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. 

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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. 

Day 20: Ponferrada to La Faba

We left Ponferrada in time to arrive in Villafranco de Bierzo by mid morning. After a quick tortilla de patata and coffee, we hit the streets for an abridged walking tour conducted by an overly caffeinated Mikey for the benefit of a shivering Frank.   It’s a little hard to lose the Camino in this town! 

This is the imposing Castle/Palace of the Marquis which dates to the 15th century. 

The 11th century romanesque Iglesia de Santiago is known for its Puerta de Perdon (Door of Forgiveness). Medieval pilgrims who could not continue to Santiago received absolution by passing through this church’s doors. We tried the door, but it was locked. Guess it’s on to Santiago, then. 

 This convent was at one time a pilgrim hospital. 

 The Iglesia Colegiata is a 16th century church built on the ruins ofa 12th century monastery.   

Frank really is happy to pose with a fellow pilgrim – he’s just freezing this morning! (Notice his gloves.)

 Yup, Villafranco has a pretty neat bridge, too.  

Only 200km to go?! This is probably the happiest we’ve seen Frank in a while.  

Today’s path through the mountains was very beautiful. Although we walked alongside the highway for quite some time, between the infrequent Sunday morning drivers, we were serenaded by a nearby river, various birds, and other peaceful nature sounds.  

Still, upon entering a town we sometimes had the sneaky suspicion that we were being watched! 

Away from the highway, we were often able to walk down the middle of smaller roads. 

  We even got to try out our first “Automat” cafeteria. It works much like a school lunchroom – one picks a 1st and 2nd plate then gets a drink, bread, and dessert.   

This style of dining is often found at Spanish truckstops. In fact, we stumbled upon this one at said stop while walking down the highway. 

But, here’s the crazy part: it was Mother’s Day in Spain and the place was packed. We wondered how American mothers would react to dinner at a truckstop on this special day!

Probably with this kind of look. Still, Mikey wished this mom a happy Mother’s Day. (And yes, according to Frank’s brief talk on animal husbandry, this cow qualifies.) 

  After a very long day, we arrived in the small hamlet of La Faba. Frank posed with a fellow pilgrim outside of an albergue run by a German Confraternity. As Helmut the hospitaller explained, volunteers like himself comit to a two week stint working in albergues along the Camino. They have normally walked at least some of the Camino and/or are involved with a religous order that supports the act of pilgrimage.  

We’d better wrap this up for now as the Germans will most likely lock the albergue doors PROMPTLY at 10pm. Buenas noches. 

Day 19: Molinaseca to Ponferrada 

With laundry done, we settled in for the night in a very comfy room (note that, at this point, “comfy” is anything with a private bedroom and bathroom!) Aparently, American reality TV shows are pretty popular in Spain as the majority of the English language programs were reruns of Deadliest Catch and House Hunters. Pretty dull. Sleep came early and we got up to try what was billed as “the best breakfast on the Camino.” 

Breakfast was pretty good, but the beans were definitely from a can (thereby disqualifying it from any “best of Camino” award. 

This was one of the more beautiful days en route. We spent most of the morning walking through pastures with amazing vistas like this. 

We reached the medieval city of Ponferrada shortly before noon. Yeah, this 12th century bridge was an appropriatly flashy entrance for Frank and Mikey. 

 Frank standing in front of the 12th century Templar castle. Although most of it was rebuilt during the 14-16th centuries, it was still an impressive sight.  Too bad the moat was dry – it would’ve been a perfect day for a swim!

This is part of the original structure. We climbed to the top of the tower via a really sketchy circular stone staircase.  

17th century Iglesia San Andres.  

16th century Basilica de la Encina.  

In honor of Mother’s Day (May 1st), the basilica held a procession the night before featuring a “passo” of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Kinda rad and unexpected by us! 

The castle looked amazing at night.  

This was the best find in the whole city – a meat vending machine! That’s right, no longer will siesta or early store closings stop our cured meat cravings. Starting at only 2€, this vending machine can satiate ones most primal desires at any hour. Only in Spain!

Ponferrada was an unexpected stopover, so we’ll be zooming through a lot tomorrow. Still, it was well worth it and we did enjoy a rest from the backpacks if only for a little while. Hasta pronto. 

Day 18: Foncebadon to Molinaseca

Last night’s sleeping arrangements could probably have been better. Frank is still not sure whether it was our French or German bunk mates who flavored the room so pungently. Still, we awoke rather early for mountain village time, and gathered our things. 

