Day 55 – Castañeda to Arzúa

Walked today: 4.0 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 390 miles

When we awoke this morning there was no rain, but all the weather forecasts and weather maps showed it was raining, or would be in 18 minutes. So we put on our rain gear and departed for Arzúa, a mere 4 miles away.

When we realized we were going to arrive in Santiago a week early, we tried to change our airline tickets accordingly. But we only had two openings, one on the Sept 27, which was too early and the other was Oct 2, sooner than our original ticket by 5 days, so we rebooked it.

We preferred to have two days in Santiago after finishing Camino 2019, a day for the train trip from Santiago to Madrid and two days in Madrid before boarding our flight back home. The two day buffers were in case there were unforeseen delays in getting to Santiago and/or Madrid. With our new schedule, we still had four extra days to burn, so we decided to burn two of them on the Camino and two in Santiago, since Madrid hotels were running about twice the cost of Santiago.

Our method of burning two days on the Camino was to have several very short days leading up to Santiago. Today was one of them at 4 miles and the other two will be 3 and 3.2 miles respectively. In addition to making our final few days physically easier, this will also let us experience three new properties and two new villages on our way to completing Camino 2019.

Getting back to today’s walk, it was threatening rain the entire way with slight drizzles but nothing to justify serious rain gear. Linda was first to take off her poncho, but Jim hung on for a little longer feeling that if we both took off our gear we would lose it’s deterrent effect.

The path took us through alternating corn fields, holstein pastures, open unplanted fields and eucalyptus forests, not necessarily in that order.

We did pass through the 16th century village, Ribadiso da Baixo, where we stopped for breakfast and a credential stamp.

In order to validate our pilgrim credential to qualify for a compostela, we must have at least two stamps per day during the final 100 km into Santiago. Our second stamp today will be at our Arzúa hotel.

The final mile was along the road or on city sidewalks into Arzúa.

We arrived at Pencion Domus Gallery in Arzúa at 10:15 and were able to check-in shortly thereafter. As soon as we sat down in the pencion lobby, waiting for our room, it began to rain seriously… boy, did we dodge a bullet this morning.

our room in Pencion Domus Gallery

Arzúa (pop. 6,238) was previously known as Villanova, as it is called in the Codex Calixtinus. Ample evidence exists of both pre-Roman and Roman settlement nearby. When the area was reconquered, Arzúa was repopulated with Basque people. It was the principle stopping point for medieval pilgrims before Santiago.

Arzúa today is known for its cheese, made from cow’s milk from the municipalities of the Ulloa, raw or pasteurized. It is also known as Ulloa cheese, Ulla, “Paleta cheese” or other more generic names as “Galician cheese” or “cheese of the country “.

The cheese is creamy, rich and smooth. Its crust is thin waxy of yellow and elastic texture, while the paste is white or yellow, very soft and buttery. The flavor is mild, somewhat acidic, varying from a slightly bitter to a slightly sour taste, depending on whether its development has been in winter or summer.

We’ve eaten Arzúa cheeses several times during our walk through Galícia and like its smooth creamy texture and taste.  

For lunch/dinner we walked to a small hotel/restaurant on a plaza a block from our hotel. It was a delicious combination of pizza, roasted padrón peppers and ensalad Rusa.

Afterwards we retired to our room for the day for naps, reading and blogging.

Day 54 – Melide to Castañeda

Walked today: 5.8 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 386.0 miles

Since Melide is a major stop on the Camino, lots of pilgrims stayed there last night. We purposely got a later start (7:30) and stopped for breakfast in town, to help the crowd get ahead of us. Surely, our delay helped some, but not enough.

Walking out of town, we passed Iglesia de Santa María de Melide, a 13th century church and considered a national monument. It was locked but it was still impressive from the outside.

Later in the walk we passed a house with a very small hórreo, that we assumed was ornamental, but upon closer inspection had a small door for each of two separate compartments, carta (mail) and pan (fresh bread delivery).

Most of today’s walk was through forests of predominantly eucalyptus trees that are harvested for wood products, a major contributor to the area economy.

We encountered a group of 16 pilgrim men of different ages all dressed in similar outfits. Jim chatted with three different guys as they passed us along the way and discovered they were from Germany, near Kaiserslautern. They all worked for Zimmermann, a roofing company. Herr Zimmermann was also apparently walking with the group. Their outfits were sharp looking and we got a closer look as a number of them stopped at the same bar for a break. Each of the guys had a special pocket on their pants leg that was holding their carpenter “wooden, folding rule”.

