Camino de Santiago, Days 27-30

By Michael

At a Glance:

Day 27: Barbadelo to Ventas de Narón (31.3 km)

Day 28: Ventas de Narón to Boente (32.3 km)

Day 29: Boente to Pedrouzo (28.1 km)

Day 30: Pedrouzo to Santiago (19.8 km)

Daily Highlights:

Day 27: Today we started in heavy fog in Barbadelo, which lasted through Portomarín (roughly half way through our day). The kept us from having any view of the surrounding hills, but it also kept us cool and it was beautiful in the fields and forests we walked through.

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The official Camino mascot for the Galicia region, as seen through the fog.

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Our “view” the first couple hours of the day.

Just under two hours into our hike, we were approaching the 100 kilometers mark (left before reaching Santiago). The Church will only give a “Compostela” to pilgrims who walk over 100 km. And here in Galicia, they have installed new signs that say the precise distance to the cathedral in Santiago — down to three decimal points (equivalent to one meter). We were looking for the marker at 100 km — Elizabeth remembered it from her last walk — but after seeing 100.something, we saw 99.930 km. So the official 100 km mark was some 70 meters back and unsigned. To deal with the disappointment of missing her 100km photo, Elizabeth posed for an even more silly photo.

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Not impressed.

Not to be outdone, I paced back roughly 70 meters and took a photo. It turns out that the 100 km mark is in between a couple of buildings that I think a barns.

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The view at 100 km (estimated). The cafe on the left is just inside 100 km, so it doesn’t qualify as a stamp outside 100 km.

As we approached Portomarín, we met a mother and daughter from Santa Rosa, California — the mother had started in St. Jean, and had three children (all adults) meet her for different segments of the walk. She was doing awesome! After Portomarín, we continued on and the sun came out.  It was hot!

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In front of the castle-like church in Portomarín.

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Finally the sun came out!

We finished walking today in Ventas de Narón, where we watched some sheep graze in a small pasture across from our albergue.

Day 28: There was no fog today — it might have been our warmest morning of the Camino so far so we knew it was going to be hot today.

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Ant statutes along the path.

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Sharing the road with cows on their way to graze in a nearby field.

We finished our first segment at a good pace, up to a hilltop and down to Palais de Rei, where we stopped for breakfast (toast and coffee for me, toast and hot chocolate for Elizabeth) at Cervezeria Obelix. A “Cervezeria” is literally a brewery though in Spain it does not mean they make beer there (everyone serves the same light beer). Obelix is a character in the French cartoon series Asterix. He looks like a chubby viking (I’ve been told he is a Gaul, but look for yourself: Viking.).

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As we continued we saw more rolling hills and small forests, typical of Galicia. And it got hot, even in the shade.

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As soon as we entered Galicia, we started to see “horreos” everywhere.  They were traditionally used to store grain and almost every rural house that we have passed has one.

When we left Melide, a town large enough to have a small grocery store where we could pick up fruit, we saw a sign for Albergue Boente, one of two accommodations in the town down the path where we figured we might stop for the day. The sign said they had a pool, which was news to us. There was even a picture of a paddle board in a pool — probably not their pool, but that was enough. This might have been the fastest 6 km I’ve walked on the Camino to make sure that we got to stay there.

Once we arrived, we each took a dip in the (tiny) pool.  Well worth it.  The rest of the afternoon was spent doing our daily chores, reading, and enjoying a typical pilgrim menu for dinner with wine and desert.  Today was a reminder of how much the Camino has changed now that we are in the last 100km.  We saw several large groups (including a rowdy group of middle-school-age kids) and there are a couple loud groups staying at our albergue that seem to be in party mode.  We are working on our patience.

Day 29: This morning we left Boente early to avoid much of the heat. We arrived in Arzúa (about 8km down the road) — a much larger city and suggested place to overnight in many of the guidebooks — just about at the time that many pilgrims were getting going for the morning. Everywhere along the way there were large groups of pilgrims, showing just how popular the Camino has become, especially in the last 100 km.

