The Way – part 15: Padron to Santiago de Compostela

You lift your foot and move a little ways in front of you, and you put it back down, lifting your other foot as you do so, and placing it a little ahead of the first foot. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat. And eventually you reach your destination for the day. It’s as simple as that. And as difficult.

Each day you get up. You get dressed. You rearrange what you’re bringing in your day pack. You make sure you’ll have enough water. You have breakfast. You start walking. Every day until you are done.

We are done.

We set off from the beautiful Pazo de Lestrove before sunrise, in the cool dark of morning. Breakfast, for a change, had not been as baffling as in recent days. There was tortilla da batata and Serrano ham, as well as the usual dessert items. And the coffee was good. We were in good spirits.

We walked quietly through the mostly deserted streets lost in thought. We passed through commercial areas, with butchers and fishmongers and green grocers still setting up theirs stalls. Disused factories loomed over the way, casting long shadows even without the sunlight.

Eventually, outside an old church, we bumped into a Brazilian couple we’d seen intermittently throughout our journey. We stopped briefly and chatted before we all moved on at our different paces. We would encounter them on and off throughout the day, but more about that later.

We spoke with some Irish perigrinos who were part of a larger group of 30 who were travelling together. We talked about Dublin, which I mentioned is one of my favourite cities.

“Yes, well. I can see that if ye don’t have to live there,” said one of them. I said that likely goes for everywhere. If you have to go to work each morning, and fight through traffic, it’ll take the shine off quickly.

There were cats everywhere. A couple of times we were able to coax one over to be petted. At one point we found a group of them in a carport, looking like members of a gang having a meeting.

“The old woman in number 5 has been putting out sour milk.”

“It’s time we sent her a message.”

During one of our walks with our Brazilian friends, we finally learned the answer to a mystery that had been confusing us since we began the Spanish portion of our Camino.

All through Spain we have seen small buildings, which looked like crypts or chapels, up on plinths. The buildings are almost always adorned with a cross. We couldn’t figure out if they were places to keep dead relatives, large shrines, fancy sheds – nothing really made any sense.

It turns out they’re for storing food, traditionally grain. The capitals on the plinths make it impossible for rats to get at the food, since even if the climb the plinths, they can’t walk upside down on the capitals. (I guess they don’t have squirrels in Spain.)

Getting back to the walk, though, there was a long, but thankfully gradual incline over the last half or so. Thankfully, the weather stayed relatively cool and overcast, which made walking easier.

Not easy, though.

There is nothing you can do to make 27 km easy. Unless it was all downhill and paved with Nerf. But that is not the case on the Camino.

We were thrilled each time a kilometre went by on the way markers. Twenty, seventeen, eleven, six. Single digits was the biggest thrill in that regard.

As we entered the city, we crossed paths again with the Brazilian couple, whose names I regret I don’t know. They were celebrating her 50th birthday, although as we told her she didn’t look more than 35. Together we navigated the streets to the cathedral.

As we entered the plaza, it was hard to believe we were done. More than 240 km of walking in twelve stages. We’d seen so much, walked so far. It was hard to process being done.

We walked to the accreditation office, where we were informed we’d have to come back the next day and take a number. A bit of a letdown, but there’s nothing much we could do.

We found our hotel – up a hill, of course! – and checked in. I admit, when I first looked at it from outside I felt let down, but that soon went away. It’s an incredibly modern, well-appointed boutique hotel. We have no complaints.

After showering, we did as much sightseeing as our tired feet would allow, and then went for tapas, before returning to our hotel.

And the best part is that our original Brazilian friends are here until tomorrow. It’s so good to see them again!

Tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll go get our credenciales accredited, and get our certificates. Then we’ll hang out watching the world turn from a cafe. Or two. Or… well, we’ll see. The forecast is calling for rain but I don’t care. We’ve got no place particular to go.

The Way – part 14: Caldas de Reis to Padron – penultimatum

Before I begin with today’s walk, there are a few more observations from Caldas de Reis:

  • Our hotel had a “thermal mineral pool”, which we spent over half an hour in before deciding we needed dinner. Apparently the town is famous for such pools and spas, although it seems economically depressed.
  • As a result of said economic depression, many of the local restaurants and bars appear to have been shuttered. Those that remained open were quickly packed with pilgrims. Getting a table anywhere proved challenging.
  • Two of Google’s recommendations for restaurants were a complete bust, one of them apparently no longer open, and another clearly not an establishment worth visiting. A third was not a restaurant at all, but a cool bar with great music, fantastic wine, and a very pleasant proprietor.
  • The Spanish clearly do not care for breakfast. Or they don’t understand it. I believe it is the former. They want you to eat dessert for breakfast, with cakes and sweet pastries in abundance. There is cereal, but you will have to search, sometimes in vain, for cold milk. What I (and, in my opinion, all sensible people) want is something savoury, ideally a form of protein, even more ideally not square-cut ham. An egg. An egg would be fantastic. Bacon would be an excellent accompaniment. Or good, Spanish ham – Serrano, say. Keep the sweet nothings for the lunatics who want them, but please, allow me an egg.

Now that’s out of the way, we can begin. Today, of course, was the penultimate day of our Camino. Tomorrow, we will arrive in Santiago. But that is tomorrow. I shouldn’t begin with an ending – and not even today’s ending at that!

After a desultorily sweet breakfast, we set off into the cool, grey morning. Mist hung over the river, and muted the sounds of our footsteps on the quiet streets. We followed the yellow arrows out of town, and into the countryside.

We moved almost silently, among other almost silent perigrinos, through woods, following a pathway that itself followed a stream. Then the woods thinned out, and we moved through villages, the low clouds snagged on roof tiles, or caught in the tree tops, not willing to tear itself free.

We spoke with other travelers. A pair of women from Ireland. A young woman from Ukraine. A couple from Austria. Some had done Caminos before. Others, like us, were doing this for the first time. Some had taken the coastal route. Some had started in Tui, or later. Everyone has their own journey. No one can take it away from them.

Eventually we arrived in Padron, home of exquisite grilled peppers that we’ve grown to love over the past few days. Our hotel is just outside the town proper, in the bordering community of Lestrove. It is exquisite, inside and out. The closest thing to a drawback is that pool is frightfully cold. I can forgive that.

Tomorrow, as I mentioned, we’ll begin the final stage of our journey. We’ve already walked more than 200 km. There are roughly 25 to go.

But all endings are beginnings of something else.