Winding Down

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September 20, 2015:  Even though we did not have to be anywhere early today, we were still up by 7:30 and headed downstairs to experience our first breakfast at Hospederia San Martin Pinerio.  This was by far the best breakfast buffet we experienced on the Camino! The large room was bustling with excitement as pilgrims were clearly enjoying the sumptuous offerings of fresh fruit and a wide array of breakfast goodies.  We shared a table with an Irish chap who was quite entertaining telling us of his travails over the Northern Route (Camino del Norte).  When we finished eating, we returned to the room and readied ourselves for the day’s activities.

Just before 10 am, we walked over to the Pilgrim’s Office on Rua Vilar and lined up to received our Compostelas (Official Certificates of Completion).  Directly behind us were two bicyclists who had biked the Camino del Norte.  They were from Utah.  One of the guys had previously lived in Northern Spain while he was completing his Mormon mission several years ago.  It was interesting to get their perspective of what it was like biking the Camino.  As it turned out, they were able to answer a lot of questions Heather and I had asked ourselves while we were walking regarding where they stayed, how many miles they covered per day, and things of that nature. Talking with them and sharing our experiences made the line move more quickly it seemed, and we were soon at the front. Leaving the Pilgrim’s Office we ran into Vic and Heather from Australia!  Great to see them.  They were staying at a hotel at the other side of town.  We said goodbye and gave them a big hug. Also standing in line was the German couple whom we had met at Casa Domingo for lunch a few days back.

While shopping the day before, Heather had spotted a colorful purse/bag that she wanted to buy, so we found that shop and obtained the bag.  Then she put the “tubo” that contained our compostelas in the newly acquired purse and we headed to the Cathedral early so we could get a good seat for the Pilgrim’s Mass that was scheduled for 12 noon.  Realizing we had plenty of time, we toured some of the more interesting parts of the Cathedral including the statue of St James and the “crypt” underneath.  After spending some time looking at several of the small “chapels” that line the sides of the Cathedral, we proceeded over to the main seating area and quietly tried to position ourselves near the side by the massive columns so we could obtain a seat as soon as the current mass was completed.

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To my surprise, I noticed that the tirobolieros (six monks) were getting in place to swing the Botafumiero (the massive incense holder).  I nudged Heather and made her aware of this then pulled out my smart phone to get a video of the entire event.

Not long after, we were leaving the Cathedral and spending an hour or so shopping for gifts for our friends and loved ones along the busy Rua Vilar and all the shops near the Plaza Quintana and Rua Azabacheria.

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We went back to the hotel and Heather took a long nap.  I went outside and sat on the wall facing the north doors of the cathedral and just watched pilgrims come into the area for the first time.

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A concert was just starting up in the plaza right next to the hotel, so I stayed and watched that for awhile.

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When I got back to the room, Heather was still sleeping, so I crawled into my bed and caught some shut-eye.  When we woke up, we walked over to a restaurant I had eaten at last trip to get an early dinner, but it was unfortunately closed for the day.  So we did some more shopping and then went back and ate dinner at the hotel.

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Glorious Walk to Santiago

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Just five minutes from Pension A Solaina, we found Bar El Mundo and stopped in for some toast and coffee before heading into the forest to San Anton.  During this stretch, we met a delightful nun who was walking alone, so we spent several minutes talking with her as we proceeded through these eucalyptus groves.  The morning was still chilly, but the sky was a bright blue.  I was so grateful that we would have such a beautiful day to walk into Santiago.  Answered prayer!

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We went through the Amenal Tunel under the N-547 and then made the long climb up to the airport and around to San Paio.

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At the top of the hill in Villamaior, we stopped for lunch at a nice albergue/bar.

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Refreshed from this, we moved on past the TV station, down the hill to San Marcos and were soon at Monte de Gozo and the monument commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II.

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I wanted to cross over the adjacent park area to find the Pilgrim statues that I had missed on the last trip, so we spent an extra ten minutes heading south to find them.  When we got there, there was a bus load of tourists who were swarming all over the place so we had to wait until they were gone to get some good pictures.  This was somewhat annoying, but we were careful to remind ourselves that they had as much right to be there as we did. This little side trip did not disappoint.