Our host from the previous evening greeted us and asked if we were hungry. Looking around at other pilgrims’ coffees and plates of toast, Mikey was a bit hesitant. After all, one can only consume so many carbs in a day! But our host understood our quandary and instructed Mikey to sit down and wait for breakfast. 
Needless to say, all the other pilgrims were jealous of our “American Breakfast” of eggs, bacon, and (of course) bread. 

Oh, and you can totally tell whether bacon is fresh based off of the skin. This porker was definitely a local resident. 

 Ok, no relation to our breakfast – we just thought that the horses in a pasture with snow capped mountains in the background were worth posting. The morning was completely beautiful with only a few wispy clouds. This was perhaps the most picturesque start to a day yet.

The Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) is one of the most iconic places on the Camino Frances. It has a great camio in the movie The Way and is written about in all Camino guides. So, what’s it all about?

Well, the Cruz de Ferro (Mikey begins as he puts on his professor hat) stands 1,505 meters atop a mountain along the way. A tradition dating back to the late medieval period exists wherein pilgrims deposit a stone carried with them from their point of origin. Ergo, there’s a big pile of rocks at the cross’s base. But wait, there’s more!

The mountain was originally a holy place of worship for the Roman god Mercury until it was “christianized” during the middle ages by placing an iron cross at its summit. And while we are splitting hairs, the mountain is actually 1,500 meters high, but the pile of rocks measures 5 additional meters raising the summit to 1,505m in total. 

 Just off from the Cruz de Ferro stands a quiet hermitage which is a bit more modern.  

ALSO standing nearby is a heifer who don’t play! She tried to charge Mikey 3€ for this picture. Talk about primadonna!

This was our amazing view for a large part of the day. Mikey thinks the mountains looked good, too.  

What goes up, must eventually come down – including Frank. The hardest part of today was descending the peaks we had climbed over the past few days. This picture does not accurately portray how treacherous our hike was. Frank is walking at a 35% grade over loose shale rocks. Hang ten, Papa!

Speaking of shale, we noticed that something was missing from this picture: terracotta roofs! As we saw in the picture above, this region abounds with shale rock. Thus, no one wastes time baking clay shingles when they can layer thin shale rock over their heads. 

Something else was missing: food in our stomachs. So Frank and Mikey took a break and grabbed some healthy grub. 

This is the standard Spanish salad. It consists of lettuce, tomato, onion, tuna, carrots, and corn. The last two ingredients are optional, but the first four are mandatory. This is served with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. (Fun fact: a salad with tuna is considered to be vegetarian!)

 Speaking of healthy grub, Mikey got his first taste of Galician cider! Unlike that in the Basque Country, this cider is sweet and carbonated. Yum!

This is a typical sight entering many of the villages in this area. Again, notice the shale roof. 
Just a picturesque reminder of where we’re headed. 

After many miles and steep descents, we caught sight of our destination, Molinaseca. Prominent in the skyline is the 17th century Church of Saint Nicholas. 

Pilgrims enter the city via the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). While this is actually a medieval bridge, it is built atop the ruins of an original Roman structure. 

Mikey likes it!
Just a front-facing view of the Iglesia de San Nicolas. 

We stayed at a really amazing hotel called the Palacio Hostal. Oh, and the manager did like ALL of our laundry for 7€! Total score, plus we had a balcony overlooking one of the main streets. The trees out front were kinda wacko, though. 

  Speaking of wacko, this was a most original way of promoting a grocery store. Take note, hipster DJ wannabes working that sales job! 
 
Still, we decided to go out for cooked food at a restaurant along the river. Oh, boy!

  In honor of the Camino and its scallop theme, we feasted on some grilled shellfish. The ones on the left are grilled with a delicious crême sauce while those to the right are more traditional olive oil and garlic based. In case you were wondering, neither Frank nor Mikey could decide which was better. 

For the main course, we both opted for fried local river trout. Having passed SO many streams and rivers, we mutually concluded that there must be something tasty in the water. Yep, Mikey and Frank called this one spot-on. 

Unlike American-style fried fish, the Spanish do not batter their catch. Instead, they clean said delicacy and drop it into a shallow pan of sizzling olive oil with garlic. A pinch of salt and pepper finishes off the dish perfectly. That is to say, “fall-off-the-bone perfection!” 

Well, that’s about all for this leg of our journey. Tomorrow will be a short walk TO a city and a LONG walk through all it offers. Stay tuned for Ponferrada! Buenas noches, vos.