Day 26: Monte de Gozo to Santiago de Compestella 

At long last, we set out for our final day on the trail. Given our close proximity to Santiago, today was a short walk downhill into the city. 

This is the skyline leaving our “Mountain of Joy.” Prominent on it is a monument celebrating Pope John Paul II’s visit in the 1980’s. 

“Looks like we made it!” Some 5km later, we arrived in Santiago de Compestella. Our first stop was (naturally) the cathedral in front of which Frank is posing. 

Then, it was on to a quick breakfast. Mikey has yet to tire of bread and pork, so he ordered toast with tomato and Iberian ham alongside his usual “cafe con leche” and fresh squeezed orange juice. 

Frank imbibed our normal regimen of coffee and juice, but mixed it up a bit with a “Torta de Santiago.” This is basically an almond coffee cake with powdered sugar on top. A Saint James’ cross cutout is placed on top and creates a decorative relief. 

Having arrived so early, we had plenty of time to explore the cathedral prior to the noon pilgrims’ mass. 

Mikey had to pose in front of the main sanctuary. 
This exterior statue depicts Saint James (one of the 12 disciples) in his usual pilgrim garb. It was in these cloaks that he spread the gospel in Galicia during the 1st century CE. 

This is an interior statue within a small chapel depicting Santiago Matamoros. According to legend (and it is JUST a legend), during a 9th century battle with the Moors, St. James appeared on on a white horse and led the Spanish to completely slay their Muslim enemies. Ergo, our humble evangelist and disciple of Christ was transformed into a militant warrior who sided with the Spanish over the Moors. 

Whomever James the Greater was, his remains are allegedly housed in this silver box beneath the altar. Mikey and Frank discussed their existence several times during our walk. 

Basically, Mikey asked two questions: 1) are the remains of St. James actually preserved in a silver box below the altar? 2) Does it really matter to us? 
We will probably never know the answer to the first question. As for the second, it is really a matter of perspective. But this voyage was never about Saint James or where his remains … remain. (Sorry, couldn’t help that pun.) How sad it would be to have our linchpin of success be so outside of our control! Rather, the pilgrimage was an excuse to take a walk together – as father and son. Yes, we made it; yes, we arrived in Santiago. But our success is demonstrated in our continued companionship – we still like each other! But think about it: who can say that he has walked a mile in his son’s shoes or 500 in his father’s? This is the true gift that the Camino bestowed on us. 
Meanwhile, we got to explore a lot of Santiago and the cathedral especially.  

Here’s the top secret photo that Mikey clandestinely snapped from behind the altar. Totally forbidden and totally awesome!
During the medieval period in which the Camino was most popular, the cathedral priests of Santiago devised an ingenious method through which they could fight the “pilgrim stench.” A large incense burner known as the Botafumeiro was lit and swung through the cathedral during part of the mass. 

We were quite fortinate to witness this waning ritual at the noontime Sunday mass. 

We also visited a Franciscan monastery that was nearby. Its altar was surprisingly high.  

Mikey hanging with some locals. (Yes, Mikey is weird.) 

Oh, and we had some great food! Santiago is home to a vibrant pincho/tapa culture in which one can sit at a bar and snack on many different types of food. 

Pulpo!!

This was a VERY tasty octopus pincho with cheese and veggies on bread.  
But that was just a starter. Come on, when you’re in Galicia, you gotta do seafood – right?! Yeah – we HAVE arrived! 
Oh, and if you STILL don’t believe it, here’s our “honest-to-Catholic” proof:  
So what now? Well, Mikey once told Frank that he’d walk to the end of the earth for him. Tomorrow will be that day.
We depart early in the morning for Fisterra (Finisterre) which is a derivative of the Latin “Finis Terrae” or End of the Earth. Yeah, that Mikey is true to his word! ¡Tchau!

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Day 25: Arzua to Monte de Goza

We got off to an early start, and covered quite a few miles before breakfast. Our major goal today is to cover some 40km (24+ miles) in order to arrive in Monte de Gozo (Mountain of Joy) by tonight. This will put us some 5km from Santiago at our ending stop tonight and allow us to walk leisurely downhill on Sunday morining for noontime Pilgrims’ Mass at the Cathedral. 