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Elizabeth with the Galician Camino mascot.

We also passed through groves of Eucalyptus trees. While perhaps not the same as medieval pilgrims would have experienced (when these trees were confined to their native Australia), they reminded us of Nipomo, California, where there are miles of Eucalyptus trees planted in rows.  They provided much needed shade.

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Because of our early start and relatively short day, we arrived at our destination of Pedrouzo around lunch.  There was no point in going any further because it is less than 20 km to Santiago and there are no good accommodation options in the next 15 km or so.  After checking in, we had a three course pilgrim menu for lunch. Scrambled eggs with good mushrooms as first course was a highlight for me.

We both took needed naps in the afternoon. Tomorrow we leave early for Santiago!

Day 30: Today we made it to Santiago! We started early despite the short distance, hopeful that we could finish before the mid-day heat and most of the crowd. Well, the mid-day heat never happened and there was almost always at least some crowd, but it was still fun to walk through the forest in the dark.

Around one of the earlier cafes, we ran into a group of pilgrims we had met earlier on the Camino. The group included Cat from Australia and Will & Hannah from Seattle, and seemed to be growing. We saw them a few times during the day, and I stayed at their pace to chat for a while before taking off on my own.

After winding through the outskirts of Santiago, I walked through a covered passage (with a bagpiper) to the main square, looking up at the Cathedral and it’s (roughly) two floors of steps up to the entrance. It’s a pretty amazing moment, and difficult to describe. I was feeling excited and I wanted to run up the stairs. It turns out that the main door at the top of the stairs was closed due to a restoration project, but I decided to run up anyway.

[Elizabeth’s note: Entering Santiago today for the second time was understandably much less emotional for me than it was my first time.  I attribute this to the fact that I knew exactly what to expect, I am not in the same physical pain that I was on my first Camino (other than sore feet and a sore rib from coughing, I feel pretty good), and I know that I still have four more days of walking ahead of me so this isn’t the end of the journey.  Still, I’m proud of having walked all the way from France to get here!]

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We went to the “11:00 a.m. mass” which it turns out didn’t exist. So we waited — meaning we had really fantastic seats for the noon pilgrim mass. It was in Spanish and Latin, so we didn’t understand much except that they announced the countries from which pilgrims finished the Camino yesterday and that you had to be Catholic to take communion. And then, unfortunately, they did not swing the giant incense burner (known as the Botafumeira).  That was a bit of a disappointment, since it’s supposed to be a highlight of finishing the Camino.  We understand that the Cathedral only does it one time per week for free, but that often groups pay the 300€ fee to have it done during other masses.  Luckily, the free Botafumeira mass was later this evening. Since Elizabeth had seen the Botafumeira a few times on her first Camino (her video of it swinging is here), I planned to go back alone for the 7:30pm mass.

We spent the afternoon visiting the pilgrim’s museum and standing in line to get our official Compostela. We also got a fun, optional certificate that attests that we walked 775km to get to Santiago!  When I returned to the Cathedral for the 7:30pm mass, I found that it was even more popular than the noon pilgrim’s mass and  I could not find a seat. But I did run into the same group of Australians and Americans that we’d run into earlier in the morning.  Watching the Botafumeira swinging was amazing — it ended up swinging much higher than I had expected.

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It was hard to get much of a picture from inside the Cathedral, in part because the gold altarpiece shown so brightly.  At the center of the alter is a statute of Saint James (whom the city and Camino are named after).  Pilgrims and visitors can approach the statue from behind to wrap their arms around Saint James’ shoulders.  Quite a weird sight during mass.

We then left for dinner, where I enjoyed octopus, beer, and the beginning of the European Soccer tournament (France beat Romania 2-1). The proprietor of the bar where we ate was an older man who turned out to be tons of fun (and kept insisting that we drink and eat more).  Unfortunately, we knew that despite having reaching Santiago, tonight could not be a party night…

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