Our trip home from Madrid went smoothly. Our daughter, Amy, met us at CLT and took us to our awaiting car. After a brief chat and some nice hugs, we belted up and made the 80 mile drive back to Greenville and found our home just the way we left it…. our Camino complete.
Camino 2022 was just what the doctor might have ordered. All our post-Covid symptoms were eradicated by the first several weeks of our walk and by the time we reached Santiago, we had regained our pre-pandemic status, both mentally and physically.
In summary, for us, the Camino not only “provides” it “heals”. Buen Camino.
We donned our backpacks at 7:00 and walked the half-mile or so down to the train station. Our train leaves at 9:09 so we found a seat and ordered breakfast in the station cafeteria.
As we were slow-walking breakfast a couple asked if it was ok to sit at our table and of course, we said sure. It turns out that they were from Charlotte and had walked the Camino from Sarria. They were traveling with a group.
We chatted until the train arrived, boarded, and made the 4 hr trip to Madrid without incident. The trip from Santiago to Madrid is interesting because of the dramatic changes in scenery. Unfortunately it was quite foggy most of the trip so the view was limited. This was not a problem for us because our memories were still strong from previous trips.
We also had some interesting seat mates on the train. When we purchased our tickets to Madrid, the train was nearly sold out, so we didn’t get to sit together, not even in the same railcar. Linda sat across from a man who had recently had 7 surgeries on his arm and shoulder and several pins were visibly sticking out of his arm. Jim sat next to an American lady who had just finished the Camino and was living in French Polynesia. She had been living on a sailboat and ended up in her current home because she was sailing near Panana when the pandemic hit and after sailing to various islands in the Pacific, Polynesia was the only place she could gain entry.
We didn’t see the Charlotte couple again until exiting the train at the Madrid-Chamartin station, waved from a short distance and assumed we’d see them again on the plane trip home.
Yuwen, our friend whom we met at the Pamplona bus station in August,
….finished the Camino several weeks ahead of us and we have been staying in contact via email. She went on to Finistere ( the “end of the earth”) after finishing in Santiago and then traveled to Madrid where she had been staying in a hostel.
We learned in an earlier email that Yuwen was leaving for Barcelona on 11 October. When we made our final reservations and changed our return day from Madrid to the 12th, we contacted her and made plans for a rendezvous in Madrid.
Yuwen found a restaurant near the Chamartin station and we met her there a few minutes after our arrival and had lunch together.
After lunch, we said our goodbyes , promised to keep in touch via email and parted at the metro station entrance, where Yuwen left for her hostel and we got a taxi to our hotel.
We stayed at the Madrid Hilton Airport. We like the hotel, it has free, short transport to MAD and we used Hilton Honors point to significantly reduce the cost. It’s at least our 4th or 5th stay!
We spent two nights in Madrid and continued our transition process.
We walked up to the old city to photograph the Catedral. Every time we have been here before the Cathedral has been under some sort of repair both inside and out. Today it was at its finest and the Saturday crowds were taking it all in.
Below are some photographic highlights of what we saw:
We’re enjoying our Camino decompression, but also looking forward to returning home.
We left Lavacolla at 6:45 hoping to avoid a long wait in line for our Compostelas once we arrived at the Santiago Catedral.
It was very dark as we walked across the bridge over the legendary stream, but saw no bathers this morning… maybe all pilgrims have warm showers these days.
Only a handful of pilgrims passed us during the 3.5 miles on the way to the Santiago city limits… all in the dark. Also, each of the three bars we had visited for breakfast in previous years along the way to Santiago, and everything else, was not open, by 8:30!
We finally got breakfast in the cafeteria for a huge futbol camp on the edge of a now bustling Santiago, with people on the way to work, cars filling the streets and young, very young pilgrims emerging from everywhere.
The final 3 plus mile walk to the old part of the city and the Catedral was familiar and exhilarating as we were about to reach our destination after 52 days and 348 miles of walking.
We walked past the Catedral and on to the pilgrim’s office which opened at 10:00 but when arrived at 10:15, had only several pilgrims congregating at the entrance. We were given our place-in-line tickets, #111 and #112, got into line only to notice that #86 was now being called to receive their compostela!
We made it!!
We waited in line for about 10 minutes, chatting, smiling, laughing with similarly happy pilgrims, saw our numbers called, submitted our credentials with stamps from points visited across northern Spain since August 15 and just moments later were presented with our 4th Compostela for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela!
