Date: 27 April 2018
Walked from: Padrón
Walked to: Santiago de Compostela
Distance: 23 km
Almost exactly six months ago today I arrived at the plaza next to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, having finished my month-long walk west across Spain. Today I was back, 630 km after I set out from the Cathedral in Lisbon and started following the yellow arrow signs (which mark the route) north.
Today’s walk was surprisingly green, considering it was heading into a city. I walked much of it quickly, passing well over 100 ‘Camino Completers’ (I think I may have just made that expression up), many of whom I had actually never seen before. I chatted to a lot of them for a while before hurrying on to catch up with the new friends I’d had dinner with last night – and at a food van, a few kilometres before we finally saw the spires of Santiago’s Cathedral in the distance, I caught up with them. Beers were drunk, and then it was onwards into the main plaza where pilgrims gather to take their photos and hug. It was all rather lovely. As was the impromptu after-party some of us ended up having in gardens of the park post-celebratory meal. The (thankfully mildish) hangover I had the next morning when I flew home was less lovely… but it was worth every penny of the €2 bottles of wine we were drinking out of plastic cups under the streetlight lit blossom trees until 1am!
Scenically, the walk I did in October wins hands down. The route that starts in France got the looks (without question, it trumps the Portuguese Way) and it sure as hell wins in the popularity stakes. But last time I was walking away from home, leaving things behind. I’d left my workplace of over a decade just two days before starting the walk, and I had a lot to think about. This time it felt as if I were walking home – and I did it with a whole series of kind, generous, quirky, interesting and intelligent people who I met or walked with along the way… and who often made me laugh so much my jaw ached and my belly hurt. I couldn’t have had a better – or more enjoyable – end to my seven months of travelling. If you’re reading this, and we walked together, thank you: you ROCK. ¡Buen Camino!
Date: 26 April 2018
Walked from: Caldas de Reis
Walked to: Padrón
Distance: 19 km
Imagine going to Munich and finding they had run out of beer. Or Bruges, and discovering the city was all out of chocolate. That’s how I felt about coming to Padrón – home of the type of Spanish food I love above all others (Pimiento de Padrón) – and finding out the delicious grilled green peppers I crave aren’t yet in season: when the Spanish say something is available from May-October, they really mean it. Late April just doesn’t cut it.
Fortunately I was able to overcome the impact of this devastating culinary news thanks to a combination of walking in perfect weather condition (not too hot, not too cold – Goldilocks would surely have approved), some sun-dappled woodland paths that were very easy on the eye, more great conversations… and an impromptu Camino dinner party this evening featuring participants from Portugal, Brazil, Holland and Russia, as well as this lone English representative.
I’m now just 25 kilometres away from completing my trans-Iberian walk from Lisbon to Santiago. Tomorrow it’s time for the Portuguese Way leaving party…
Date: 25 April 2018
Walked from: Pontevedra
Walked to: Caldas de Reis
Distance: 22.5 km
I have no idea why the British think they are such great drinkers. We honestly pale into comparison with the amount that the Spanish and Portuguese can put away – and yet they seem to imbibe alcohol with a panache my countrymen and I can rarely manage. I’m saying this because – PURELY in the interests of being polite / culturally adaptive – I accidentally started drinking wine at about 11am this morning.
Having spent a few a very pleasant couple of hours chatting to some new folk, and talking again with some people I’ve met before over the past few days (all while walking, naturally), I wandered into a tiny impromptu looking cafe (it appeared to be in someone’s large garage) in Briallos for a nice cold lemonade to be greeted by a group of super friendly guys from Lisbon who I’ve met a couple of times in the past few days. ‘Come in, sit down, have a drink’, they said. I noted the large jug of red wine and the white bowls they were drinking it out of in the table. Then I noted that everyone else in the place – all walkers, and almost all Portuguese or Spanish – were drinking booze too. A bowl of the young local red wine was passed to me. We chatted. Then they bought out a jug of the young local white wine, so fizzy that I thought it was lager. New ceramic bowls are handed around. I had a bowl of that too. We chatted some more. Photos were taken of the Iberian drinking gang, complete with the English interloper and then I scarpered, completing the last 5 km or so into town with what may have been a little more spring to my step…
Arriving at my hostel, I showered and headed out for a late-ish lunch in the beautifully situated and very friendly Taberna O’Muiño taverna – on the river as you come into the centre of town. The staff were friendly, the food was absolutely delicious (razor calms – mmmmmmmm)… and the booze kept on coming. I asked for a glass of the local white wine… and got a jug of wine and another white bowl to drink it out of. I asked for the bill and was brought a lovely almond tasting cake instead. I asked for the bill again, and was given a Baileys-like liquor. Eventually I escaped. It’s 5pm, I’m a bit tired, a bit merry, and really quite glad I’ll be home in a few days: my liver couldn’t withstand the hospitality of the locals on a permanent basis, but it’s a really fun way to be ending my trip.
Date: 24 April 2018
Walked from: Padrón
Walked to: Pontevedra
It was a cracking walk through the verdant hills and riversides of southern Galicia today (with the lovely riverside inlet of Arcade a particular highlight) topped by the excellent – and very funny – company of Vanessa and Dimitri, a Latvian air steward and her sailor boyfriend, from Riga.
I’d seen them both for the first time yesterday, where I stopped to have lunch, and I knew they spoke English. As I went to walk past them today, I noticed the matching toy ducks they both carried (heads sticking out, naturally, lest they suffocate) in their backpacks, and I slowed down for a chat. I was so glad I did; today’s walk was lovely, but it was the company of these two while we walked towards the beautiful old town of Pontevedra that really made my day.