After climbing a couple of steep hills, and one gradual hill at the end, we arrived at Cafe/Bar/Albergue Tourista “Santiago”, in Castañeda.

It’s an interesting little place. We stayed here in 2015 and had lunch here in 2017 and decided to give it one more go in 2019.

On the upper level, it has one

our room

habitacion con baño privado, one room with either 3 or 4 sets of bunk beds with a shared bathroom. The shared bathroom also has a washer and dryer for use by all guests.

Below us is the cafe/bar/restaurant which in right on the Camino so that every pilgrim on the Camino Frances had to walk by us in easy view from our bathroom window or the outside sitting area.

We had dinner in the restaurant below. We had a first course of cold cuts and cheese and main course of grilled chicken breast and fries. Yum.

Tummies full, we headed back to our room, read and blogged until falling asleep… a little after 8!!

Day 53 – O Coto to Melide

Walked today: 4.4 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 380.2 miles

When the taxi took us back to O Coto, our finish point from yesterday, it was still dark, so out came the headlamps.

The first village we walked through was Leboreiro, a busy pilgrim stopover during the 11-13th centuries. It was still dark and we almost ran into a small version of a hórreo, typical of Galícia. If we haven’t already mentioned, hórroes are for storing grain and corn safely from unwanted critters and weather.

Next to the unlighted hórreo was the somewhat lighted Iglesia de Santa María de Leboreiro.

Legend has it that a statue of the virgin was found at a nearby fountain and the locals moved it to this church. But the virgin kept going back to the fountain until the locals added a more fitting artwork (tympanum) above the church door and officially dedicated the church to the virgin. Then she decided to stay put in the church.

Still in the dark we crossed over a medieval bridge in the hamlet of Disicabo.

The path came away from the medieval hamlets and we walked along the back of a large shopping center, then back into some forests as it got lighter between dawn and sunrise.

We had planned to stop for breakfast at the medieval village of Furelos (pop.135)

Medieval bridge going into Furelos.

but we kept on walking because at 8:35 in the morning all their bars/restaurants were closed with no signs of life, inspite of the hoards of pilgrims surely coming up behind us.

We walked on past A Lúa do Camiño a few hundred yards and had breakfast at the take-out pizza place. We then walked back to our room, gathered Linda’s backpack and checked out at 9:25, beating the 10:00 checkout time, then walked another half mile to Carlos 96, our hotel for today and tonight.

So why would our next hotel be so close to our last hotel? If you remember, we had a logistics problem in that yesterday would have been a 12 mile day which for us is a no-no and there were no places for us to stay to ‘naturally’ break it up. Also, both locations that were available either today or yesterday in Melide did not have both nights available. So we took a 12 plus mile day and made it an 8 and a 4, and used two hotels in the same town and 2 taxi rides to make it all happen.

Fortunately, we’re now booked all the way to Santiago with each day less than 6.5 miles.

Melide (pop.7,824) and the surrounding area was well settled in prehistoric times. The town became a transportation and commerce hub in the Middle Ages.  Iglesia de San Roque features 14th-century tombs with local coats of arms, and the stone cross outside depicts the crucifixion.

Today Melide is well known for its Pulpo á la Gallega, boiled octopus served with olive oil, paprika, a hunk of bread and a ceramic bowl of cold, refreshing Ribeiro wine.

The Camino provided our first exposure to octopus in 2017. Since then, we have sampled it in a variety of places both on the Camino and elsewhere, and we think Melide’s version is the best, and more specifically, Pulperia el Garancha. This was the source of our takeout dinner last night. Garancha also has the best roasted Padrón Pimentos we have ever tasted.

Today, for simplicity, we had a mid- afternoon lunch/dinner in the Hotel Carlos96 dining room.

Linda had homemade chicken noodle soup and Jim has a Galícian version of macaroni and cheese. Second course was curry chicken and rice for Linda and roasted turkey with Padrón peppers for Jim. Dessert was rice pudding for Linda and ice cream for Jim. A local (no label) wine was included.

We coasted the rest of the day, mainly in our room, relaxing and realizing that seven more days and Camino 2019 will be history.

Day 52 – Lestedo to O Coto

Walked today: 8.5 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 375.8 miles

It was dark enough for a headlamp when we left Lestedo this morning. A few minutes later we looked behind us and saw a pretty sunrise in the making.

As it got a little lighter, we saw this fellow who wanted to go with us to Santiago to get a Compostela, too.

