Day 31 : Santiago, the end of the road….

The End – outside the Cathedral in Santiago

Steve : We’re here! Sometime after 11am this morning the three of us ran – yes, ran – the last half km into the square outside the Cathedral in Santiago.

Much rejoicing…

But first…

The day started very early. Our plan was to make it to Santiago in time for the noon pilgrim’s mass. We reckoned we had around 20km to go from Pedrouzo so, given our current storming form, we reckoned 5 hours max.  But to be on the safe side we were up just after 5am.

It was wet and very dark.  We headed back into town and picked up the Camino trail again and headed into the woods. Within minutes we hit a new problem.  It was simply too dark to see the trail. The sky was black with rain clouds and we were still an hour before dawn. On previous early starts this hadn’t been a problem as we could see plenty under a starry moonlit sky.

Somewhat disappointed we had an emergency committee meeting during which some jovial Spanish peregrinos who were wearing head torches passed us. So we dissolved our meeting and simply followed them.   They were a little slow but they got us to Breakfast #1…

…after which time the sun had come up enough to be useful.  Off we went. It rained on and off and within a few hours we passed the airport and came upon the ‘Santiago’ marker.

Santiago and Jen
Santiago and Hamish
Santiago and Steve

It always surprises me just how long it takes to  walk through a large town’s suburbs. Santiago is no exception. We cross big roads and pass carpet showrooms and the typical big shed retailers of the modern world. Eventually we reach a pilgrim monument on top of a hill…

…and there it is, Santiago Cathedral. Blimey.

You can see the towers of the cathedral over Hamish’s left shoulder

I am nervous! 31 days of constant walking plus another few months of planning and there’s the target. Visible with our naked eyes through the mist.

We walk on, down the hill.

We nip into a cafe to use the loo and have Breakfast #1.5 and I meet a man who went to school in my village back home in Scotland. He’s come out to Santiago to join his wife, who has walked from Leon, and I can tell he’s simultaneously impressed and baffled.

We walk on into the old town.

Dog and peregrinos share a fashion moment

Jen vaguely recognises where she is from her Camino trip last year and she dares us to run the last half km. I demur but she wins and off we go. 

So we race into the square, to find the last 10m blocked by a group of tourists who can’t seem to move out of the way.

We arrive in front of the scaffolding covering the front of the cathedral. There’s a man with an angle grinder making one heck of a noise half way up that scaffolding. Most of the square is closed off for some military event taking place later. We try and take it all in and collapse..

Jen just sits down. I wander on a few metres and Hamish a few metres more. I don’t know what either of them are thinking and, to be honest, I don’t know what I’m thinking either. My thoughts return to the two people who should be here, Muriel and Ali, and my sadness returns.

But then I think of my legs!  And I get Jen to take a picture…

I ask you, dear reader, are those not particularly fine specimens? Muscles. And muscles on top of those muscles!  Excellent legs in excellent socks in excellent shoes. Excellent.

We round up another peregrino and ask her to take a picture. Thankfully it’s a good one and here it is again. Happy memories already.

Overcome with something or other we retire to a cafe to eat churros dipped in chocolate. Diabetes on a plate. Very tasty.

We queue up for the noon pilgrim mass and find ourselves having to sit on the floor.  The place is packed. The mass is long, in Spanish, and a bit baffling but we are glad to be there.

You may have heard about the swinging incense holder – you can see it in the centre of the above picture. Sadly that wasn’t going to happen at our mass. Apparently, if you pay enough (rumour says 3 or 4 hundred euros) and organise it in advance the church will do the swinging incense thing.  I’m hazy as to what it’s all about but I can imagine that it’s very effective in removing the aroma of filthy pilgrim from the building.

This is a major Catholic cathedral and the quantity of gold around the supposed tomb of James the Apostle (Sant Iago) is considerable.

The mass finishes and we limp out back into the square. The rain has stopped and the sun threatens a return.

Square panorama #1
Square panorama #2
Square panorama #3

We find our albergue, ‘The Last Stamp’ (a reference to the stamps we collect in our ‘Pilgrim Passport’ or ‘Credentials’ at every albergue since St Jean) and go for a wander.

Central Santiago is a lovely old city full of tourist tat and interesting shops.


We stock up on souvenirs (we don’t have to carry it much further now!) and Jen buys two new dresses.

A scuzzy peregrino goes clothes shopping….
…and meets a very very large dog

The albergue is quite pleasant, though the ‘easy’ ways of the rural albergues have gone. This one is very much ‘business’. We make our beds and set out our stuff, then head out to collect our certificate and find some dinner.