Vanessa’s English is particularly excellent, so I asked her where she learnt it. Surely not just from school. ‘Carton Network’ came the straight-faced reply, possibly with a side of wry smile thrown in for good measure. As is usually the case when you get the chance to really talk to someone from another country, you learn that many of us share the same outlooks, values and senses of humour – it’s just those damn language barriers that get in our way. Nationalism can go do one. As they may or may not say on the Cartoon Network…
Date: 23 April 2018
Walked from: Tui
Walked to: Padrón (not THE Padrón, just a Padrón)
Distance: 30.4 km
After a couple of days of feeling a little over this walk, I’ve had a really fun day. Maybe it was the churros with the thick, ultra sweet dunking chocolate that I had for my breakfast (which made for a late start today, but hell, the cost was included with last night’s room). Maybe it was the fact that it was a ‘proper’ walk again – it’s felt odd to walk relatively short distances for the past few days when I’ve become accustomed to hoofing it 20 miles most days. Maybe it was the hot weather (although, when the locals start complaining about the heat to me, as they did today, you’ve got to start thinking it may be a tad too scorchio). But I think it was probably the people I’ve met today that have made me smile so much.
Essentially, I strongly suspect that I’ve now embarked on the part of the trip where I’m (largely) a spectator to the Portuguese and Spanish versions of a religiously-sanctioned pub crawl. The walk was very quiet from Lisbon to Porto. It’s been a lot busier since, but today it’s kind of gone mad – there are people everywhere, and most of the new ones seem to hail from the Iberian Peninsula. They aren’t bothered about getting up at the crack of dawn and walking all day. Like me, they don’t give a religious damn about completing their so-called pilgrimage in Santiago (although the certificate that absolves them of their sins might be of some interest), but they are determined to be friendly, to enjoy their food, to imbibe booze at every bar along the way, and to generally party – often covering distances at a slow-mo speed which seems almost painful.
I opted to stay in the tiny village of Padrón tonight, 3km outside of Redondela, mainly because no one I met on the trail today said they were staying here. I was the first to book into the dorm room at what I thought was the relatively late time of 4pm, and after a (very) late lunch/early dinner, I sat on the wisteria-shaded patio outside the hostel/cafe Corisco, chatting in my terrible Spanish to a rowdy (aka mildly drunk) but really friendly group of Spanish walkers who went on to walk the final 3 km into the nearby town. I also watched as a series of exhausted looking ‘pilgrims’, many of whom started the walk today, gradually showed up and began to fill the hostel… including some who got picked up from the village 4km back that had run out of beds for the night and so were delivered here. I asked if they were getting dropped back off at their end point tomorrow. They aren’t. I don’t know the word for ‘cheating’ in German, but if I did…
Date: 22 April 2018
Walked from: Rubiães
Walked to: Tui (España)
Distance: 19 km
I’m in Spain! I’m so damn close to Portugal that I am looking out at it, sitting there just across the river from my hotel room (yup, no hostel for me tonight) but nonetheless, I have crossed the border into Galicia, the land of paprika-coated octopus and grilled, salted (and, allegedly, occasionally spicy) green peppers, which makes me one happy woman.
I did the decent thing before I hot-footed it into España for lunch though; Portugal and I shared a farewell breakfast of my beloved custard tarts in a friendly cafe in São Bento da Porta Aberta, practically the high point of the day. And then it was just 15 km or so on to what I am choosing to describe as the twin towns of Valença and Tui, the former Portuguese, the latter Spanish, both fortress citadels facing off against one another for centuries across the river Minho, which separates the two counties. It’s a lovely setting, especially on a hot sunny day like today.
It’s great to be back in Spain. Just 75 miles to go. ¡Viva España!
Date: 21 April 2018
Walked from: Ponte de Lima
Walked to: Rubiães
Distance: 20 km
A short day, and one that was over, walking wise, by lunchtime. The hike involved one steep-ish climb up a ridge from the valley of the Labruja river and quite a lot of walking among pine-scented woods. The rest of the day consisted of me watching the relatively small municipal hostel I had chosen as my home for the night continue to fill up with people.
You wouldn’t think one tiny place – a hamlet really – could house so many tourists for the night, but ours was just one (admittedly the cheapest at €5, and so no doubt the most popular) of about five accommodation options available to Camino walkers in the immediate area. There were 38 beds in the dorm room, and by early evening, once they had laid out an extra seven mattresses in the common areas, the place was rammed – and not in a good way. The lady running the place started turning people away. I knew there have been a lot more people on the trail since Porto, but I hadn’t realised there were quite this many, relatively early in the season. I miss the quietness of the first half of the walk.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all these so called ‘pilgrims’ on this walk are wholesome, religious types (or at least wholesome or religious). It’s fair to say that I’m neither, although I like to think I’m almost always nice and try very hard to be considerate… unless provoked. By and large, the vast majority of people you meet on the Camino (hell, in life) are alright. Which was why it seemed odd to have two guys in the hostel (I guess in their early 20s) having a very loud conversation in which they kept saying they had been ‘raped’ in a jokey way. I have no idea where the fashion came from that it’s ok to use the word rape out of context, but unless it’s grown in a field and produces oilseed, or you happen to be taking about the wanton destruction of a place or area, I see no justification for using the word. Nor should it be bandied about in such a casual way; in a room full of 38 people, some of those forced to overhear their ‘jokey’ conversation would undoubtedly have been a victim themselves. So of course, because I always have to be the one to say something, I said something. They didn’t like it and spent the rest of the evening glaring at me but if it makes them think twice about using such a serious word so casually in future, it was worth it. Anyway, rant over; suffice to say, ‘pilgrims’ can be arses too people; think it’s a hotel for me tomorrow!