But we told him that they don’t give Compostelas to dogs, which he seemed to accept, reluctantly.

We walked on through forests and along small roads until we reached Palas de Rei, (pop 3743), an apparent nest for pilgrims.

We stopped for breakfast after being refused at one restaurant who decided they were no longer offering breakfast at 8:25. We were served at the second restaurant and chatted with a guy in a kilt from Cambridge, England. We later saw him as he passed us and the pilgrim glut on the way out of Palas de Rei, one of our least favorite Camino towns.

We ignored the herd through several small villages and gradually through attrition or rate of walking, we regained some breathing room until we stopped at the bar/restaurant of Campanilla for lunch. It was packed mostly with resting pilgrims, occupying the outdoor tables and chatting with one another, but not buying anything and the others were lined up for the restroom. The restroom line was about 15 pilgrims long and increased and decreased as we watched. We entered the empty restaurant and were happily greeted by the owner when we ordered salads for lunch. We then found a seat and enjoyed a nice lunch as the crowd gradually diminished as the pilgrims disappeared, as we later discovered, into a huge tour bus waiting a few hundred yards up the path.

While we were eating lunch, we chatted briefly with two young ladies from Spain who had started the Camino in Sarria a few days ago with their three dogs. We jokingly asked them if their dogs were pilgrims and they laughed and said, “si”. We also asked if the dogs were going for Compostelas and they jokingly, we thought, said “si”.

We finished lunch, and walked another half mile to a small grocery store in O Coto and called a taxi to take us to our hotel in Melide.

During the 4 mile ride to Melide, we mentioned the compostelas for dogs and the driver, laughing, but seriously said that dogs can receive a compostela for walking the Camino! Sorry, pup, we didn’t mean to mislead you.

Our hotel “pencion” is incredible. It doesn’t have food, but mostly everything else, including a pool, which Jim sampled this afternoon. Our room is huge and the bathroom shower was so complicated we had to get the receptionist to give us a short course on how to operate it.

We did our chores and Jim walked into town to replenish our euro stash. Linda stayed behind to nurse a blister she aggravated during today’s walk. Jim returned with “takeout” pizza, pimentos, pulpo and a (3.60€) bottle of wine for dinner.

We ate our dinner in the dining room and chatted briefly with s couple from Melbourne, Australia. They also sampled our pulpo and pimentos.

We retired to our room for the evening after the longer than normal walk.

Day 51 – Castromaior to Lestedo

Walked today: 7.7 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 367.3 miles

On our ride this morning from Casa Nova to Castromaior, we observed another mass of pilgrim humanity pouring out of Portamarin onto the Camino. Most were coming from the town and not the Camino leading into town, meaning that our starting point will give us a six mile lead and a less crowded Camino today… we’ll see.

We continued walking from our finishing point from yesterday and Jim’s initial preoccupation was the fog. As we walked up the steep hill approaching the “castro”, miraculously the moon appeared through the clowds, the fog quickly lifted and to our left was the castro, finally. It was a sight to see. Jim dropped his backpack climbed up and down three mounds that encircled the settlement that lie in the center of the remains of this 2300 year old Celtic and later, Roman, fortification. From the top of the highest and most interior mound he was able to see the view he had missed in 2015 and 2017 (the tiny white dot slightly above center at the start and end of the video is Linda):

A closer look at the settlement layout, building sizes and placement suggested this was primarily a place for safety above anything else.

Jim triumphantly, but carefully eased down from the castro mounds, retrieved his backpack and we were once again on our way.

The rest of our walk was rather uneventful. We walked on paths along small farm roads and secondary roads through several small villages with one or two albergues, but nothing significant.

We made two stops, one for breakfast and one for OJ.

We had chats with pilgrims from England, Vancouver, BC, Venice, Italy

Our final stop was for for the afternoon and night, Hosteria Calixtiño in the hamlet of Lestedo.

We had a full lunch which featured another Mencía wine and Arzúa cheese/quince jam then snacked for supper. We read, relaxed in the afternoon and blogged and read in the evening before calling it a day.

Day 50 – Portamarin to Castromaior

Walked today: 6.4 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 359.6 miles

We stopped at a bar in Portamarin for breakfast just after 8:00.

