After “the incident” [pervert] during my first week of the Camino, I decided to finish the last 100km of the Camino Frances (the route that heads across northern Spain). It’s way more crowded = safer. But the universe had other plans. When I tried to leave Madrid on 10 July, all the trains to Sarria were full (by 1pm!). Then when I managed to get a ticket on 11 July, I failed to disembark at Ourense and switch trains; by the time I realized the mistake I was less than 1 hour from Vigo, on the western Coast of Spain. Vigo happens to be on the Camino Portuguese coastal route; rather than drive myself crazy trying to get to Sarria that same day (at who knows what cost), and because I did not want to lose another day, I decided to accept this as a sign and resume my Camino from Vigo.
Day 1 (11 July): Train from Madrid to Vigo. Despite this not being a trekking day, I walked at least 6km in Vigo. What a lovely city on Spain’s coast. I didn’t realize how much I missed the ocean until I heard waves and smelled salt water. Since I had the time, I bought a ticket (only 4.40€ round trip!) on one of the large ferry boats and spent a few hours enjoying the coast and view from Cangas. I spent the night at The Kaps Hostel. If I have learned one thing from my travels so far: people abroad love California. Especially Los Angeles. When you say you’re from there (I always caveat “where I lived for the past year”) door open. The person checking me in at the hotel happened to be named Angel, so told me he was going to give “his good friend Annise” a very good room. And he sure did! For 21€ I had a bed in a room with only 4 beds and a private bathroom, and they never put anyone else in my room! So private room for the night. They had A/C and it was super clean, plus comfy mattresses (woot!), so apart from the nasty spider bite I got (hey, you can’t protect against all insects) it was a pretty amazing stay!
Day 2: Vigo to Arcade (21.2km). The walk today was lovely. From Vigo to Redondela (almost 15km) it was all paved roads, but most of the way I had ocean views. And for a significant part I was trekking through a forest; I saw fewer cars today than I have any other day of my Camino. So a very peaceful walk. I have developed a bit of a routine: get in about 2 hours walking before I stop for coffee and breakfast (when I have planned ahead, this is just an apple), and to take off my socks and shoes and let me feet breathe. Also, it’s a great idea to change socks! Today, had to put in about 3 hours before I reached a place to stop. I had a wonderful break and coffee in Redondela (Ummmm, hello! Free churros and pastries with my 1.10€ coffee?!) but I decided not to stay and instead continue another 6 or so kilometers to Arcade, and so glad I did!
Arcade is a lovely town on the water, and I met an adorable couple from Germany today: Jessy & Frederik. We crossed paths just before getting to Arcade, but only properly met as we all walked into the hostel at the same time. We stayed at the Alburgue Lameiriñas, which has 26 beds but was less than half full for the night. And nobody snored!! (It’s a Christmas miracle in July!!) The alburgue was super clean, had a huge kitchen and nice outdoor patio, with plenty of space to dry your clothes. Pretty much everything you want in an alburgue (other than A/C… it is so hard for me to fall asleep whe I am hot and sticky). Oh, but did I mention it cost only 12€ for the night?! Woo hoo!
Jessy mentioned that she was told Arcade had a reputation for having some of the best (and most affordable) seafood in Spain. Upon hearing this I had to check it out and she was so right! This small little coastal town has an extraordinary reputation for seafood! So I decided to cheat and enjoy it. I mean, I almost bought oysters at the market in Madrid (because they looked so good) at 3.50€ EACH and our DOZEN cost 4.50€!! They were so fresh it was like tasting the sea- only lemon juice needed. And I had the most perfectly grilled, light and flaky sole fish, served with a salad and a couple of potatoes. And I *had* to try a bit of Jessy and Frederik’s pulpo (octopus, prepared traditional Spanish style with paprika) and it almost melted in your mouth. Such a great to leave a restaurant in Spain satisfied after a light and healthy dinner (a real rarity!). Jessy and I had a late night girl chat and I learned what a strong, amazing woman she is. This girl has battled her demons and is thriving and trying to make the world a better place. She is the type of person whose energy is so sweet and whose soul just shines, and I am better for knowing her. Frederik has a more calm, but equally strong energy. They both know how to persevere and are beautiful examples of how wonderful people are. I feel so blessed our paths crossed on this journey!