The Pilgrim Office below the Cathedral is the final port of call for the peregrino. Here you show your ‘Pilgrim Passport’ and answer a few questions about your trip. Hand over 5 euros and you are given two documents, a ‘Certificate of Distance’ stating how far you have walked, and the all important ‘Compostella’ with your name scribed in Latin (sort-of). We queue up for around an hour and a half to get ours.

One of the hospitaleros tells us that yesterday they did 1400 ‘Compostellas’ and today they were expecting to do 1600.  And the Camino ‘season’ hasn’t really started yet.

We walk out into the square and feel much contentment.

Dinner is at an excellent veggie-friendly restaurant where we blow the budget and eat like kings.

We are back in bed at around 10:30.

Sadly Santiago is a party town and the drinking starts early. Along side the peregrinos who are walking the trail with purpose are the tourigrinos, who are basically here for a party.  Some didn’t even bother walking at all – we saw quite a few folks with boots and backpacks get out of taxis and only walk the last 100m into the square.  Not cool.

The noise outside the albergue is incredible.  I sleep fitfully until the last drunken idiot staggers into bed in the room above ours around 4:30am. In the morning I take great delight in not being quiet and revel in the ‘shhhh’s from the hangover brigade. Sorry, mate, you should have thought of that earlier…

Tomorrow we are no longer peregrinos. We will not walk. We’ll be on a bus to Finisterre, ‘The End of the World’, and we’ll watch the sun set over the Atlantic.

Day 30 : Ribadiso de Baixo to Pedrouzo

Steve : A reasonable night’s sleep, in spite of the snoring. We get up and ready ourselves for departure. Everything we own got a good soaking yesterday. All our gear has more or less dried out, apart from, sadly, our shoes. We stuffed them with newspaper last night, which does a good job of sucking out the moisture, but my left shoe still squelches when I walk. It’ll be fine in a few kms.

Roughly 30km to do today, so we look for a cafe for breakfast #1 and find a nice one in Arzua…

The cafe is attached to an upmarket albergue. Well dressed and sleek middle aged peregrinos in starched and pressed hiking gear are getting ready.

We consume toast, orange juice and coffee and we’re off…

I haven’t taken too many photos over the last few days, mainly due to the lashing rain, but above is a panorama of Galicia.

We walk through forested paths and stumble upon another cafe near A Calle, perfect for breakfast #2. Here we see the huge increase in peregrinos since Sarria.  They are on Day 4 of their short 100km walk and they are, probably, wet and miserable.

We try and book ourselves an albergue for the night but everywhere in Pedrouzo seems to be full. Hamish gets on and we find ourselves a Pension, a small cheap hotel and book a triple room for 60 euros. A little expensive but better than tramping the streets looking for three empty beds.

The cafe is very busy…

Peregrinos everywhere…

Later, we determine that it’s round about now that we reach our one millionth step. But we don’t know that just yet…

We power on up the trail, passing through some ancient trees…

Tall trees #1
Tall trees #2

J and H are having a surreal conversation about how they would survive a zombie apocalypse, and H wonders if vampires would be able to survive on other planets with a different sun.

I follow along, as we race through the crowds, and I marvel at my legs ability to carry me at this pace, and I have a major CALS* moment.

We arrive in Pedrouzo and find our pension. Our host is a star – super enthusiastic and helpful. He tells us that this small town has a population of some 400, almost all of whom are involved in the peregrino business. He reckons there are 2000 beds in Pedrouzo and they are all full tonight. Looking at the hordes on the trail, I can believe it.

We go to our room, unpack, and arrange for some laundry to be done. The room is splendid…


Jen falls asleep whilst H and I do techie things. We emerge around 3pm to try and find some lunch and we find a terrific cafe called ‘Taste The Way’…

‘Taste The Way’

…that does a Peregrino Menu with veggie options. We eat ravenously.

We are in seafood country here, specifically octopus. You see them in big tanks in the windows of restaurants awaiting execution. Yuck.

Back to the hotel. Our TV has a USB port so we plug in my stick and watch ‘The Lady In The Van’. Ideal pilgrim entertainment. Then a trip to the vending machine for some junk food and we set up ‘Margin Call’ as movie #2. The antithesis of a peregrino movie!

We were going to attend the pilgrim mass at the local church but the movie is too interesting. Oh well.  Like I said, we walk through the country and experience almost none of it….

Dinner time arrives and we go out to try ‘Taste the Way’ again to discover that it’s closed for a private event. We find a horrible cafe, eat horrible salads and go to bed early.

Sleep is hard to come by, in spite of the comfy beds and duvets. Tomorrow we will be there.  We will have reached the end of our trail.

