Nearly One Week Home

Sorry about going “dark” for so long, folks, but re-entry into life in the States has been a bit of a whirlwind.

Kris and I started our return to the States last Saturday with a 5:00 departure from our hotel in Santiago to the airport there. When we entered the terminal, we were surprised by the long line at the Iberia counter, but eventually another agent opened a station and we found ourselves in the hands of a very kind man who was able to check our bags all the way to Minneapolis, but alas, he could not issue our boarding passes for our flights on US Airways/American Airlines.

We arrived in Madrid around 8:00 a.m. and had five hours to spare in the airport, but first, we had to find a US Airways counter so that we could get our boarding passes. This was not as easy as one might have thought. After roaming around looking for some signs to direct us to the ticketing areas (there were none) and asking two different people, we finally found out that we had to leave the secure area of the terminal to do so. After arriving at the ticketing area, we were greeted with rows and rows of Iberia stations, but none that said US Air and you guessed it, there was no map to indicate where to go. An agent who was standing outside the line told us where to go and we finally found the US Air Check in. It took several minutes and several consults with other agents before we finally were told that we could check in at the Kiosk to get our boarding passes (why the agents could not have issued them for us is beyond me, but I’m sure that they had very important personal conversations to catch up on.

With our boarding passes secured, we cleared Security and found a place to eat, again, not so easy a proposition at 9:30 in the morning. We found places to eat, but none of them had anything appealing; I mean Sushi at 9:30 with a beer just doesn’t cut it.

When we decided to go to our gate, we were surprised that we had another security checkpoint to pass before we could enter the gate area. (We didn’t have to do the metal detector or anything like that, but the agent asked us if we had packed our own bags, or if we had accepted anything from anyone to take to the States etc. We said, “No,” and were promptly let in.

The boarding process for US Air made a Marx Brothers film look like one of Patton’s Campaigns. Let’s just say that they aren’t all on the same page at the Madrid airport. We showed our boarding passes and were sent down this interminably long ramp to … a bus! When the bus finally filled up, we were sent to our aircraft. Now priot to going down the cattle ramp, we were told that if our seats were in 16 or above that we should enter in the back of the plane. When the bus stops and the driver finally lets us out — there was another wait while US Air personnel were catching up on their texts, their Friday nights, etc., they weren’t doing much in the way of work, or so it appeared — we finally left the bus and went to the back entrance to the plane. Just as we approached the stairs (yes, you had to climb a mountain of stairs to enter the plane) the crew beginst to shoo us away. As Kris and I walk back to the front door, a US Air agent sheepishly says, “Sorry for the confusion.”

Just as Kris and I begin to approach the stairs for the front entrance, another bus pulls up and ALL of them enter via the back entrance. As we entered the plane it was a free for all trying to get your seat with people needed to stop in the aisles to tell friends where they were, etc. We finally plomped in our seats for the 7 hour ride home.

The seats were very comfortable in the cabin and the crew was very nice, but 1/3rd of the TV monitors did not work. So much for catching up on your movies during the return home. Mine did work, but alas, Kris’ did not. She managed to catch a few “z’s” during the flight.

We arrived in Philadelphia and I was excited to use my Global Entry membership for the first time. Global entry expedites your movement through Immigration and Customs, and it worked like a charm. The only drag was that we had to go through Security again in the Philly airport.

What struck us as odd in the Philly airport was that the number of sit down places to eat was so few and their quality was so poor. MSP is light years ahead of Philly when it comes to dining in the airport. By this time, we were both contemplating our returns home and getting re-aquainted with our showers.

It was a very long day, close to 22 hours of travel, but we arrived safely at MSP. Our Camino had come to an end, on one level, but was just beginning on another.

Thanks to all my readers. Please check back from time to time as I want to continue writing, though I won’t be writing about travel. Vale, Vale, Vale!

Vale, Vale, Vale!

Marly Camino promised us a special farewell dinner on our last evening together, and they did deliver on that promise. Ignacio took us on a walk through the old city to the square in front of the main entrance to the Cathedral (unfortunately, this entrance is being restored, and much to my disappointment, I was not able to place my hand in the column underneath the statue of St. James [though when Kris and I visited the Cathedral the following day, she said that she would try to distract the restoration person who was taking photographs so that I could sneak under the rope and put my hand on the column–I really did not want to find out how the Justice system works in Santiago so I declined.])