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After the statue experience, we hiked back to the monument and got a Magnum chocolate bar for two Euros at the snack bar and then headed down the hill to the city.  In a few minutes we were crossing over the train tracks on the rickety foot bridge into the environs of Santiago.  We stopped to rest at a bench on Rua San Pedro, then picked up the Camino through the narrow streets to Praza Obradoiro.

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Coming down the stairs through the archway leading to the plaza, we were greeted by a bagpiper who was playing an intermittent salute to all the pilgrims.  Then it was into the huge open space in front of the west face of the Cathedral.  As all pilgrims know, this is a very emotional time.  Heather was overcome and fell to her knees sobbing, so thankful that she had had made it.

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After we had given thanks for our journey, I took my backpack off and hoisted it above in a victory celebration.

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Heather took off her shoes because she felt she was on holy ground.  We got some good pictures of her heavily bandaged feet.  By now, she had blisters on every toe.

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After resting for a long time on the stone plaza, we walked back up through the archway to our hotel, Hospederia San Martin Pinerio and checked in.  Our room was small and somewhat sparse, but it was extremely clean and comfortable with a modernized bathroom.  After an hour or so we cleaned up and set out for the Pilgrim’s office at Casa do Dean on Rua Vilar.  The line was very long and hardly moving so we decided to come back in the morning when it might be easier to get through.  As we were standing there, the Australian mother/daughter duo were coming out.  They had just received their compostelas and were brimming with happiness.  We also saw the nun that we had met earlier in the day near San Anton and she was trying to find some fellow nuns that were working at Casa do Dean.

Heather and I left the Pilgrim’s office and headed back up the stairs to Plaza Quintana and checked out a few souvenir shops before returning to the hotel.  We stopped at the cafeteria/bar before going up to the room and picked up a snack and drink.  Then, it was nap time until we went down for dinner about 8:00.

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Arzua to O’Pedrouzo

September 18, 2015:  We were awoken before the sun was up by our noisy neighbors in the adjoining bunks, but this was OK with Heather and I, because we couldn’t wait to get out of this place and back on the trail. What a crummy night!  It didn’t take long to pack up and make our way to rua do Carmen and out of town into the forest.  Once we were in the woods, it became darker but we could see well enough.  About a half mile up the trail, I noticed the track to the right that led to Hotel Suiza where Greg and I had stayed last trip. Approaching Pregontono, the sun was rising in spectacular fashion and Heather got a great picture:

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At A Peroxa, we stopped at a cozy bar for some breakfast where we encountered a very friendly and efficient staff.  Here, we also ran into a young German friend, Marie, from Berlin, who we had met the day before.  It was great to see her again.

During the climb up to Salceda, we met an elderly South African man who had been on several pilgrimages.  He was moving in a very labored manner up the wet, muddy path and we walked with him for a while listening to his tales as he told us in great detail what he intended to eat for dinner in Santa Irene.  After a while, this became a little tedious and we said goodbye and moved on.  He was very good-humored about it, however.  Later, when I stopped to use the outdoor facilities, he caught up to us and was bending Heather’s ear once again.  We chuckled about this encounter for the rest of the day.  While we were heading up into the town, we came across two young women, one of whom was struggling with a painful leg problem. Heather stopped to help her and offered some advice for using kinesiology tape that she might be able to download via the internet.  She was thankful for that, but thought she could make it OK.  We stopped at a rest area along the road in Salceda and ate some fruit and nuts.  This would be our lunch for the day.  The sunshine felt good, and it warmed us as we sat on a comfortable bench and watched other pilgrims pass us by.

At the outskirts of Salceda, we began another long climb and soon we were at the high altitude point for the day at Alto Santa Irene.  Then we began the steep descent to the rio Burgo and into Arca.  As we entered the busy town, I pointed out the Respol gas station where Greg and I had called for help in getting to Casa da Agua two years earlier.  We proceeded up the busy street into town, stopped at a supermercado to get some snacks, and then quickly found our hostal, Pension A Solaina, with little problem.  Our host was quite helpful in getting us to our room and settled in.  This was a great place, located right in the center of town.  The room was quite modern, and the bathroom was spectacular. Hot showers followed quickly and we both took brief naps before venturing out for some food.

