O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela – Stage 36

Stage 36 – O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela
Total Distance – 19.8 km (12.3 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 20.4 km  (12.3 miles, accrued ascent 160 m = 0.6 km)
High Point: Monte de Gozo at 370 m (1,214 feet
)

Pilgrims moving ahead of us through the dense eucalyptus forrest outside of O Pedouzo

Pilgrims moving ahead of us through the dense eucalyptus forest outside of O Pedouzo

After almost two years of writing in this blog I finally get to the last stage!! As a recap, I started walking the Camino de Santiago in late May of 2013. Immediately I started blogging about it but my blog posts at first were sporadic and not very detailed. It’s hard work walking the Camino the way I did, waking up at 8:00 a.m. and taking a long lunch and many stops along the way to talk to people, while trying to write a blog post every day. I eventually gave up and concentrated on the Camino. At the end of each day – usually at 6 p.m. or even as late as 7p.m. – I was only focused on a hot shower and dinner and too tired to write. I soon decided that I would do periodic updates instead of a daily blog.

After returning from Spain I decided to continue my blog. My idea was not to only write about my walking but also to write about the villages and towns I encountered. I also wanted to give my followers a sense of the hidden history of the Camino so I included as much history as I could from many sources in English and Spanish. I also was determined to write about each and every stage of my pilgrimage.

Frankly, I also was not in a hurry to finish writing – it was as if I would lose the magic of the Camino once I stopped to write about it – I wanted to savour the experience. Silly, I know, but it was nonetheless a real worry for me.

With that out of the way, here is the account of my last stage of my 2013 Pilgrimage to Santiago! The immediate sensation that one has when starting out on your last stage to Santiago is one of sadness coupled with an intense anticipation. Only 19 kilometers separates you from your goal and you can’t wait to get there but also you wish that it wasn’t the end. You are immediately struck by the huge number of organized groups on the Camino – especially the youth groups. It’s as if they came out of the mists because you were not used to seeing them before Sarria. They resemble groups of soldiers on the march – with backpacks – as they steadily move forward.

This was a small group from Madrid. We also saw a group of over 100 students that day.

This was a small group from Madrid. We also saw a group of over 100 students that day.

When Sue and I started walking that day she was in heaven because of the eucalyptus forests we had to go through. She loved the smell as it reminded her of Australia and all the walks in the bush country there. Our first stop for coffee was at the Café at Amenal. It was here that while we were sitting down having a leisurely cup of cafe con leche that Shamus, the Anglo-Irish doctor, and his mother caught up with us and we all sat together. His mother started to describe and to tell me about an Italian peregrino that they recently saw on the trail. This peregrino was badly, badly limping and Shamus’s mother made him go and talk to the him. Shamus told the peregrino that he needed to stop walking immediately because he risked doing permanent damage to his knee. The Italian however was undeterred and said that he would continue on. As I sat there listened I wondered what I would do if I were the Italian. With that thought in my mind Sue and I left them to their coffee and continued walking.

Talking to a group of students that were amazed to see peregrinos from Australia and California. When I told them that I had started in St. Jean Pied de Port - 780 kilometers away - they were doubly amazed.

Talking to a group of students that were amazed to see peregrinos from Australia and California. When I told them that I had started in St. Jean Pied de Port – 780 kilometers away – they were doubly amazed.

Monument somewhere before Labacolla Airport

Monument somewhere before Labacolla Airport

As we approached the hamlet of Lavacolla I saw the Italian peregrino that Shamus’s mother had described to me. He was resting on the side of the trail and in typical Italian fashion smoking a cigarette. I went up to him and asked him how he was faring and his gave me a pure Italian shrug of his shoulders. You know the kind – the shoulders move upwards with a simultaneous pursing of the lips and contraction of his eyebrows. I pointed to his knee and asked if he was going to continue and he said, “Yeah, what choice do I have”. I couldn’t fault him for his answer and envisioned him crawling to Santiago.

Crosses fashioned out of branches and attached to the airport fence.

Crosses fashioned out of branches and attached to the airport fence.

Brierly in his guide describes Lavacolla as, “the place where medieval pilgrims came to wash lavar and purify themselves before entering the city”. Since lavacolla in Spanish translates to “wash your tail” his description is a polite way of saying, without graphically describing, what they actually washed. This place was a ritual and obligatory stop for ancient pilgrims. In those days people washed much less than we do – if they washed at all – and this was the place where they had to wash and “purify” themselves before entering Santiago. While they were washing there were plenty of merchants shilling their goods – inns, taverns, restaurants – in a multitude of languages.

I believe that this is the Capilla de San Roque in Lavacolla

I believe that this is the Capilla de San Roque in Lavacolla

DSCN3531 DSCN3532From Lavacolla to the Monte de Gozo I remember two things. First, it was a long and hot ascent and secondly when we got there I noticed Sue keeping a watchful eye on me. This was because she had for days been telling me that she was going to be watching me as we approached Santiago. She was anticipating an emotional reaction from me and was duly diligent in her watchfulness. For the record I didn’t cry at Monte de Gozo when I first laid eyes on Santiago de Compostela. I did expect to see the cathedral from there but it was not to be.

This picture was for my son. I wanted him to see that St. Francis was a peregrino in the 12th century.