I check my watch and it reads 03:16.  I wonder if it’s a message…

*CALS, Camino adjusted lachrymosity syndrome

I’m not dead yet

Way back in the donativo in Bercianos I said to my fellow peregrinos that I was doing the Camino to prove to myself that I’m not dead.

As we approach Pedrouzo I feel more than simply not dead. I feel completely alive. My 56 year old legs have walked 1,000,000 steps on this trip and they feel great. This is what they are supposed to do. Walk. Move.

I follow Jen through the hills of Galicia in the rain. We are in amongst a huge group of new pilgrims, doing the Sarria section. They are a strange combination of slow and competitive. Small groups of young men see Jen approaching and they try to speed up to avoid the ignominy of being overtaken by a girl, and a 5ft 4in girl at that. They can keep her at bay on the downhill and on the flat but on the uphills they have no chance. Jen powers on by with Hamish and me following in her wake. We’ve been walking for five hours now and haven’t been overtaken once. It makes me smile.

Cartesian dualism be damned! This body is me and I am this body. We are one and the same. This bag of bones and skin and organs is working like a Swiss watch. Everything is in its place. The rain is making the path slippery but the eyes send messages to the brain and the brain tilts the leg and the foot just… so… and the foot hits the ground in exactly the right place. And again. And again. Thousands of times.

And suddenly I think of the two members of this family who are not here, whose bodies do not work like a Swiss watch and who will rarely, if ever, feel such utter joy in simply walking.

There’s Muriel, who has turned a life blighted by ME into a shining example of how to deal with adversity. And then there’s Alister…

Oh Lord, Ali…

I am grateful for the rain as it hides the river of my tears.

1,000,000 steps

Well, it looks like we did it. Sometime around when this picture was taken at this morning’s second breakfast…

Cafe dog gets lots of attention

… we walked our one millionth step on the Camino.

I’m wearing a Fitbit and have been recording steps, amongst other things, since we left St Jean.  When we started this morning the cumulative step count was 989,060. The cumulative count right now, as I type this in Pedrouzo, is 1,019,088. By our calcs the 1,000,000 mark was passed around Cafe Lino, near A Calle, where the photo was taken.

One million steps. Hmmm.

We all skipped the 70 km from Santo Domingo to Burgos. Jen has taken a few buses and taxis due to her foot issues. I jumped from Leon to Hospital de Orbigo and accompanied Jen on her bus and taxi trip to Herrerias. But Hamish has walked everything bar the Burgos jump. So he’s probably walked another 60,000 steps on top of the one million.

Jen says, hopefully (and possibly, accurately), that she’s walked more steps because her legs are shorter. When we get back home we’ll do some experiments to see if she’s right.

But, as of right now, we lie on our comfy beds in a Pension in Pedrouzo and feel the satisfaction of the righteous.

Everywhere is indeed walking distance, if you have the time….

Day 29 : Palas de Rei to Ribadiso de Baixo

Steve : There is great delight at having a private room for the three of us, with a private bathroom. Our alarm goes at 5:30am and is ignored. I crawl out of bed at six and take advantage of the TOWELS!!!! to have a pre-walk shower, the first of the trip. Normally you slide out of bed, pull on a shirt and some trousers and are out getting your boots on in 5 minutes. Today is very slow in comparison. Jen has a major I-want-a-lie-in grump but eventually we’re up and out the door at 8am.

The new peregrinos are milling around, looking lost and tired. These are the newbies who joined the trail at Sarria. You must walk 100km of the Camino in order to get your ‘compostella’ certificate, so the last 100km from Sarria onwards brings a whole batch of new, clean, fashionable pilgrims. Today will be day three of five for them and they all look exhausted. The make-up is bedraggled and the hair is lank. Good, we think.

We find a cafe to sell us croissant, toast and coffee for breakfast and we’re off…

The weather forecast for the day says 100% chance of rain so we’re ready for it. I have my luminous visible-from-space rain jacket, Jen has her Very Hungry Caterpillar thing and Hamish has his huge clear plastic bag that he blagged from a bakery way back on the rainy Estella day. We’re set, 26km to do today.

A man in a bag and The Very Hungry Caterpillar

It does, indeed, rain. And rain quite a lot. Because we’re up so late we are in the pilgrim rush hour. There seem to be hundreds of hunchbacked peregrinos wearing the huge all-in-one rain covers. It’s actually a little difficult to maintain a walking pace. We are quite fast, especially up hills, and the trail is narrow in places. Overtaking is difficult. A new peregrino with a huge rucksack in an all-in-one rain cover is quite an ungainly object. It lumbers around like a rhinoceros or an articulated lorry. Our 700km of race-tested familiarity with ourselves and our kit makes us Ferraris, in comparison. We confess to feeling more than slightly smug.