At the entrance to the town, we remembered passing some restaurants, so we decided to head there first and see what we could find. We settled on a modern Italian joint and ordered a pizza.  While waiting for our meal, we noticed two of the Australian men that were in the group with Vic and Heather.  I waved to them and one of the guys came in and said hello.  He told us that they were probably going to be in big trouble with their wives because they were drinking beer in a bar and missed the ride to the casa rural where they were all staying.  They had to arrange alternate transportation and were waiting for the taxi to arrive to pick them up.  While waiting, of course, they were downing a couple of additional beers!  Haha! We said goodbye to them, and they said they would convey our regards to Vic and Heather.  Our pizza came and we devoured it quite easily.  Of course, we just had to have our chocolate Magnum Ice Cream bars for dessert.  Then we were ready to head back to the pension and hole up for the night, grateful that we had made it this far, and that tomorrow we would be in Santiago.  Woohoo!

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Melide to Arzua

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September 17, 2015:  The rain finally let up in late afternoon in Melide.  While Heather was taking a nap in our cold room under blankets (the heat had to be turned on by the hotel staff), I ventured out into the main part of town to find an ATM and a supermercado to get some dark chocolate and potato chips to sustain us until dinner was served at 7:30.  I found a BBVA within a few blocks and then, just around the corner, a great market that had everything I needed. Returning to the hotel, I went to the bar and ordered a large cerveza and a Coke zero and took them up to the room.  The hot shower was a good way to get warm.  Then I found another blanket and crawled under it until the heat filled the room sufficiently.

Not being too impressed with both the staff at Pousada Chiquitin or the facility itself, I logged on to the internet and tried to see if there were any local restaurants that were recommended.  Most of them were “pulpo” (octopus) restaurants.  Neither of us were particularly interested in this cuisine not did we want to walk a mile or so to some of the other restaurants, so we just decided to eat later in the hotel.

Soon it was time for our favorite TV show, AhoraCaigo, so we watched that and then went downstairs and eventually ordered a hamburguesa and a ensalada mixta.  Heather said the salad was OK and, from my point of view, the hamburger was marginal, at best.  A blah evening, 180 degrees from last night, but we were safe and warm (by now) and thankful for that.

The street outside the hotel was all torn up with construction that appeared to be installation of new sewer and water lines.  The work went on until darkness fell and began early in the morning.

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In the cold wet morning, we set out for Arzua.  The day was rather uneventful, and the rain came and went throughout the morning.  Just east of Ribadiso, the sun began to peak through the clouds, and we removed our ponchos for good.  We crossed over the little bridge by the albergue Xunta and criss-crossed the N547 until we made it up the hill to Arzua until we eventually found Via Lactea.  Our beds were in a 16-bed dorm.  Heather took the lower bunk and I the upper.  There was a laundry facility in the back of the albergue, and we gathered everything, got some Euro coin, and proceeded to wash what we could.  No soap was for sale in any vending machine, but I was able to scrape some bits from a bin that I found and that would have to do. This part of the albergue was freezing.  I found some blankets, and we sat on an old sofa in this dank room, all bundled up, and gritted our teeth with wry laughter.

After the laundry was finished, we folded everything up and put it away in our bag.  Then we set out to the main part of town to get something to eat.  On Calle Lugo, outside Casa Teodoro, we ran into the mother and daughter from Australia.  They were staying at the hotel and just going out to do a little shopping before dinner.  We chatted for a while and laughed at our aching muscles.  They took off for sightseeing and shopping and we decided to eat at Casa Teodoro.  This turned out to be a good choice.  It was a busy and very comfortable restaurant.  Heather had a great salad, and I opted for pimientos padron and a cheese plate con pan.  Excellent food with a good glass of wine and a fine Coke Zero! After the meal, we strolled through the town since the rain had stopped and tried to find someplace that was selling ice cream.  No luck, so we made our way back through the narrow streets to our dreary albergue and hid ourselves away in our corner bunk.  Before long, it was time to try and sleep which was a challenge due to a soccer game playing on TV at some remote part of the establishment with a rowdy group of men cheering some team on until 11 pm.  As soon as that was over, things quieted down to some extent except for some room mates that came in late and were making a lot of noise settling in next to us.

