This is a frequent question asked by folks who hear this is not our first time. They might add, why not hike somewhere else… that is longer, tougher, nearby, that has better, different scenery, etc.
We’ve discovered that a Camino in our future, is good for our health because the obvious physical strength and stamina challenge motivates our daily eating and exercising habits.
But the simple answer is it’s a location thing, “ You have to be there to understand”.
Have you ever been somewhere that you wanted to return? Is there a favorite vacation spot that you look forward to year after year? Do you enjoy sampling local cuisine? Have you ever been to a place or had personal, positive experience that was physically challenging or peaceful or energizing or relaxing or meditative or healing or renewing or supportive or socially interactive or emotionally stimulating or introspective or refreshingly simplistic?
Well, for us, the Camino is all these things… and that’s why it keeps calling us back and why we are answering its call once more.
Since completing our 5th Camino…500 miles in 2017, she’s been calling us back again. Our first four Caminos were in 15 mile (2012), 32 mile(2013), 270 mile(2014) and 180 mile segments finishing in Santiago in 2015.
So we’re answering the call one more time while our bodies are still willing.
At noon on Saturday, October 7, we checked out of A Casa do Peregrino and walked to the Santiago train station.
Along the way we stopped at Cafeteria Alabama (for obvious reasons) and had lunch.
After lunch we walked another half-mile to the Santiago train station and boarded the train to Madrid a few minutes before it departed at 3:12 p.m.
The boarding process was a real hoot. Our 1st Class reserved seats were in Coche 12. This would not have been a problem if any of the train coaches has Coche Numbers on the outside. We figured that 1st Class (“Preferente”) would be at the front of the train, but that wasn’t obvious either as both ends of the train looked the same. So we picked an end coche and boarded. As you might expect, once on the train we saw the ID Number for Coach 18! Oops, opposite end of train from our seats. And to make matters worse we were already committed with other passengers both behind us and in front of us.
With only 2 minutes before departure, getting off the train to advance to our coche was not an option. So we started walking down the aisle one coach at a time to arrive at our seats, hopefully, before the train began to leave. Well, it seems that we were not the only passengers who had erroneously gotten onto the wrong coche. And we were all moving in opposite directions down a very narrow aisle, most with luggage, frantically seeking our assigned seats. Eventually we made it to our seat only a few minutes after departure before the train got up to speed.
“Up to speed” on our Alvia series 120 high speed electric train was 245km/hr, that’s 152mph!
We traveled through mountains for the first half of the trip and it seemed like over half of the time we were going through tunnels, some of them quite long.
We made an unplanned stop in A Gudiña, a small town at the very southern tip of Galicia and near the Portuguese border. Apparently a brush fire had blocked a slower northbound train just a few minutes before A Gudiña, where it was scheduled to normally pull off to a side track to let us through. Thankfully, communications between the trains was perfect, so we stopped and waited for nearly an hour and a half for the brush fire to be brought under control and for the northbound train to pull to a side track to allow us to move on south.
As we traveled south toward Madrid the colors transitioned from green to brown and the mountains became meseta like.
Our train arrived at Madrid Chamatin train station at 9:45 (a very unusual 90 minutes behind schedule). A 14 minute taxi (19.60€) ride brought us to the Madrid Airport Hilton (142€), where we were pre-checked in to our outstanding room & home for the next two days.
We spent a quiet Sunday on the hotel terrace in the sun and shade after walking to a nearby small bar for breakfast.
Our room price is very reasonable compared to any large city luxury hotel. But we thought 25€ each for a Hilton buffet breakfast was excessive. The other meals, bar prices and other costs were equally too high, such as 5€ for a half-liter bottle of water. So we decided to get our meals and snacks, etc. off-site and the walking was good to help make the transition from Pilgrim to Tourist to Civilian.
Lunch, dinner and chill time occupied the afternoon and evening.
Monday morning after breakfast (6€ in nearby bar instead of 50€ for Hilton buffet) we walked from our hotel, across the expressway overpass into a nice, treed residential area. We moseyed around trying to get lost and eventually sat down for a relaxed lunch, outside, at a small cafe amongst the trees and apartment buildings and shops. Again, the gentle, packless walk and prolonged stop to eat helped in our transition.
We spent the afternoon getting organized and packing up for the trip home tomorrow morning. Jim settled our bill with the hotel tonight to avoid the line tomorrow morning.
Tuesday morning we caught the 8:00 a.m. complimentary hotel shuttle to the airport.
Our flight was not until 12:30 and begins boarding at 11:40. As “seasoned” travelers, we normally try to do everything early. It’s unusual for everything to go as planned when traveling. We figure that if you are going to wait somewhere, it’s best to do it as close to your final destination as possible. Therefore waiting at our gate for an extra hour is better than waiting at the hotel or in traffic or in the checkin line or in security lines or in passport check lines. And we find that many times we have no lines at all by getting there early, like this morning when we had no wait in line to check our bags, no line at security, and a ten minute line at passport check.