Day 3: Arcade to Pontevedra (~13km). Jessy and Frederick let me tag along with them for the walk this morning, and what a beautiful hike it was. I decided to take my time getting to Santiago so today’s hike was very short, only just a bit over 2 hours walking. During the walk I realized how much the Camino can be like life, especially when it gets tough. Some days outright suck and hurt (physically, mentally, and even spiritually) and make you question everything. Sometimes you even want to quit. It took me a tremendous amount of self-cheerleading to get back on the Camino after what happened the second day, and then the pain of walking about 130-140km on a huge and persistent blister that had most of my right foot aching. (At the end of the day, it was the sheer guilt of my parents’ spending $100 to overnight my boots to Vinny before he flew to Nashville that made me think: I have these damn boots, so I have to walk.) But whatever reason or justification is necessary, all I had to do was change my mind and decide: this is it, this is what I’m doing. And just put one foot in front of the other. And that’s how I get to my destination each day: one step at a time. There is no magic or secret to it; sometimes all you can do is focus on the next step (and if you’re like me, the coffee or food that awaits you at the next town if you just get there). Just like life, right? Sometimes all any of us can do is put one foot in front of the other, trusting that we will get to our destination, even if that path presents many challenges. But if we keep our head up and heart open, angels will cross your path and help lift you up. I’ve had many of them on my journey already; Jessy and Frederik are the two most recent ones. Enough pontificating!
Today’s Walk was beautiful and quite the contrast from yesterday! We spent almost the entire Way walking on dirt or rock paths through forests and farms; very little time on roads. And again, almost no traffic! The last two days have been the most peaceful I’ve experienced along the Camino. When we made it to Pontevedra, Jessy grabbed a coffee with me before she and Frederik continued to their next destination, and I checked myself into the cutest Airbnb in Pontevedra. (The albergue located in the Old Town/City Center was full and as much as I love meeting other pilgrims and making new friends, after not sleeping well last night, having a quiet sleep in a private room (even without A/C) for only $36/night won.) While I may be funemployed, I am no longer a broke student who has to select the cheapest possible accommodation every night, which is a blessing. Plus, the location of this apartment permitted me to spend a few hours comfortably strolling around the city and with close proximity to a grocery store. What more could I want?!
Pontevedra is a lovely Spanish town full of charm and history, and even some great vegan food options at select restaurants! I love that the Camino continues to introduce me to parts of Spain I likely never would have traveled to.
Day 4: Pontevedra to Tivó (18.3km)
I headed out around 7am and the streets of Pontevedra were empty except for Peregrinos and guys who were still out (and drunk) from Friday night. Much of today’s walk was along paved roads, though there was a good bit through some forests and along farms. And I must be getting back into wine country because I passed more vineyards than I have since Portugal. Highlight of the day was meeting more lovely people. And I saw more people today than any prior day of the Camino! The closer we get to Santiago, the thicker the crowds. It’s wonderful. I had the good fortune of meeting Nancy and Gale, fabulous ladies from Washington and Oregon. They joined me for a coffee at a lovely cafe (my first and only stop for the day, prior to arriving at my alburgue), and I was lucky enough to finish the day walking with them. Such a joy learning about other people, their families, and what brought them to the Camino. For tonight’s stay I opted to skip the larger, more popular nearby town of Caldas deReis and stay in Tivó. My albergue, Catro Caños, is amazing! They have a pool (!!), a lovely garden, and a great kitchen with some of the best salads I’ve had in Spain (no meat and more veggies than just lettuce, tomato, onion). Here I also met Julieta (from Argentina & Hungary); we are sharing a room with a very sweet grandmother and her 16yo grandson from Hamburg, Germany (sadly, I didn’t get a photo of them).