When we woke up in the morning, we were both tired from the lack of sleep and Heather had a bad headache.  At the crack of dawn, we set out via the back roads of town through the adjacent forest towards Arco, our next stop.

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Short rainy walk to Melide

September 16, 2015:  Rectoral Lestedo prepared a wonderful breakfast for us and we were out on the road by 8:30.  Rain was intermittent, so we decided to just leave our ponchos on until we saw some sunshine.  Good news was that the wind had died down somewhat so we were able to stay drier as we moved towards Palas de Rei.  We stopped at La Cabana where Greg and I had stayed last trip to get some coffee, get out of the rain for a while and use the restrooms.

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While there, we ran into the couple from Iceland who were doing the same thing.  Good to see them again.  Back on the road, we bumped into the foursome from North Carolina who were just getting to La Cabana, and we walked with them to Palas de Rei.  From there, they were going to take a detour to Castillo Pambre so we said goodbye.  The rain came down more heavily as we made our way  towards the rio Pambre.  A passing pilgrim from Australia stopped and took a picture of us.

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Not too far from here, we began to see evidence of the storm.

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Just past the little bridge over rio Pambre, we stopped at Albergue Casa Domingo for a lunch snack. Here we met a German couple who were ordering cheeseburgers and beer!

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We had our classic bocadillo con queso and enjoyed a delightful conversation with the Germans.  After lunch, the rain had let up and we spotted the sun, so we de-poncho’d and set out to cross the delight old roman bridge.

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In a few miles we were passing the Poligono Industrial complex and heading back into the forest before coming down the rough trail to the old bridge leading into Furelos.

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From Furelos, it was a relatively short walk up the environs of Melide.  As soon as we arrived in town, the deluge began again.  By the time we got to our hotel across town, we were once again soaked.  On the way to Pousada Chiquitin, our hotel, we saw a familiar sight in a store window that Greg and I had seen last trip.

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Rainy Day Up and Over Sierra Ligonde

September 15, 2015:  I woke up at 4am this morning, got out my Galaxy Tab4, and followed the Tweet feed for the Monday Night Football game of 49ers and Vikings via the NinersNation web site.  By 7am, the game was over, Niners victorious, and it was time to get up and start the day.  We dressed, got our bag downstairs, and walked over to the restaurant section and ate breakfast of, you guessed it, OJ, toast and coffee.  Heather and I both pulled our ponchos out, certain that we would need them soon, based on weather reports we had seen, and a quick look at the skies outside the hotel through a transom window in our room.

We made our way back down the rua Xeral Franco and headed towards the reservoir via the twisting road across the inlet that led to the uphill track to Toxibo.  Once again, we noted how crowded the Camino had become.  There were many who passed us, still fresh from just starting their walk.  “Wait another day,” I told Heather.  It would be at about that point that their calves and feet would begin to feel the stress of climbing and descending too fast. By the time we reached Toxibo, the rain was coming down steadily, and the wind was picking up speed.  We had heard on TV that this weather system was part of a tropical storm that they were calling “Henri”.

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At Gonzar, we stopped at a bar for a snack, as did about 50 other pilgrims.  Good for the local business.  This place had their act together, being staffed sufficiently and, at least from my point of view, was providing great service to the various nationalities on the Camino with all the things we needed.  More and more pilgrims were flooding into the bar and the outside area covered by a tent, so we got ourselves packed and poncho’d up and headed back on to the trail.  Heather was in really good spirits, much more than I, and the rain didn’t seem to bother her as much.  Here she is the little town of Hospital, I think:

