The Way – post script

We got up early, and after a light breakfast we walked down through steady rain to the Oficina to get our credenciales recognized and obtain our Compostela certificates.we queued up and got our numbers: 484 and 485. They were just processing number 60, so we left to do some shopping and have coffee, returning a couple of hours later.

Eventually we received our certificates. One to say we did it, and the other recording the distance. Interestingly, they recorded Adele as having walked 20 km further than me. Maybe they make an adjustment for shorter legs.

Afterwards we went for lunch in one of the many cafes that populate the streets and alleys that surround the cathedral. Adele had an enchilada, and I had huevos. If you can’t get them at breakfast, you may as well order them for lunch.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped and bought a bottle of Mencia, a red wine local to this region of Spain, to bring home with us. It’s a fantastic wine, very soft and round, but we’d never had it before this trip.

Before I sign off for a siesta, a few last observations about the Camino:

  • Spain is great, as too are the people of Galicia, but Portugal has captured my heart more deeply. The people, the language, the food & wine, the art and architecture…. I have rarely felt more at home anywhere, and that’s without speaking more than handful of words in Portuguese.
  • Walking is an excellent way to travel, especially if you don’t have to cart all your stuff from place to place. If you choose to do a Camino, here someone to transfer your bags and book your accommodations. It’s well worth the expense.
  • If you do any kind of walking trip, make sure you have good shoes that fit well and are worn in before you start. I saw so many people limping, so many blown shoes left behind as miniature monuments. I got through it without a blister. Tired feet, but no blisters. Winning.
  • You don’t need to spend a lot to eat well.
  • Pack as few things as possible. You can always do laundry, or buy new stuff if needed.
  • If I were packing again, I wouldn’t bother bringing a camera in addition to my phone.
  • Don’t think too far ahead. Live in the moment. Absorb what’s going on here, now. Always.
  • Tomorrow we fly to Barcelona. I won’t be blogging that, just enjoying it. I hope you, whoever you are, and whatever your reason for following along, have enjoyed tagging along with us on our Camino.
  • Ciao.
  • Markus
  • 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.

    The Way – part 13: Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

    After a day off in Pontevedra, it was time to be back on the Way today. We got up early, had our bags in the hotel lobby and were having breakfast by 7:30, and we set out a little after 8 a.m.

    It was a cool start to the day, with a light mist suspended in the air, just grazing the rooftops as we made our way through the old part of town in a vaguely northward direction. Most of the shops and cafes were still closed, and the city was quiet in the morning twilight. At one point a lone fisherman cast his line into the river as the morning commuters slipped slowly by.

    We walked alongside the river in the cool of the morning, enjoying being in motion again. It was peaceful, although there were many more perigrinos than had been the case even two days ago. A number of different pilgrim routes have converged now, and the paths – and the cafes – are often crowded now.

    We opted to have a picnic lunch today, picking up a bocadillo of Serrano ham, queso and tomatoes, which we ate in the shade near some grape vines.

    We encountered a number of cats, some of whom were keen to be picked up and held, purring like little motors.

    We chatted with other pilgrims along the way, from Brazil, Ireland, Denmark, Australia and the U.S.

    There were no big hills, and the temperatures remained manageable throughout the day. The threatened thunderstorms never materialized.

    The hotel in Caldas de Reis seems grand from the reception area, but the room is plain, with little in the way of conveniences. It will be fine, though, for the night. Tomorrow we are on our way again: the penultimate day of walking. We’ll arrive in Santiago on Friday.

    But if there’s one thing I’ve learned not to do on this trip, it’s to think to far ahead. It’s best to just stay in the moment. And at this moment, it’s time to go find a drink before dinner.

    The Way – part 12: hitting pause in Pontevedra

    When we booked our Camino, back in the spring, we took the advice of a friend who had done this route the years before. ‘I wish I’d had an extra day in Pontevedra,’ she said, so I had Portugal Green Walks arrange it so we had that. I’m glad we did.

    Having walked for nine straight days, covering roughly 170 km, a rest was a good thing before tackling the final 70ish km. And Pontevedra, with its superfluity of cafes, bars and restaurants, is a good place to do that.

    We’ve found an excellent place just a couple dozen metres from our hotel, called Lola. We had an excellent meal of tapas there last night, and excellent coffee there this morning.

    Cafe lifestyle is all too rare in North America, and nearly entirely absent in Vancouver. Even in those rare neighbourhoods where you find something resembling it, the experience is sadly not all that similar. It’s something I wish more urban planners considered when designing neighbourhoods.