Day 5: Tivó to Herbón (~22km)
The life/people I left behind “forced” some unexpected changes on me yesterday, which motivated me to walk quite a bit farther, and MUCH faster, than I had originally planned on this day. (Good to have more time for reflection, and to wear myself out. My Camino version of a hard gym workout to deal with stress in a healthy way.) Rather than taking three more days to Santiago, I decided to combine two very short days into one on day 5. Also, when you get used to walking 20-30km/day, and 12km is just the point to stop for breakfast, it feels strange to be done for the day at that point. I also decided to skip the main city (Padrón) and stay for the evening in the Monastery in Herbón. I had a lot of time to clear my head while walking, but can always use a bit of divine help! The walk was a mix of paved roads and forest, and very lovely overall. Because I arrived to the Monastery (formerly, now, a Convent) in Herbon 6 hours before it opened (I was the first peregrino of the day to arrive!), I headed up to the nearest bar and cafe to have brunch and of course some wine to pass the time. I also enjoyed the company of two lovely ladies from Germany who arrived to the Convent only 10 or so minutes after me, and joined me for the cafe. We received a lovely tour of the Convent, and for those who wanted we went to mass at 8pm and received a special blessing from the priest (and a special certificate). Then there was a communal dinner. And if I didn’t rise and begin walking so early (and prefer to have breakfast after 2-3 hours of walking), I would also receive breakfast. All for donation only! No cost for any of this! This is the first Convent-Alburgue I’ve stayed in and such a communal experience feels very appropriate for my last night on the Camino. I’m also certain my back will be glad it’s my last night on the Camino, the “free” bed has a mattress that may require spine surgery tomorrow 😂
Day 6: Herbón to Santiago de Compostela (~28km)
The alburgue at the Convent also provides a free, community breakfast, but not until 8am. I’ve gotten so used to waking up and walking early, and not eating until I’be put in at least 2 hours of walking, so I headed out at 6:30am with my headlamp. Almost all of the walk was through villages (suburbs), though there were a few bits in nature. I continued to bark at a good pace, but not quite as crazy fast as yesterday. Because it was my last day of hiking, I gave myself two coffee stops! For the first half of the walk I didn’t come across many people, but kept crossing paths with one person- Clemens from Germany. But in the last few kilometers I met BJ and Hunter, handsome brothers from Kansas City! Very few Americans on the Camino Portuguese, and these are the first from MO! The three of us, and Clemens, ended up walking the last bit together and then spending much of the day together in Santiago. Along with Esther, from Amsterdam. And I even got to see Jessy and Frederik again!! What a wonderful way to end this journey. Santiago is a great city; no shortage of great restaurants (lots of vegetarian options- specific recommendations below), so much live music in the plazas and bars, and plenty of bars with character to pass the time. The Cathedral is every bit as impressive as I imagined, both from the outside and during mass inside, during day and especially at night.
Restaurants and bars I loved: (1) Food @ Old Skull Tacos (see below for more on this place), Hotel Costa Vella, and Damajuanas; and (2) Bars @ A Gramola and O’Filandon.
Some of my favorite live music performances from bars the past couple of nights (including live shots of “my” Santiago crew)…
Post-Camino Trip to Finisterre “The End of the World” & TreatYoSelf Final Day in Santiago
I didn’t have the time to hike the extra 3-4 days to Finisterre, but I did want to see the Coast, so I hopped onto a bus and made the 2.5 hour trip, which was much nicer than arriving hot, sweaty, and tired! Monbus, which goes from Santiago’s main train station, costs only 9.85€ each way and is a great way to get to the Coast. I had big plans of spending the day on the beach and in the water, but it was cloudy and I don’t think temperatures ever got above 65° so I spent the day just walking around and enjoying the coast instead. I also reconnected with Trevor and his dad (ha!) Brett, and met a fabulous teacher from Boston, Colleen. I love how it only takes a matter of hours for new, true friendships to develop on the Camino. I visited the lighthouse, snapped a photo of mile marker 0.00 and attempted to watch the sun set from the cliffs (unfortunately, cloudy weather obstructed that).
For my last day in Santiago… treat yourself in full effect. Here’s my “how-to” guide: (1) book yourself a room in luxury accommodations (whatever lux is to you!). For me it was the Parador (if you’ve seen The Way, that’s the same hotel chain). I do believe this is the first five star hotel I’ve ever stayed in. (2) Find sunshine and an outdoor table, get a glass of wine, and a good meal. Because I knew what awesome vegetarian and vegan options Old Skull Taco has, I headed back there. Also wanted another taste of their AWESOME habanero pepper salsa (BJ also approved). If you like spice, this is the best! But plenty of salsa options that are much less hot (and one salsa more hot… the habanero was enough to set my mouth on fire so I wasn’t brave enough to try it). (3) Find the Convent rumored to make THE best Tarta de Santiago (traditional cake from the region) and buy one. This site < https://www.pousadasdecompostela.com/blog/reposteria-en-los-conventos-de-santiago-de-compostela > has directions for where to find the Convent (scroll down to “Las Benedictinas de Santiago”). (4) Find awesome street music, have a seat, and relax. These ladies were spectacular (see video below) so if anyone in this part of Spain needs music, they are available for performances (FB @ GrupoMusicalArcos and firstname.lastname@example.org). And (5) Revisit the Cathedral, because it’s far too impressive to take everything in on one visit.
When Trevor and I arrived back in Madrid, we had dinner at a little spot I stopped at prior to re-starting my Camino. At that time, it was for a glass of rose and wifi. The service impressed this time just as much, and the food was GREAT. If you ever find yourself near Plaza del Castillo (or Chamartin train station) I highly recommend a trip to Machico (they are super happy to accommodate vegetarians by tweaking the menu if you don’t see anything you want). Oh, and because I love street art so much, this gorgeous mural near the train station. Hasta Luego Spain! France, I’m coming for ya!