Day 33+1: Santiago de Compostela 

What an amazing experience, now with a little time to reflect it is clear that the Camino is the perfect example of the journey being more important than the destination.

We have climbed mountains, trudged through desolate plains, wandered in magical forests, seen the sunrise, walked under a full moon, taken the path less travelled and joined the masses on a shared purpose. 

However the friendships we have made are the most important gift to us. The people we have shared stories with, walked alongside in companionable silence, laughed, cried, enjoyed food and wine (good and bad), and from whom we have learned. 

We would like to thank each and every one of the fabulous pilgrims we met: Marcus from Germany, Nikolay from Russia, Dave and Peter from USA, Ronnie from Belgium, Chrissy from Australia, Lisa from England, Jamie and Nic from Australia, Sheldon and Rob from Australia (via London), Bob from USA, Claire and Leah from New Zealand, Laurent from France, Sherry and Richard from USA, Brendan and Kate from Australia, Shigeto from Japan, Tobias from Germany, James from USA, Monica from Spain, Bae from Korea, Charlotte from Germany, Erin from USA, Veronica from USA, Wolfgang from Germany, Scott from USA, Allan and Cathy from Canada, Joe and Brian from USA, Heiro from Belgium, Jerzy and Sylwia from Poland, Arthur from France, Christophe from France, Mark and Fiona from New Zealand, Ross and Jenny from New Zealand, Mark from Australia, Jenny from Ireland, Lucia, Brian and David from Canada, Carla and Joan from South Africa, Martin and Tomas from Germany, Chris from USA, Ji Yeon from Korea, Anita from Netherlands, Sylvia from Hong Kong, Becky from USA, Miguel and his wife from Spain, Mati and her husband from Spain and to every other pilgrim we met, walked with and talked to on The Way.

We are grateful for your contribution, big and small, to our journey and feel blessed that our pilgrimage was all the better for having you in it. 



Day 33: O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela 

We slept a little restlessly, excited nerves I guess. We prepared our packs and ourselves for a days walk for the last time. Sunscreen on, shoes cleared of stones, water bottles filled, camera/phones in assigned pockets, hat on, off we go. 

We met our friend Bae for breakfast and spent the day walking with her. We saw another friend Christophe as we left the cafe and promised to catch up with him tonight. We bumped into our friends Fiona and Mark at our first cafe stop and laughed and chatted as we rested our legs. We met and chatted with three girls walking in the early morning through the forest. Friendships based on mutual purpose, forged through shared pain and shared joy. 

It was cool and fresh this morning, a little colder than normal. The walk out of O Pedrouzo was through a eucalypt forest and past some pretty semi-rural houses. It was interesting to note that each kilometre was observed and acknowledged, somewhat a countdown of the last 20km we would walk, but also, I think, a slowing of time to prevent the end from arriving. 

We skirted the airport but unlike Burgos it was mostly hidden by trees and a small creek. It was a pretty walk with the sun rising behind us, through the leaves to provide dappled light to our path. The number of pilgrims increased as the morning progressed, and whilst it was a little procession-like at times it never really got crowded. 

We stopped again at the top of Monte del Gozo a small hill overlooking the outskirts of Santiago. We had a bocadillo in a small bar and headed on our way. The end was so close now and we didn’t want to stop too long. 

Santiago is a large city, we walked through several new suburbs and industrial areas on the way into the city proper. The signs and yellow arrows became harder to identify and further apart, so to have other pilgrims to check with and follow helped a lot. Slowly the new city gave way to the old, and then suddenly we were in the UNESCO classified historic centre of Santiago. The crowds were increasing, pilgrims, tourists and locals. We arrived firstly at the San Martiño monastery, street musicians played guitars, artists performed and artisans sold their goods. Our eyes remained on the path. 

We walked through the tunnel-like arch of Pazo do Xelmírez with a piper playing a traditional tune and out into the bright light of the Praza Obradoiro. The cathedral ends up behind you as you enter so it took me a moment to turn around. We walked to the centre of the plaza. Matt and I looked at each other in awe and pride, but also some sadness. We embraced in the middle of the crowd. Tears ran down my cheeks. We made it. We finished! It was difficult to take it in.

799.7km walked across northern Spain. A challenge, a joy, a frustration, a meditation. Life, simplified. 