Paladar de Reyes, site of our farewel dinner.
Paladar de Reyes, site of our farewel dinner.

Our dinner was in the Palladar de los Reyes, a residence for royalty and other people of significance who come to visit the Shrine. It was build on the site of a former hospital for Pilgrims and it is still used by the King of Spain to greet and house heads of state.

We had a lovely dinner in a room all to ourselves and were treated to a Galician bag piper and a skit with a woman playing a Galician witch. She even came with her own cauldron.

Paola really gets into her part during the witch's skit.
Paola really gets into her part during the witch’s skit.

Frankly, I could have done without the bagpiper — he seemed like a nice enough guy, but those bagpipes are so blasted loud I about came out of my skin–the woman who played the witch got on my nerves, too, but if I had had more wine I might have been more receptive.

Three of our group took a cab back to the hotel, while Ignacio walked Kris, Paola and me back. We stopped to hear a troupe of musicians in traditional Galician costume, playing music in one of the arcades.

Students from the School of Law paying their way through school.
Students from the School of Law paying their way through school.

Ignacio said that they are student in the law school of the University of Santiago and that they pay their way through school by playing for tourists. They seemed like nice guys and the crowd was really digging their music.

Friday, we had a city tour with a local guide, Paloma, who walked us around the old city and explained much of the symbolism in the reliefs around the cathedral. We also overheard a nasty fight between a few gypsies who park themselves at the entrance to the Cathedral. “They are very territorial,” Paloma said, “They are worse than the mafia when it comes to guarding their turf.”

We had just about finished our tour when Ignacio appeared, out of the blue, to join us for the last twenty minutes. We bid good-bye to Ignacio and thanked him for his great service to us.

Reliquary with the remains of St. James
Reliquary with the remains of St. James

Kris and I did a little exploring around the areas near the Cathedral and then we decided to return to the Cathedral in hopes that it would be quieter than when we first visited. While there were a lot of people milling around, we were glad that we returned to visit. I spend several minutes in the crypt chapel that has the reliquary with the remains of St. James. Since I could not place my hand on the column in the Portico of Glory, I thought that taking a few moments in prayer in this quiet space would make up for it, and it did. Kris and I also discovered a small chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Mother, that appears to be part of the Cathedral that dates from the 8th Century.

Later, our new friend, Paola, joined us for a stroll around the city and an early dinner. We found a very pleasant and very tiny Italian Restaurant that was the perfect spot for a farewell dinner with our new friend. Upon arriving at the hotel, Cheryl, Lorel and Kathleen were just preparing to leave for dinner, so we could say our farewells.

Kris, Paola and myself as we enjoy our last meal in Santiago.
Kris, Paola and myself as we enjoy our last meal in Santiago.

My newest phrase in Spanish is “Vale, vale, vale.” It’s the equivalent of “Ok, ok, ok.” [It seems to always be done in 3’s.] We bid farewell to Santiago, to the Camino and to Spain, but we hold many wonderful memories in our hearts and spirits.

Pilgrims’ Mass

Our first steps en route to Santiago. We made it to our meeting point in record time today.
Our first steps en route to Santiago. We made it to our meeting point in record time today.

Today our walk was only about 3 miles in length; a few in our group opted not to use their walking poles, but Kris shared one of hers with me for which I was glad as some of the hills were quite steep.

Monument to some of the more famous pilgrims to journey to Santiago.
Monument to some of the more famous pilgrims to journey to Santiago.

Within thirty minutes, we had crossed the railroad overpass bridge and were by the traffic roundabout with a large monument to some of the more famous pilgrims who made the Camino: Jan Van Eyck, St. Francis, and St. John Paul II. We paused to take a few photos and proceeded, you guessed it, uphill into the city. The odd thing about today was that all of us were walking quite fast; I know that deep down, I was anxious to catch my first glimpse of the Cathedral.

My first view of the Cathedral from within the city.
My first view of the Cathedral from within the city.

Ignacio told us that the route to the cathedral would be very clearly marked, and he was not wrong. It seemed to take a long time before we finally caught a glimpse of one of the Cathedral towers. Within fifteen minutes of our sighting the tower, we were at our first checkpoint, much to the amazement of Ignacio.

