Day 39 – Santiago de Compostela

My final day here in Santiago was very relaxing and enjoyable.

In the morning I visited the traditional market in the old town. It is an amazing complex of 8 stone buildings that house stalls for the vendors of bread, fruit, vegetables, flowers and seafood. For those of you who are familiar with Findlay Market in Cincinnati, or the market in Indianapolis, the Santiago market is several times larger.

I meandered around the old town a bit, and stumbled on a Buddy Holly type rock-a-billy band. I’ve included a brief video clip below. These guys looked and sounded like they were right out of Nashville. When they took a break, I introduced myself and learned that all members of the threesome are from Barcelona, but they have played in the US recently. Really nice to hear some music that is distinctly American in this old city.

The rest of the day was spent eating lunch at a great tapas restaurant, doing a little shopping, and having dinner with a group of pilgrims that I became close to over the past 6 weeks…Rosemarie, Felix and Hans.

After months of planning and execution, I can hardly believe I’ve come to the end of my Camino. I have to admit that I’m filled with mixed emotions…great joy and satisfaction, but also a touch of sadness that the journey is over. My “Camino Sensei”, Tom V. has reminded me along the way, that done properly, the Camino continues beyond the actual trail in Spain. I understand that better now, and hope to keep the spirit of the Camino alive as I return to the real world.


Day 38 – Rua to Santiago de Compostela

I had a great final day on the Camino Friday!

My final day of walking began early as I was intent on arriving in Santiago mid-morning before the crush of other pilgrims. My “remote” innkeeper, Jose, picked me up at before 6AM and deposited me at the trail head. It was still dark, but I was able pick my way along the trail, and gradually the dawn provided some light to guide me. I reached Monte del Gozo overlooking Santiago de Compostela about 8:30AM and was in the city by 9:30AM. Amazingly, I ran into Hans, my friend from Day 1, as I headed toward the cathedral, and we took some pictures together in the plaza. I visited a small chapel to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for a safe and rewarding Camino, and was able to get my compostela certificate in short order. I finished the morning with a celebratory breakfast of eggs and champagne as I waited for my room to be prepared – then I took a nap. 😉

I’m in a nice hostel near a beautiful city park and just outside the old town. Later in the day I walked back to explore the interior of the cathedral. This ancient church was originally constructed in the 1100’s but is the core of a massive complex of buildings that were constructed over the course of hundreds of years. The cathedral is currently undergoing a major renovation, and its condition looked much improved since my last visit 5 years ago.

This church is not nearly as ornate as the cathedral in Burgos, but it oozes ancient charm. I performed all the pilgrim rituals today which included: walking behind the alter and placing my arms around the bust of St. James to receive his blessing; visiting the crypt just below the alter to spend a moment with his relics resting in a silver coffin; and participating in the evening pilgrim mass. The mass was packed with pilgrims with many of us standing, but the service was beautiful with music from the huge pipe organ and a final blessing using the “botafumeiro” (incense burner). It takes a half-dozen attendants hauling on ropes to propel the large botafumeiro across the length of the transept filling the space with that distinct smell. My guidebook suggests that this practice was originally adopted in the Middle Ages to fumigate the smelly and even disease-ridden pilgrims!

In the evening I had a simple meal with fellow pilgrims Hans and Rosemarie – a nice way to end a great day. Saturday is my last day in Santiago so I plan to do some more exploring and some shopping. Very much looking forward to heading back home on Sunday!





Day 37 – Arzua to Rau

We had what was easily the best day weather-wise on the Camino since I started on May 9th. Temps have been in the mid-70s all day with constant sun, clear air, and a slight breeze…perfect for walking.

I had a relatively short walk today which went very quickly since I happened to reconnect with Dennis who I saw last on Day 28. He is a very friendly fellow whose company makes the time fly.

Upon reaching Rau, I realized that my hostel for the evening was some miles off the trail. Someone from Casa de Agua picked me up and drove me to hostel which I learned is a 350 year nobleman’s house that has been tastefully converted into an inn. It is really a beautiful setting in the hills surrounded by pine and eucalyptus forests that reminds me of Vermont. I immediately sensed that the place was empty, and that was confirmed through some Google Translate dialog with “Jose”. Apparently a crowd of pilgrims are coming tomorrow. It’s a little weird, but I have this entire inn to myself…no other guests and no staff…out in the middle of nowhere. Had a very pleasant afternoon reading in the sun in the tranquil yard, and Jose will fetch me at 8PM for dinner.