This picture was for my son. I wanted him to see that St. Francis was a peregrino in the 12th century.

Monte de Gozo means Mountain of Joy in Spanish and it is a 5-km slope up from Lavacolla. Here is where many experienced joy and euphoria because of seeing the Cathedral towers for the first time. Medieval pilgrims used to race up this mountain with the winner being proclaimed King for a day. Even those on horseback that arrived here had to walk up the slope.

The monument to the Camino built for the 1993 Holy Year

The monument to the Camino built for the 1993 Holy Year on the Monte de Gozo

This side celebrates the visit of John Paul II to Santiago

This side of the monument celebrates the visit of John Paul II to Santiago.

Sue leaving a stone to honor her friend in Australia

Sue leaving a stone to honor her friend in Australia

Notice how the hand here is really a representation of the Camino Francés with the shell being Santiago, the Palm being France and the fingers all the other routes from Europe that connceted to the Camino.

Notice how the hand here is really a representation of the Camino Francés with the shell being Santiago, the Palm being France and the fingers all the other routes from Europe that connected to the Camino.

From the Monte de Gozo we could see the city of Santiago de Compostela and little did we know that we’d have another hour of walking through the city streets before we’d see the Cathedral.

The way down into Santiago de Compostela!

The way down into Santiago de Compostela!

At last!!!

At last!!!

I told you before that Sue was keeping an eagle eye on me waiting for an emotional reaction on my part. That watch was re-doubled as we walked through the streets of Santiago. Entering Santiago we first came upon a statue of a Templar knight. I was pleased because I’m an avid student of all things templar and thought it only right and proper that their historical role of protecting pilgrims should be recognized at the entrance to the city.

The statute is named El Templario Peregrino

The statute is named El Templario Peregrino

Not far from the protective gaze of the Templar knight was another monument to the Camino. This is the Porta Itineris Sancti Iacobi, a triumphal arch that celebrates the famous peregrinos throughout the ages.

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Since we we’re going to be arriving after the daily mid-day mass at the Cathedral we were in no hurry to get there. We planned on immediately visiting the Cathedral and then going to our palatial lodgings at the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos. This was a pilgrim hospital that, Magnus Fernandus: et grandis Helizabeth: peregrinis: divi: iacobi: construi: Iussere: anno salutis MDI (The great Fernando and the powerful Isabel ordered to be constructed for pilgrims. The year of their health 1502). For our health and as a grand reward we planned to stay there.

First sighting of a cathedral spire!!

First sighting of a cathedral spire!!

We're getting closer!

We’re getting closer!

And closer!

And closer!

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Not to far off now!

Not to far off now!

I still didn’t cry when I first saw the spires but the anticipation was building.

The entire Camino is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Plaque to remind us that the entire Camino is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

One more narrow street to go!

One more narrow street to go!

As it turned out we entered the Cathedral via a side entrance on the Praza da Inmaculada and not through the main entrance on the Praza do Obradoiro. At that point I really didn’t care how we’d got there I was just so happy to have gotten there. I was euphoric but in a quiet way – but still no tears, those would come the next day.

The beautiful and magnicient Cathedral.

The beautiful and magnificent Cathedral.

After quickly seeing the inside of the Cathedral – we knew we’d be spending plenty of time there in the next those two days – we hightailed it to our lodgings, got cleaned up and went to get our compostelas.

My well-deserved Compostela. Notice that my name is in Latin.

My well-deserved Compostela. Notice that my name is in Latin.

The day that we arrived in Santiago was July 4th, 2013. For me, even though I was away from home and my loved ones, it was a truly memorable way to spend the 4th of July!

 

Castañeda to O Pedrouzo – Stage 35

Stage 35 – Castañeda – O Pedrouzo
Total Distance – 25.1 km (15.5 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 25.9 km  (15.5 miles, accrued ascent 160 m = 0.8 km)
High Point: Alto de Santa Irene at 405 m (1,328 feet
)

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This picture that was taken by Sue that morning shows me packing what she called my "TARDIS". Dr. Who fans will readily understander her fascination with how much I stuffed in my Mountainsmith Day Pack.

This picture that was taken by Sue that morning shows me packing what she called my “TARDIS”. Dr. Who fans will readily understand her fascination with how much I stuffed in my Mountainsmith Day Pack.

The picture above is one of three pictures (Three! An all-time low!!) that were taken on this stage. Was it the excitement of Santiago being so tantalizingly close? Did I just want to get on with it and just get there? Possibly. It certainly would have been understandable considering that I had been walking for over a month and really was I that different from any other peregrino? I think not.

Sue and I started this stage together but little did we know that we would not complete it together. At first we were walking together just fine but 12 kilometers into the when we stopped at Casa Calzada for a coffee Sue told me that she had injured her leg and could not continue. I was worried because we were almost halfway done with this stage and I hoped that she could recuperate enough for tomorrow and Santiago. Over coffee we devised a plan that would have her take a taxi to O Pedrouzo and find us a place to stay while I continued on foot.