Arriving early afforded us some time to view the Cathedral before the Pilgrims’ Mass at noon. Our group had reserved seats on the left transept of the Cathedral, but Ignacio suggested it would be best if we were in our places by 11:00. The crowds were quite large and the Cathedral filled to capacity quickly. The security personnel were firm but pleasant to people who were trying to find any spot in which to sit.

The Liturgy began (in Spanish, of course) and there were several greetings of various pilgrimage groups, ours was mentioned among them. There were some people who were seated in the Sanctuary–I don’t know who they knew to receive that privilege, but more power to them. One of their group read something to the priest prior t the priest giving his homily.

I was braced for seeing the magnificent censer, the Botafumiero being used in the liturgy, but was surprised when it was not used prior to the washing of the hands in the Preparation of the Gifts ritual. Ignacio did not seem concerned, and then it dawned on me that in order to safely use the Botafumiero the aisles have to be cleared and the preparation and execution of swinging the censer would distract from the flow of the liturgy. I guessed that they would probably use it after Holy Communion, and I was not disappointed.

During the final oration, two men, dressed in special capes adorned with the Cross of St. James, entered the Sanctuary. One had what looked like a cast iron skillet with lit charcoal in it. Within moments, the botofumiero was lowered into place and like clockwork, these men assisted the celebrant in loading the censer. Below is a description of the swinging of the botafumiero courtesy of the Galician Tourist Bureau’s website:

The Botafumiero hangs on a rope from the centre of the transept, and it is nudged from vertical by being pushed. As it swings like a pendulum, eight men (called tiraboleiros) let out rope at the apex of the swing and pull on it at the lowest point. This amplifies the incensory’s oscillation swinging it to 21 meters up in the top of the vault, in a 65-metre arc along the transept from the Azabachería to the Praterias doorways. It passes along at floor level at a speed of 68 km/h, leaving behind it a fine trail of smoke and a fragrance of incense.

 

The moment of truth.
One of the tiraboleiros preparing to give the botafumiero its first push.

As the other tiraboleiros pulled on the ropes the censer began its unbelievable arc through the two transepts of the Cathedral. I was probably less than three feet from it and I could hear the “whoosh” was it swung by. The tiraboleiros handle the censer with such grace and elegance, it’s a wonder to behold. Soon, the sanctuary was filled with clouds of incense as sunlight filtered through the windows. A magnificent closing to our Pilgrims’ Liturgy.

It is extremely difficult to get a good shot of the botafumiero in motion, this was the best of several that I took.
It is extremely difficult to get a good shot of the botafumiero in motion, this was the best of several that I took.

After Mass, Ignacio went to the Pilgrim’s Office and collected our certificates, called compostelas, that attest to our completion of the camino. He passed them to us with great dignity and fanfare. Tonight, we celebrate a farewell dinner, and we have a surprise.

Cheryl receives her Compostela from Ignacio.
Cheryl receives her Compostela from Ignacio.

Monte do Gozo — Mount of Joy (4.8 km/ 9.76 miles)

Sunrise from my room at Torre do Branca.
Sunrise from my room at Torre do Branca.

 

A typical pathway on this last long day of walking.
A typical pathway on this last long day of walking.

We had been warned that today’s w

alk, which would take us up Mount Gozo (The Mount of Joy, the spot where pilgrims would catch their first glimpse of Santiago and the Cathedral) would be a difficult walk. Kris suggested that we start a half an hour earlier than in previous days, so we headed out for our first departure point around 8:40.

The day was bright and sunny, and their were scores of pilgrims on the paths, and yes, many of the paths had very steep, uphill climbs. Oddly enough, our first checkpoint of the day was the spot where we had eaten lunch the day before so we felt right at home. Our walk today would also take us near the airport and we discovered some of the landing lights on the other side of a fence on our path; within a few minutes we heard the roar of a flight taking off. “I’m glad we don’t have to walk by here for long,” Kris said.

Francisco, our bus driver, was required by law to rest for the day, and so Ivan took care of us today. He flashed a big smile and seemed enthusiastic about driving us to our location. I told Paola, “Doesn’t he look like he belongs in a rock band?” “Yes,” she said.

image
Our first encounter with pilgrims on horseback.