We purchased a tube (2€) for carrying our documents home, left the office, gave each other a high five and walked to a nearby bar to celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate.
At 11:00 we decided to return tomorrow to visit the Catedral, take photos and revisit a now familiar old Santiago. Our hotel room not likely to be available til noon or later, we began the 20 minute walk to the train station to purchase tickets for our ride to Madrid, three days from now.
After purchasing our tickets, we made our way back toward the old city, stopping at our hotel and we able to check-in at 11:45.
We got familiar with our room and the Nest Style Hotel for a few minutes. Since our backpacks won’t arrive until around 2pm, we headed out again to get our bearings established for our new base for the next three days … found a nice restaurant for lunch. We had a delicious meal and subsequently identified a good place to return during our next two days in Santiago.
As we were returning to our hotel we spotted the transport van, which probably had our packs. We got to the hotel lobby, took a seat and three minutes later, the van driver walked into the lobby carrying our packs. We flagged him down and he delivered them to where we were sitting!
We returned, with everything we own, in Spain, to our room and began a somewhat bizarre afternoon with nothing we have to do for tomorrow.
So this concludes our blog for today. We’ll return tomorrow and Sunday with photos and reflections, etc.
Today was a very short day. By staying at CHE, we picked up the Camino outside of Pedrouzo and joined a large flow of pilgrims that continued all the way to Lavacolla.
We remembered from 2019 that walking from CHE cut some distance off the walk but with the app maps we were using, there was no way to calculate it. When we totaled up the distance after our walk is was nearly two miles shorter than expected because of leaving from CHE and not Pedrouzo.
It was dark when we started at 7:55. We walked uphill continuously, for the first mile, but were surprised because we didn’t need to stop for a breather along the entire stretch. The incline was just enough for a workout, but not enough to get us winded.
As the path leveled out a bit we could see part of a brilliant sunrise through the trees and off to the left, part of a runway of the Santiago airport.
We next began walking along a main highway into Santiago and passed a 11 km mileage sign.
The path continued until we reached San Payo, where we stopped for breakfast.
The hamlet of San Payo and the small church is dedicated to the 14 year old Christian child, who was kidnapped by the invading Muslim troops, taken to Sevilla and ultimately martyred to pieces and tossed into the Rio Guadalquivar, for refusing to convert to Islam.
When we arrived at our destination we were much earlier than expected, but the owner let us into our room after a few minutes wait only because the recently mopped room floor was still drying.
Our backbacks had not been delivered by noon, so we walked to a nearby restaurant and had lunch, then returned to the room to do our afternoon chores, including washing(2€) and drying(3€) our clothes, anticipating that similar facilities might not be so conveniently available in our Santiago hotel tomorrow.
Lavacolla literally means “wash private parts.” Medieval pilgrims seldom if ever bathed along the journey (and “ridiculed Muslim and Jewish enthusiasms for personal hygiene,” so apparently took advantage of the small stream to cleanse themselves for arrival in Santiago.
We skipped the bath in the cold water of the creek and opted instead for a nice, warm shower in our brand new bathroom. Being a pilgrim has come a long way.
On our way out this morning we caught Santiago in the breakfast area and wished he and his family good health. He opened his arms and gave Linda a big, emotional hug. As he shook Jim’s hand, with both of his, he wished us and our families good luck and good health. It was a wonderful way to start out the day.
We took the short cut Santiago showed us in 2015 and dove-tailed into the Camino a half-mile later. The scenery today was much like what we have seen the past few days:
Along the way we did spot some different items:
We’re staying at Pencion CHE. It’s located outside of O Pedrouzo and so we checked at the Pensíon Platas in town. The lady at reception suggested we get lunch in town, then return, and they would arrange for transportation to CHE… which we did and they did. While we were in town we stopped at a small mercado for some snacks and then Jim stopped at a feed store and bought some Padron pepper seeds to try to grow back home.
We then checked in at the property and our packs were delivered just as Jim paid for the room. We then took a tour of the property to get our bearings for finding the Camino in the morning, etc.
We stayed here in 2019 as it was opening and it is about the same… somewhat remote, hard to find or get directions to and missing a few things like a full menu and nearby food options, but the room is comfortable and clean and it has laundry options and a pool (nice if here in warm weather).
Breakfast, at Bar Teatro, just across the street from Pension Luis, got us off to a good start this morning as we walked out of Arzúa in the perfect-for-walking 54F at 8:30.