This day was truly a blur for me. Nothing memorable happened on my way to O Pedrouzo and this may have been either due to my excitement, anxiety and/or determination to get just a little closer to Santiago. Whatever it was I got to my destination to find Sue waiting for me at a restaurant on the main street of town where we had a coffee before heading to the casa rural that she had found for us. Our strategy while in Galicia was not to try to find albergues to stay in because we felt that they would be full by the time we arrived. Instead, we relied on casa rurales or pensiones for our accommodation thinking that they would likely be available to us and luckily for us they were.

The courtyard of the casa rural where we stayed the final night before arriving in Santiago.

The courtyard of the casa rural where we stayed the final night before arriving in Santiago.

 

 

Palas De Rei to Castañeda – Stage 34

Stage 34 – Palas De Rei – Castañeda
Total Distance – 22.8 km (14.1 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 23.7 km  (14.7 miles, accrued ascent 180 m = 0.9 km)
High Point: O Coto at 515 m (1,670 feet
)

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Please note that some names may be in Galician – you’ll now it when you see it.

A short distance out of Palas de Rei we met an Australian couple. Notice the Hórreo on the left.

A short distance out of Palas de Rei we met an Australian couple. Notice the Hórreo to the left of the couple. Sue is carrying her red backpack.

Our stay in Palas de Rei (pop. 4,500) was pretty uneventful. I’m guessing because at this point we were so close to Santiago that our energies were focused on finding a place to sleep, eating and not injuring ourselves by doing something stupid, such as tripping over a curb or missing a step. Of course these were everyday concerns on the Camino but they became magnified once you realized just how close you were to your goal. Getting to Santiago was always an obession but now it became even more of one. For some reason I ran into more Australians and walked with them than any other nationality on the Camino. I was even beginning to talk like them!! This day was no different as Sue and I quickly encountered an Australian couple and started walking with them.

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A beautiful Galician home made of stone

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The 12th century Church at San Xulián do Camino dedicated to San Xulián .

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We had some early rough going through a forested area.

Not only were we about to enter a new province, A Coruña, but we also on this day would cross five river valleys. They were small shallow rivers, and the valleys were green and verdant.

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The weather was threatening but all we cared about was getting to Santiago.

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Crossing into a new province, our last province!

Sue and our new-found Australian friends approaching the medieval Ponte Velha

Sue and our new-found Australian friends approaching a medieval bridge.

The Church of Santa Maria

The Church of Santa Maria

 At the village of Leboreiro, a once important place from the 11th to 13th centuries and called “Campus Levurarius” (Rabbit Field) by the Codex Calixtinus, we stopped to enter the 13th century Church of Santa Maria. Rebuilt in the 18th century this church has an interesting legend attributed to its founding. It was said that a nearby fountain was emanting a “heavenly odor” and at night a “shining light”. Villagers, seeing this as a sign from above, proceeded to dig at the source of this divine intervention and found an image of the Virgin Mary there. They immediately placed it on the altar of the church. The one catch was that the image would not stay where it was placed and somehow returned to the fountain. This pattern repeated itself over several days until the villagers carved the tympanum we see here today and dedicated the church to the Virgin Mary. Satisfied, the image of the Virgin remained on the altar and has been in the church ever since. To add to the legend, it was believed by villagers in the 1960’s that the she returned to the fountain every night to comb her hair.

Inside the Church of Santa Maria

Inside the Church of Santa Maria

The church also has some interesting Romanesque design elements supporting the roof, corbels, and “including one very obvious phallus”. I must of missed this since I don’t remember it and I’m sure I would not have forgotten something like that in a church! Next time.

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The Ponte Velha crossed the río Furelos in the town of Furelos.

At the Ponte Velha we stopped for our most distinctive sello of the Camino. It was a wax sello! A gentleman at the bridge melted the wax before our very eyes and used a bronze stamp to produce a wax sello. Many people stopped for it and as you can see on the left of the above photo it drew quite a crowd. Once we had crossed the bridge we were in the modern surburbs of Melide. Melide is an adminstrative center of 8,000 inhabitants but more importantly for peregrinos it is famous for its octopus! After saying goodbye to our Australian friends who were doing a short stage and staying in Melide Sue and I hightailed it to the Pulpería A Garnacha, one of the many famous restaurants that specialized in pulpo Galega (octopus) where we had a meal of octopus, sprinkled with pimentón ahumado (smoked paprika), and local ribeiro white wine. It was delicious and is what is done in Melide!

Octopus being cut up after coming out of a steaming black kettle

Octopus being cut up after coming out of a steaming black kettle!

Melide is and was not only pulpo Galega. This was the place where the Roman Via Traiana and the Cantabrian roads intersected and as such Melide became an important transportation center. Furthermore Melide is in the exact geographic center of Galicia and not unusually it became an important town for pilgrims hosting businesses, hospices and hospitals.

Getting nearer and nearer to Santiago!!

Getting nearer and nearer to Santiago!!

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The Cruciero that stands in front of the Santa Maria de Melide Church located on the way out of town.

After pulpo and wine it was time to move on and our next stop was the Santa Maria de Melide Church. At first we weren’t sure we’d be able to see the church because the doors seemed shut but we soon found a man that was able to open the church for us. This church is a Romanesque gem and is a national landmark even though I didn’t see any indication of its landmark status. It is reputed to be the most complete example of the Romanesque style in the area and one look confirms that it is the best preserved and maintained as well. The church was constructed of granite in the 13th century and it has a “single nave, ending in a semi-circular apse in its apse, with a cul-de-four, decorated with Renaissance paintings.”