At one point, we ran into a group of pilgrims traveling on horseback; a first for any of us. One of their group tended to the horses while the rest stopped in a cafe for a bathroom break or to get a snack.

We also passed by a lovely stream with a small waterfall. The sound and the sight of the water rushing over the rocks lifted our spirits and we braced ourselves for the second checkpoint, which we knew meant the challenging stretch between checkpoints two and three.

A small waterfall on our route today.
A small waterfall on our route today.

Right away, our path moved uphill in a steep fashion, but very quickly, the path would level out, only to change into a steep climb. The amazing thing was that for both Kris and myself the climb was strenuous but not exhausting. We seemed to have been blessed with a new boost of energy for our summit of Mount Gozo. The path twisted and turned; went uphill and downhill as well as level stretches. We even passed by a local TV station’s headquarters.

After many ups and downs, literally, I could see Ignacio in his bright yellow shirt, and I knew that we had finished our walking for the day.

We rested for a bit and waited for the arrival of Lorel and Cheryl. I walked into the small chapel of San Marco that was on the site. A bit later, a group of Irish Pilgrims arrived and they spontaneously broke into the Salve Regina; it was the high point of my day.

Chapel of San Marco on Mt. Gozo.
Chapel of San Marco on Mt. Gozo.

Ignacio pointed out the monument to St. John Paul II, to commemorate his walking this last portion of the Camino when he visited Spain in 1993. On the one side of the monument is a lovely bronze panel commemorating St. Francis of Assisi as a Pilgrim to Santiago.

Before lunch, we rode the bus to the part of Mt. Gozo where there are two bronze statues of pilgrims, the ones that you see in the film, “The Way,” and we caught our first glimpse of Santiago and the Shrine. After a few photo shoots with Ignacio, we headed to lunch at a very nice restaurant.

Pilgrim Statues on Mt. Gozo. From this point one can catch his/her first glimpse of Santiago.
Pilgrim Statues on Mt. Gozo. From this point one can catch his/her first glimpse of Santiago.

We returned to our lodgings to shower, rest, and in my case, to wash a few items in the sink and find a sunny spot to dry them. Our day concluded with a demonstration of how to make a Spanish Omelette, by the head cook at Torre da Blanca. We sampled the Tortilla, as it is called, for our dinner this evening.

Tomorrow, we walk the last 3 miles to the Shrine of St. James and join the throngs of Pilgrims for the noon Pilgrim’s Mass. I know that I will be impressed and a bit overwhelmed.

The Shrine of St. James (telphoto view) from Mt. Gozo.
The Shrine of St. James (telphoto view) from Mt. Gozo.

Which Way Do We Go? (Calzada to Pedrouzo 13.4 km/8.32 miles)

Our route today was supposed to “somewhat monotonous” according to our guidebook, and while we didn’t pass through many large villages or towns, the scenery was beautiful. The first stage of our walk went fairly well. We encountered many more pilgrims along the way today, and a few of the dreaded bicyclists–Kris nearly got hit by one who was traveling opposite of the way that we were expecting.

People take a great deal of pride in the flowers that adorn their homes and yards.
People take a great deal of pride in the flowers that adorn their homes and yards.
A map at our second checkpoint. It showed that we were getting quite close to Santiago.
A map at our second checkpoint. It showed that we were getting quite close to Santiago.
Francisco, our driver, shows Cheryl how to tear apart prawns the Galician way.
Francisco, our driver, shows Cheryl how to tear apart prawns the Galician way.

We made it to the first checkpoint with little or no problem and we did as well with the second checkpoint. Between the second and last checkpoints I was a little confused.

Ignacio warned us not to follow the path that most of the pilgrims follow as we approach the town of Pedrouzo. He said that we needed to stay on the usual Pilgrim’s path, which would take us to checkpoint 3 and the conclusion of our walking for the day. The problem was that within 500 meters after setting out, we were confronted by a fork in the road with yellow arrows going either direction. Kris and I opted not to go underneath the highway, but continue on our way. It seemed the right choice, and I kept reminding myself that Ignacio had said to be alert as we approached the village. The problem was that the walk seemed to take forever and Kris was beginning to experience some pain walking.