What can I say; the Camino is full of surprises!

Friday is my last day of walking. I plan to be ready for Jose to take me back to the the trail head at 6AM so I can arrive in Santiago in time for the noon pilgrim mass.

Day 36 – Palas de Rei to Arzua

The Galacia region that I am currently walking in is not full of peaks, but rather characterized by constant rolling hills. The weary pilgrim must go up and down continually until reaching his/her destination for the day.

Such was the case for my walk today under mercifully clear skies and cool temps. I walked 18 miles through scenic hamlets and fragrant eucalyptus forests. I’ve included pictures that I hope capture some of these scenes.

I feel grateful to have completed the 18 or so miles today in good shape. My destination Arzua did not retain much of its ancient roots, but I have had a good experience here nonetheless. Great meal at the albergue near my hostel – perhaps the best of my time here in Spain.

I now feel well-fortified for the remaining 2 stages that will lead me to Santiago de Compostela on Friday!



Day 35 – Portomarin to Palas de Rei

With three walks left in my journey, I am feeling the powerful pull of Santiago de Compostela. All of the months of planning and preparation, as well as almost six weeks traveling through northern Spain step-by-step, are coming to a conclusion. I am excited for the finish line, and dying to get home to family. But I’m also a bit sad to see this long journey end.

I am now in Palas de Rei, but do not have much to report in terms of my walk today or this unremarkable waypoint.

Tomorrow will be a challenging 18 mile walk up and down hills to Arzua. I am weary but ready!


Day 34 – Sarria to Portomarín

I hit the trail this morning just as about 100 high school age kids were starting off. Since 100 kilometers is the minimum required for pilgrims to receive the “compostela” certificate, Sarria is a popular starting point. In general, the Camino takes on a different character in this latter stage; more crowded and commercial.

Had a relatively easy walk today from Sarria to Portomarin under mostly good weather conditions. I met up with one of my Camino pilgrim friends, Felix, along the trail, and we walked most of way together. Significantly, we passed the 100 kilometer marker indicating that we are now only about 60 miles from Santiago de Compostela.

My destination today is Portomarin is an interesting town along the Balesar reservoir. In the 1960’s, a dam was constructed across the Mino river creating the reservoir and forcing the town to be relocated on the hills above. Most of the historic buildings, including the fortress-like church of St. John, were moved stone by stone from the original location. The result is a town that feels both old and new at the same time.

Was able to meet up with Felix and Rosemary for a nice dinner tonight featuring some of the region’s specialty dishes…octopus and broiled green peppers.

Off to Palas de Rei tomorrow; only four more walks until I reach my goal of Santiago de Compostela!


Day 33 – Triacastela to Sarria

I met a fellow American, Robert from Charlotte, on the trail yesterday and had a nice dinner with him last night in Triacastela after the pilgrim mass. He is an interesting guy about my age who is also traveling solo. Hoping to connect with him in Santiago de Compostela for a celebratory bourbon next Saturday!

My walk today was a relatively easy 12 miles and for the second day in a row I walked without getting wet. There were two routes available and I chose the one that was a little shorter, steeper, but with better vistas.

Sarria is a work-a-day town with a small, but nice, old town. I ended up in a hotel that has a great restaurant where I had a chance to have to a couple of really good meals. At the end of the evening a friendly American couple from Baltimore came into the bar and I got to know them over drinks. Hope to see them again on the trail tomorrow!

Tomorrow, I am off to Portomarín, a small town that has an interesting history that I will talk about in tomorrow’s blog.

Day 32 – O’Cebreiro to Triacastela

It was great to see the sun when I got out of bed in O’Cebreiro this morning! Was finally able to get some great pictures of this ancient village and surrounding landscape.

As of yesterday, I am now officially in the Galacia region which has has some distinct Celtic influences. My walk to Triacastela was fairly easy today. I had a little bit of climbing but the trek was mostly downhill.

On the way down from the heights of O’Cebreiro, I passed by the Monumento do Peregrino (pilgrim monument) on a peak with a nice vista. As I continued walking, I was reminded of a point I made on Day 2 regarding the Camino as an easement. Pilgrims encountered cows at several points on the trail today as farmers were driving small herds between paddocks. At one point, a group of us was compelled to yield the right-of-way to a tractor heading in the opposite direction on the trail.