Step aside, Waffle House, this girl’s got breakie going on! We ordered eggs, bacon, ham, toast, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. All that on the griddle – yeah, that’s for us two! Oh, and you ask about price? 9€ total. Yeah, Spain rocks!

  Not sure if we’ve posted about these yet, but they are all over Galicia. This is basically a corn-drying hut that is raised above the ground to prevent rats from eating the stores and narrow slats to prevent birds from doing the same. They can be constructed of wood, brick, or stone, but all serve the same purpose and are everywhere in Galicia. 

Wisteria is now in bloom all over the northwest of Spain. It’s funny how, just a month ago, we were trudging through a snowstorm and are now almost sickened by the sweetness of flowers in bloom. 

According to our guidebook, we were supposed to stop in the town of  Pedrouzo. Instead, we trudged on through the mist and rain, opting for a forest route over that of the tempting town.  
This eucalyptus forest was really amazing. Frank called it an “enchanted forest” while Mikey had “Into the Woods” songs stuck in his head for way too long. 

Awesome marker, right? Yeah, we encountered this about 200m from the airport in a downpour. Santiago is close, but will we make it?!

At long last, we arrived in Monte de Gozo (Mountain of Joy).  From here – on a clear day – one can see the towers of the cathedral in Santiago. No such luck. Instead, we put on our rain suits and headed out for dinner. 

This was the main course. We began with a chicken noodle soup and then shared this platter: roasted pork leg with potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic. Wine for Mikey, a Coke for Frank, amd two lattes later, we were set back by 16€. (For our slower readers, Mikey IS MOVING TO SPAIN!!) Perhaps a joke now, but the prices are such that we have been able to indulge without any worries. It’s actually laughable how inexpensive some meals are.

Well, we sleep now on full stomachs. Tomorrow is another day. ¡Hasta Santiago!

Day 24: Portomarin to Arzua

Days can begin so gently and end with such vengeance. Today was that kind nd of day. We leisurely crossed a small bridge leading out of the city and began our nature hike. Sure, we had the giant crowd following from Sarria, but the air was fresh and our feet were light. Oh, well…

As you have probably noticed, many of our posted pictures prominently feature the Camino pathways. Well, that’s what we see all day, so go figure! Today’s path began with emerald green highlighted by a slight mist. The ancient rock wall was an added bonus. We were quite amazed by the longevity of this simple stone barrier.  

 By 9am, we were floating! Frank agreed to stop for all of 5 seconds while Mikey framed this shot of him on yet another bridge.   

The markers are definitely creative sometimes. This is a Camino arrow made of painted scallop shells. 

And then … in the “mist” of it all … the Lord provided mana. 

Pulpo!!! Yep, that’s boiled octopus sliced and garnished with olive oil and paprika. We stopped by a roadside “pulperia” (or octopus stand) and had some for breakfast! Step aside, Wheaties, you’ve met your match!!

“Stopped in to a church I passed along the way. Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.You know the preacher liked the cold; He knows I’m gonna stay. California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”

Sorry, but this sign just really spoke to Mikey. Yes, at times “we ALL octopus!” Solidarite. 

A small break in the rain allowed us to continue on past our suggested stop in Ribadiso and continue some 5km further to the larger town of Arzua.  

  As you can see from the signpost as we entered Arzua, Santiago is SO close! We are really getting ready for it. Yes, our feet hurt, we are tired, but to see the “Emerald City” of our Camino is now a reality. 

Ok, so Mikey REALLY has a thing for pulpo – seriously. If there was a 12 step, he’d be the founding member. Needless to say, he made Frank stay at a private albergue in Arzua that was across the street from a pulperia. 

As it was raining horribly, Frank consented to have octopus once again tonight. We also did laundry and booked hotels for our stay after Santiago. Better sign off now. Buenos pulpos. 