A memorial to a pilgrim who died shortly after her second pilgrimage. We saw another memorial on one of our earlier walks.
A memorial to a pilgrim who died shortly after her second pilgrimage. We saw another memorial on one of our earlier walks.

We finally came to a point where we had to cross a highway, and it was there that we noticed that the path diverged with one route going into town and another through the forest. This leg, which should have been short, seemed to be interminable and even though it was the shortest leg of our route today, it felt the longest. I felt considerable relief as I noticed what looked like athletic nets at the crest of a hill and we could both hear the noises of children playing in the Sports Center that was our third and final checkpoint of the day.

When everyone had arrived at the checkpoint, Francisco drove us to a lovely spot for a superb outdoor lunch. We lingered over the excellent food and good conversation. Two in our group, Cheyl and Kathleen, ordered dishes with these enormous prawns. (The dishes also came with wet-wipes for your fingers, with good reason.) As Cheryl worked on one of her prawns, Francisco came to the table and showed her how most people ate them in Galicia, which turned out to be a messy, but fruitful operation.

Taking a well-deserved break for lunch.
Taking a well-deserved break for lunch.
Torre do Branca, The White Tower, our last manor lodging before reaching Santiago.
Torre do Branca, The White Tower, our last manor lodging before reaching Santiago.

After lunch, we drove to our new lodgings, Torre do Branca, The White Tower. We will call the White Tower home for the next two nights.

 

The long, winding, and mostly uphill, road. Boente to Calzada (14.3 km/8.9 miles)

Farmland that we saw today.
Farmland that we saw today.

Roman bridge at Ribadiso.

We have learned that when our tour escort, Ignacio, says that the route is “mostly flat” that means, ‘mostly uphill.’ Lord only knows what he means when he says that it is steep!

We had a lovely walk today that took us by an ancient hospital (hostel) for pilgrims that has been recently renovated in Ribadiso Da Baixo. We crossed a Roman bridge to get this point which was our first check point of the day.

It seems that much of the paths are uphill (with very few downhills…go figure).

Many of our paths resembled this one today.
Many of our paths resembled this one today.

The kicker occurs when you finish a climb, only to find that you must round a corner for another uphill excursion. All I can say is that my doctor will be thrilled that I am doing so much walking; truthfully, I am surprised at how well I am doing. The path in the picture may look flat, but don’t be fooled, it keeps rising, and rising, and rising. The wonderful thing is that we walked in the shade much of the time.

At our second checkpoint, we were anxious for a snack from the back of the bus, but to our shock, there wasn’t anything in the back of the bus. Ignacio and Francisco surprised us with an impromtu picnic for our second checkpoint. They provided a lovely repast for us and there was enough shade on the stone wall to accommodate all of us.

Ignacio (far left) and Francisco (far right) display their picnic for us.
Ignacio (far left) and Francisco (far right) display their picnic for us.

As we ate our lunch, we noticed a farmer working in a field nearby. He would take his small tractor and collect a large, round bale of hay and haul it up the Pilgrim’s path. He did this at least four or five times during our lunch. When Kris and I set out on that same path, we ran into him as he was coming back for another bale of hay. We stopped walking and stepped to the far side of the road for him to pass and we waved to him as he drove by. What was so charming was that after his tractor passed us, he looked back, waved and flashed a smile while shouting, “Buen Camino.”

Our day ended with a visit to the Honey Museum and Bee Farm, which is not far from our current lodging, Casa Brandariz. One of the staff led us through the exhibits and allowed us to sample some of their honey. We ended our day with another marvelous dinner.

The Honey Museum. The flowers on the property were unforgettable. They also had a small herb garden which smelled wonderful.
The Honey Museum. The flowers on the property were unforgettable. They also had a small herb garden which smelled wonderful.

 

Tastes Just Like Chicken! (NOT!!!) O Coto to Boente (12.3 km or 7.6 miles)

The fort that we visited at the start of our day.
The fort that we visited at the start of our day.

Today, our walking segment was relatively short. We bid farewell to Pazo de Ludiero after a good breakfast and headed by bus to the only surviving Galician Fort from the 15th Century, O Castelo del Palmbe, which is undergoing restoration, so unfortunately we could not go inside. The massive nature of the place certainly impressed all of us.