I am now the small village of Triacastela and tomorrow I head to Sarria which is a popular starting point for pilgrims seeking earn the “Compostela” certificate with the shortest possible to Santiago.

Day 31 – Villafranca to O’Cebreiro

What an amazing day on the Camino!

I knew today would be tough since the hike called for 12 miles of relatively flat trekking followed by a 6 mile climb to one of the highest peaks on the Camino to the village of O’Cebreiro. The challenging hike was complicated by 5-6 rain showers throughout the day with a large cloud actually enveloping O’Cebreiro by late afternoon adding an eerie quality to this ancient village.

I had the good fortune to connect with a pilgrim early in the walk which made the day go very quickly. Nate is a recent graduate from a Big East college who I learned is entering the Dominican order as a “novice” in August.  The unbelievable coincidence is that he will be doing his first year in a parish about 3 miles from where I live in Cincinnati! We ended up walking together all day and having dinner in O’Cebreiro. Happened to run into Cory and Felix who I have not seen since Leon which was extra special. One final note – I have to give Nate bonus pilgrim points for walking the ~19 miles today in sandals; quite a feat given the steep trail and persistent presence of horse manure on the trail over the last 6 miles! :-s

I had another first on the Camino today. I met a young couple from the US walking the Camino with their baby son! The baby appears to be about a year old and is a chunky little guy. His father is carrying him, while his mother carries a pack with their collective belongings. Wow!

Also was able to attend the pilgrim mass at the Iglesia de Santa Maria Real — one of oldest churches on the Camino tracing its construction to the 9th century. Readings were done by pilgrims in multiple languages and the young priest even had his homily reading in English! At the end of mass, the priest had about 50 pilgrims surround the alter where he gave us blessing/hug and nice Camino keepsake – very touching and memorable.

My only disappointment from the day is that I have reached my third significant peak on the Camino under foggy conditions. Perhaps tomorrow will provide an opportunity for better pictures on my way to Triacastela.

Day 29 & 30 – Ponferrada to Villafranca

I fell a bit behind on my blog so I am consolidating days 29 and 30  with today’s entry.

Day 29’s walk was uneventful and mostly a pleasant hike through orchards of cherries and other fruit. I am also seeing a number of vineyards likely planted with the bierzo grape that does well in this micro-climate. There is definitely a more alpine feel over the past day. The weather continues to be unpredictable but generally cool and overcast. I asked a local when he expected summer weather to arrive in this part of Spain. Without thinking he said, “next week”. Seems like a stock answer given by people weary of getting the same question over and over from migrant pilgrims!

Villafranca is a beautiful old town with a couple of rivers running through it, several old churches and a nice park off the main square (Plaza Mayor). The surrounding mountains rise directly from its outskirts on all sides protecting the town, and this evening shrouded with low clouds.

Day 30 was my last day off until I reach Santiago de Compostela. Instead of lounging around, I decided to go back to Ponferrada to see the Castillo de Los Templarios (Knights Templar Castle) – very glad I did.

A brief history on the Knights Templar. In the early 1100’s, a small group of monks banded together to protect pilgrims traveling to the Holy Lands. This ragtag group grew in size and strength rapidly, and within 25 years was a legitimate fighting force that had the explicit support of the Pope. Over a period of 200 years the Templars acquired/built castles throughout Europe and the Holy Lands which allowed them to protect pilgrims, including those bound for Santiago de Compostela, and even developed a basic system of banking. However, the Templar’s power, secrecy, and rumors of unsavory practices caused a fall even more rapid than their rise. On a Friday 13th (note the link to modern day superstitions) in 1312, as many as 2,500 Templar Knights were rounded up, accused of heresy, and eventually executed ending their 200 year reign.

The castle I visited in Ponferrada was acquired by the Templars in 1178 AD. They made substantial reinforcements in keeping with the mission of protecting pilgrims headed to Santiago. After the Templars were disbanded, powerful dukes in the region expanded the castle still further until it was eventually made obsolete by gunpowder-based weapons.

Today the castle, restored in the early 1900’s, is a double-walled fortress covering a couple of acres. You can readily see the ingenious defensive systems put in place over the years that made the castle virtually impregnable back in the day. There is also a restored palace inside the walls that now houses an incredible library of hundreds of documents from the Middle Ages – some religious and some focused on science, etc. The visit to the castle was a great way to spend my day off!

Heading to O’Cebreiro tomorrow. It will involve a lot of uphill hiking but my reward is that I will lodge at the 1,300 meter “alto”.