Notice its Romanesque altar (one of the few Romanesque altars left in Galicia)

Notice its Romanesque altar (one of the few Romanesque altars left in Galicia)

The church has many, many more interesting features, inside and outside, that we didn’t know of at the time and I wish we could have stayed there longer to have enjoyed them all but the pull of the Camino was calling.

IMG_0435Very, very soon thereafter we stopped in the village of Carballal mainly to photograph a beautiful stone house. Living in California, as I do, you do not find any stone houses because of our earthquakes so you can imagine how taken I was with this house.

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Our final destination was the hamlet of Castañeda and the casa rural that we’d booked for the night. Since it was about 8 kilometers away and we decided to hurry along so that we’d have plenty of time to shower and rest before dinner. We found Castañeda to be the epitome of a rural farming community and one would have never guessed that this was the place where pilgrims would deposit the limestone rocks that had carried with them from Triacastela to be fired for the lime used to construct the Cathedral of Santiago. Who knew?!

IMG_0632IMG_0630 After refreshing and reviving showers both Sue and I were ready to cross the street to the Cafe Bar Santiago and have some typical pilgrim fare for dinner. It consisted of a meat, french fries (the go to carb of choice on the Camino), plenty of wine (another Camino tradition) and ice cream for dessert. On the patio we noticed a couple, consisting of a man in his late 30’s and a woman in her 60’s, and asked if we could join them for dinner. Shamus was an Anglo-Irish doctor who had started his Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port. Interestingly his specialty was infectious diseases, mainly tropical ones. He had met his Irish mother in Sarria so that they could walk into Santiago together. We enjoyed our conversation and I asked Shamus what it was like being a doctor on the Camino. His reply can be best summed up in one word, “frustrating”. We all know that doctors are trained to diagnose and help and when, in passing conversation, peregrinos would learn that Shamus was a doctor they would invariably ask him to see an injury that they were struggling with and advise them. Shamus would check their injury and his advice was always the same: “You need to stop walking”. Some cases he said could produce a lasting injury. The response that he got was also invariably the same: “I can’t stop”. I did not find this surprising because I too faced off with an injury to my achilles tendon but I stopped and fully rested for three days before continuing on, in less pain but some pain nonetheless. This familiar pattern of sound medical advice and the rejection of the advice was very frustrating to Shamus because after all he was telling them what any doctor would of told them and had they been at home they would of taken his advice. Here on the Camino his medical knowledge was trumped by the overwhelming urge to arrive at Santiago. I really felt for Shamus and no wonder that he was reluctant to give advice anymore on the Camino! The lesson here is that if you are a doctor walking the Camino you need to be prepared to be frustrated or you will need to keep your profession secret.  I’m glad I’m not a doctor!

Portomarín to Palas De Rei – Stage 33

Stage 33 – Portomarín – Palas De Rei
Total Distance – 24.8 km (13.9 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 27.0 km  (16.7 miles, accrued ascent 450 m = 2.2 km)
High Point: Sierra Ligonde at 720 m (2,362 feet)

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Please note that some names may be in Galician – you’ll now it when you see it.

One of the bridges that led out of Portomarín

One of the bridges that led out of Portomarín. Notice the line of peregrinos heading toward it and on it.

DSCN3390My first thought when we left Portomarín was, “Where did all these people come from?” and then I remembered that we were within the last 100 kilometers of Santiago and it all fell into place. Still, the numbers of peregrinos on the road that morning was impressive. Immediately upon leaving we came upon a woodland and were soon paralleling the main road.

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Look at the hordes of people on the road!!

Look at the hordes of people on the road!!

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Signs always showed us the way.

Signs always showed us the way.

When we reached the village of Toxibó we came upon another hórreo strategically placed beside a lovely family home. It was the finest example I had seen of one up to that point. Sue and I had no idea what they were for and why they had that unique design. Later we were to learn that the pedestals that had rounded curves and the overhanging base of the hórreo were designed that way to keep out rodents and little animals. These intruders cannot climb up curved surfaces and this measure was enough to protect the meats that would be curing inside the hórreo or the grain stored there. The wooden slats on the sides of the hórreo insured that the structure was properly ventilated. In time we would see many, many more examples of these unique structures.    DSCN3402 DSCN3403 In the meantime we had some walking to do and as you can see from the picture below Sue was completely recovered and had no problem climbing up some of the steep slopes we found in our way.

Believe it or not but that little dot in the distance is Sue!

Believe it or not but that little dot in the distance is Sue!

There she is!!

There she is!! In this area the climbs were short and between a 9% to 15% grade.

With the beautiful countryside as our constant companion we also encountered peregrinos that decided on taking a unique mode of transportation!

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This husband and wife team were Dutch. You soon learned on the Camino that the Dutch were bike crazy!

This husband and wife team were Dutch. You soon learned on the Camino that the Dutch were bike crazy!

As we approached the area around the Sierra Ligonde we saw that the area was one of great beauty.