Day 32: Ribadiso to O Pedrouzo 

This morning it felt like we were walking on air. It was a gorgeous sunrise through a sprinkling of clouds and a light mist. It was a cool morning; we walked up out of the river valley with a new pilgrim friend Becky. It was great chatting and walking.

After the township of Arzúa, the walk was again through picturesque farmland with stacked stone fences, dairy cows, sheep and vegetable gardens, and eucalyptus forests full of wildflowers and ferns. The pathways were mainly natural gravel which are great for walking. It is getting much busier each day now as we approach Santiago. More pilgrims are joining the path, particularly Spanish pilgrims walking the final 100kms. It’s becoming a bit crowded, so our early starts help us avoid most of the peak hour traffic!

We stopped at Casa Calzada for an atún empanada and coffee, a cute little cafe in the middle of nowhere. The community catches up at these stops, we said hello to many of our walking companions. Feeling fueled and happy we continued on our way, on The Way. 

It’s been a strange feeling these past couple of days. We do feel tired and weary, and are looking forward to not having to get up and walk, but we also feel strong after a solid 31 days walking trained into our legs. Today was like that, we felt comfortable and were easily meeting our goals for break stops, even improving on our overall pace. But it was also great to arrive at O Pedrouzo and be finished for the day. 

Tomorrow is our last day. It seems so weird to think this adventure is coming to an end. Even though it always had a end date, it’s been such a long and absorbing journey the end has arrived as almost a surprise. I am sure we will not miss the weight of the packs on our backs, the dust in our eyes and hand washing our kit; but I also know we will definitely miss our new friends, the simplicity of our daily lives and the connection to something greater than ourselves. 


Day 31: Palas de Rei to Ribadiso 

A beautiful undulating walk through hills and dales and river valleys brought us to the idyllic village of Ribadiso, on the river Iso. 

We walked through lovely forests, mostly on tracks away from the roads. There was lovely shade for most of the day. We stopped for a delicious breakfast at the hamlet O Coto. A small tienda (shop) and bar run by a delightful abuela (grandma) cooking up fresh omelette in her kitchen. Matt enjoyed the omelette whilst I had the delicious empanada with jamon y queso. Wow! So very good I had two large slices. Walking makes you hungry!

We headed through another administrative town of Melide, which is famous for the pulpo (boiled octupus with paprika – so very tender and much more delicious than it sounds) but we were not able to enjoy as we spent nearly an hour sorting out issues with Matt’s SIM card. Of course the problem was simple, once we got through the language and typical phone company issues. A wonderful guy in the local computer and Orange store saved us by making a million phone calls and finding us an English support line. 

We caught up with Sylwia and Jerzy, our Polish friends, and walked the rest of the way chatting and singing with them. We passed through farms with more hórreos, mostly vegetables and dairy cattle. The forests were full of eucalypts and ferns, the smell was amazing, it so reminded us of home. 

It warmed up by the middle of the day, we got quite hot and were grateful to find Ribadiso such a beautiful oasis. A few small buildings on the river and a beautiful bridge amongst the trees. We settled into the lovely albergue, got our washing done and headed to the only cafe for a afternoon beer. 


Day 30: Portomarín to Palas de Rei

Portomarín is situated on the beautiful river Miño. We headed back down to the river and crossed a tributary to skirt the reservoir and climb up through beautiful woodlands to reach alto San Antonio. 

The countryside is so beautiful. The farms are larger, with well presented stone buildings. The farm “fences” are stacked stone with no mortar. Just moss and time holding them together. The farms also have bórreos, fabulous cathedrals of corn, in their yards. These decorative raised buildings provide a dry, vermin free place to store corn and grains. They look like places of worship and to a food lover they sort of are! 

The path today was shady as it wove up and down hills and through farms and woodland. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot for walking. We felt like we had hit our stride all day. A couple of stops today in pretty villages for coffee and sandwiches. 

We spent most of the walk chatting with Sylvia and Jerzy (Poland), and Tobias (Germany), and Joan and Carla (South Africa), and Mark and Fiona (NZ). It was so good to spend time with people who are becoming firm friends. A global community of pilgrims, so wonderful.

Palas del Rei seems pretty quiet and ordinary. It is billed as an administration town for the dairy industry. However, it is also Sunday and nothing much is open; we had forgotten that, so perhaps we are not doing it any justice. We had a short wander through the main street and grabbed a bite to eat. 

A great day, and a relaxing afternoon. I feel like I’ve found my happy again. 


