It Ain’t over, ‘Til it’s Over…(Lenny Kravitz, 1991).

Day 21- Vilanova de Arousa to Santiago de Compostella – boat ride- 28km- walked- 27.6km.

And it’s over.

It has been a big day but we finally made it to Santiago and we have the compostela to prove it. Although I’m not sure which one is mine.

The day began over fifty kilometres away, when we boarded the boat at 8am under the light of the full moon at Vilanova de Arousa. This was the last stage of the three day Spiritual Varient, and the most important as it was believed we were following in the same journey that was bestowed on the body of St James before being laid to rest in Santiago de Compestella. Fourteen other pilgrims rugged up for the journey in the small inflatable that took ninety minutes. It was a fresh 11°C but by journeys end, we were all pretty much walking icicles.

Captain Santiago (no relation) escorted the boat out of the harbour then with daylight almost breaking, we watched the local fisherman trawling for mussels and clams in the Arousa estuary. This is one of the most important fish farming areas in Galicia with the production of mussels being second in the world after Canada.

Then we continued up the Rio Ulla until we reached Pontecesures, two kilometres from Padron and back on the Portuguese Camino. Along the river route we admired a series of ancient crosses used as spiritual guides for many years. At one of these landmarks, Captain Santiago handed out plastic cups of hot tea. This went down very well as we were all freezing under our layers of coats and wet weather gear. Michael was a bit worse off as he had shorts on. His legs were almost blue. It was 9.30am before we disembarked and ran to the nearest bar to defrost with a hot cup of cafe con leche.

We had initially decided to walk to an Albergue in Teo (13km from Santiago) and stay the night, but after our early pilgrims lunch at a cafe around half way, we felt revitalized and continued on. We knew that we couldn’t book into our accommodation in Santiago (Hostel Costa Azul) until 4pm. We estimated that we’d get to the Cathedral by 5.30pm, which was pretty much spot on.

So this was our last days walk of the Portuguese Camino. There was some scary stretches walking beside the highway but about a third of the way was through woodland paths. These are my favorite parts. We even saw the four teenage German girls that we had seen and spoken to way back in Rates. We spent the afternoon going back and forth with them. Whenever we had a toilet or drink break, they would move ahead of us, and vice versa. We ended up getting to the Praza do Obradoiro before them, and ironically they were ahead of us in the line at the Pilgrims Office for the Compostela.

Santiago remains the same. Pilgrims everywhere limping around with smiles on their faces. Plenty of tourist shops selling pretty much the same thing to pilgrims that can now add weight to their bags. The best difference that I noticed straight away was the lack of scaffolding in front of the Cathedral. This is the first time that I have seen this beautiful building in its entirety. And it truly is a gorgeous sight.

So that’s it folks for another Camino. Thankyou for all your encouragement and enthusiasm for our journey. We had toyed with the idea of walking the English Camino from A Coruna to Santiago beginning on Monday, but the forecast is for rain all next week. Never say never though…

My traditional Chocolate con Churros after the end of a Camino.

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Sittin’ on the dock of the bay…(Otis Redding, 1967).

Day 20- Armentiera to Vilanova de Arousa- walked 24.6km.

By 6.30am the rustling begins. By 7.30am I can’t resist anymore and climb out of my cocoon of a bed sheet .We all spend the next hour sitting in the dining room waiting for the night to break into day. Michael and I decide not to ask how much the other has slept. Him in the top bunk and under the bright green glow of the exit sign all night and me wrestling a pillow the thickness of a slice of cheese.Finally we can wait no longer and head out the door at 8.30am with it just bright enough to see our way.

The first twelve kilometres follows the Ruta da Pedra e da Agua (The Route of Stone and Water). We walked beside rivers and streams that had old water mills that in days gone by would ground the corn into maize. As per the notice boards, there were 33 of these abandoned muińo’s. This stretch is also the longest continuous pathway on any Camino and it was a delight to walk.

We all stopped and had a late breakfast by the riverbank at a makeshift cafe run by a very busy but really accommodating lady. She opened new jars of all flavours of jam for our toast. The coffee was delicious as well.

The riverside walk ended at Pontearnelas as we weaved our way through the backstreets of this little town. By now it was 1pm and even though it was only 23 degrees, we were feeling the heat of the pavement. The only climb of the day was through a forest and then another vineyard before glimpsing the sea from the other side.

We were going back and forth with the Irish couple, Collette and James, who are much faster walkers than us but stop frequently. With 5km to go and nearing the beach, Michael and I needed to have a cold drink at the first bar open at a crossroad stop. The Irish went ahead and by the time we saw them again, the were swimming in the sea.

The last two kilometres is beside the beach at Praia Terrőn before rounding the corner to the pedestrian bridge to Vilanova de Arousa. The Albergue is still a few hundred metres around the quay and is situated on the first floor above the town sports centre. We can here the piped Aerobics music thumping through the floorboards.

Tomorrow we will be travelling by boat up to Pontecesures, a few kilometres from Padron, where we will rejoin the Portuguese Camino. This is a very special route as it is the only maritime Via Crucis in the world. It is believed that in 44AD, this is the way the body of St James was carried up to Padron and eventually to Santiago de Compestella. It is also tide dependent as the estuary is very shallow. We have a 8am departure time. I hope we will be able to see some of the seventeen crosses that will guide our way.

Rocky Mountain High…(John Denver, 1972).

Day 19- Pontevedra to Armentiera- the Variants Espiritual – walked 21.4km.

We didn’t think it was ever going to happen to us. But hold your hats everyone (especially you Elizabeth). We woke up at 8am this morning and didn’t leave until after we had our cafe con leche, OJ and croissant. So it was 9am when we followed the yellow arrows across the river and out of Pontevedra.