There were more pilgrims passing us today but not in an unpleasing way. The majority of these pilgrims seem more serious/mature, more focused and still noticeably happy and excited as we get closer to Santiago. Its a good mixture of 100km walkers and those who have come much longer distances like us. Buen Caminos were exchanged with most every pilgrim that passed us.
The scenery and terrain were also pleasant and distracting from an occasional hard pull up a small hill or cautiously restrained pace of a steep decline.
Most of the time we were walking in forests or in tree shaded paths along farm fences. We spent much less time along roads, either large or small.
We even passed a couple of vendors along the way selling items and offering to stamp credentials… sometimes for a donation. We passed on both but were more amused by the third member of the enterprise, who heehawed us as we passed.
As the sun began to rise, unlike our normal mode of seeking shade to walk in, we steered to the sunny spots to warm us in the high 50-low 60F air. But by mid morning, jackets were off and we were back in short- sleeve shirts again.
The less difficulty in today’s walk led us to be more observant of our surroundings and to compare changes in this part of the Camino compared to what we remember from 2019. The changes included new bars and albergues, new or repaired fences and walls and many more Kilometer-stone distance to Santiago/directional markers at every place a road or path intersects the Camino. This has been a continuing theme throughout our walk throughout Galícia, but was especially apparent today. These are relative changes as compared to our perception of the lesser amount of change in the SJPDP through Castile walk. It’s no surprise that because most, nearly 4 times as many, pilgrims walk only the last 100 km, this is where the keepers of the Camino would put the most effort into upgrades in infrastructure and services.
We arrived in Salceda and at Albergue Turistico Salceda around noon and had lunch in the restaurant while waiting to check-in at 1:00. This us our fourth visit to this property and we have a special affection for the owner, who helped us when Linda was struggling with some spider bites in 2015. His name, appropriately, is Santiago.
During lunch we had a nice chat with a pilgrim couple from Colombia. He is a retired dairy farmer and he and his wife are walking from Sarria to Santiago.
We had several nice exchanges with Santiago and his daughter, Liudmila, reminiscing about our previous 3 visits. It was a very special reunion.
As we left Boente we stopped at the Iglesia Parroquia Santiago de Boente. A young priest, seated just inside the church stamped our credentials and explained that during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, Santiago was closed, so this small church became the end of the Camino until the epidemic was over.
The walk today had a lot of ups and downs but they pretty much balanced out. The finish into Arzúa was a nice flat dirt path separated from the road by a hedge. Overall it was a good workout, but not too much.
We took a short break for OJ at Albergue Santiago in Castañeda, We’ve stayed here twice before, but the husband and wife owners were not to be seen and we didn’t ask. In the outside terrace were thick overhead vines with a plentiful fruit. A closer look revealed them to be kiwis. We asked a local pilgrim who said kiwis grow very well in the Glacian climate and soil.
It was 52F and almost cloudless when we started from Coto this morning. It’s supposed to be warmer today so Jim went back to his short sleeve tee and carried a jacket just in case. Linda was not so brazen but still went to a lighter jacket.
Only a few minutes into the walk we passed through Leboreiro, a well maintained hamlet including Iglesia de Santa María de las Nieves.
A church legend says that a mysterious spring appeared that glowed in the night. In searching for the source of the spring, the villagers unearthed a statue of the virgin and took it to the church. But that night the virgin went right back to the spring. After a few days of back and forth, a clever sculptor interpreted her move as a desire to be outside and carved an image of the statue and placed it over the church door and the statue has remained at the church altar ever since.
We can see the statue of the virgin over the church door, but we can’t confirm that the statue of the virgin is inside this Sunday morning or any of the other 3 mornings we have passed the small church, because the door has always been locked.
Positioned just outside the church yard was a Horreo type structure called a “cabaceiro”. As we walked out of the village, we looked back and captured this interesting sunrise.
Walking on toward Melide, we enjoyed the different methods of buffering the path from warehouses and other commercial buildings. This tree lined section was actually quite pretty.
We stopped in Melide for breakfast at a relatively new place called “Cafeteria Alborada“. And we hearby declare it has one of the best if not the best tostadas on the Camino. Linda also inspected the ladies room and declared it was hands-down the nicest, cleanest, well equiped and most pleasant ladies restroom on the Camino. Jim then did a followup and checked out the mens, which without-a-doubt is the best men’s public restroom on the Camino.
