Kath does the Camino!
After sleepless nights about what to pack in our 10k hand luggage allowance, my sister Holly and I set off on our journey to Northern Spain to walk the last section of the Camino
. Not really knowing what to expect we were like excited children joking about how awful we were going to look in our waterproofs with no make up and only 3 t-shirts for the weeks walking. Our private transfer was waiting when we reached Santiago Airport, our destination was Sarria where we were going to start walking, following the last 112km of the Camino de Santiago – just enough to gain our Pilgrims passport. The taxi took around an hour and a half and we passed many walkers and cyclists all heading in the same direction – to Santiago. We could not believe the beauty and similarity to Scotland, the countryside was so green and lush –we were excited to get start walking and be part of the journey.
After a short snooze in the hotel we headed off to explore Sarria. The old section of town was beautiful and we gained our first stamp in our pilgrim’s passport in Santa Maria church. We bought our pilgrims shells and pin badges for our rucksacks, bum bags and a knife.... (for cutting bread, cheese and tomatoes which was going to be our daily lunch!) – we now felt ready for the adventure. We were warned that a little Spanish was necessary but I am so glad Holly was with me as nobody speaks English.....we ordered our first vino and tortilla, it was Holly’s birthday after all!
Breakfast consists of coffee and bread and if you are lucky some orange juice, not being a coffee drinker I decided to adopt the motto when in Rome….. on with the waterproofs and rucksacks and out the door for 9am. Laughing as we headed out through the oak forest we wondered who we would meet along the way and if our feet were going to be blister free or in tatters by the end of the week. The first day was wet underfoot and we were so thankful to have brought our waterproof trousers. We passed many fellow walkers and buses of tour groups coming to visit the many churches on route – our aim was Portomarin which was 22km away. We stopped off for lunch - bread, cheese and tomato from the supermarket - our 1 euro knife came in so handy! 5 km before Portomarin we found an oasis of calm – a gorgeous little café with music and stunning views over the hills, a well deserved diet coke break to keep our energy levels up.
Arriving in Portomarin we crossed the huge bridge over the River Mino and made our way to our hotel which we had heard had a swimming pool, we had our own living room in the hotel but unfortunately the pool was closed as it was winter, oh the disappointment. Heading into town we decided to relax as the sun had come out, so was bough a couple of beers, a big bag of ruffles and found a step in the sun. We met Thomas an Irish nomad, he been travelling for years and had started his walk in St Jean Pied De Port which is the official start of the Camino Frances. He had been walking for 32 days and had a 2 day break to rest his poor feet – they were a mess, he had been told by the doctor to stop walking but carried on anyway...... Our first Peregrino Menu del Dia (Pilgrim’s Menu of the Day) was fantastic, a starter, bread, a main, a dessert, half a bottle of water and half a bottle of wine for 8 Euros each – we couldnt believe our luck. Bang goes the idea of losing weight and toning up – we were rolling about in bed moaning and laughing about how full we were – never again we thought. Lights out at 9pm.
After our coffee and bread fix we set off with stiff legs and sore backs to Palais de Rei. 24km today. Again beautiful walking through oak forests and country roads through little farms all centred by a church – the centre of the village. The weather was a bit wet in the morning but really picked up in the afternoon and the sun was blazing down by 2pm. It was harvesting season, lots and lots of apple trees, blackberries and vines to pick from as we meandered throught the little farms. The perfect time for walking we thought, quiet but still enough pilgrims to chat to along the way, always space in the cafes and glorious colours of the autumn landscape. Local farmers out in their vegetable plots living off the land always stopping to say hello to the pilgrims on their journey. A few blisters appearing but our Compeed blister plasters were working wonders. The walking was fairly easy over varied terrain today. We found our Hotel in Palais de Rai, lovely and clean but as the previous hotels they love their strip lighting, so everything was very bright. Later we spy another menu del dia with exactly the same on offer as last night, well we may as well – it’s so cheap! The crazy half hour seemed to develop after stuffing our faces – I think it was a combination of tiredness and delirium which made us laugh uncontrollably about nothing in particular.
The walk to Arzua was a big day, we had to walk nearly 30km but we were ready for the challenge. The first half of the day was great, talking and walking in the sun – it was bliss, not a care for anything else apart from walking. We had lunch in Melide after 15km but many of the cafes and supermarkets were closed as it was Spanish Day. The second half of the walk was hard but rewarding, we didn’t think we were ever going to get there, lots of uphill forest walking and the feet were tired and hot. A total of 9 and half hours later we reached Azrua and our hotel, a quick lie down then off to explore the town. After getting our passport stamped in the church we met a Canadian man who told us he lived in Glasgow for 5 years, he was a minister and said he was so blessed to have met us, cried and prayed with us then left…… we were so tired and weary and could not believe what had just happened, so we went and had our usual menu del diaollowed by the crazy half hour.
A lovely short days walking to Rua followed, 19km through stunning countryside, many river crossings today and eucalyptus trees along the path. We reached our hotel by 3pm and lay in the sun for a hour, so relaxing and a nice change from the hard trekking of yesterday. Passed lots of cyclists today shouting Buen Camino at everyone they passed, everyone was so friendly and we felt like we really belonged. We were feeling good that we had got this far, our feet had hardened up and we really felt part of the pilgrimage and really didn’t want it to end. We tried the local award winning cheese today, it came out like a dessert, drizzled in what looked like chocolate sauce..... very strange!
The final day’s walk to Santiago started off glorious and we met up with people along the way who were walking much slower than usual – they didn’t want the experience to come to an end so they were making the most of every last step. A few sections of roadside walking today but still quiet and peaceful until we reached the airport. As we made our way into Santiago through the suburbs there were cars everywhere and office workers having lunch, a sudden sense of detachment from the magical journey through rural forests and farms. We felt like we had lost our little group and didn’t belong in this big city with our packs and shells on our backs. The last part of the journey was saddening but exciting to reach the cathedral. Standing in all its glory is the Cathedral of Santiago – it is truly an inspiring creation and we stood for a good 5 minutes when we finally reached it.
After finding our cute little hotel we set off again to explore the quaint streets of this student packed city. Shops and restaurants everywhere, we soon got into the buzz of the busy town but we couldn’t buy too much as there was still the 10k luggage allowance on the flight home.
We went to the 12 o’clock pilgrims mass in the cathedral the nest day which was fascinating. Not being religious but always intrigued by it we sat through the mass, not understanding anything as it was all in Spanish but somehow we were put in a trance by the nuns singing and the swinging of the huge incense burner (to rid the pilgrims of disease). Afterwards we realised it was going to be our last day of sunshine so we lay in the quiet park away from the noise of the city and thought about the week previous and how we missed being part of the pilgrim life. Maybe one day we will return and walk the whole way we thought, we hoped......
If you would like to walk the Camino de Santiago then please visit Macs Adventure
and look at all the different options available, we offer the whole walk split into sections and we can tailor make trips to suit your needs.