Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Pilgrim's Record

In one of the early postings on this blog, I mentioned my Pilgrim's Record, the booklet which I got stamped as I went along, and which I presented at the Pilgrim Office in order to get my certificate, or 'Compostela'.

I thought my readers would like to see it, so here it is.

And here is Brendan's Pilgrim record and his 'Compostela' certificate.

Day 28. 24 June 2014. San Marcos to Santiago de Compostela. And back. 10 miles.

Day 28. San Marcos to Santiago de Compostela. And back. 10 miles.

It was misty in the morning, but not actually raining, when we set off to complete the pilgrimage. It's mainly downhill, some of it quite steep. The sun shone briefly to allow the photo above. After passing a couple of straggly villages, you cross a motorway, then a railway, and another motorway. The Camino is well signed. We stopped for a coffee, and got our Pilgrim Records stamped on the way in. The centre of town is mystifying. The cathedral cannot be seen from any distance because of the many tall buildings lining the jumble of small streets. Finally we arrived.

After suitable photos, we climbed up the steps into the cathedral, and walked forwards to admire the botufeiro i.e. the giant incense burner which hangs from the centre of the crossing and can be swung right across the cathedral hoisted by a team of about 6 men when in use.

Finding the Pilgrim Office proved tricky, again due to the maze of streets, with lack of direct sunlight making orientation impossible. Mike had warned us there would be a long queue.

In fact, we were an hour in the queue, so missed the Pilgrim Mass at 12. But we did get our certificates to say we'd completed our pilgrimages. You are asked to fill in details about yourself, how you travelled, where you started from and what was your motivation. It was multiple choice - religious, religious/spiritual or sport. The staff and volunteers at the office were very pleasant and welcoming.

Next we went in search of a few souvenirs and gifts, before treating ourselves to a Galician meal in a small restaurant called Conroy.

Then the slog back up to camp.

It's been dry all day so the washing is dry. We plan do spend a bit of time packing and sorting stuff for the journey home e.g. Cleaning the bike, rationalising the camping equipment. Hopefully we can get the tent down dry in the morning. But if not then we'll have to pack it we and hope we get a chance somewhere en route to let it dry out.

Totting up the distance covered, I make it 1337 miles, plus about 80 miles of toing and froing in Amboise and on the last stage where Brendan was walking and I had to juggle the bike and the car.

Day 27. To the outskirts of Santiago. 24 miles

Day 27. O Empalme to San Marcos. Both directions. 24 miles.

Another catch up day for both of us.

Yesterday evening, though, was pretty wet. Torrential rain, in fact, for about 2 hours. We spent most of it the Refugio checking our emails, charging up our electric gadgets, and trying to book a ferry home. The Friday ferry from Gijon is fully booked, and there's not a convenient one from Santander or Bilbao at a reasonable price, so we've decide to drive through Northern Spain and up through France to catch the 12.30 fast ferry from Le Havre. The internet told me that it would be 14 hours driving. Plus, of course three overnight stops. Ah well, we should have booked the Gijon ferry a week or two ago, but at those stages we really weren't sure if we could keep to our schedule.

Eventually a slight gap in the rain let us scoot across the road to the Albergue that serves food. A torrent was running down the road. Great food - 3 courses plus a bottle of local wine for only €9 each.

The manager of the Albuergue said we could bring our sleeping bags inside to get out of the rain. At least I think that's what she meant. But in reality we were fine and dry in the tent.

Brendan set of walking about 8.25, which is quite late by pilgrim standards. Many of them leave by 6am. I think this may partly be due to the fact that the dorms are noisy. Later B texted to say that he'd caught up with someone we'd chatted to the night before - she'd left at 6. So despite a blister, he was making good progress. Slowing down doesn't reduce the pain level, so why not keep cracking on?

I had to take the tent down wet this morning, but was able pitch it again by mid morning in the San Marcos campsite just 7 km from Santiago cathedral. There are plenty of trees and there is a cafe. The rare two tame rabbits, a goose, a cockerel and a flock of chickens.

I cycled back along the main road to the point I'd reached yesterday, and had a coffee in the bright yellow painted O Ceadoiro Restaurante. There, a local man asked me if I was German or French. I said no. Was I Australian? South African? He spoke excellent English and though I did too! When I said I was Scottish, he told me about his month long holiday in a van in Scotland. He liked the whiskey the beer, the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, Edinburgh, and asked about the referendum. He said Scotland was expensive. Well, Spain is inexpensive as we have discovered.