Day 23: Sarria to Portomarin

Yes, the exit from Sarria was most unique. We pilgrims who have carried all of our necessities on our backs for the past month were quite (pardon the pun) taken aback by the number of “day hikers” now joining us. A “day hiker” is one who walks the Camino, but has their backpacks/luggage sent ahead via taxi to the next town in which they will spend the night. The low price of 5€ per transfer is quite tempting to Mikey and Frank, but we fight the urge to “cheat.”

 This is now a common sight on the Camino. Due to the Compestella’s 100km requirement, many have joined in on “our” Camino. Frank and Mikey have alternated in complaining about the new arrivals. 

It is mostly a question of what denotes a true pilgrim. Must he walk 500+ miles like we are attempting? Does sending ones luggage ahead disqualify her from true participation? What about taking a taxi for a few kilometers towards the end of a long day? Are bicycles really permissible? What about hiking sticks? For the record, we do not regularly use our poles. Frank has utilized his mostly for balance during a few tricky river crossings and Mikey has opened a couple of wine bottles with his (don’t ask!) Still, we continue to mull over these questions as we come into contact with “non-traditional” pilgrims. 

On a positive note, the scenery today has been truly amazing. We will not trouble you with captions for the next few shots – just enjoy as we did. 

 
  
 
    

Following a full day of natural beauty, we began our descent into the town of Portomarin. This consisted of a wooded downward hike followed by a bridge crossing and an upwards climb into the village.   

Frank navigates some pretty intimidating and extremely slick rock stairs. 

 We entered the town via a modern bridge spaning an eerily calm river. 

Remember how we descended through the woods? Thanks, Portomarin, for the climb back up! Jerk. 

In the middle of the Plaza Mayor sits the romanesque “fortress-church” of Saint John. 

Much more reserved is its elder neighbor, the 11th century Church of Saint Peter. 
Never fear, Mikey’s here (to find the town still!) We are unsure concerning the history and purpose of this monument, but are sardonically pleased with its prominent placement near the town center and parish church.  

“No, Santiago, those are not spirit fingers- THESE are spirit fingers!!” Hey, it’s not everyday that Mikey can instruct a saint on the finer aspects of … never mind. 

It seems that our days grow shorter as we near Santiago de Compestella. The weather has again turned against us with rain in the upcoming forecast. Still, Mikey will try to document as much as possible without waterlogging his iPhone. Oh, that’s one for you: if you didn’t realize it before now, all of our pictures are taken on either Frank or Mikey’s iPhone 6s. Additionally, our posts are composed on said phones without the use of traditional spellcheck (software issues). As for timing insofar as our posts are uploaded, we are often delayed due to lack of wifi. These are not excuses for delays or lack of quality, but are things many readers simply did nor know. Well, now ya do! Thanks for following us still and buenas noches!

Day 22: Triacastela to Sarria

Our day began with a difficult decision regarding which path we would take to Sarria. The shorter and more popular route would save us 7.2km but involved a gradual, yet steep uphill climb. The alternative path consisted of constant rolling hills (i.e. lots of moderate climbs and descents) and would lengthen our day considerably. Sorry, but that’s a big decision after only one cup of coffee!

In the end, we opted for the longer route as it would take us through the village of Samos which is home to Western Europe’s oldest and (one of its) largest monasteries. While Frank probably agreed to lengthen the day’s walk purely for Mikey’s sake (history major), this decision proved to be quite enjoyable for both of us. 

As mentioned above, the route through Samos was much less popular than the shorter trail. Ergo, we enjoyed a mostly solitary stroll through some wonderfully serene parts of the countryside. 

 Looks like Frank finally found a practical Lamborghini. 

Much of the morning looked like this – empty trails and the chance to listen to the tranquil sounds of nature. 

 We turned a corner on the trail and could suddenly espied the monastery complex from afar. 

Mikey couldn’t wait to pose with it. 
Talk about your front porch! But seriously, it was rather fancy for a group of austere monks. 
Even the monastery’s cloister is the largest in Spain. But then again, if you’re the oldest in Europe, you’ve got more time to make it bigger and better. 