DSCN3413 DSCN3417 Midway in our stage we came upon a small chapel in Ventas de Narón. It was situated in a peaceful setting which belied the events of 820 AD when a bloody and cruel battle was fought here between Christian and Muslim armies with the Christian armies emerging victorious. Curiously, I saw no plaques that spoke of that fateful battle; all that I saw was a chapel and a plaque that spoke of the renovation of the chapel in 2004.

DSCN3414 DSCN3415Our next stop was to be just beyond the village of Lameiros where a Cross or Cruceiro awaited us. Specifically it was the Cruceiro de Lameiros (1670) that we stopped to see. At the base of the cross you see symbols that represent the suffering and death of Jesus while at the top, where you would expect to see a crucified Christ, is a symbol of maternity. This particular juxtaposition of life and death while unexpected I found to be jarring. To me it was a shock because you see the Virgin Mary holding Jesus (whether it is a baby Jesus or the Jesus of the Cross I cannot tell) in a place one would never expect to see it but then you walk to the other side and then see the crucified Christ. Does it represent the Alpha and the Omega or the love of a mother for her son? Or both?

The Cruceiro de Lameiros (1670)

The Cruceiro de Lameiros (1670)

Maternity and life

Maternity and life

Bones representing death

Bones representing the death of Christ

A hammer and nails representing the suffering of Christ on the Cross

A hammer and nails representing the suffering of Christ on the Cross

The crucified Christ on the other side of the cross

The crucified Christ on the other side of the cross

DSCN3429Four kilometers later we made another stop at the hamlet of Ligonde. Ligonde was a place full of historical significance during the medieval period and is actually two hamlets. The first is known as Ligonde Ligonde and is at the top of the hill. The first of the sites here that we saw was the ancient cementerio de peregrinos (pilgrim cemetery). It is located on an old farm named Leira da rúa and its presence would seem to indicate that somewhere near was a pilgrim hospital or hospice.

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The wall and the cross are all that remain of the original cemetary

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You can’t miss seeing this site as it is right on the pilgrimage route. I wonder how ancient peregrinos felt when they saw this place.

Next we saw the Casa de Carnero, founded by the powerful Ulloa family and as the sign below says, the place where Carlos V, on March 24 of 1520 stayed while on his way to be crowned Emperor.  Felipe II, his son, also stayed here on May 20, 1554 while on his way to La Coruna sail to England to wed Mary Tudor.  In the 16th century this house was given the right of asylum. This meant that anyone accused of a crime or fleeing justice was instantly “freed” upon crossing into the house.

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A unusually simple sign for such a historical place!

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This could be the Ulloa Coat of Arms but it could also be the Coat of Arms of the Travas, Montenegros and Varelas whose Coat of Arms are also on this house.

A few meters from the Casa de Carnero is the Fuente del Peregrino albergue. It is an albergue that is run is by a British religious group. The building actually was a school built by the hamlet during the Republican period and we were very kindly greeted there with cold water and brightly painted signs that adorned the exterior walls.

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A nice way to say goodbye!

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Free Hugs were available!!!

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Others also stopped for water and free hugs

Moving on we were so in amongst nature again.

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One of my favorite pictures!

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A long and narrow trail

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The hamlet of Eirexe boasts a church with Roman and Romanesque remains and a cruciero

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The cruciero in Eirexe

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Sue loved this little statute that was part of the decoration of the outdoor area of a Cafe where we stopped!

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So did I!! This is one of my favorite pictures!

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The Rectoral de Lestedo was once a pilgrim hospital, then a Rectory and now a modern Casa Rural (Bed & Breakfast). I may stay there next time

Our final stretch into Palas de Rei was tranquil and uneventful.

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Palas de Rei as seen from the outskirts of town

 

 

Sarria to Portomarín – Stage 32

íStage 32 – Sarria – Portomarín
Total Distance – 22.4 km (13.9 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 23.9 km  (14.8 miles, accrued ascent 300 m = 1.5 km)
High Point: Cruce at Momientos at 660 m (2,165 feet)

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Please note that some names may be in Galician – you’ll now it when you see it.

Sue and I arrived in the early evening at Sarria (pop. 13,000) and we lost no time in finding our hotel, the slightly off the beaten track but very modern Hotel Mar del Plata. As we walked to our hotel we noticed that some streets were cordoned off and had wooden bicycle ramps (for jumping) snaking through the narrow streets. There was a BMX freestyle jump competition taking place right in the heart of Sarria! The atmosphere was festive and the competitors were getting a lot of “air” out of their jumps because the course started at the higher part of town and the downward slope made for some very high and fast jumps!

The ramps for the BMX competetion

The ramps for the BMX competition

This one is near the highest part of the town

This one is near the highest part of the town

When we were recommended the hotel we had been told that the restaurant in the hotel had some excellent food. That night we found out that indeed excellent it was! The next morning at breakfast Sue told me that she wasn’t feeling well and we decided that I would go ahead on foot to Portomarín while she would sleep in and take a taxi later that afternoon. We were concerned about the large number of peregrinos we expected to compete for lodging from Sarria onwards so we decided that we could take advantage of the situation by having her book our rooms when she arrived.

Which way to go? When in doubt always follow the painted one.

Which way to go? When in doubt always follow the painted one. Many times businesses such as Hostels, Albergues, and Pensiones also use the yellow arrow to direct you to them.