Back to the campsite for a shower, and to do the clothes washing.

A sunny afternoon and the tent has dried out nicely.

One of the flawed tent pole sections is looking extremely dodgy, so it's probably just as well we are near the end of the trip.

Brendan texted to say he was at 11.5km from Santiago, and would I like to walk out to meet him. The campsite is 7km from Santiago, so you'd think we'd have met quite quickly. But we didn't. And the reason must be that there are two Camino diversions around here - one to avoid the airport, and another taking pilgrims off the old main road through Lavacolla by looping through Villamaior. An extra 4km at least. We met at Lavacolla, an B struggled on because he knew that if he stopped, that would be it. Meanwhile another thunder storm was brewing a few miles to the north. We got to the tent just before the rain started. The Camping Gaz stove is still holding out, enough to boil the kettle at least, so we had a cuppa and some pastries. When the rain goes off we might head down to the campsite cafe for a beer, and then we'll cook our evening meal.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Day 26. Ribadiso to O Emplame and back. 25 miles

Day 26. Ribadiso to O Emplame. And back. 25 miles.

Another short day's cycling in order to get a bit beyond Arzua while Brendan was walking from Palas to Ribadiso. Also, our friend Mike was in Santiago this weekend, and it gave me time to meet up with him in Arzua.

Mike arrived by bus at 11.45. We had a beer in a cafe in the main square. There are plane trees everywhere, and the square is a great place to sit and chat.
All the locals seem to be doing the same. Something was going on in the church. Mike said it was the Feast of Corpus Christi today.

The bells rang wildly. Then the priest emerged followed by a flock of young children aged about 8 or 9. They were dressed for their first communion.More bells. Then photos, each individually with the priest, then a group shot. The town band was in evidence and they later joined in a procession along the Main Street.

Lunch was at a restaurant called Venus. I had a tripe and chickpea soup followed by grilled hake and chips. Mike had a plate of charcuterie followed by chicken. All for €11 each including an excellent bottle of local white wine.

Great to catch up with Mike who is going on from Santiago to Madrid then Toledo then Avila.

His bus back to town was at 3.45 and I headed back to camp where B had already arrived, a bit footsore, but otherwise OK.

Warm sunny afternoon, so everything has dried out after yesterday's rain. We're planning to eat at the Albergue across the road this evening.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Day 25. Palas de Rei to Ribadiso. 35 miles

Day 25. Palas de Rei to Ribadiso. In both directions. 35 miles.

Before I start on today (Saturday 21st), I need to give an update on yesterday evening. While having a pint and seeing to our emails and the blog, we got chatting to a couple from Clonakilty in County Cork. They were cycling form Burgos to Santiago, and like many of the pilgrims we are meeting, using the services of a luggage transfer service i.e. you don't have to carry all your stuff with you on your back or on the bike: it's transported for you between overnight stops.

They were at the next table to us during the evening meal, so the conversation continued. the meal itself was excellent. No menu, you had to take what was served. Started with homemade soup (chicken stock, white beans, potatoes and turnip tops), followed by a huge platter of casseroled pork ribs, with chips and an enormous salad. A litre of chilled (!) red wine came with the meal. And for dessert there was a choice. I had pineapple cake and Brendan had local cheese with quince jelly. Neither of us took coffee but enjoyed the free glass of grappa. All the veg, the wine and the grappa were from the campsite's garden and vineyard. Probably the quinces too. So this is a restaurant to recommend. Camping Santa Marina, Portomarin. I'll add a link later.
We slept well last night.

A slightly complicated day. Brendan set off on foot from Portomarin to walk to Palas de Rei. I struck camp ( such a quaint expression!) then drove to Arzua where I'd found some information on the internet that there might be a campsite behind a hotel. The tourist office told me that it was possible to camp a few kilometres back at Ribadiso. This was hard to find, but there are two albuerges in this hamlet. We are camped at one of them with use of the facilities for €5 per person per night.

I cycled from Ribadiso to Palas de Rei and back getting caught in a thunder storm on the way back. But some good came of it. I stopped in a wayside cafe for a cup of coffee, and got a stamp for my Pilgrim Record.

It was dry when I got back to Ribadiso, so I pitched the the tent, then set off to collect Brendan from near Palas de Rei. We stopped in Melide for some food shopping.