Day 29: Sarria to Portomarín

It’s taken 29 days, but today kinda sucked. It was another shorter day, 22.1kms and was supposed to be easy. 

However my pack was uncomfortable, my right shoulder hurt a lot, I was tired and slow, I couldn’t stop sneezing and blowing my nose, breakfast was crappy, there were too many people on the path, too many bathroom breaks needed, I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to listen to music, I just wanted to be there already, I was very grumpy and completely over it. 

All this whilst walking through beautiful forests and picturesque farmland. Beautiful houses, acres of wildflowers, vegetable gardens, dairies and cows, grand looking farms, beautiful stone chapels, stunning scenery. We visit a beautiful stone chapel as the first stop in the morning, we meet a local in national dress playing the Galician bagpipes, and we pass the 100km to Santiago mark, but all I can think of is finishing this… this… whatever this is. 

I think the whole “only 5 days to go” thing has got into my head. It seems so easy, 5 days, we’ve done 28 already, so 5 days is nothing. I was thinking about decent showers, and decent food, and new clothes, and going back to work, and sailing in Greece, and what it all means to be done. But I’m not done. Not finished, not in Santiago yet, not complete. 

And I think that daydreaming hurt me. My physical body was giving my wandering mind a kick in the butt. My sore shoulder and sneezes were not so gentle nudges to get my mind back in the game. This is the last big push, the final quarter, the last gasp, the end game. Get on board! Stay focussed! Four more days to go, and I want to be present for them all. 

A mid afternoon sleep, quality Italian food for dinner, and fun night watching the Champions League final (in which Barcelona won and I’m taking as a good omen!) with pilgrim mates and I’m on my way back! 


Day 28: Triacastela to Sarria

After yesterday’s big thunderstorm and warm humid evening, we woke to a room with condensation running down our windows and our washing still damp. The early morning weather was fresh and crisp; clouds and mist filled the village. 

We walked out of the village into the forest. The mist hung low, it was almost like walking in rain. The hills and path were hidden from view. As we climbed higher we got a small splash of sunshine, but it was short lived as the mist closed in around us. 

It wasn’t cold, just sort of humid. The clouds created islands out of the tops of the mountains, they looked like they were floating. The forest was dripping with water. The trees rained fat drops on our heads, the grasses sparkled with moisture, the spider webs glistened with raindrops. The wildflowers were dense and colorful, and overall the forest felt lush and alive. 

The cold clear steams flowed along side and under the path, small waterfalls were created as the groundwater flowed directly out of the mountainside. The sound of bubbling streams, collecting into pools accompanied our steps. 

The clouds and mist continued into the late morning and early afternoon, as did the lush green forest which reminded us of the rainforests at home. Slowly the forest gave way to small villages and farmland, as we headed towards Sarria, a major medieval centre for pilgrims. As the official start point for pilgrims doing the requisite 100kms, the town has many albergues and refugios. It also means five more days for our journey, and approximately 114kms to go to Santiago. An amazing feeling to think our goal is this close! 


Day 27: O’Cebreiro to Triacastela

We woke exhausted from our two long strenuous days. A shorter day today, but somehow the short ones are a struggle. Perhaps because we prepare less or have a different attitude to them. An extra five minutes in bed or no breakfast seems ok at the time, but it seems we pay for it later. 

It was mostly downhill today, after the heights of O’Cebreiro. The landscape was predominantly farmland and forest. The villages were actually working farms, complete with dairies, and cows, and manure. Piles and piles of manure. The smell was overwhelming at times, but actually the farm life was fascinating. We had seen large vegetable gardens tended and wheat fields being tilled by old men and women, and donkey and plough in the past days. Now we got to experience cows being feed, and milked or being lead to pasture. We even got caught in a cow traffic jam on our way into Triacastela, and we slowly followed the herd down the hill before they were headed into a paddock. The female shepherd was smacking them on the rump and shouting “vamos!” every few steps, and the herding dog was yapping at the cow’s heels and managing to avoid the cows kicking at their heads. 

After we arrived, sorted accommodation and cash and washing, we headed downstairs to our bar for a vino tinto and a blog. As we sat there looking out over the valley, the summer thunderstorm rolled in, complete with lightening, thunder, heavy rain and hail. All whilst maintaining 26C. Luckily we had hung our washing inside, but the albergue washing line was quickly stripped as the rain continued. Apparently the rain comes every day in the mountains in the afternoon. 