I was to be on my own for this stage and started walking at about 9:00 a.m. As I entered the old quarter and climbed up the rúa Maior and made my way to the higher part of town where the Mosteiro de Madalena is located, I sensed the “Saturday Morning in the Park” atmosphere that made Sarria a starting point for many. The signs also reminded me that this was not a new concept since Sarria had been a major medieval center of the pilgrimage route. The people and the language being spoken left me in no doubt that I was in a Celtic Galicia.

A plaque dedicated to a Galleon

A plaque dedicated to Magellan’s historic circumnavigation of the globe. His expedition was the first in history to accomplish this feat although he did not live to see Spain again. Many Galicians sailed with him.

I couldn't make out the language on the lower plaque

Ditto

This one is in Latin

That morning in Sarria I also saw something that I had never before witnessed on the Camino; large families walking together. I felt like I was in an outing in the park. Of course this new presence was due to the fact that Sarria was the starting point from where you could get a credencial by completing the 110 kilometers (more or less) to Santiago. I was immediately conscious that I would see more peregrinos today than I ever did.

A Spanish family of 7 navigating their way through the ramps

A Spanish family of 7 navigating their way through the ramps

More peregrinos up ahead

More peregrinos up ahead

The Iglesia de San Salvador located at the top of the rúa Maior

The Iglesia de San Salvador located at the top of the rúa Maior

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The 13th century Fortaleza y Torres (Fort and Towers) at the intersection of the rúa Maior and the rúa do Castelo

The 13th century Fortaleza y Torres (Fort and Towers) at the intersection of the rúa Maior and the rúa do Castelo

As I arrived at the higher part of town I was able to enjoy the view from above even though there was a slight chill in the air.

A view of modern Sarria below from the Parque Do Bosque

A view of modern Sarria below from the Parque Do Bosque

A Cross of the type that are all over Galicia. This one was in the Parque Do Bosque

A Cross of the type that are all over Galicia. This one was in the Parque Do Bosque

Approaching the Mosteiro da Madalena on the rúa da Mercede

Approaching the Mosteiro da Madalena on the rúa da Mercede

Mosteiro da Madalena

Mosteiro da Madalena was formerly an Augustinian monastery founded in the 13th century. A community of Mercedarians now reside there.

Although I was walking alone there were many others just starting their Camino.

Another family on the trail.

Another family on the trail.

The cemetary that is behind the iglesia de San Roque

The cemetery that is behind the iglesia de San Roque

The medieval Ponte Áspera (meaning "rough stone") that spans the río Celeiro

The medieval Ponte Áspera (meaning “rough stone”) that spans the río Celeiro

I remember thinking at the time about how green everything was and how excited the children were to be starting their camino. I was in good spirits and buoyed by the excitement of others around me.

The 110 Kilometers to go mark

The 110 Kilometers to go mark

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A family crossing a small bridge

A family crossing a small bridge

A lone peregrina up ahead

A lone peregrina up ahead

A group of peregrinos pushing ahead

A group of peregrinos pushing ahead

After going under a modern railway bridge, over the train tracks and through forested trails it was soon time for a rest break and luckily for me I stopped at the beautiful Casa Barbadelo which is a first-class rural pensione/albergue. Since I only stopped there for a snack and a cup of coffee I can’t tell you much about the accommodations but if the setting was anything to go by they must have been excellent.

Casa Barbadelo

Casa Barbadelo

DSCN3303 DSCN3304The full name of the village of Barbadelo is Santiago de Barbadelo and this village was the site of a monastery in 874. Only a 12th century church, the Iglesia de Santiago survives. It was outside of Barbadelo that I met a Spanish family that consisted of two grandparents walking with their grandson and his new wife. I found out that the happy couple had just returned from their honeymoon in California! The gently rolling and green hills along with the quaint and very Galician stone houses formed a perfect backdrop for this lovely walk.

Entrance to a Galician village. Notice the small white pointed structure to the right. It's a Galician Hórreo, a stone structure on pedestals that is used to store grains and to cure meats. The curved pedestals that serve as a base are used to keep small animals out.

Entrance to a Galician village. Notice the small white pointed structure to the right. It’s a Galician Hórreo, a stone structure on pedestals that is used to store grains and to cure meats. The curved pedestals (not visible here) that serve as a base are used to keep small animals out.

This was a stand-off between a cyclist and a herd of cattle. Guess who won?

This was a stand-off between a cyclist and a herd of cattle. Guess who won?

Me posing at the hundred kilometer to go mark. Soon after tking this picture and invisible local shouted out that that marker wasn't the real 100 K point. It was the only one I saw!

Me posing at the hundred kilometer to go mark. Soon after taking this picture an invisible local shouted out that the marker wasn’t the real 100 K point. It was the only one I saw!

As I write this I realize, now in retrospect, that so much happened on this stage to me and that I saw so many things that were new to me on this day. Some were funny, some were sad reminders of loss but all were a part of living our lives.

DSCN3335Soon I was upon the village of Ferreiros which means “blacksmiths” I didn’t see any blacksmiths but I did see the beautiful church of Santa María de Ferreiros.

Iglesia Santa María de Ferreiros

Iglesia Santa María de Ferreiros

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A structure that was probably made by the same artisian that made hórreos for the area.