Portamarin was originally a Camino town divided by the Río Míño and connected by a 10th century stone bridge. When plans were approved to build a dam downstream, which would flood the medieval town, most of the building were disassembled and reassembled, stone-by-stone on the hillside, high above the proposed reservoir in 1956. We stayed here in 2017 and walked over the new bridge in 2015 and 2017. On both occasions we observed the very visible remains of the old town and the medieval bridge and the small stream in place of the anticipated reservoir, and wondered if they really needed to move the town to its present location.

New (1956) towering bridge over reservoir in background

But today, neither the old bridge nor the old town could be seen as the water level was now creating a huge reservoir under the new bridge.

Our breakfast bar was located on the Camino leaving Portamarin which is the first major stopping point for pilgrims who begin their Camino in Sarria.

We looked out the open front door of the bar and counted over a hundred pilgrims walking past in a span of less than 2-3 minutes.

So we decided to have a slower than normal breakfast break to give this hoard of pilgrims time to get ahead of us. We knew that there was an endless supply of pilgrims who would walk through Portamarin until late this afternoon, so when it looked like the initial surge had subsided a bit,

Linda leaving Portamarin in the “gap”

we continued on, hoping that people ahead of us would walk faster than us, but hopefully many of those behind us would not catch us until we had reached our destination for the day.

Our walk today was all uphill, the steepest part being during the first mile. As we walked and chatted with other pilgrims, the majority of them were from different parts of Australia. After several chats, we learned they most of this particular group of pilgrims were with a tour group that had started in Sarria yesterday and was walking 15 miles today before stopping in Lestedo, the village with only one hostal and our destination tomorrow night, thankfully. (Now we know why it was totally booked when we called last week.) We also met up with Ted and Diedra from Connecticut, who had spent last night in Portamarin. They had expressed concern during dinner at Casa Nova about “losing” the group of pilgrims friends they had walked with for several days, by staying two nights at Casa Nova. We then learned they were taking a day off, because Deidra had injured her toe. Linda suggested several fixes which Diedra had apparently applied with good success. We stopped and talked for a minute or two, got an update on the “fixed” toe, then moved on, as they had already “bonded” with a new “community” of pilgrims friends.

The path was ok

a level area just after initial climb out of Portamarin

with respect to walking surface but was not particularly scenic.

pilgrims in front of us

Most of the time we walked on a dirt path

pilgrims behind us

along a two-lane highway with moderate traffic.

The highlight of the day was the number of pilgrims on this part of the Camino.

pilgrims and more pilgrims

We remember the higher pilgrim traffic from previous years

an albergue bar loaded with pilgrim’s and half just walked by

but we’ve never seen it like this.

When we reached the village of Castromaior, we stopped for lunch at a small albergue and called a taxi to take us back to Casa Nova.

Castromaior (pop. 30) is the site of an excavation of a Celtic fortified village that existed from the 5th century BC through the 1st century AD! We’ve “sorta” seen it in predawn and the fog on previous Caminos. Hopefully we’ll get to see it tomorrow morning when we rejoin the Camino.

Aerial photo (copied from a bar) of the “castro” and the Camino path

We got back to Casa Nova a little after noon and did our chores and rested and prepared for tomorrow.

Our logistics plan has worked well so far and if our taxi gets us to today’s stopping point tomorrow morning, we’ll be on our “normal” way again. Jim used a day pack these last two days and although he liked not carrying the extra 20 lbs, he felt less secure and a bit naked without all his gear with him. He thinks he may be morphing into a turtle.

We’re looking forward to tonight’s dinner. The last two will be hard to top.

While walking around the Casa Nova property this afternoon we thought you might be interested in meeting some of the more permanent residents:

and the newest addition born a few days ago

Unfortunately, the pig would not come out for a photo op.

It was just us in the Casa tonight. We asked Esperanza, our chef, to come home with us and she graciously refused but invited us to eat in the kitchen again, like family. Oh, and did we mention that these delicious meals have been cooked on a wood burning stove?

We had Galícian soup (collards, white beans and potatoes), grilled T-bone steak, deep fried potatoes from their garden, fresh bread, creama with honey and local red wine.

We said our goodbyes after dinner, paid our bill for the past three days and Susanna arranged for our taxi in the morning.

We climbed the 3 century old stone staircase to our room and made preparations for tomorrow, before calling it a day.

Day 49 – Rente to Mercadoiro (Portamarin)

Walked today: 7.4 miles

Walked Camino 2019: 353.2 miles

The fog greeted us again this morning as we left Casa Nova, our home for three nights, which we’ll explain later.

We were greeted by a couple of donkeys that seemed to be hoping we would toss them an apple.