We were dropped off at the point where we ended yesterday with the assurances that the terrain was “mostly flat” for half of the way, with it going up and down the remainder of the way. Igancio’s idea of “mostly flat” was belied by the elevated

One of the bridges we crossed today.
One of the bridges we crossed today.

grade of the road as we started out. We traversed through many wooded areas with ample shade to keep us from overheating, though the temperatures have been pleasantly cool.

We crossed a few streams today and we ended up following a highway a few times (Ignacio had said that the closer we got to Santiago de Compostela, the more the paths would parallel major highways. We were coming into a small town and checking out what looked like an industrial park, when Kris took a tumble. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt, more startled than anything, and after a very nice, young German couple asked her if she was ok, we collected ourselves and trudged onward.

Ignacio and Francisco met us in the town of Melide, which is famous for its Pulperias, restaurants that specialize in octopus. Sunday is also a day when the town has a lot of street vendors out. They are selling mostly clothing and fruits and vegetables. The problem is that their stalls or their vehicles block the markers for the Camino.

Pentecost Mass at Santa Maria de Melide.
Pentecost Mass at Santa Maria de Melide.

Kris and I had inquired about going to Mass and Ignacio escorted us to within a couple of blocks of the church, and en route, he pointed out where the marker was obscured by a van. He gave us very clear directions about the path that we should follow after Mass let out and warned us not to veer from his directions.

Mass was in an old church (that doesn’t tell you anything, ALL of the churches are old here) and there was a near-full house. The pastor had the children involved with the liturgy. At the end of Mass they held up signs with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and they led us in a chant, “Come Holy Spirit Come.”

Getting back to walking proved to be something of a challenge, as my legs were more than happy to sit in the church. Needless to say that my legs protested the next 5 kilometers that we had to complete in order to finish our day’s walk, but finish it we did.

Placque outside of the Pulperia El Garnacha.
Placque outside of the Pulperia El Garnacha.

Once our entire group met at the checkpoint, we went back into town, to the Pulperia Granacha. Imagine a Chuck E. Cheese where they only specialize in octopus and have no pizza for sale. The place was crowded with many families or groups sitting at these long tables with bench-like seats. The wait staff seemed to have had triple espressos for their shifts because they moved quickly, but they never would look back at our table. (I needed my beer and another member of our party needed silverware to share a large salad. I told Ignacio, “You know, they go to a special school to learn how to ignore their customers.” He rolled his eyes and said, “I know.” I guess that this is the part of Spain that even the tour guides don’t like to admit to.) The corker was when when one of our party asked for butter for the bread, not-so-wise guy made this big deal about how “this was Spain and in Spain you don’t serve butter with bread ” — funny, but this has not been a problem anywhere so far, even in the tiny restaurants we have eaten on our camino walks. This kind of patronizing manner didn’t endear me to this guy. I can’t wait to log into Trip Advisor and rate this place.

Pulpo, or octopus, served in the traditional Galician style. No, it doesn't taste like chicken.
Pulpo, or octopus, served in the traditional Galician style. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken.

Kris and I ordered a wooden platter of octopus for two to share; I also order an assortment of cold meats, and she ordered the Galician stew. I ate two pieces of octopus and decided that it was not something that I needed to finish (Ignacio was happy to consume my share) and I moved onto my charcuterie.

We then traveled to our new location, Casa Brandaza. This location is not remote as our previous lodgings and we don’t have the place all to ourselves. I am in a room right by a turn in the staircase and the charm of this old building does not outweigh the incredible amount of noise that one hears as anyone goes by my room or up, or down, the staircase. I don’t think that our barn on the farm was as noisy as this place. Thank goodness I am a heavy sleeper.

It’s all uphill (Eirexe to OCoto, 16.2 km/10.06 miles)

With slightly more sore legs than the previous day, we set out on our new segment of the Camino today. Again, it was quite cool in the morning, with light breeze. Our walk today took us through many woods and forests and our first small town — where we almost lost our way.

The path seemed to go perpetually uphill today, which my legs noticed immediately. What struck me as we walked through the forests was how much the Camino path reminded me of some of the “roads” that were a part of our family farm in Nebraska. Many a time I expected to round a bend and see a landmark from my childhood. There were a few times when the path was extremely rutted and quite uneven so we had to slow down so that we wouldn’t stumble.