    Today we explored some of the historic centre of town, and did some looking in shops. The key site was the Convento San Francisco de Pontevedra, a beautiful old church occupying one corner of a large plaza.

    Aside from that, it’s been the quiet sort of day we’d hoped for. Tomorrow, when it comes, will be another 22 km walk, this time to Caldas de Reis, an old spa town, with natural hot springs. In the meantime, there is still to rest, and to watch the world pass by from a table outside a cafe.

    The Way – part 11: Arcade to Pontevedra

    We are in a city now, not a village. The sounds of dogs and roosters have been replaced with motorcycles, cars and trucks, raised voices and an occasional siren. Pontevedra is the modern, bustling capital of Galicia. Although only a few hours walk from Arcade, the two places couldn’t be more different.

    When we arrived in Arcade yesterday, I was a sweaty mess. We showered, spent time in the hotel’s outdoor bar with some friends we’ve made among our fellow perigrinos, and had a quick nap before dinner, which we ate in the outdoor bar. The food was delicious, the night was cool and quiet. The sun set as I drank my after dinner espresso.

    If you’re ever in Arcade, dinner at the Restaurante Duarte is a safe bet. We had lagostina prawns, a caprese salad, and grilled pork, plus wine, dessert and coffee. It was delicious, and cost us under €40.

    I slept like dead until 4 a.m., then woke and could not regain unconsciousness. Thank god the coffee was good at breakfast! Two americanos had me ready to face the day.

    Me before coffee

    Of course, it was a thankfully short walk today. More like a saunter, really, for most of it, once the 250 m incline at the start was out of the way. We walked through village lanes and along rural roads, past ubiquitous cornfields, until we reached the outskirts of Pontevedra.

    Here, on the edge of town, we had a choice between the traditional, more direct route, through increasingly urban streets, or a detour along a dirt path through a forested area. Since we had lots of time, and since the cool shade and soft, unpaved track through the trees was more inviting, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.

    We arrived at our hotel around 12:30 p.m., ahead of our luggage. We cleaned up a little and then went downstairs to the cafe for lunch, and to await the arrival of our bags.

    We seem, once again, to be in a different hotel from some of our walking companions. This would likely have been our last night together in Spain, as we’ve arranged an extra day here in Pontevedra. Tuesday we’ll have a day off from our pilgrimage, and Wednesday we’ll set out again, this time for Caldas des Reis.

    The Way – part 10: O Porriño to Arcade

    I didn’t expect bagpipes in Spain. But I’ll get to that later.

    We woke up in Portugal, having spent most of yesterday in Spain. From the sound of it, we dodged a bullet being transferred back to Valença from O Porriño. I’ll elaborate on that in due course, too.

    After another unsatisfactory breakfast at the otherwise satisfactory hotel, we were driven to a roundabout in the middle O Porriño. (Our driver had been given coordinates in advance, so there was no need for me to try to mumble something half way intelligible in Spanish.) and from there we began our 22ish km hike through this section of Galicia.

    Spain is pretty, although O Porriño is not – it seems like the Red Deer of this region: utilitarian, industrial, and mostly plain, if not quite ugly. Happily, the way soon led us away from the blandness of warehouses and depots, and into forested areas and along lanes through small villages.

    The coffee had been so terrible at the hotel in Valença, that all I could think about was finding a cafe to restore my faith in humanity, or at least Europeans’ ability to make coffee. Eventually, after much taunting by signs promising a cafe would appear eventually, we came to one beside a chapel in the village of Mos.

    After a more than adequate Americano (and con leche, for Adele), we popped into the chapel to get our credenciales stamped. It was a relatively small, and from the outside unassuming church, but elaborately ornamented inside.

    We continued on, past fields with scarecrows, walking from village to village, feeling increasingly like peregrinos. It’s become one of our favourite words: perigrino/-a.

    ‘Perigrinations of a dangerous mind,’ I said to Adele.

    ‘Well, I definitely know one perigrino with a dangerous mind.’ (I took that as a compliment.)

    After another few hours of walking, we were starting to feel both hot and hungry, and we stopped at a chiarrusqeria along the way and had an amazing calamari sandwich. It will sound strange to anyone who hasn’t encountered it on a menu, but it was amazing.

    Refreshed, we got back to walking, with more than two hours left to cover. It was past one o’clock (Spain is an hour ahead of Portugal, so we lost time without delaying), and the temperature would only continue to climb as the afternoon wore on.