Today offered a number of different “looks”, that made the walk interesting and picturesque.

Starting out on a narrow, rural paved surface, we covered a half- mile or so then stopped for breakfast. After breakfast, we got back onto a dirt path passing through the woods and later exited the forest for open farmland, separated by simple fences which soon were replaced by old, moss-covered stone walls.

Nice stone walkways bridged small streams or low points that become washes during the more rainy seasons.

One not-so-picturesque change in scenery was the onslaught of pilgrims. We chatted briefly with passing pilgrims, like us, who have been on the Camino for a while, but many others who only began their Camino in recent days. Some of the countries represented today were Canada, Italy, Colombia, USA and of course, Spain.

While it has not been unusual for us to walk an entire day and encounter only a handful of pilgrims, today there were usually a dozen or more pilgrims either in front of us or behind us at any given moment. Stops at bars for refreshment or restrooms were met with waiting lines… something that has been unseen during the past 700 kms.

The reason, of course, is that all you have to do to receive a Compostela, certifying your having walked the Camino, is walk the final 100 kms into Santiago. Today, half-way through our walk, we passed the 100 km marker.

So how does one cope with this abrupt change in atmosphere? Well, we focus not on the “disruption” but on the interesting things around us such as dew laden spider webs, horreos of all shapes and sizes and colors, be they new or old…or the ever present scenes around us, with or without the crowds.

Today, we finished our walk at Albergue de Mercadoiro, where we stayed in 2015. Its a few kms short of Portamarin. We had lunch then called a taxi to take us back to Casa Nova de Rente, which takes us to why Casa Nova will be home for us for three nights instead of just one.

Several weeks ago, we began to get “no rooms available” responses for our target dates for future locations. This was true for Booking.com as well as hostal/albergue websites and direct telephone calls. With heavy pilgrim traffic this time of year, we were not surprised. In particular, locations before and after Portamarin and Melide seemed to be wanting. So we developed a logistics plan that would enable us to stay at a central location, then use taxis to pick us up after a walk and return us to our base, then transport us to our finishing point the following day. Our solution in Melide was to reserve two nights in the town, but at two different properties, because none had two consecutive days open. For Portamarin we chose Casa Nova which is within easy taxi reach for four days walking and they had 3 consecutive night available that matched our timing.

So we walked to Casa Nova on Saturday and spent night number 1. This morning, Sunday, we walked to just short of Portamarin, got a taxi back to Casa Nova and will spend night number 2. We arranged with the taxi driver to pick us up here at Casa Nova at 7:30 tomorrow morning, Monday, and drop us off at Portamarin to continue walking. We’ll then stop, when we get tired and/or reach a place to call a taxi to return us to Casa Nova to spend night number 3. We’ll ask Casa Nova to arrange for a taxi to pick us up at Casa Nova on Tuesday morning as we check-out and take us to where we finished on Monday to continue walking to our planned destination for Tuesday, where we have a reserved room waiting for us.

In addition to it’s location, we selected Casa Nova

Casa Nova de Rente from the front gate

because we were familiar with it, having stayed here in 2015 and 2017.

looking in from the front door

Casa Nova is a 300 year old Glacían farmhouse.

300 year old stone staircase

It was built by the ancestors of the family that resides here, and operates the guesthouse and continues to work the farm.

The food is regional, peasant gourmet and delicious. The hostess, Susanna, her mother, the chef and her father and brother who work the farm are gracious and kind and speak little English, but it adds to the charm.

The interior of the house is like a castle.

small dining room

The solid stone walls inside and out are more than 2 feet thick. The stone is accented throughout the house in the guest rooms as well as the common areas with beautiful, large, solid wood doors, floors, ceilings and the staircase railing.

parlor

The original stone staircase steps appear to be unpolished marble.

second floor corridor and guest rooms

The guest rooms are roomy

our room

and furnished with period antiques.

We think it’s one of the nicest jewels on the Camino and felt very comfortable calling it “home” for 3 days.

Tonight we had another delicious meal in the chef’s kitchen at Casa Nova. Galícian soup, stewed chicken, fresh tomatoes from the garden in Andalucian olive oil and sea salt, potatoes from the garden lightly fried in sunflower oil and crema with a drizzle of honey, and local red wine, of course.

Our dinner companions were a couple from Italy who are cycling to Santiago, having left SJPDP just 8 days ago and a guy from Leon, France who was walking 35km per day. Which shows that there are many different ways to do the Camino.