Many of our paths today resembled this stretch, which reminded me of some of the "roads" near our family farm.
Many of our paths today resembled this stretch, which reminded me of some of the “roads” near our family farm.
Posing by a pilgrim statue in Palas de Rei.
Posing by a pilgrim statue in Palas de Rei.

We passed through the village of Palais de Rei, which had a lovely little church dedicated to St. Tirso.  It was here that we ran into a problem finding the yellow arrow that all the pilgrims look for as they walk. Kris and I had walked for about 15 minutes and had not seen a yellow arrow. I tried to talk to someone in a large bar/cafe on the road, but she had locked her doors. We were just getting ready to walk back to the last yellow arrow we had seen, when we spotted our bus; it was headed for our next checkpoint. Francisco, the driver, honked, and pulled the bus to the side of the road. Ignacio hopped out and directed us to the right path–we were actually going in the right direction. It seemed that several segments today were not as well marked as yesterday.

Later, we ran into the same problem when we came to a crossorads on a path. We had just spotted a farmer who was hauling several large bales of hay and we decided to take one path, but in a moment, we heard a series of honks from the tractor. The farmer was smiling and gesturing to us to follow the path that he had taken. As we waited for him, he smiled and waved; his young son was eyeing us curiously as they drove off.

Taking lunch at our second checkpoint. It was very difficult to finish the rest of the walk from here.
Taking lunch at our second checkpoint. It was very difficult to finish the rest of the walk from here.

 

We stopped for lunch at a small cafe called Samosa, which is famous for its Spanish omlette. Unfortunately, our legs did not want to leave the cafe as we finished our meal, but we had 4 km left to walk. It seemed that this was the most challenging walk of the day and by the time that we arrived at the checkpoint we were relieved to be able to sit for several minutes and guzzle down our water and rest.

Ah, but the day was not over…Marly Camino had arranged for us to take a short tour of an artisnal organic cheese maker which included a cheese making worshop. Frankly, I wanted to find my bed at the Pazo and stretch out, but I soldieried on with the rest of the group.

The cheese maker was quite proud of his operation and showed genuine glee in taking us through the steps of making cheese in their tradional manner. While we waited for the curds and whey to separate, he showed us a traditional Galician home from 200 years ago, which was set up as a home might have been back then.

Separating curds and whey.
Separating curds and whey.

We went back to the cheese making and each of us took a turn separating the curds and whey, and then taking the curds and forming them into a small ball of cheese. We used a mold made out of birch wood,  and we kept patting the cheese gently to remove more of the whey. You periodically had to flip the  cheese out of the mold and start over– I never quite got the hang of it, but by the end of the workshop we each had a little mound of cheese to take back with us to our lodging. We even sampled it later that evening at dinner.

Cross of the Knights of St. James laid out in paver stones.
Cross of the Knights of St. James laid out in paver stones.

Day 3 Portomarin to Eirexe (17.5 km /10.87 miles)

We were forewarned that this leg of the Camino would be the longest for us, though as I look through our guidebook many of the legs are only 1 km shorter than this one. Ignacio also said that we would start our walk on a steep grade–that was the understatement of the century! I kept thinking, “This path has to flatten out at some point,” but it didn’t for quite some time. Much of our walking today was on paths that had a steep upward grade.

This is not the path at the beginning of our day--that one was much steeper than this section, but this photo will give you an idea of our walking difficulty today.
This is not the path at the beginning of our day–that one was much steeper than this section, but this photo will give you an idea of our walking difficulty today.

Our first check in point was slightly more than half-way through our walk. Today we did not

encounter many bicyclists, which as a big relief. Kris and I ran across a pilgrim who passed up a couple of times. Her walking technique was to keep her head down and drive forward; she was always polite, but she reminded me of a defensive lineman in her approach.

I noticed that I had fixed my eyes so much on the path, that I was neglecting to look up and gaze at the wonderful Gallician scenery. We were in farming country today, and having grown up on a farm, a flood of memories came back to me.

This was especially true as we passed several fields of freshly cut hay that was awaiting baling.

Freshly cut hay in a field in Gallicia.
Freshly cut hay in a field in Gallicia.