We shared our assessments with our waiter who seemed pleased and speechless, so we decided not to elaborate.
Our inspection completed we got back to our walk through Melide which led back into the forests and farmland toward Boente. The following are some scenery we observed along the 3 mile stretch:
Tomorrow morning we leave Melide behind and begin our final 5 days on Camino2022. One additional reason we chose Melide as a base for three days was its reputation for Pulpo (octopus) and Padron peppers. We’ve done a pretty good sampling, especially last night at Pulperis Garnacha. Have a look:
Our taxi driver from yesterday met us at 8:30 and took us back to Lestedo to begin our walk today.
The pilgrim traffic was very light as we left Lestedo at 8:55 and it stayed that way for the entire morning. So why was the traffic less compared to previous days?
Most pilgrims, especially the younger ones, stay in Albergues and typically have to vacate by 8:00 am. Pilgrim groups are usually staying where there are more beds available, like Portomarín or Palas de Rei or Melide. So, by leaving Lestedo at nearly 9:00 a.m., all the groups were ahead of us and the ones behind us were too far behind to catch us.
After 3 miles we walked through a small group of stone houses and spotted a very old Horreo in a back yard. A few hundred yards further we walked through a sports camp complex with on-site housing for participants and impressive futbol fields with artificial turf, a indoor swimming pool, a large basketball gym, etc.
Next, we entered the town of Palas de Rei and stopped at St Mark’s church for a sello (stamp for our credential).
A minimum of two sellos a day are needed on a pilgrim’s credential for the final 100 km walked into Santiago to qualify for a Compostela.
Leaving Palas de Rei, we got back on the dirt path again and spent the next several miles alternating between dirt paths and sections of narrow local roads. We stopped for hot chocolate in the charming hamlet of San Julian (Xúlian, in Galícian).
We contined for another 2 hours through farmland and forests and made one final stop in Campanilla for lunch… tired from an 8 mile plus walk.
Our tummies full and bodies somewhat recovered, we walked another quarter-mile to a new albergue/bar/beer garden in Coto and arranged for a taxi to take us to Melide.
So, yesterday we reported that we had lunch and spent the night in Melide, even though we stopped walking in Lestedo. Let us explain:
Over a week ago, while waiting to get into our room in Villafranca del Bierzo, everything we had heard indicated the Camino was gonna be full for the last 100km. This is typically true, but especially true in this “Holy Year”. We were monitoring the number of Compostelas being given out to pilgrims in Santiago daily. The number has been 2500-3000 per day. When we walked the Camino in 2019, we had to wait 5 hours in line to get our Compostela the first week in October and only about 2000 compostelas were given out that day. Our fears were confirmed yesterday, when the pención manager said she was getting many calls every day from pilgrims who were frantic because they couldn’t find a place to stay for the night.
So, back to Villafranca, while we waited for our room, we emailed, called, used Booking.com to reserve available places to stay all the way to Santiago. We were missing two or three locations, so we did some calculations and decided we needed to employ “taxi hopping” to manage our lodging selections. This resulted in booking Casa Cines in Pintin and Pención Orois in Melide for three consecutive nights each to use as a base to walk the sections of the Camino where lodging was not available.
We’ve successfully completed the Casa Cines plan and are now implementing the Melide plan.
We walked from Gonzar to Lestedo yesterday, taxied to Melide for the night, taxied back to Lestedo this morning and walked to Coto today. Tomorrow morning a taxi will take us back to our stop point in Coto and we’ll walk through Melide to Boente and taxi back to Melide to spend the night. The following morning, we’ll check out of Pención Orois, taxi to Boente and began our walk, continuing on normally from there on through the remaining villages/towns for the remaining days to Santiago.
Some purists might suggest we should just take our chances as I’m sure many pilgrims do. We believe the Camino presents many challenges that a pilgrim need overcome to earn the Compostela. Having personally dealt with arriving at a town and finding you have no place to stay or having to spend hours at the end of a long walk, walking more miles to find a place to stay or having to stay in a place that does not meet personal standards of cleanliness, safety, etc. have taught these two pilgrims to do some extra planning and be a little creative, in order to avoid unnecessary occurrences that can detract from an otherwise enjoyable Camino.
We believe as a pilgrim, you can and should do the Camino in a way that works for you and not necessarily adhering strictly to a guide or anyone else. In the end, your Camino is personal and is what you make it.