Sarria to Santiago de Compostela
With the last 100kms to walk there was a real buzz of enthusiasm circulating among the walkers. In the beautiful autumn sunshine we stepped onto the path, the scorching hot days had atlast abated.
Leaving the town of Sarri behind we walked through the countryside. The serenity was broken by a busy railway line that ran parallel with the track carrying trains that rattled by, clickity clack clickity clack. Further along a guy was perched on the roadside playing the bagpipes, seemed out of place but was entertaining while we took a break.
On the track again we offered salutations as we scurried passed a group of walkers. Someone replied ‘aussies’. Slowing down to discover who, we met Anna who was from Melbourne in Australia. She was walking the last 100kms to Santiago de Compostela with a supported tour group of 30 people. Every morning the group traveled by the red bus to a designated drop off location. From there they walked roughly 20kms to the bus pick up point then were transferred to their accommodation. Mid way the red bus parked and set up for lunch waiting for the group to arrive. This was the daily routine until reaching Santiago de Compostela. Also along the last 100kms there is the opportunity for those unable to walk. Sylvie had a family member as a support person making her Camino adventure possible.
Arriving at the entrance of Portamarin we were greeted by the stairs leading into the village, just like in the movie ‘The Way’. It was surreal living moments like this and others that actually featured in the movie. For a moment I thought I heard ‘lights, camera, action’ hahaha. Queuing we waited patiently for our turn to take pictures and videos of the haul up the steep steps.
Portamarin was a very old village with a large church, eateries, supermarket, accommodation and souvenir shops. Like Foncebaden, Portamarin’s popularity flared as a result of the movie with a demand for new infrastructure. We stayed at a very plush hotel overlooking the river and dined at a modern restaurant which seemed out of character in this historical village.
In the cool of the evening we dined in the alfresco area along with many other walkers. In the distance a familiar face was drawing near. Heidi from Sweden made a late arrival into Portamarin. She had recovered from the flu and caught a public bus to catch up for her lost time. After a lengthy chat we bid Heidi goodnight and headed off for a stroll around the village before retiring to our room to get sorted for the next days walk.
Arriving in the dining room of the hotel for breakfast we waited patiently for the hosts to arrive but they must have slept in as they appear to serve breakfast. As the accommodation was prepaid, along with other guests we boiled the kettle for a cuppa and ate yogart from the fridge with the eggs and bacon having to be forfeited!!!
Walking through low hanging cloud drifting through the trees was eerie and picturesque at the same time. Stopping to catch our breath, Ian turned around only to see Gary and Ev from Melbourne walking towards us. We had spent a good amount of time walking together a few weeks back. The blisters on Ev’s feet had resolved and she was wearing new sneakers a couple of sizes bigger. They had caught a bus to Sarri a few days back and rested up to allow Ev’s feet to heal ensuring they could enjoy the last stint into Santiago de Compostela.
Making our way to Palas de Rei was fairly uneventful as we continued along the track through farming villages. Walking into town it appeared very busy. Our accommodation was very basic and small but catered well for our needs. We joined Beverly and Sam from Canada for afternoon tea. They had been walking the Camino section by section for a few years with Sarri to Santiago de Compostela being their last stint.
Being a tad weary we decided to aim for an early night which we succeeded at. Some things are just not meant to be. We soon discovered the reason the town was buzzing with crowds of people, a car rally. Much to our exasperation we listened to rally cars crunching through the gears racing around the narrow streets of Palas de Rei. Tossing and turning in annoyance we eventually threw back the doona and hung out the window to watch the cars in action, what’s that saying ‘if you cant beat them join them’.
Many blurry eyed walkers departed Palas de Rei in lightly misting rain that was enough to don the raincoat, beanie and gloves. The conversation was dominated by grumblings about the rally cars. Continuing on through the countryside the rain ceased, the clouds lifted and a beautiful sunny day was revealed. Walking into San Xulian we stopped at a lovely outdoor cafe and mingled leisurely with others.
Venturing into the forest we passed by a plantation of blue gums, a familiar sight for us Australians. As Ian broke into a tuneful whistle ‘give me a home among the gum trees……… I could hear John Williamson, an Australian singer/songwriter singing along.
Abit further on we came across the family of four we had met in Burgos. The dad was still pushing the well loaded stroller commenting, the odd bottle of vino made it possible. The tour group red bus was parked up with lunch all set up for the walkers to arrive. With tongue in cheek I inquired if they were waiting for me but no such luck.
Entering an industrial area which is never scenic alerted us that the town of Melide was near. The track signage was a tad confusing and two women approached us for directional confirmation. Ian was procrastinating but I felt to head off and just follow my nose. With the two women in tow we left Ian to peruse the guidebook and as luck would have it we walked into Melide. Walking past a shop my stomach squirmed as octopus was being prepared for cooking. Many indulged in the delicacy of octopus but for whatever reason it didn’t appeal to me. With Ian catching up we bid the two ladies farewell. We wandered the streets before heading off in search of our accommodation which turned out to be an urban navigational challenge. Tucked away in a narrow lane we were relieved to find a lovely family ran hotel. Just as we entered through the doors the rain pelted down and continued to do so for the rest of the day. Taking advantage of the inclement weather we pretty much just lulled about within the accommodation.
The heavy rain persisted overnight easing off by early morning. Decked out in full wet weather gear we stepped out into the drizzling rain that persisted, definitely the coldest day we had encountered. By torch light we wandered the streets out of town into the countryside side walking through farming villages.