Crossing the highway, looking at the sign…

But the rain falleth on the new and the old peregrino in equal measure and soon we are all very very wet. It’s warm so we don’t really care and when the rain stops it’s still quite windy so we dry fairly quickly. Note to prospective peregrinos – ‘technical’ clothing is well worth the extra money. My Rab top and Montane trousers will dry in minutes in a good breeze.

We have a second breakfast around San Xulian and eat huge bocadillos whilst listening to a Spanish gent of consequence conduct business very loudly on his phone. I would guess him to be 60ish, with an ample belly, and he’s dressed head to toe in the latest Lycra cycling gear. ‘Tis a thing of wonder. He eventually mounts his bike, an incredibly expensive Trek electrically assisted mountain bike and waddles off, uncertainly, up the road.

The day is uneventful and quite long. It’s too wet to take photos and too wet to wear headphones. We discuss the best parts of the trip, our favourite gear, and what we’re going to do in Santiago. Jen wants us to run into the square. I’m not so sure. If we’re doing this properly we’re supposed to go in on our knees but that definitely isn’t going to happen.

Clouds over Melide

Melide brings lunch and we hide out in a cafe whilst the heavens open. My luminous jacket does a good job of minimising the rain soaking but it does, for reasons unknown, make me smell like a chicken farm. I decide I don’t care, but I do feel sorrow for any non-peregrinos who are too close by.

The terrain is up and down and we walk through the greenest of tunnels made by the old growth forest. If the weather had been better I would have some excellent pictures.

We approach the hill before Ribadiso and all of us are firing on all cylinders. We power up it. I think of the quote from the film ‘Gallipoli’:

Jack: What are your legs?

Archy Hamilton: Springs. Steel springs.

Jack: What are they going to do?

Archy Hamilton: Hurl me down the track.

Jack: How fast can you run?

Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard.

Jack: How fast are you going to run?

Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard!

Jack: Then let’s see you do it!

We overtake everyone and steam, literally, into town.

We’ve booked ahead and are staying in Los Caminantes. We arrive around 3:30pm and find some beds. The albergue is pleasant enough, if a little cramped.

We unpack and I discover that my Platypus water system in my backpack has sprung a leak. My sleeping sheet is now ever so slightly damp. In the grand scheme of things, given what’s been falling from the sky all day, it’s not a problem. The Platypus goes in the bin, after 10+ years of good service. I shall replace it on our return.

H looks like he’s got bed bugs, so we shove everything in a washing machine and do a full debug. Let’s hope it does the trick.

Bed bugs to peregrinos is the equivalent of shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre. They are absolutely the last thing you want. A fellow traveller, Zoe, from Australia, is wrapped up in an albergue blanket waiting for her clothes to dry. She spots a bed bug in her blanket and drops it with force. She informs the hospitalero, who seems indifferent and asks Zoe to put the blanket back on the shelf and get another one.  Oh dear. Not impressed. Perhaps best avoid this albergue….

Zoe takes the blanket and dumps it outside, in the rain.  And another few blankets for good measure.

We adjourn to the local cafe and eat a highly unhealthy dinner of yet more spaghetti, fried eggs and chips.  We are all crawling.  Hopefully from imaginary bed bugs and not actual ones. We return to our albergue and spray everyone and everything with anti-bed bug spray. And we wash H’s clothes again, just in case.

Bed is early, at 8:30, as we’ve run out of things to do.

We have a friendly room but a number of snorers. It takes two episodes of Jon Finnimore’s Souvenir Programme to pass the time until sleep.

Surreal graffiti

Joni Mitchell to Tolkein

Time for a strapline change. We now have

Not all those who wander are lost

…a line from the JRR Tolkein poem, ‘All that is gold does not glitter’.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Day 28 : Gonzar to Palas de Rei

Steve :

Before dawn in Gonzar

I’m unclear as to why we got up to early but up early we were. And out around dawn.

We find a cafe for breakfast but are really struggling to wake up.

Today it is wet.

My luminous yellow jacket gets its first outing, as does Jen’s red thing she bought a long time back in Logrono.  We dub her ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’…

The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Jen in her raincoat.

We walk on through the rain.

Hamish has a plastic bag that he got from a bakery weeks ago that is a surprising effective raincoat.

