in India earlier this year. Dinner was good, a simple but well prepared mushroom and tomato paste dish for first course (K had the traditional salad), while our main course of salt crusted oven baked chicken was delicious. For dessert, we had whisky cake ice cream. Some pilgrims could be embarrassed by the luxury of it all, but we enjoyed all that.

Where we stayed at Lestedo.

Sarria to Portomarin (Oct 5)

We planned a long 22km day involving a climb to 660m and then a drop of 300m to the little town of Portomarin. Even though the long day and ups and downs were strenuous, the scenery was rewarding with green pastures interspersed with forests of chestnut, oak and birch trees. With the higher rainfall, the trees are tall in this part of Spain.

Sarria at just 110km from Santiago is the starting point for a lot of people because  the rule for qualifying for a compostela (certificate) at Santiago required a pilgrim to walk the last 100km at a minimum. The new starters have the freshness and many zipped past us with much energy and enthusiasm!

The 100km mark was a highnote for us for it marked the finishing stretch. Until the numbers were reasonably small, the final destination was quite incomprehensible, as though we had a fear of not finishing. Now, with just 100km, we were actually looking forward to it.

We posed for photos in front of the stone marker when we came to it only to discover later that it was not the correct marker and that a prankster had cheekily altered the sign. The real one came a few hundred metres later!

The 100km mark.

The bridge over the river Mino at the entrance to Portomarin was spectacular for its height over the dry river bed, quite threatening for those fearful of heights. In fact K chose to walk on the traffic lane rather than the pedestrian path so as to be further away from the railing.

Compared to other towns and villages, Portomarin was lacking in old buildings. Some years ago, it was shifted to higher grounds when a dam was built. The old church in the centre of the town was reassembled stone by stone at the new spot. We remain puzzled by the lack of water in the "dam" that the high bridge now crosses over.