Camino de Santiago: The Walk of Joy
My wife of forty-five years was in mission mode… So I paid attention “You’ve done lots of hiking over the years, and you know it’s never been my thing. But… I’ve got this real hankering to do the Camino de Santiago in North West Spain The route thousands of Pilgrims have walked since the 9th century?" “I’ve read about it, but it’s something like five hundred miles long! Are you up for that?” My eyebrows were rising. “That’s the full length, but you can still earn your Compostela Certificate by walking the last hundred kilometres. Peggy fancies it too…” “But can you two keep a decent pace?” Mary scowled… [caption id="attachment_25934" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Heading out on the trail for the day[/caption] I’m always happy tackling a decent hike, so we booked a self-guided tour through helpful, Scottish based Macs Adventure. They organised accommodation for our six-day trek plus transporting our main bags between stops. Getting to our starting point; Sarria from Glasgow was logistically challenging. We decided to fly to Santiago via Stansted. Macs Adventure arranged transport to our first hotel. Trains were an option but take two hours longer. The taxi-drive took 90 minutes. It'll take us six days to walk back! Still… life's full of choices... Hotel Roma was on the edge of town. Its one star, belying its comfort and facilities. Lovely beer garden, comfortable rooms. The riverside town centre boasts a range of café/restaurants. Impressive €30 bill for three including drinks! Next morning we left our ‘big’ bags to be transported to our first stopover in Portmarin, Armed with our comprehensive daily maps and directions, we set off to conquer the Way. 22 kilometres to cover by mid-afternoon. Temperature forecast to hit 35 degrees Celsius. Worryingly hot! The scenery was delightful. Mary and her sister Peggy enjoyed the market garden plants on either side. Keen gardeners admiring the quality of local crops. [caption id="attachment_25937" align="aligncenter" width="900"] The road to Santiago[/caption] Striding out we felt a noticeable buzz as fellow Pilgrims appeared from other areas of Sarria. We weren't forcing a hard pace so were slowly overtaken by little groups of walkers. Camino shells, the traditional pilgrim’s symbol, bouncing off backpacks, They invariably waved and proclaimed 'Bueno Camino!' the traditional greeting. Reminding me of 'Namaste' salutations between locals and trekkers in the Nepalese Himalayas. Just outside town, our first iconic Camino Way-marker with blue scallop shell and yellow arrow told us we had 113kms to walk to reach Santiago Cathedral. “You said it was only a hundred kilometres!” Peggy pointed out. “Bueno Camino!” Mary grinned as we strolled through the rising morning mist. The terrain had a rich green lustre, signs of plenty of rain. Not today. The temperature climbed as we walked through dappled forests of oaks and chestnut trees. Our cottage accommodation outside Portomarin was beautifully located overlooking the peaceful Belesar Reservoir, which hides two villages sunk in its construction. Our first Pilgrim’s meal of tasty mutton, vegetables and wine cost €10. Marvellous! [caption id="attachment_25939" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Celebrating the end of another day on the trail[/caption] After breakfast, we faced our longest day: 24 kilometres including the steepest section to Sierra de Legonde. It was sweltering, so I decided to wear trekking sandals. While enjoying the cooling benefits of no socks, I inevitably paid the price of feet freedom: a monster blister on my right sole, hobbling me for the final kilometres into the delightful old town of Palais de Rei. My schoolboy error haunted me for the next few days, allowing Mary and Peggy to outpace me easily… passing by with big wide grins! The third stage to Melide involved crossing shallow rivers in the midst of cooling woodlands. Delightful lingering. Camaraderie joy was ubiquitous as we walked with folk of all ages from many places: Canadians, Australians, Europeans, Brazilians and even a pilgrim from Sri Lanka. While some were undoubtedly walking for religious reasons, nobody evangelised their beliefs. Cafes suddenly appear when you badly need one; Pilgrims rest, eat, chat and laugh at their own frailties. Modest prices and an opportunity to stamp your ‘Credential Del Peregrino’. Your passport to the Compostela Certificate once you reach the ancient Cathedral in Santiago. Collecting each unique stamp becomes addictive and adds an extra frisson to the whole experience. Who says children grow up? The accommodations were modest yet quirky. From a chintzy B&B in Palais de Rei with a Sistine Chapel reprise on the dining room ceiling, to the garden pool of the splendid Hotel O Acivro in Rua. Our last stopover before Santiago. How welcome was that pool after five days of 35-degree heat? We sizzled! The final 20kms to Santiago climbs gently through eucalyptus trees reaching the ‘Mount of Joy’ with statues of ancient pilgrims pointing the way to the Cathedral visible in the near distance below. [caption id="attachment_25938" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Finally made it to Santiago Cathedral[/caption] The momentum of gathering Pilgrims swollen with day-trippers as we marched through the winding streets of the Old Town reached its climax in Cathedral Square. Joyous hugging and congratulations from fellow pilgrims we’d met on the Way. Grinning faces as we collected our Compostela Certificates from the Pilgrims Office. Mary and Peggy proudly holding their Latin certificates aloft as they smugly informed all and sundry they’d out-hiked this seasoned trekker!
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