    Climb it did, and so did we, although not before a brief reprieve in a wooded park, where I swore I could hear bagpipes, of all things.

    ‘It’s probably church bells,’ Adele said, but as we walked on it became clearer that it was , in fact, bagpipes that I was hearing. Ahead of us, getting closer with each step, someone was playing bagpipes. In Spain. It was completely unexpected.

    We emerged into a clearing where a young woman was standing, straight as a ramrod, squeezing and fingering her pipes with a big smile on her face. We stopped and chatted, as best we could, and bought a card from her, and let her stamp our credenciales with her homemade, unsanctioned stamp.

    After emerging from the trees, we descended into a suburb, only to have to climb again a few kilometres later. I had been led to believe, from all my reading in preparation for this trip, that temperatures would have moderated at this time of year. Apparently I was misled. And the heat – again reaching into the 30s Celsius – does not make hills any easier. Neither do Adele’s blisters, or the toe she fractured three weeks before the trip.

    Still, eventually we put the hills and heat behind us, and reached the hotel in Arcade, where we rejoined our Brazilian friends. They had spent the previous night at a hotel on the outskirts of O Porriño. It had no air conditioning, and one of them said she’d taken five showers trying to cool down. Bad coffee or not, I guess we dodged a bullet there.

    Tomorrow will be a short walk to Pontevedra, where we will stay an extra day, saying goodbye, hopefully not forever, to our friends from Rio.

    The Way – part 9: Valença to O Porriño – España (and back again)

    Did I mention that we booked our hotels, baggage transfer, and sundry other services through a company called Portugal Green Walks? So far it seems like it was a great decision, so thanks to Adele’s friend Sunny for recommending them!

    When we booked our Caminho, their usual hotel in Porriño was booked full up, so although we’ve already spent our last full day in Portugal, we still have tonight. The little bit of O Porriño we saw didn’t really inspire me, though, so I don’t mind another night in Valença, even if this hotel is a pretty big step down from some of the others we’ve stayed in on this trip. Great staff, ok room, sub-par breakfast. Great location, though, just beneath the walls of the old city.

    Last night we had an amazing dinner at Fatum, an excellent Portuguese restaurant just inside the inner wall (in fact, within that inner wall, I think). We shared a brilliant sausage and cornbread crumble, house made cheese and a ‘tomato carpaccio’ salad for starters, and a stunning pork knuckle confit for a main. After that, we were too full for dessert.

    We loved the meal so much, Adele asked if she could get a picture of the chef and our server. They were both amazing women.

    This morning, we had an unsatisfactory breakfast (the coffee was terrible – first time that’s happened in Portugal! – and in spite of the yawning chafing dish, there were no eggs or meats, other than cold, square cut ham), we set off for Spain.

    The Way today was mostly beautiful. After a short jaunt through the old, walled city, we wound our way through the cobbled streets and alleys of Valença, to the Ribeiro Minho, which is the natural border between Spain and Portugal. We crossed the bridge inspired by Gustave Eiffel, and we were in another country – just like that. No customs declaration, no security checks.

    We talk a lot about “the world’s longest undefended border” between Canada and the U.S., but it’s largely a fiction. Just try crossing over between customs checkpoints! Actually, don’t. It’s a really bad idea. Maybe someday our border will be as easy to cross as an EU border, but I doubt it.

    Today’s walk was mostly off the beaten path, and notable for both its prettiness, and the very unpretty temperatures. We often found ourselves longing for a shady reprieve from the sun, and wondering how much further we had to go.

    We took a couple of detours recommended by Portugal Green Walks, which added a bit of extra distance to our walk, but eventually we found ourselves in Porriño. We summoned our transfer back to the Hotel Lara in Valença, and arranged our transfer forward to our starting point in Porriño in the morning. From there we’ll walk to Arcade, having said goodbye to Portugal for the last time on this trip. It will be bittersweet. I’ve fallen in love with Portugal – its food, its wines, its language – but I’m also looking forward to experiencing Spain.

    But that can wait for tomorrow.

    The Way – part 7: grinding in northern Portugal – Ponte de Lima to Cossourado

    I’m drunk. Since arrived at our hotel, I’ve had about a bottle and a half of vinho verde. Yes, I’m a lightweight. I’m old. -ish. Get lost.

    Today was a hard day. The guide book said it would be, although it softened it by saying this would be “the most challenging day” of the Caminho. Christ, I hope so!

