When I last reported in, we were at just about the midway part of our 113 kilometer journey. We had just arrived in Palas de Rei. It was the first sizable town that we encountered. It had a real downtown you might say, a bus stop, restaurants, clothing stores, hardware stores, and blessedly, what we were in need of pharmacy’s! And that was plural. This was the point that Marti and I started truly feeling our mid 50 year old, “not in the best shape,” bodies. One word in particular, KNEES. By the end of this journey we both had knee braces on one knee and we had purchased a lot of other helpful pharmaceutical gadgets to get us through too. In fact, I was convinced we had become the darlings of Farmacia all over Galicia. I had thoughts of them eagerly calling ahead to the next town after we left their shop letting them know we were on their way. If they had a frequent flyer program, Marti and I would have lots of points. In short, you feel things on your body you have not felt in quite the same way ever before. And with some decent sleep, and a good meal, and your favorite libation, the amazing body would heal itself to a large degree and then, off you would be again, the next day.
After stocking up on Farmacia needs, and helping their stock go up, we were picked up to go to our next house for the night. I had read about the particular chef at this one, and that she was one of the best. I can tell you, that is true. We had one of the best “set” menus we had on this whole trip. And this lovely place had access to a salt water pool, and I can tell you that felt better than just about anything.
The next day we were dropped off right where we ended the day before and as much as we wanted to drop in and chat with our new friends the pharmacists, we got on our way. This day was about a 10 mile hike to the town of Melide. Many of you commented that the weather would not be in our favor as it is hot here now. But in Galicia, it is milder, a lot like home, although I hear it is quite hot there now. Most days on the trail never got out of the 70s, and nights were in the 50s, one night actually falling to 50. Mornings were overcast with a slight breeze so very pleasant, and a blessing you cannot imagine. We would usually make our destinations by mid afternoon and the sun wold be out, and it would be hot, and we would be glad we were through for the day. This day we made it to the much bigger town, in fact the biggest town we would experience until reaching Santiago, Melide. Melide is famous for Pulpo, octopus, which is a very, very popular food in this region. You will find it on every menu. They eat it literally by the bucket loads. It is simply prepared, boiled, lightly salted and spiced, cut and served. If you are going to only try it once on the trip, Melide, we were told, is the place to try it. I had done some research before on the most famous places to try this. Pulpería Ezequiel, seemed to win, and you do have to pass some others on the way. So, this was our first stop in Melide. The place is huge, and the place was packed, and what was so fun here is that there were lots of fellow Camino travelers, but there were also just as many locals, and you sit at big tables, together. We sat next to a very elderly man who hobbled in, as he said he did every day, sat next to us, ordered his bottle of red wine, and a plate full of pulpo, and seemed happy as could be. This scene played out all over the place. It was wonderful.
It turned out Melide, like much of Galicia, was celebrating the Festival of St. Carmen, (July 16th) so siesta was not going to stop at 4 pm, and all the shops were closing up, and we had not made it to the Farmacia yet!!! But we wandered off the trail and through the towns as we tried to do in all of them, to get the off the trail perspective and found an Asian man running a shop, that had not yet closed, and it was so curious we just had to go in. It was filled to the brim with things, in no particular order, but you would not believe the things he had! Several things we had said we needed but could not find, and were on our “shopping list” he actually had! It was an incredible blessing that day. One for instance we had dreamed about for the past four days was a small USB fan I had seen in many places in the US, really compact, but powerful, but had not found in any place here. We were wandering down one of his packed tight aisles, and bingo! There it was. We never saw another one the whole trip. Our digs for this night were also out in the countryside and it also had access to a pool, yet another wonderful surprise, and a great way to cool off. Another great meal with warm hospitality and then back to the trail.
On this day we would travel again about 10 miles to Arzúa. Not too far out of Melide, just after we had crossed the national road, we came across this duo, and they agreed to be filmed. It was a nice gift and a great break.
This is Celtic country and they are proud of that connection in Galicia, and so we saw and hear many bagpipes.
