We had a shorter day today – around 22km to arrive in the small village of Ventas de Naron. It seems that the ‘hood consists of two private albergues (each with its own bar/cafe/restaurant – possibly a bit OTT when you could reach one from the other in less than 10 steps), a lot of farmland and that’s pretty much it. So, the perfect place to chillax and enjoy a siesta…and a Magnum ice cream and some Milka chocolate.
There were some pretty scenes today as we reached Portomarin under a blanket of cloud. Spain, your Galicia is especially beautiful – so many truly breathtaking views (and hills, but that’s another matter) – it has been my favourite part of the Way. The lush green hills, the fat & happy cattle, the yappy dogs that seem to greet us in each village, the extraordinary starry skies that look like movie sets, the atmospheric foggy mornings. Love it.
Now there are a lot more people on the Way – a lot of tourists travelling on coach tours, carrying tiny day packs and completing the final stage to Santiago in style. A different feeling to the early weeks, when the sense of community was so strong as we all faced this intense experience together. Now it often feels like we old-time pilgrims have merged with some perky holiday campers and the sense of pilgrimage is very different. But there are many ways to walk the Camino, so good on them for being here. And if they experience even a small part of the wonderful journey we have had, they will be very lucky too!
Today was another cold and foggy start as we followed the torch light along the dark forest path after leaving beautiful Samos. Another great day of walking through interesting farming communities (lots of cows and dogs), with some very strong aromas. Our guide book author describes the sensory experience of this area far more eloquently that I can: ‘…rural Galicia at her best; wet and green with the sweet smell and squelch of liquid cow dung underfoot’. Amen to that.
We are staying in a new albergue here in the teeny tiny town of Ferreiros (where we were greeted on the way into the village by an ostrich – yes, really) and as I write, we are enjoying the still-warm evening sun at 6.30pm. Life is good!
Today was probably my favourite walking day so far – and that’s a very big call to make! We left by 6.30am and everything on the mountain was pitch black. A low fog hung around all morning, adding to the amazing atmosphere – especially as we first walked through a forest with only my torch app to guide us through the darkness. It was cold – the coldest I’ve been here – a refreshing wake up call til we stopped for coffee. There were also some steep inclines (albeit shorter than yesterday), which were a not-so-pleasant surprise – but given that there’s not really an alternative, the climbing mission was accomplished!
It felt as though we were the only ones out walking – at one stage, Andy and I saw what we thought was lightning up ahead…but it turned out to be two French dudes taking flash photos of a statue that we couldn’t really see, even with our torches.
We stopped for coffee and while we were in the tiny stone bar, the sun finally made its way up and everything became a lot brighter. Except the fog stayed low – making for some beautiful Celtic-style views as we walked through stunning countryside.
We took a different path to the guide book as we wanted to walk a longer day and get out of sync with the stages of the book (followed by approx 98% of pilgrims, I think) as we have generally had better experiences with towns and albergues that way. So, a 30km day took us to Samos – the view of the impressive monastery as we came down the hill made up for the tricky, rocky descent.
We’re expecting to make it to Santiago on Saturday – with two cushy, short days on Friday and Saturday to time our arrival for the morning. Tomorrow, we will pass through Sarria, the town that marks 100km to Santiago – and apparently the start of the mass pilgrimage, as it’s the shortest distance you can walk and still receive a Compostela (certificate) when you get to Santiago. Not looking forward to the expected crowds – we have been so fortunate to have had such a positive experience on our journey: hardly any pilgrim traffic jams as we walk or stop, always a place to stay and plenty of dining options. Hopefully, by staying off the guide book path we can hold on to this more intimate experience for a while longer!
With less than a week til our arrival in Santiago, everyone is starting to finalise their post-Camino plans. Steph, Andy and Chris will continue walking to Finisterre – an extra 3 days’ walk to the coast – which I would have loved to do, but the timing didn’t quite work as I am off to visit to my Dublin family for a week before heading home. I plan to catch the bus from Santiago to spend a day checking out Finisterre, to see what the ‘end of the earth’ actually looks like. Will be strange not to walk it, but that can wait til my next Camino!
Day 26 was a big challenge. Just as my clothes are getting a bit looser and I feel as though my strength and fitness are improving, the Camino throws in a hugely steep incline up to the cute medieval town of O’Cebreiro. Beautiful vistas through the woods (especially the early stages, with a smoky mist through the valley) and over the mountains, but a tough walk in the heat today and I was really focused on putting one foot in front of the other (as our friend Shane says of the Camino hills: ‘just don’t stop!’) as the sweat rolled down (in a sophisticated and ladylike manner, obviously). I was delighted to reach the top of the hill & the old walls of our first town in the region of Galicia.
Green, with changeable weather, beautiful farm land and lots of sheep and cows, the guide book says that this part of Spain has a very strong Celtic spirit – and judging by the music, scenery, design and vibe of this place, the book is right. To be sure, to be sure. Love it.
The albergue looks new – so new that they must have forgotten about the doors on the showers. Felt very European and liberated as I had no choice but to wash with only my short towel swinging from the empty curtain rail above me to give me some sense of cover. Those who know me well will appreciate what a big deal that was for me, as a conservative and private type: another Camino adventure!
The view from this albergue at the top of the hill more than makes up for it though – the pic below is from the common area, with the same view from bathroom and dorm room windows. It’s up there with the beauty of the scenery on the first days over the Pyrenees, for sure. Stunning.
Oh, and on the matter of looser clothes and improved fitness, people had suggested that we’d come home looking like waifs, but we’re so hungry after a day of walking that we’re eating quite a lot. I also like a pastry when we stop for coffee in the morning – a Napolitana is like the French pain au chocolat, only more chocolatey and much nicer – just to show my respect for the baking culture here, you understand. Snacks like chocolate, bread, cheese and potato chips are also on the agenda most afternoons as we chillax at our destination. Oh, and they have some very nice desserts too – and we pilgrims need our calcium for healthy walking bones! And not to forget the wine – delicious, cheap and refreshing chilled reds. It’s a holiday as well as a pilgrimage, after all!
Our day had an interesting beginning – walking behind two Italian men, leaving Ponferrada in the dark, an old lady in a pink tracksuit appeared and ran a bit to catch up with them. Speaking in rapid Spanish, she kept up and walked alongside them through the city streets. After a while, we realised that she was helping us find our way out of the city, taking short cuts here and there until we were safely out of town. Such a funny Camino experience – not sure if she turned back after we left to help the next batch of pilgrims get out of there!
We walked through some beautiful places today – vineyards, mountain views, stunning old towns, rivers & the ever-present bursts of colour from petunias and geraniums that brighten the streets – and ended around 30km in the hot sun, starting the big climb that we will finish tomorrow.
As Andy says every day (aside from the two-day stomach bug glitch), ‘today is a good day’. And it was.