Pouring with rain again when we got back to the tent, so headed across the road for a pint and a piece of pie while waiting for the rain to stop.

No wifi where we got our pie and pint, so spent a while writing up my blog post. I'll add it to the blog next time I can get wifi access.
Next task is to unpack everything and check out what the facilities are. The turned out to be excellent, with comfy sitting areas, showers, clean toilets with toilet paper provided. There is wifi at Albergue Los Caminantes where we are camped.

This is probably our most authentic Camino experience so far.
Here is a shot of Brendan sitting in the Albergue charging up his iPhone and checking his emails. A well deserved rest as he walked 25.5km today.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Day 24. Portomarin to Palas de Rei and back. 34 miles

Day 24. Portomarin to Palas de Rei. 17 miles (34 miles out and back)

I said I'd explain about today's activities. This is Brendan's first day of walking on the Camino. You have to do a minimum of 100km to qualify for an official Compostela certificate, and I guess have your name called out in the cathedral for completing a pilgrimage. 100km lies between. Sarria and Portomarin at a tiny place called Pinza. B chose to start at Sarria and I drove him there first thing.

After parking the car back at Portomarin, I set off to cycle the next bit of the route - to Palas de Rei. Not much in terms of distance, you might think, but the last two days involved climbing up and over a couple of mountain ranges, then the hilly road between Sarria and Portomarin, so I felt a bit lacking in energy. Also I had to cycle back from Palas de Rei to Portomarin.

The road climbs steadily from Portomarin for 12km and then cyclists and walkers are directed onto a narrow country lane. It's tarred though, but has a a lot of short steep ups and downs. So pretty exhausting. Beautiful scenery and a succession of tiny hamlets each with a cafe or two and some pilgrim accommodation. Ligonde was the biggest, and you felt you were cycling through someone's farmyard. They had certainly driven cattle along the Main Street recently!

Ligonde gives me a chance to mention languages. Hereabouts they don't speak the Castilian Spanish that we get taught at school, and that the phrase books use. Instead it's Galician, which sounds very different from Castilian. Place names often seem to have two versions, and you often see road signs that have been altered (informally) with spray paint. Ligonde has had the last two letters deleted, so I guess the Galician name is Ligon.

Cycling back against the tide of walking pilgrims was an odd experience. Instead of people's backs, you see their faces. Cyclists going with the crowd are assumed by walkers to be pilgrims, and often a greeting of 'Buen Camino' is exchanged. If going against the flow, the supply of greetings seems to dry up.
Back in Portomarin, I stopped off minto a supermarket and a gift shop. Stocking up on a few groceries and also to get a Camino T shirt and fridge magnet for B's birthday present.
B arrived back from his walk about 3pm, a bit footsore, but perked up after a cuppa, piece of chocolate cake, and a shower.

And here are his feet and boots after the first day's walk.

Here's the first entries in B's Pilgrim Record.

Evening meal will be at the campsite cafe.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Day 23. Valle de Seo to Portomarin. 60 miles.

Day 23. Valle do Seo to Portomarin. 60miles

After writing yesterday's bulletin, we discovered that the car battery was flat. It's the original battery from 8 year ago. Had it simply come to the end of its life? Recently you we've switched our breakdown cover to Nationwide ( it comes with one of their bank accounts), so here was an opportunity to see how it worked. Brendan phoned in the evening to report the problem. It was agreed to phone again in the morning. The engineer arrived within an hour, gave the battery a boost advised be to drive for at least 2 hours today. Great service all round.

So our usual pattern of meeting up during the day didn't happen. B drove straight to the next campsite, at Portomarin, a small town on the shore of what looks like a lake. It's really a dammed up river. The town was rebuilt stone by stone when the valley was flooded. You approach the town over a smart looking bridge, and straight ahead is an enormous flight of steps rising up through a turreted portico into the town. The campsite is off to the right about a mile. Grassy, partly shaded, good facilities, cafe/bar. We're staying here two nights, which will make sense when you read tomorrow's posting.