After the rain began to clear the clouds rose out of the forest like steam, hanging mysteriously in the trees. By the time we’d finished our dinner the drizzle had cleared completely and the sun was again shining. No rain again until tomorrow afternoon. We hope to avoid it on another short day. 


Day 26: Villafranca del Bierzo to O’Cebreiro

What an amazing day. Thoroughly exhausting, but exhilarating too. 32kms walked, 1150m ascended, 2 mountains scaled, 7 hours expended. 

We started early, and chose the road less travelled. We took the alternate path, which is the old Camino, and headed up and over Alto Peña Roldan. We walked through the town and out into the forest early, under the light from the full moon which hung low in the sky to the west. Behind the mountain crests to the east, the sun was rising, orange and pink tinged the sky. 

We walked through the valley as the daylight broke, finally reaching the crest just after sunrise. We climbed the extra path up to the radio tower and had our picnic breakfast in the bright sun. We continued on our way, skirting the ridge staying on the shaded side. The air was fresh and cool, the forest was lush and green. 

The steep descent down into the village of Trabadelo was intense. It was very steep and rocky and we had to pick our way avoiding gravel slides and rocks. Our legs were tested, especially our calves but we made it down safe and sound. We found a lovely Albergue that was serving food and had the best tortilla to date. Our host was a delight, wonderful service, he couldn’t do enough for us, even filled our water bottles for gratis. 

We headed on, along the road for a long stretch, pretty tedious when actually on the road, but it weaved into the forest land either side making for some nice shade. Our lunch stop was at the end of this stretch, at the village Ruitelán, in a lovely little bar where we had stupendously large jamon y queso bocadillos, right before the next and final major climb for the day. 

The sun was out in force by now, and we were tired from our efforts. But we knew if we kept it slow and steady, and kept up the breaks and water we would be fine. We were able to break the last 10kms down into three stretches, with stops at the two equally spaced villages along the way. The entire three stretches were basically straight up the mountain. They wove and turned, and followed the river for a while in the lower sections. We had a fair amount of shade as we walked through beautiful forests, but soon we rose above the forests to the more barren mountain tops. Shady spots were further apart, it was 30C and full sun for the remainder of the walk; we were so hot and so sweaty as we climbed. 

The last 5kms were tough (as usual every day) and the sun beat down hotter and hotter. Finally we arrived at the beautiful village of O’Cebreiro, full of lovely old stone buildings and the beautiful chapel of Santa María. 

We are now sitting in the sun on top of a mountain, just over the border in the Galicia region, looking across a beautiful valley, watching the mists roll in. The day’s efforts were worth this view. We feel exhausted but happy. 


Day 25: Molinaseca to Villafranca del Bierzo

It was a long (32km) and hot walk today, with little shade. We left before breakfast, and headed into Ponferrada, a large town in the heart of the Bierza wine region. It has a concise old town with a magnificent 12th century Templar Castle at its centre. 

We stopped breakfast at the castle gates, admiring the view and catching up with various friends. We are starting to notice new pilgrims joining the Camino, and starting their journey from this point. We wound our way through the restored old town and out of town alongside the river through a beautiful parkland. 

We headed further through an area that was full of large old homes that had been restored and upgraded. They are in large blocks of land, with beautiful gardens which we had not seen before. This soon turned to more utility land with vegetable plots or vacant blocks with tool sheds or small buildings only. 

Eventually we found our way to Camponaraya and their Cooperativa Viñas del Bierzo. A great little rest stop where we could taste their wine with a slice of delicious empanada (tuna & vegie pie). 

Our next stop was Cacabelos and the wonderful Moncloa de San Lázro for a delicious gourmet lunch. We sat in a beautiful courtyard covered with vines, and enjoyed a classy lunch. It was almost too difficult to leave, it was so relaxing and beautiful. 

The last stage of the day took us through the vineyards of the Bierzo region. The hills and dales, and grape vines for miles. There was little shade and the afternoon sun shone hotly. We trudged onwards towards Villafranca, wishing the kilometres away. The last two villages were tiny, and offered no respite. Finally we arrived Villafranca, we were tired and worn out from the long day. Our accommodation was on the outskirts of town. We slumped into our room, not wanting to think or do anymore. 

We did finally get ourselves together to visit the town, do some shopping and meet our friends for an early dinner. We didn’t really do Villafranca any justice with our visit, but we have another 30+km day tomorrow and we need to focus on that. If it’s like today, it’s gonna be hard!