Besides the hay, we kept encountering farmers moving their cows across the road to graze in a field. Many times the farmers have German Shepherd type dogs that help with the herding. We also saw several sheep in a pasture near the end of our second checkpoint.

We finally arrived at our last checkpoint, ate a very nice lunch and then headed to The Church of Vilar de Donas, an 11th Century Church that was used as the headquarters of the Knights of St. James; a group of knights who guarded the pilgrims on their journey. The church is a mixtures of many elements: Gothic, Celtic, Mozarabic, and Christian. In the last century they discovered these 14th century frescoes underneath the painted walls and removed the paint obscuring them.

The Vilar de los Donas, church, headquarters of the Knights of St. James.
The Vilar de los Donas, church, headquarters of the Knights of St. James.
Fresco in Vilar de los Donas.
Fresco in Vilar de los Donas. The scene is the Annunciation with the Blessed Mother in the large frame. Below is the Queen of the Kingdom of Leon.

The weather has been exceptionally beautiful, though it’s been a bit on the cool side. Makes me wish that I had bought one of those long-sleeved T-shirts or fleece sweatshirts on our first day out.

Our lodging for the next two evenings is a country manor, Pazo de Ludiero. Check it out on Trip Advisor. Buen Camino!

Walking the Way—Peruscallo to Portomarin (13.5 km/8.38 miles)

My passport with my stamps from yesterday.
My passport with my stamps from yesterday.
One of the many kilometer markers you see. They indicate how much farther the pilgrim has before s/he arrives at Santiago de Compostela.
One of the many kilometer markers you see. They indicate how much farther the pilgrim has before s/he arrives at Santiago de Compostela.
Our fellow pilgrims. This is the stage right before the descent into the valley of the Mino River.
Our fellow pilgrims. This is the stage right before the descent into the valley of the Mino River.
After crossing the Mino River, we had to climb this staircase to reach our final checkpoint, Portomarin.
After crossing the Mino River, we had to climb this staircase to reach our final checkpoint, Portomarin.
One of the many crosses you will see along the way.
One of the many crosses you will see along the way.

Today, Ignacio accompanied us to our starting point for walking the Camino. Were were given our camino passports the night before and he explained how we had to obtain the necessary stamps from each stop. We need a minimum of two stamps per day and each stamp must be dated; in many places the stamp is on the counter and you just stamp and date the passport yourself.

The morning was quite cool and windy, but sunny, and bright with just enough clouds in the sky to add some texture and color. The landscapes that we walked through were beautiful, though at times the terrain could be quite rocky and quite steep, both uphill and downhill — most of us agreed that the steep downhill grades are the hardest on our feet and legs. Ignacio suggested that we walk in a zig-zag pattern on such downhill grades and his advice was helpful.

We were also warned about the bicyclists, and that warning was a prudent one. Our first encounter with cyclists was a benign one; I heard bell and one of them alert us that four of them were coming through. Later, we heard a “Buen Camino” and this guy came flying past us, on a steep downhill grade; he nearly clipped Kris. There was also a crash behind us and we saw that another cyclist had wiped out. He later almost clipped me as we walking down another downhill grade.

The walking poles are a godsend, especially on the rocky terrain and the downhill grades. Many pilgrims use them or a walking stick. We encountered about 70 to 80 pilgrims walking and about 15 or more cyclists. A guy from Poland told of  a man from Russia who is walking the Camino after having gone to both the South and North Poles — show off!

Kris and I were surprised at how well we did yesterday, though the last few kilometers sent us down a very steep grade as we heading into a river valley . We crossed the Mino River and then had to climb a large number of steep steps to our final destination for the day, Portomarin. Ignacio and our driver had met us at two other checkpoints. They offered snacks, encouragment, and pointers for the terrain ahead.

We finished the day with a lovely lunch in a restaurant that overlooked the river. No blisters today, though our legs were a bit sore but our spirits high. Tomorrow, is our longest segment of walking 17.5 km.

We leave the Rectorial tomorrow and will overnight in a new location. The food and accomdations have been lovely here, but they have a weak wi-fi signal, which made posting yesterday impossible. (That’s why I got up at 5:30 a.m. this morning to do post.) Just a reminder, if I don’t post, it’s because of the lack of a strong wi-fi connection. Buen Camino!