Back to cycling. It was another cool morning, so the climb up to Pedrafita do Cebreiro proved to be a steady, but not exhausting plod. The gradient averages 4% but there are a few slightly steeper stretches. Fuel was that excellent combination of potatoes ( left over mince and tatties from last night's meal, and oatcakes). As time passed, I collected a cloud of house flies - they seemed to like the smell of my sun block ( that's being charitable). I didn't shake them off till on the final climb to O Cebreiro. It wasn't that I was cycling faster, quite the opposite, but there was a stiff breeze up that high. O Cebreiro is at 1300 metres. The hamlet includes a cluster of circular, thatched, stone dwellings that used to be summer residences for local farmers when the took their animals up to them summer pastures.
These ones have been restored. The road stayed high up for several miles, undulating a bit, and crossing two more summits, alto de San Roque at 1270m ( there is a statue of him by the roadside) and Alto de Poia (1332m).
Just before Alto de Poia I spotted this mountain village graveyard, looking more like a collections of little cabins than graves.

From here the road made a gradual descent for 16 km, with wide sweeping curves and a smooth surface. I got to the foot of this hill (Triacastela) in 25 minutes. The road continues dropping to Sarria, a much bigger town than I was expecting, and not easy to navigate through. The usual white arrows painted on the road as markers to cycle pilgrims seemed to take a break in the town. I saw another cyclist who said he'd come from Santiago and pointed the way for me. His journey started in Lisbon, and he's aiming for France, one of the few pilgrims going the opposite direction. After Sarria, the road climbed for several miles, but, OJoy, the final 8 km were downhill.
Here is the view from inside the tent.

And this is what you see from the terrace of the campsite bar/restaurant. A very fine kitchen garden in th foreground.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Day 22. Rabanal del Camino to Valle do Seo. 44 miles

After a simple but delicious breakfast at the inn, I was faced with a stiff climb up to the highest point on the whole journey, at over 1400 metres, higher than Ben Nevis. Fortunately it was a very cool morning, which helped. The vegetation became greener as the top of the hill approached. Oak is the main tree, with some pine higher up. Two kinds of heather (calluna and erica) and two kinds of broom (yellow flowered large broom and white flowered smaller broom) form most of the shrub layer. There are occasional wild roses, plenty of bracken and, several smaller flowering plants whose names I don't know. Should have brought a flower book.
Anyone know what this little yellow flower is?

Reaching the Cruz de Ferra proved to be a very emotional experience for me. As soon as I saw it looming over the horizon on the last stretch of the climb, tears came to my eyes.It's an iron cross atop a tall wooden pole supported by an enormous, cairn of stones. There are photos of people, and items such as ribbons, flags, and pieces of cloth pinned to the pole. There is a tradition that here pilgrims place a stone from their home country. For some this may symbolise the laying down of burdens, psychological or spiritual, as a part of the pilgrimage. To me, this place seemed to have a far greater sense of spirituality to it than all the churches I have visited so far. I was thinking of the words we use in our church to begin our worship: "Divinity is present everywhere. The whole world is filled with God. But in certain places and at certain times, we feel a specialty of presence..." This was certainly one of those places and times. I felt exhilarated to have reached this high place, but am conscious that another mountain range had to be crossed tomorrow, with an even longer climb. The stone I laid was taken from the river Liddel at my home town, Newcastleton, in the south of Scotland. Brendan too laid a stone from Scotland on the cairn. We spent a while quietly before messaging our families. B gave me a scallop shell to attach to my bike as a souvenir of the journey.

Downhills can be exhilarating. But this one was scary. Long and steep, with a rough surface and many bends. I hoped the brakes would work. Half way down is a tiny village called El Acebo. I had read that cyclists have died here due to slipping on the paved surface of the road. In fact, the concrete paving has rough stones set into it, so it's a bit uncomfortable to ride through. There was a smooth concrete shallow drain down the centre of the road, with water running in it. But I managed.

Our planned meet up in the next big town, Ponferrada, proved a challenge. The place turned out to be vast, a city of maybe 100,000 or more. But thanks to mobile phone technology we found each other. B unfortunately had a minor tussle with a door in a supermarket. He had been attended to kindly by one of the shop ladies and emerged with a plaster on his nose.

Second stop was in the charming town of Villafranca del Bierzo, in the foothills of the next mountain range. Exit from the town took me through a road tunnel by which the N-IV road traffic could avoid the town centre. That road has now been bypassed by a motorway which runs up the valley on a series of viaducts. Many hillsides have been scarred by construction of this road, and although there is some evidence of landscaping/tree planting, it will be many years before the vast scars turn green, if they ever will. The other hillsides of this valley are covered in lush woodland (oak, with pine higher up).

A gently rising, quite road led me to the camping site at Valle do Seo. A quiet meadow surrounded by trees and with the best soil of any camping site so far.