    If you’re at all familiar with Vancouver, you’ll understand when I say it was like plunking half the Grouse Grind into a half marathon route. We gained 405 m – 1330 feet, for those of you who still think in such terms – during our ‘walk’ today. Most of it concentrated in a relatively short distance.

    But we made it, somehow, and were even the first to arrive at our hotel. More drinking time for us! Winning!

    For quite a while this morning, I wondered if they’d oversold the ‘challenging’ aspect of this stage. The we reached the grind – or what I’m now referring to as the ‘Portuguese Pummel’.

    Thankfully we had purchased (and remembered to pack) trekking poles – although one of Adele’s crapped out, so we each used one. (Fair’s fair, right?) These proved invaluable in getting us up the rock-strewn gullies that appeared about 12 km into our 22 km hike.

    It wouldn’t have been nearly so bad, though, if not for how hot it was. The temperatures reached the upper 20s C by 11 a.m., and by the time we reached the peak of our climb we’d hit 30 C, maybe more. The view, though, was spectacular.

    Even after that zenith, though, today’s walk was a slog. The last time I drank this much water in a day (not counting the wine) was when I quit smoking, a little over 20 years ago.

    We eventually arrived at our hotel, the exquisite Casa da Capela, at around 4 p.m., having left Ponte de Lima around 8:15 a.m.

    It was a gruelling day, but I feel amply rewarded by the hotel, the food they served us for dinner, and – of course – the wine. (Oh, they also have a pool, not heated, which was great for soaking our feet in.)

    Tomorrow, thankfully, will be a shorter walk, and mostly downhill.

    The Way – part 5: Barcelos to Balugães

    Today was a relatively short walk: only 15 km, and mostly flat, rural and often picturesque, with moderate temperatures under mostly clear skies.

    We woke early, and in my case often, as I found it nearly impossible to get comfortable on a bed that was too narrow, too short and too firm. And it may be that my dreams were disturbed by visions of oversized polychromatic roosters, like those I’d seen everywhere in town. I had begun to wonder, as we wandered around town, if Barcelos was the centre of strange chicken cult.

    When I tried to pst this picture on Facebook, they wouldn’t allow it. Perhaps it violates a rule about cock shots?

    It turns out I wasn’t far wrong, and that the legend of the rooster is integral to not just Barcelos, but also to the national identity of Portugal. It also has ties to the Caminho. A pilgrim from a neighbouring village was sentenced to death, but told the magistrate that, as proof of his innocence, a rooster – one the judge had planned to eat that night – would crow at the moment of his hanging. Skeptical, the judge nevertheless set the bird aside. And just as the pilgrim had foretold, the cock began crowing as the innocent man was led to the gallows. The judge ran to save the pilgrim, who later returned and sculpted a cross in honour of St. Mary and St. James, whom he believed had interceded on his behalf. The cross is known to this day as The Cross of the Lord of the Rooster.

    Of course, I don’t recall anything quite so elaborate from my dreams. In fact, I don’t recall them at all, and it may be that there were no roosters haunting my sleep. I can’t say.

    At any rate, a short time after waking, we went up to the free hotel breakfast, and by nine we were on the road.

    The Way wound through the outskirts of town and into a countryside of rolling hills, stone walls, cornfields, vineyards, and the occasional small village. It was prettier than the previous days, with more narrow dirt lanes mixed in with the ubiquitous cobblestones and the less frequent tarmac.

    We made good time, in spite of an unhurried pace. We chatted for a while with a German couple from Reims who walked with us a few kilometres, and who told us the corn we saw growing everywhere was for fuel rather than food. We also talked later with some Americans at a bus shelter on the edge of the village of Tamel. We offered them our sympathy for their president, and they said they hoped he would soon be replaced. We said we hoped so too.

    It was a little before one that we checked into our hotel in Balugães, a small, pretty village surrounded by farmland.

    The hotel is beautiful. A walled courtyard with multiple buildings, and best of all, four resident cats. It’s been a good day for us regarding animals. We’ve seen many dogs and cats, and got to pet a beautiful, old black lab while trying to have a conversation with its owner, who didn’t speak any more English than we do Portuguese.

    Our room has a king sized bed, stone walls, concrete floor, and very modern conveniences. The courtyard has lime trees scattered around the plush lawn, stone walkways, and numerous places to sit & drink beer.

    Tomorrow we leave for Ponte de Lima, a larger town 18 km from here. But for now, sitting in the cool twilight sipping a Cristal and trying to tempt the cats closer is the moment I’m happy to be in.