Caterpillar and man-in-a-bag head off to heaven, apparently

Our plan is to get to Palas de Rei, a walk of around 17km. We arrive in the non-descript town to find the main albergues are full of tourigrinos. We panic somewhat until the San Marcos hospitalero tells us we can have a room for just the three of us for 20 euros each.  A quick conference later and we accept, and head to a secondary albergue.

The room is great! We have a private shower, towels, sheets, duvets.  Marvellous!

Drying out the caterpillar
A soggy day in Palas de Rei

We find a grim restaurant for tea and decide we’ve had enough. Hamish and I go on a junk food expedition and we return to the room with chocolate, Cola Cao and dodgy Spanish crisps.

We have a TV with a USB port so we plug in my stick and settle down to eat rubbish and watch ‘Saving Mr Banks’.

Highly un-Camino but we loved it.

Day 27 : Molino de Marzan to Gonzar

Steve : Up and out at a reasonable hour and on our way…

First requirement of the day was breakfast at A Pena and it was here that we experience our first peregrino traffic jam.  The new influx of peregrinos at Sarria has overwhelmed the local bakery.  We loiter for nearly an hour here.  But the bread is very fresh and very good…

Bakery at A Pena, Jen with new walking poles
Cloudy day

And then – glory be! – we reach the 100km marker!

699km down, 100km to go…
A moment of reflection…

It’s a pleasant walk on a cool day.  We meet up with an American couple who are quick to apologize for Donald Trump (a common theme with Americans on the Camino)…

…and we stroll into Portomarin.

We eat spag bol (veggie version) at a cafe and carry on out the other side.

This is good farmland…

We come across a number of impromptu roadside ‘shrines’, the reasons for which are never clear.

We arrive in Gonzar just before 3pm. We are lucky to find the last three spaces in the albergue and so we do the rinse, repeat thing and wile away the afternoon reading.

Early to bed.

We’re getting close!

Instant transportation 

Yesterday as I lay on my bunk in Molino de Marzan, half asleep in the cool of the albergue, I was listening to my Sansa MP3 player on shuffle.

Up came the Laura Marling song “Goodbye to England (Covered in Snow)“.

You were so smart then
In your jacket and coat.
My softest red scarf was warming your throat.
Winter was on us,
At the end of my nose,
But I never love England more than when covered in snow.

In a heartbeat I was 14, on some church weekend trip to a Youth Hostel somewhere in England. A group of us had gone for a walk. It was winter and snow was on the ground. We came to a road junction and were uncertain as to which way to go. Someone threw a snowball which gently hit a girl who was wearing a black coat and a red scarf.

From a hot afternoon in Galicia, Spain, to a cold afternoon in wintry England. Instantly. Even faster than the Renfe train that runs from Leon to Madrid.

Transportation, fast and slow

As we make our slow way across Spain we try not to think of the many many faster ways there are for getting from one place to another.

Many years ago, in my student days in London, I was training to run the Glasgow marathon. My friend and I were in the lab, getting our shoes on, when a colleague asked what we were doing. We replied we were going to run to Richmond, a distance of some 10 miles. He asked, not unreasonably, “why don’t you get the bus?”.

Last year when Jen first walked the Camino, I joined her in Sahagun and we walked for three days to Leon. I returned to Madrid, to fly home, on the very fast Renfe train. The train went from Leon back past Sahagun in about 18 minutes. It had taken three days to walk that. Three days.

We take travel over vast distances so much for granted. I recall throwing things at the TV during some holiday program I saw a few years back.  A couple were being interviewed. They were in Goa, in India, and were complaining that whilst it’s all very sunny and all that it does take a long time to get there. “Why does it take so long to get there?”. Why does it take so long to get there!!? Because it’s stupid far away… that’s why, what’s wrong with you?

Someone famous and wise once said that the only way to truly know a place is to walk through it. I don’t know if I ‘know’ Spain particularly – I fear that I walk in the ‘pilgrim bubble’, a parallel place that is layered on top of Spain. But I would second the notion that walking is the ‘human’ pace. 

Here’s a simple experiment to try…

Get yourself out into some woods on a sunny day. Put on your sunglasses and start walking. Look at the trees as you walk.

I was doing this early on in Galicia and I was struck by how much the world looked like an ultra high definition 3D movie. The skinny trunks of the larch trees slid past each other at different rates depending on their distance away from me. I then was struck by why I was struck by this. 

In day to day life you go so fast through the natural world. I would bet that most folks out there reading this will pass through nature in a car and at a pace where the 3D-ness of the world isn’t particularly obvious. It happens too fast.

So when I walk through a larch wood on a sunny day with my polarising specs on, my reference point is the cinema. It’s in the cinema that I see 3D movement in the woods. Crazy!