Coming to a flowing stream that crossed the gravel road we halted to make a decision. Either wade through the knee deep stream or cross over the strategically placed large rocks. Ian carefully stepped his way across the uneven slippery rocks. Then it was my turn. Fearing the worse Ian turned his back, he couldn’t bare to watch me awkwardly take on the challenge over the rocks in the drizzling rain. Much to his surprise and relief I made it across without slipping into the stream. Continuing on over undulating terrain we eventually arrived at a cafe. The thought of a hot cuppa and toast lured us in as we both needed a break to gather ourselves. Revived and warmed up we returned to the track along with others, it was pretty much head down and just walk through the rain. As the afternoon progressed the rained eventually ceased as we walked into Arzua. Stopping for a late lunch, we took our time in the shelter of the cafe trying to warm up, but the inevitable had to happen.
Eventually arriving at Salceda a small village, we easily located our accommodation which was a family farm in a previous life. The current generation had given farming away and renovated the barns into modern accommodation. After a hot shower we rugged up in every piece of dry clothing to warm up. The hosts made the announcement that we needed to expect continuing storms over the next couple of days. After dinner the evening was spent with others around the cosy warm fire sharing Camino stories, 700 kms of stories in fact. It was hard to believe the next day we would be walking into Santiago de Compostela. Drifting off to sleep to the pitter patter of rain falling gently on the tin roof was soothing but a reminder of the weather to expect.
Waking early it was unusually dark. Flicking on the light switch there was no action. Looking out the window no outdoor lighting was on. The host was gadding about by torch light informing people there’d been a blackout which meant no electricity, no hot water and no breakfast. What a greeting to our last day on the Camino. By torch light we gathered our gear up and headed off through the very dark streets with the dim light of the head torch lighting the way. It was so dark it was spooky. Within a couple of hours we walked into the small town of Brea. With street lighting glowing we headed off in pursuit of an open cafe ready to catch the early bird. After a good feed we headed off with others relieved to have had breakfast. Chatting away to a woman I suddenly realized it was Leah who I had walked with across the Pyrenees on the second day. Goodness there had been alot of kms walked since then. Leah was in her 70s and solo walking as her husband wasn’t really interested in this walking gig but happy for Leah to fulfill her love of walking. Ian and I have many differences but share the adventure of hiking. Leah asked if she could walk with us into Santiago de Compostela. She was great company as we chatted about a variety of topics which took the focus off the persisting rain.
Looking like drowned rats we made our way into a cafe. The owners ushered us in out of the rain not perturbed by us dripping water through the cafe. The spaghetti bolognese was hot and delicious. Stepping back out into the gloomy elements, the day was deteriorating as lightning lit up the sky and the thunder clapped raucously above. Ian turned around to check on Leah and myself and was amused to see us clinging to one another as we slowly made our way along. Could this day get any worse??? Yes, for the finale it hailed with the wind blowing a gale causing the torrential rain and hail to attack us horizontally, we were drenched!!! Like real troopers we soldiered on knowing every step put us closer to our accommodation which meant we would eventually be dry and warm. To our surprise the rain started to ease and eventually stopped. Finding ourselves in parklands we took a breather and removed the wet weather gear allowing the wind to dry us off. Pushing on we came across a large group that clearly were out walking and praying. We encouraged them to pray for clear skies!!! On sections of the track the rain had caused flooding and we had no option but to walk through the water, at this point what was abit more water!!!
Then we captured our first glimpse of Santiago de Compostela. Emotions rushed all over the place. Feelings of relief that we had made it and disappointment that the end of our 798 km walk was in sight. As we made the final haul into Santiago de Compostela the clouds lifted and the sun made an appearance.
Weaving our way through the busy street towards cathedral square, the spire loomed beckoning us on. Then we stepped into cathedral square, what a surreal moment. Overwhelmed and momentarily motionless we gazed on the crowds, so many people buzzing about filling the atmosphere with excitement along with musicians playing their instruments. The cathedral was huge and dominated the area. Sadly the scaffolding detracted from it grandeur.
Gathering ourselves together we took photos before we headed off in search of our accommodation. The unit we had booked for the next couple of days was modern, very comfortable, well appointed and within walking distance of the cathedral. Once sorted, the next highlight was to find the Camino office and receive our certificate of completion, this was just as exciting as having actually walked the entire Camino. With certificate in hand and feeling very chuffed with ourselves we headed off in search of a restaurant to celebrate our achievement. Leaving the catching up of others who we had met along the way until the following day.
First things first, we needed to get the clothes washed and dried along with our boots before heading out. Having made contact we knew some of our Camino acquaintances had already arrived in Santiago de compostela whilst others were arriving later in the day. Heading out for the day our first port of call was attending the pilgrims mass in the cathedral. The cathedral was packed to capacity and only standing room was available. At the conclusion of mass was the swinging of the Botafumeiro which was very special to experience and a fitting end to our wonderful walk.
Roaming the streets full of restaurants and souvenir shops we bumped into people we had walked with but not really befriended. The family of 4 walked in, they were exhausted having walked a long day to avoid another day of inclement weather. Ev and Gary walked into cathedral square. After all Ev’s foot issues she was a bundle of emotion being able to have finished the walk.
Ken and Dorothy returned from Finisterre, it was great to catch up with them and share our Camino experiences. Later that evening we all gathered for dinner along with Beverly and Sam as well as Heidi and a few others. So much to chat about over dinner with new friends made on the Camino from Australia, Canada, Sweden and the USA. The evening drew to a close, our Camino adventure was over in the physical but we knew it would be an everlasting memory.
What a wonderful experience to celebrate our 60th birthdays and 40th wedding anniversary.
Bernadette and Ian
‘at the end of a hike there’s always a yarn to share’