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Soon, we crossed over the N-540 and continued upward until we reached the high point for today at Sierra Ligonde which is about 2,400 ft.  From there it was slowly downhill through the blowing rain until we reached our destination in the little hamlet of Lestedo where we stayed at Rectoral Lestedo, a beautiful casa rural right on the Camino.  A roaring fire in the lounge greeted us once we had settled in and showered.  Dinner that night was truly the best we had the entire trip with a delicious roasted chicken as the main course.  WiFi was not working well in this somewhat remote location, an interesting contrast to the modernity of the establishment.  The owner apologized for this inconvenience, but I was actually quite happy to be effectively cut off from everything for the evening.  We met all the other guests at dinner.  There was a mother and daughter from Australia, four Americans from North Carolina, and an American couple we had seen several times on the way that day who were from Newport Beach, CA.  By 8pm we were flat out tired from our days trek and needed sleep.  And that we did, quite easily.

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The Traffic Increases from Sarria

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September 14, 2015:  From time to time, since we left Leon, Heather and I were talking quite a bit about how things might change on the Camino after Sarria.  Most of our discussions centered around the dramatic increase in the number of pilgrims, many of whom were starting their Camino in Sarria to go 100 kilometers to Santiago, the minimal distance to “qualify” for a Compostela.  As soon as we reached the top of the steps in Sarria, that became exceedingly apparent.  It seemed as if pilgrims were pouring out of every bar and stone doorway as we moved higher up the hill towards Mosteiro da Madalena.

Before we reached Rua do Castelo, we ran into Thiago coming out of one of these albergues where he had stayed the night before.  He was having breakfast and spotted us passing by.  It was great to see him again, and he told us his blisters were much better, although he was still moving slowly.  We said goodbye and promised to look for each other later on.

At the top of the hill, we kept watching all the kids being dropped off for school at Madalena, and missed the left turn at the Cementario.  Heather went back up and found the turn off and I signaled to several fellow pilgrims to follow us.  Then we all followed the “herd” down the steep hill and out across the old bridge over the rio Celeiro.  The morning train into Sarria was just coming in along to the right of the path, bringing another block of pilgrims who would probably be on the Camino tomorrow.

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At Barbadelo, we stopped at a bar/cafe for a snack and met an Austrian pilgrim who had been walking the Camino Primitivo.  By his comments, he seemed to be highly offended by the huge crowds that we were all experiencing and was going to get a bus to Santiago instead of walking any further with all these noisy people.  We ate our meal quickly and got back walking asap.  On the way to Morgade, we passed through a series of small hamlets, many of which were lined with sunflower fields.  Folks who had been there before us had carved faces into some of these now seedless flowers.

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In one of the little hamlets, Heather came across a small canine friend who had an injured paw.  The little fellow was wet from the rain and turned out to be very affectionate.  After following us for a 100 meters or so, his owner finally surfaced on the road and called to him.

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In one of the more forested areas, we ran into Thiago again and we walked with him for a good while, talking about his life in Brazil.  During this stretch, we were passed by a couple riding horses along the Camino, accompanied by two dogs who were having a great time greeting all the pilgrims.

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The rain was sporadic between here and Vilacha, but as we got farther west, the sun seemed to be out more consistently and we put our ponchos away for good.

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Just before reaching Vilacha, we stopped to rest on a stone wall.  It was there we encountered a young couple who were looking at a site to build a new albergue.  The couple had met on the Camino two or three years ago.  He was a Spanish hospitalero, and she was a Danish pilgrim.  They fell in love and now they were going to start their own business. They asked us what we thought of the idea of “yurts” on the Camino, particularly right at this point.  We told them we had eaten dinner in a yurt in the mountains of Colorado several years ago and enjoyed the experience immensely. They seemed quite serious about their vision.  We encouraged them to move forward with this idea.  We said goodbye and buen camino.

Soon we reached the top of the hill and were ready to descend to Portomarin.  Heather was hitting her 10-mile threshold with her thigh pain and was now starting to struggle down the hill.  We stopped midway down just before the bridge over the reservoir so she could stretch for a while and then made our way farther down the road and over the long span into Portomarin.

As we headed up the hill into the main square, Praza Conde de Fenosa, I remembered that there was a great supermercado on rua Xeral Franco amid the stone colonnades.  We went in there and got some things to snack on as well as some other sundry items.  Within a few minutes we were at our hotel, Pension Arenas.

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