For us, having extra time to respond or adjust to changing circumstances is a way to prevent unnecessary stress. It’s a way to enjoy the journey more and not dread it, especially in foreign countries where one has limited command or knowledge of the language, protocols and traditions.
Madrid Barajas Airport is a beautiful and modern and huge airport. Here are some photos:
It’s 11:30 a.m. and we’re waiting at gate R02 about to board AA flight 749.
We landed safely in Charlotte 25 minutes early at 3:15 but took another 20 minutes for a gate to become available. Beth picked us up shortly after we retrieved our bags and cleared customs. We had dinner with her family and then drove home to Greenville, arriving safely at 8:50 p.m. ( 2:50 a.m. Spain time) after a very long day.
Great to be back on the ole’ USA after 78 days away!
We left the Pilgrim’s Office at 7:13 pm on Thursday, October 5, Compostelas in hand and walked back to A Casa do Peregrino and somewhat sadly, began our transition from Pilgrim to Tourist.
It began with a pasta dinner in an Italian, not Spanish, restaurant a few steps from our hotel. The relief and satisfaction of what we had just accomplished was not overwhelming, but for spontaneous, subdued bursts to each other during the meal of “we just walked 500 miles”!
A very full day under our belt, we retired to our room and collapsed, but found it difficult to sleep with so many thoughts and feelings and emotions resonating in our brains. It’s also possible that the festive atmosphere and singing and laughing and talking of pilgrims and other revellers outside our second floor balcony doors until 4:00.m. may also have been distracting.
Friday morning, as non-pilgrims, we slept in, but by habit, still had our pilgrimly breakfast of cafe con leche and tostadas in the bar across the street.
The rest of the day was spent walking around old Santiago, hanging out on our balcony watching the coming and going of pilgrims, as the Camino to the Catedral and Pilgrim’s office ran right below us.
Historical evidence suggests that Santiago de Compostela was once a Roman city, followed by Visigothic rule. The kings of Galicia and León were crowned here at the cathedral and Santiago became the capital of the kingdom of Galicia. The town was fortified in the 11th century after suffering attacks from the Muslims of Al Andalus. Santiago’s rich architectural heritage demonstrates its role as the most important city in Galicia through the ages. Santiago’s Old City was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
“Compostella, the most excellent city of the Apostle, complete with all delights, having in its care the valuable body of St. James, on account of which it is recognized as the luckiest and noblest city in all Spain.”- Codex Calixtinus
We returned for a visit to the Catedral and walked among the crowds, observing the incredibly large number of monuments, churches and buildings spanning nearly 1000 years of history, all concentrated in the relatively small Old Santiago City.
Transitioning from Pilgrim to Tourist meant passing through an endless supply of souvenir shops, which we did and actually made a few minor purchases to legitimize ourselves.
A nice Galician lunch and a return for dinner at Cervantes, a nice restaurant/bar, a few steps away completed our culinary experience for the day.
Saturday morning was spent gathering our gear and preparing for our trip home. We worked on the blog and spent more time on the balcony and checked out of our room at noon.
Watching the pilgrims walk past our balcony on the last few steps of their journey was surprisingly, an emotional experience in itself. The quickened pace, the forward walking stance, the anticipation of so many souls, no matter their motivation or mode of travel to get here, is too positive to dismiss.
If one considers the possibility that there is an aura of positive energy emulating from each of the 1000 or so pilgrims from all over the world that enter this small area every day, then it’s no wonder that we feel it and that others feel it.
And it’s also possible that we take it back to our respective homes and perhaps share it with others and ultimately change lives including our own.
Our final day on Camino 2017! Today started out much like the last few. Foggy, lots of pilgrims, walking on roads… initially few or no cars, then as we got closer to Santiago, we essentially walked in city traffic for the final 3 miles.
We stopped at our hotel, Casa de Peregrino (80€) and checked in, left our bags in the room then walked by the Catedral, without stopping on our way to the pilgrim’s office to get our Compestelas. When we finally arrived at the no-so-well marked-location, the waiting time in line was 1:30-2:00 hours. We decided to come back later.
Plan B, we walked on to the train station to buy tickets to Madrid. Our preference was to take the Oct 8 afternoon train, but it was completely booked, leaving only an Oct 8, 6am train or a 3:12pm train on 7 October, so we opted for two tickets on the Oct 7 afternoon train (142€ for non-stop, first class including a 25% senior discount).
After already walking 8.5 miles to Santiago then at least another mile to the pilgrim’s office and train station, our feet demanded we take a taxi (5.80€) back to our hotel, which we did.
It was 1:30, but before we ate, Jim walked another few blocks to Ivar Renke’s office(Camino Forum) and retrieved the extra clothing we mailed to him from Leon on Sept 8, to hold for us. Our box of extras was waiting for Jim and he thanked Ivar and greatfully gave him 20€ for this priceless service for pilgrims.