 A statue of Saint James is given pride of place in the sanctuary. Perhaps this is a nod to the monastery’s significant role in caring for Santiago-bound pilgrims since the Camino’s inception. 

Much of the path out of Samos was flanked by beautiful scenery like this. 

 While we walked for several more miles than expected, it was refreshing to leave the highway behind for most of the afternoon. Still, we returned to reality upon entering Sarria. 

A word about this upcoming town: 
The Camino de Santiago has no starting point – only an ending. Thus, like the grooves of its scallop shell icon, there are many paths to the same destination. As this particular pilgrimage and travel in the region grew in popularity during the late 20th century, the Church found it necessary to regulate the requirements for pilgrims wishing to undertake it. At present, a pilgrim must complete a minimum of 100km walking to Santiago (and it must be for religious/spiritual reasons) in order to receive the official Compestella or certificate of completion from the Church. 

The town of Sarria is located just over 100km from Santiago along the Camino Frances. This Camino route is the most historic and popular among pilgrims. As such, many begin their walk at Sarria. Although it has led to a major economic surge in the area and in many towns from Sarria to Santiago, the “latecomers” crowd both the trails and albergues during ones final days. Perhaps we will see what the “Disneyland of the Camino” is like tomorrow. Hasta pronto. 

Day 21: La Faba to Triacastela

What a wonderful day to leave Spain. Yep,  as we haven’t yet reached Santiago de Compestella, that was Frank’s surprised reaction, too! 

Actually, our location it is a matter of opinion. That is to say, we have officially entered the autonomous region of Galicia which has its own language, distinct culture, separate history from Spain, and other unique attributes. Similar to other autonomous entities within Spain such as the Basque Country and Cataluña, Galicia is home to a group of separatists who believe it should be an independent country. While we have been cautious in referring by name the place we are now traversing, the Galician independence movement is much less fervent and popular than in other regions. Sadly, we now find ourselves in one of the poorest regions of Spain and one that relies almost entirely on tourism – independence just wouldn’t work too well for Galicia. 

A last look back onto “Spanish soil.” We already see the green hills so iconic of the northwest.     

Mikey had to mark the crossing with a picture.  

While Frank was happy to have made it into Galicia, he was happier to have reached the day’s summit!  

 The Iglesia de Santa Maria Real dates back to the 9th century and is one of the oldest buildings on the Camino. It is one of the first sights as pilgrims enter the Galician outpost of O’ Cebreiro. 
   

 Guess what time we arrived in O’ Cebreiro?!

 As with many Galician churches, rather pronounced austerity separates it from similar-sized Spanish examples. This is a bust of Father Elias Valiña Sampedro. He was the local parish priest who played a lead role in restoring the Camino and popularizing it in the late 20th century. 

According to local lore, the priest of O’Cebreiro talked some road workers into providing him with yellow paint which he used to mark the Way of Saint James from France to Santiago. These yellow arrows are still used today in directing pilgrims. While Frank and Mikey have a guidebook, more often than not, these markers are all we really need. Thanks, father!

Speaking of signs, Mikey’s mouth began to water at the sight of this one! If you can’t tell, pulpo is Spanish for octopus – a Galician delicacy and favorite of we seasoned travelers.  

As we near the object of our pilgrimage, Camino markers are much more plentiful than at the start. 

We stopped for a rest with another pilgrim. This medieval traveler looks out over the vast mountain region of Galicia while Mikey looks wearily at all the hills we have yet to climb. 

   We definitely had clear skies for our introductory walk in Galicia.   

Although the main roads were rather warm, there were several segments that meandered through wooded areas like this. 

  
One of the more thrilling aspects of the day was Mikey’s close encounters with a few natives. Please note that Mikey lives in Los Angeles, so anything more exotic than a small dog is kinda rad. (Oh, and eat your heart out, Jack Hannah!)

  

 
 Well, moooving along….we ended our day in Triacastela where we got our first taste of Galician soup. More to come on regional food and our trip to Europe’s oldest and largest monastery. Hasta entonces.