A structure that was probably made by the same artisan that made hórreos for the area.

A short while after seeing this church I was reminded of the love and faith that we have for each other by these poignant and makeshift roadside memorials.

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One thing about the Camino is that it teaches you that whatever happens to you, you must move ahead. As I said a prayer for those that had lost a loved one and for those that had died I prayed that they may have been able to move on with their lives as we peregrinos moved on the road towards Santiago.

DSCN3368At the next village I got to, just at end of this road, I saw a very interesting dog that enjoyed lying in wait for we unsuspecting peregrinos and barking at them to surprise them. It was a little game that the dog played, probably everyday of his life and hundreds of times!

Look closely for my little furried friend or shall I say fiend!

Look closely for my little furry friend or shall I say fiend!

Gotcha! He looks like a statute.

Gotcha! He looks like a statue.

I left my mischievous friend and walked toward the Miño valley where the ancient town of Portomarín was located. The town was a strategic location because of its bridge that spanned the Miño river and most probably for this reason was a Roman outpost. We know of a 993 AD document that calls the town Villa Portumarini and most surely it was always garrisoned, once by the Knights of Santiago. In medieval times it was and important commercial and military center. In the 19th century the nearby town of Lugo eclipsed Portomarin and the commercial significance of the town deteriorated. By 1956 a nearby dam to provide hydro-electric power was under construction and the resulting reservoir flooded the town and the major structures of the town were numbered, block by block, removed and rebuilt on a new site. This is the site of the present-day Portomarín. Eerily, somewhere submerged in the reservoir are the remains, houses and streets, of the old Portomarín.

On the outskirts of Portomarin. Notice the advertizements for albergues and pensiones.

On the outskirts of Portomarin. Notice the advertisements for albergues and pensiones.

The bride over the Miño river

The bride over the Miño river

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An interesting thing happened to me on the outskirts of Portomarín. I was walking, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the self-proclaimed Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker briefly introduced himself to me. He was a skinny bony man in his 50’s who claimed to have walked the Camino 50 times! As he walked past me I didn’t believe his claim and was to meet up with him later.

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Notice the steep stairway at the end of the bridge.

Notice the steep stairway at the end of the bridge.

As I was walking across this bridge I noticed that peregrinos were walking up a steep stairway, with ridiculously narrow steps, at the end of the bridge. I also noted that it was dangerously steep and that I was also dangerously fatigued at this point. I figured out that you could easily bypass the stairs by walking up the street that took you to the same place. What was I to do? My brain must have not been working real well at that point because I thought to myself that going up these stairs must be some sort of peregrino ritual and that I would hate myself if I didn’t go up them. The rational side of my brain was blockaded somehow because I didn’t think of the fact that I would have hated myself even worse if I made a misstep and fell down the stairs, hurting myself and probably ending my camino. As I walked toward the stairs I felt a sense of foreboding but also determination. What was I to do?

DSCN3383As you probably guessed I went up the steps. My reward for such a stupid act was the look on the self-proclaimed Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker’s face when he saw me right behind him. It said to me, “How the hell did you keep up with me the Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker!!?” My second reward was a cold beer that Sue had waiting for me on the patio of the Café/Pensione where we were staying. I wish I had a picture of me drinking that beer and of the face of the Spanish “World Champion” Camino walker!

I’ve Been Away Awhile

Me in front of the Monastery and Royal Abbey of Samos, located in Samos, Galicia

Me in front of the Monastery and Royal Abbey of Samos, located in Samos, Galicia

The beautiful Monastery and Royal Abbey of Samos

The beautiful Monastery and Royal Abbey at Samos

Things happen in life for no apparent reason at times and then later you learn why they happened at the way they did.

In my case I went on a pilgrimage in May of 2013 and started this blog to write about my experiences on the Camino Francés. When I came home in July of 2013 I decided that I needed to write a stage-by-stage account of my pilgrimage. So I began to collect my thoughts and pictures and write. At one point last year, for reasons unknown to me, my writing slowed down and it was as if I wanted to savor each moment. Maybe I thought that if I published a post it would put an end to the experience of my Camino.

Fast forward to this summer. I’ve recently come back from being a volunteer Hospitalero at the Monastery and Royal Abbey at Samos. It was a unbelievable experience where I came to appreciate more, if that was possible, the indomitable spirit of pilgrimage and those that serve others. Recently while having lunch with my in-laws my father-in-law asked me if I was going to write in my blog about my hospitalero experiences. My answer was that I wasn’t but now I’m not so sure.

Here’s why. I think that my stay and Samos and the fact that the last stage I wrote about in this blog was the stage that I visited Samos are not a mere coincidence. While a hospitalero this summer I spoke to and enjoyed meeting many peregrinos that were about the walk the very steps that I walked last year and haven’t yet written about in detail. Maybe that was part of some plan that I was not aware of but now it’s time to finish relating my experiences. I think I owe it to myself, to you my readers and to the 500 or so peregrinos that I met this summer. I remember that every morning when I would say goodbye to them, maybe with a hug and always with a “Buen Camino”, I saw them with their backpacks and walking sticks moving off in the morning mist and my heart wanted to go and walk with them.