Jim returned to the hotel and we walked across the street for a 2:00 lunch. We had fun conversations with several pilgrims, a couple from Raleigh, NC, Alex from Liverpool, England and two other gentlemen, one from Poland and the other from Germany.
The rest of the afternoon we spent getting showers, booking a hotel in Madrid for our return trip, matching our now firm train reservations and doing triage on the box of extra stuff for the return trip home.
We decided to try again to get our Compostela, so we returned to the pilgrim office and got in the still long, but not as long line at 5:30. There were 17 stations, each issuing Compostelas an the wait in line is 1-2 hours nonstop from 8 am to 7 pm. every day.
Alas, at precisely 7:13 p.m. we received our Compostelas and Certificados de Distancia thus bringing to a close, Camino 2017.
Our walk this morning was very similar to yesterday, mostly walking through thick eucalyptus forests, in some cases very dark eerie, spooky forests.
The size of some of these trees was impressive not only the diameter which was nearly 3 feet but the height was well over 100 feet for many of them.
About 3 miles into our walk we stopped in Amenal for breakfast and chatted with Sonia, who was walking by herself, having started in Samos. She was from New Jersey and was limited by her 2-week vacation, but was hoping to get to Santiago later today or tomorrow.
We returned to the forest right outside the restaurant door and walked mostly uphill until the path leveled as we began walking around the Santiago airport. The heavy forest and underbrush between us and the airport prevented our seeing or hearing any signs of aircraft.
We then walked for a short distance along a main road that, according to the signs, was heading toward Santiago.
We then crossed the highway and began walking again through trees until reaching the hamlet of San Payo.
We stopped for OJ in San Payo (pop.25) which is named for a Christian child who was martyred for refusing to convert to Islam.
We shared a table with a delightful father and daughter, Roland and Christine, from near Hamburg, Germany.
This was his 8th Camino, including the Portuguese Camino, the Camino de North and Camino Frances among others. Sadly, Roland’s wife passed away in January of this year and they were walking this Camino from Sarria for her.
We continued through trees again uphill and then gently down a bit into Lavacolla (pop.171), a hamlet on the outskirts of Santiago.
Lavacolla (from the Latin Lavamentula) literally means “wash private parts.” Medieval pilgrims seldom if ever bathed along the journey and apparently ridiculed Muslim and Jewish enthusiasms for personal hygiene. But they apparently took advantage of the small stream in Lavacolla to cleanse themselves for arrival in Santiago. A 17th century manuscript recorded: “There is a river in a wooded place two miles from Santiago called Lavacolla, in which French pilgrims, out of respect for the Apostle, wash not only their private parts but, stripping off their clothes, clean all the dirt from their bodies.”
We arrived at Hotel Gracas (50€), on the main road, 100 meters off the Camino path through Lavacolla, and waited for about 45 minutes, relaxing in the lobby, until our room was ready. We then checked in and performed our routine chores before having some lunch.
We rested after lunch in between machine washing and drying our clothes.
We also discussed how we had avoided and prevented any injuries or major discomforts, which was a concern we had when we began our 500 mile journey over two months ago. We believe this didn’t happen by accident. We put to practice things we have learned about the Camino, especially taking care of our feet. We did physical therapy several months prior to leaving home to address potential issues. We learned some PT techniques, also before leaving home (exercises and stretches) and applied them as needed throughout the 68 continuous days of walking with a pack. As a result, we are both feeling physically stronger now than we did when we started.
We took a shortcut from Pousada de Salceda after having breakfast at the Albergue. This is the same shortcut that the Pousada owner shared with us in 2015 along with instructions to locate the clinic in Arca to treat Lind’s spider bites. The “shortcut” allowed us to angle back into the Camino (the hypotenuse of the triangle) rather than having to reverse the 400 meter deviation we took yesterday to get to the albergue. About halfway along the shortcut, a car approached us coming toward the Albergue and slowed to a stop. To our pleasant surprise, it was the owner of Pousada who shook Jim’s hand through the window, gave us both a warm smile and wished us both a “Buen Camino” and then we parted company once again and continued on our respective ways.
The path to Arca was relatively easy with gently, rolling hills and lighter pilgrim traffic. We walked along and crossed the highway for short distances when we weren’t walking through, into and out of thick eucalyptus forests.
There were many small hamlets along the way, but not much of interest to see other than a variety of horreos, as has been the case the past few days.
We reached Arca (pop. 5050) and Pension Platas (55€) at 11:30, an hour before it opened, so we walked a few steps to a restaurant and had an early pizza lunch.
Returning to our hotel at precisely 12:30, we checked in and both took naps until mid afternoon.
Our dinner at a nearby restaurant was nice. Jim tried Codillo, a pork butt shank and we shared a side order of roasted baby pablano peppers. Our red regional wine was served in bowls and Linda had chocolate & churros for dessert.
Thoroughly stuffed, we headed back to our room and called it a day. Only 12 miles to Santiago and we’ll split the distance and be there in two days.