October 15 – 18, Melide to Santiago de Compostela
We arose to dark skies, a combination of the latitude of Spain (it doesn’t get light here this time of year until after 8am) and the smoke from the fires, which had been dampened by a mist that would turn into rain later in the day. We’d been incredibly lucky weather wise on the trip so far, hot dry days in Greece, slightly cooler in Montpellier and then nicely warm and dry throughout our Camino adventure, only turning cold in the mornings in the last week or so.
That would all change as we would start out in mist and end the day dripping wet. We set out from the pension and rode over to the Main Street to stop for breakfast at a Pasteleria that we’d noticed the day before. More a bread shop than true pastry joint, we enjoyed one cup each of café con leche and two different types of cake, which would provide our early morning fuel. We waited as long as we could for the light to come, but realized that between the lingering smoke and overall foggy conditions, we’d need to get a start on.
This last section would follow the N-547 almost all of the way into Santiago when we would switch to the hiking Camino for the last stretch into town. The light mist did us the favor of scrubbing the bulk of the smoke from the air, so riding conditions were pleasant, cool but not too wet. The first part of the day was comprised of stretches of rolling country side, up one rise and down the back side, nothing too strenuous but a bit grinding none the less.
About a quarter of the way done, ten miles in, having remembered our mistake of the day before, we stopped briefly in Arzua to buy a ham and cheese bocadillo to get us through the afternoon. We’d stop an hour or so later at the half way point in Arca/O Pedrouzo at a café to eat it along with two coffees we purchased there. From there we had one last significant hill to climb, Alto de Barreira at a bit over 1,000 feet on a frightening stretch of pavement, two lanes on our side with large semi-trucks passing close by as we labored. We left the highway at San Paio to join the walking Camino for the final nine miles, what we thought would only take about an hour.
Boy, did we get that wrong. We would spend nearly two hours completing this stretch, but then that part of any route closest to the end invariably takes longer than anticipated. The bulk of the trail was paved path with some on road, which became frightening as we got closer to Santiago, drivers hurtling by at speeds that seemed unsafe with groups of hikers clustered on or near the edge of the road.
Of the 10 – 20 pilgrims who die each year on the Camino, the vast majority do so from pre-existing conditions or a heart attack and those due mainly to advanced age. A few do meet their end from an encounter with a car, but this is rare, although at the time one could only wonder why more aren’t killed this way. We finally approached the last big hurdle, Monte de Gozo, just 3 miles out and found the slope so steep we walked to the top of the hill where a large modern monument was erected with images of Pope John Paul II and Saint Francis along with a larger than life sculpture by Spanish artist Jose Maria Acura that depicts two medieval pilgrims pointing the way down the hill.
By now it had started drizzling steadily and would increase in intensity the closer we got to the center of town. The approach seemed to take forever, endless suburbs until we finally we hit narrow streets, a sure sign that the historic part of town is close, passing by a hair salon we’d tap into later for much needed trims and reached a junction that looked promising on the rudimentary map included in our guide book. We’d be staying at Hostal La Salle, selected as it was the drop off point for the bikes and the price was reasonable by Santiago standards.
We sat at the corner of Rua San Pedro, Rua Das Rodas, Rua das Casa Reais, and Rua Virxe da Cerca, but given the often-glaring lack of any type of street signage in Spain, could only confirm that we were on San Pedro and San Reais. My gut told me to head up the street I thought might be Das Rodas, but we decided to play it safe and follow the Camino (Casa Reais). As we were about to cross the street who should show up but Billy and his girlfriend. Yet another Camino moment.
We continued on the Camino towards the Cathedral, ground zero for pilgrims as the rain intensified. We found a large outdoor map of the area which still didn’t provide us with the information we needed and so we back tracked to that big intersection and took a chance by riding up to the top of the short hill. Still not finding Tras Santa Clara, the street La Salle was located on, we searched the nearby blocks fruitlessly until finally, soaking wet, guide book a sopping mess, we ducked into a bar to ask for help.
I approached the bartender and when I asked about Hostal La Salle, the American woman who was paying her bill responded that she was staying there while waiting for her husband to complete his Camino and would show us the way. Another Camino moment. We arrived safely and checked in after another group of cyclists, these from Spain finished up, all of us dropping off rental bikes.
We made it to our room, a spacious and nicely appointed set of digs and while Joanna set off to hit the laundry room, I walked back over to Rua de San Roque to a Dia to buy a bag of bbq flavored frito type snacks and best of all, a bottle of Spanish Cava to celebrate the milestone we’d just completed. Joanna returned and while getting cleaned up, we popped that bottle and savored our remarkable journey.
We’d started out with every intention of waking the whole distance and except for my back issues, might very well have accomplished it. Joanna experienced problems with her boot fit, surprising as she had worn them extensively prior to the trip and felt confident they would work out. Reality provided us with a different scenario, the result of multiple 12 mile days carrying a heavy bag, losing three toenails due to her feet slipping inside the boots.
As for me, besides my back everything else worked well, no problems with my feet, tired legs at the end of each day and yet getting stronger as we hiked. The bikes saved our Camino and as we would look back on it, actually provided us with an exciting outcome, the chance to experience two different adventures, one hiking and one biking. And as I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, the physical challenges we faced many of the days erased any guilt we might have felt for not walking the distance.
For now, Santiago was waiting for us. We’ll cover our time there and begin to recount our journey back to Montpellier in later posts, along with a full summary of the Camino experience. But for now, the afternoon lay ahead of us as we glowed with relief and the sense of accomplishment one only gets from having completed a journey of a lifetime.
Monte do Gozo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_do_Gozo
Hostal La Salle: http://www.hostallasalle.com/