Now is the time to walk those last 110 kilometers with them…

 

Triacastela to Sarria – Stage 31

Stage 31 – Triacastela – Sarria
Total Distance – 25.1 km (15.6 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 26.1 km (accrued ascent 200 m = 1 km)
High Point: Midway between Triacastela and Samos at 780 m (2,559 feet)

CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ENLARGE TO FULL-SIZE

Triascastela, open and ready for peregrinos early on the morning we left the town

Triascastela, open and ready for peregrinos early on the morning we left the town

Please note that some names may be in Galician – you’ll now it when you see it.

This stage is where things began to get a little more complicated because we expected large numbers of peregrinos at Sarria which is the point where pilgrims can start the Camino and be assured of getting a “credencial” from the Church authorities in Santiago. After Sarria we expected the roads to get crowded and housing to become harder to come by. But that was in the future and on this stage we also got to see one of the most beautiful monasteries anywhere in the world!

Sue and I started out early from the town of Triacastela (pop. 900) that was founded in the 9th century. Like some towns we encounter on the pilgrimage route the meaning of its name is debated amongst scholars. Some believe that the town was named after the trio of castles that were built in the 10th century and the town does have a seal showing three castles. These castles were destroyed in wars against Norman invaders sometime around 968 and are in ruins. Others think that Triacastela refers to the three “castros” – pre-roman fortified settlements – ( named Triacastela, Lagares and San Adrián) that are nearby. Finally others believe that Triacastela means “hacia Castilla” meaning towards Castilla. There is no debate however that Triacastela is the end of the most mountainous section of the Camino Francés. For this reason it became a popular stop for monarchs such as los Reyes Católicos (15 September 1486), Carlos I (22 April 1520), and most famously Felipe II (16 May 1554) who stopped here on his way to England to contract marriage with his aunt, Mary Tudor.

Monument at the end of town leading to the route to Samos

Monument at the end of town leading to the route to Samos

At breakfast Sue and I had decided to take the southern alternate route that would take us to the famous Benedictine monastery at Samos (one of the largest and most beautiful in all of Spain!) rather than take the historic San Xil route even though this route was shorter by 6.4 kilometers. As we started making our way through the town a interesting and somewhat disturbing site awaited us. We saw two big dogs running alongside each other and toward us that were engaged in a fierce battle with each other. Needless to say we gave them a wide berth and continued on.
About 3.6 kilometers out of Triacastela we were in the ancient village of San Cristobo do Real. To my eyes it looked as if we had been plopped down right into the 16th century! It is a small village along the banks of the río Oribio that has no more than 50 massive stone houses/structures all hugging each other tightly. I don’t remember seeing any locals in this village because I’m sure I would have stopped to talk to them. This was eery for me as were the heavily forested and therefore dark trails that we walked through.
Entering the village of San Cristobo do Real

Entering the village of San Cristobo do Real

 San Cristobo do Real has a ancient bathhouse and weir along the río Oribio

San Cristobo do Real has a ancient bathhouse and weir along the río Oribio

 As we continued on through mostly forested trails that cleared once in a while we began to appreciate the astounding “greenness” of Galicia. I saw a vibrant green color everywhere that was unlike any other I had seen in Spain. Agriculture and farming was evident everywhere and we came upon a pleasant surprise as we were walking along a wooded trail!
Sheep moving along

Sheep moving along

Entering the village of Renche

Entering the village of Renche where once foundry stood

Beautiful countryside!

Beautiful countryside!

The trail through the forest

The trail through the forest

Lo and behold a horseman with his beautiful horse was on the trail with us!

Lo and behold a horseman with his beautiful horse was on the trail with us!

A pastoral scene

A pastoral scene

Look at what we saw as we climbed up the trail.

Look at what we saw as we climbed up the trail. Sue is up ahead admiring the view.

I'm not sure where this beautiful little church is. It could be in Renche or San Martiño.

This beautiful little church is in the village of San Martiño.

DSCN3191The signs lead to Samos and that’s where we were going. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we got there but when we did it took our breath away!

The Road leads to Samos!!

The Road leads to Samos!!

Finally Samos down in the valley below!

Finally Samos down in the valley below! We were still up high and a still had to walk down to it.

A closer view

A closer view

A closer view

Beautiful

When we got to the town we stopped for lunch and also stopped to take a tour of the monastery. It was magnificent and deserving of a separate post that I will write soon. We spent so much time in Samos that we soon had to getting moving, quickly toward Sarria where we had a reservation at a hotel that was highly recommended to us by the barmaid at the Pension in Triacastela. Alas, the rest of the 6.6 kilometers to Sarria was mainly at the side of a two-lane road and uneventful.
Notice the scallop shell motif on the rail of the bridge

Notice the scallop shell motif on the rail of the bridge

The Monastery at Samos

The Monastery at Samos

Here I am posing for a picture

Here I am posing for a picture

The Peregrino monument at the end of the town

The Peregrino monument on the outskirts of the town bids us farewell and reminds us that we have some walking to do!

The beautiful Galician countryside

The beautiful Galician countryside

A Church in the distance

A Church is always in the distance

The yellow arrow, as always, points the way to Santiago de Compostela!

The yellow arrow, as always, points the way to Santiago de Compostela!

The sun-dappled trail that would soon lead us to Sarria

The sun-dappled trail that would soon lead us to Sarria