While Melide is known for pulpo, Arzúa is known for cheese. And it is great cheese. All along this route you get the smell of cows, and all the smells that come with them, but one of the amazing ones that does have a nice smell, at least to me, is cows being milked. That one is a much more sweet smell. When you bit into Arzúan cheese, you taste that smell. Arzúa was smaller than Melide but still a bustling town. We came in on siesta here, bought our second knee brace, which they had ready and waiting for us! (Just Kidding) and then went to our digs for the night. Here, we had a literal grandma making us our meals, and it was simple, but so delicious. We watched them preparing it, as her husband went out to cut the lettuce directly out of their garden, and then he went into his drying shed to get the chorizo sausages for that nights meal. There was a huge family reunion staying there with us and she prepared for them too. She was the receptionist, the chef, the bartender, the housekeeping crew. And she never stopped smiling. We were kind and said goodbye to every one who hosted us along the way, but she got a big hug! This was the night it dropped to 50, and what a great nights rest that was! For the only time during our trip, we got up in the night to find the blankets!
The next day was to be our longest hike yet, about 24 kilometers, which I know to some of you sounds like child’s play but for us, a haul. We had to make it to Armenal, which essentially, when you make it, you are about a mile from the perimeter of the Santiago airport. This night we stayed in an old sawmill converted into a guest house, along a quiet, cold river, which you could swim in, and so I did. Again, we were well fed and cared for and got a good nights rest. And then were taken back to the trail for our last day, the day we would come into Santiago. As I said, Armenal, is right on the outskirts of Santiago, but we were still 17 kilometer’s away from the Cathedral.
One of the first things you come upon on this hike is the airport, which after days in rural Galicia, is a bit jolting. Suddenly we had 737s over our heads, but it also lets you know you are getting close. The day was beautiful, as they all were. As I said we had a few drops of rain on us heading into Portomarin on our first day, but not a drop since. We started seeing people we had seen at some point along the trail, but had not seen since.
We made it to Mt Gozo, or the Mount of Joy, called that because this was the place the early pilgrims first got the siting of the Cathedral in the distance, and it is still so today. It was our first glimpse too. Pope John Paul II visited here, and there is a huge sculpture marking that.
From here is was a steep downhill, and another nearly 4 miles, mostly now through the city streets of Santiago, until you wind your way through the narrow streets and suddenly you come into the square and there it is, what you have seen in your mind, and saw 4 miles away from the hill right before you. There were pilgrims everywhere. Across the crowd you see joy, exhaustion, lots of braces, tape, sunburns, tears.
After taking that in for a while, Marti and I made our way to the Pilgrim Credential Office where you prove with your passport that you had walked it, and you receive your Compostella. When we got there the line was out the door and down the street, so we retreated for food and drink instead. Sitting in the sidewalk cafe and watching people walk in from another direction, coming from the English Way, Marti had just commented how unreal it was that we never met anyone from Seattle, much less any one we knew, when suddenly I looked up and said, that’s Cindy Spencer, and her husband Heath. And indeed it was. They had been following this blog and knew they were coming in on Friday as well, but were reasonably sure they would not see us, but indeed we did.
After it, we went back with resolve, and stood in line for an hour, before finally getting our Compostela. Here is what that was like.
We had made it. We had walked a little over 70 miles in 7 days. Quiet trails, city streets, steep hills. My body feels it, the soles of my feet really do, but I am glad for it, in so many ways.
We were fortunate to get to spend two nights healing in Santiago and enjoying this city. We explored the Cathedral though one of the disappointments of this trip for me is that the Cathedral is under a much needed renovation, and so the very famous botafumeiro, the giant thurible that is swung and it takes 8 men to start it and stop it, which I so wanted to see is not flying right now, and the Cathedral is in a bit of disarray but we still did get to enter into the reliquary of James and that was a holy moment indeed. Again, like life, it never goes exactly as planned. We will be among the few who traveled here anyway, in this time.
We also partook of another holy thing here, tapas, and a tapas tour with a private guide, John, who was absolutely fabulous. He taught us so much about the city, the country, Galicia, and fed us some great food around the city too. We had a great time with him, what a blessing!
In this blog I mainly wanted to let you know we made it, and to give you a bit of our journey. I plan, in the next few days to send my reflections on what happened inside, to reflect on not where we went, and what we saw, but how that, has changed me.
Blessings, and Buen Camino,