There were so many pilgrims on the path. More than we had seen on this whole trip. We walked and talked beside a group of thirteen ladies from South Africa. The leader had invited twelve of her dearest girl friends to come and walk from Tui to Santiago as a celebration of her 60th birthday. They were staying in hotels and getting their bags forwarded on from town to town. It wasn’t long before we had to farewell them as they travelled on the Portuguese Camino and we turned left at the Spiritual Varient.

Our Camino friends Denis and Fran had told us about this detour to Santiago. It takes three days of walking but the last day includes a boat ride up to Padron, where we will rejoin the Portuguese way for the last stage into Santiago. The weather is just too spectacular to miss the opportunity to walk this way.

The Monastery at Poio. Our first stamp.of the day.

After leaving the throngs of pilgrims walking to Caldas de Reis, we felt that we may have been alone again for this detour. It wasn’t long before we passed six Spanish friends (three couples), and two Irish couples who hadn’t met each other before. One couple (he is Irish and she is French with an Irish accent), we had followed this pair yesterday for a short while. On our first cafe stop, she asked me if I had booked the boat ride for Thursday yet. When I said that I hadn’t, she gave me the phone number to make the booking.

At the beach at Combarro.

Today’s stage included an arduous climb from sea level at Combarro, to 460m high over Monte Redondo. At first we wound our way up the steep back alleys of this small seaside town. Then there was a long stretch on the road up to a magnificent lookout, Miradouro do Loureiro, before heading into the woodland forest to the ascent that just wouldn’t come. Everytime we thought we had reached the top, we would turn another corner and go further up. Of course all good things must come to an end (phew) and finally we started heading down the hill, popping out between the Monastery of Santa Maria da Armentiera and a Bar. The bar won in that directional pull.

I think there are 13 pilgrims staying the night in this Albergue (built in 2017) which is still high on the hill. There is not much else here but peace, serenity and fresh mountain air. The washing is done. The clothes are doing their best to dry in the cool sunshine. Tomorrow we head down to the Coast and closer to Santiago.

Let the River Run…(Carly Simon, 1989).

Day 18- Redondela to Pontevedra- walked 22km.

When you opt for the green route, you see a lot of green.

We are not learning.

Another early (and dark) start as we left the Albergue in Redondela looking for coffee. Not a cafe was open on our route, so we headed out of town seeking the arrows by the streetlights. It was pretty easy really until we came to the forest and the mini torch was invaluable again. We passed another pilgrim with his headlamp focused on his bag as he took off a layer of clothing to compensate for the steepness of the climb. By the time we summited, it was light enough to see the way without the torch. Then we could also view the lights of the surrounding villages dotted around the Vigo Inlet.

We descended into a rather tricky and dangerous section before the town of Arcade where we had to walk beside a busy highway for 700mts. I was very pleased when that was completed. Then like caffeine seeking zombies we sniffed out the first brew just one block off the way. The waymarked path likes to bypass busy towns by making the route one block or so from the main streets. But this is where the cafes usually are. So we often stray from the path when needed.

After a late breakfast, we walked over the narrow bridge out of town and up to our second climb of the day. We began to see a few more pilgrims which I presumed had started their day from Arcade. A group of us jostled back and forth as we each had a-la natural toilet stops and water breaks going up another steep climb.

Just before Pontevedra, there was a choice of the main way through an industrial estate to get into town, or a one kilometre longer green section that was amusingly signed as Complimentario. The book calls it the Senda Fluvial rio dos Gafos and directs the reader to “just follow the river”. Luckily someone has gone through and painted yellow arrows on trees to mark the way. By the time we snaked and weaved alongside the river, we realized that no one else was following us. It was a shame as it is a truly magical walk.

We popped out just before the first Albergue into town which was still a whopping 1.5km away from its centre. We had read about this last night and decided that this would be the perfect town for another Hotel splurge. Great decision as the walk from the Albergue to the city centre was horrible. There is so much construction happening that I was almost planning on walking a little further but then we arrived in the medieval quarter at the Praza de la Perigrina. It is beautiful here.

This ancient Galician medieval city is made for strolling. After a shower and the obligatory clothes washing, we joined the crowds just milling around alleyways and squares strewn with people enjoying the brilliant weather. We wandered down to the start of tomorrow’s exit from the town, as we cross a bridge over the Rio Lérez, and head further north. But today, we sit and sip, as we wait for the clothes to dry.

Yes that is our room up there with the washing out.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon…(The Small Faces, 1968).

Day 17- Porrińo to Redondela- walked 16.1km.

Well it is Sunday. A day of rest…nearly.

The waymarker in Mos says that we are 93km from Santiago.

The time change has made sunrise move to 8.40am. For those of us affected with the condition of primordial wakefulness or “rising at a sparrows fart”, this is a bit disconcerting. We are doing our best trying to leave at daybreak, a time just before the street lights go out but still able to see without torchlight. However we wake raring to move and continue on the way.

Today we woke and made the great decision of having a coffee in the cafe just around the corner of the albergue. We had planned to stop at the cafe in Mos, 5.7km down the road but a perfect distance for a first rest stop. Lucky for us that we had already had our caffeine hit as the only thing opened in Mos was the church. Not much is opened on Sundays in Spain, especially in the country.

Mos

The route today included a challenging climb up and a very steep descent. As it stayed overcast for most of the morning, the climb up through a combination of quiet county roads and pine forests wasn’t too hard. We stopped near the top at a cafe called Choles (very close to Chloe), and had a drink. The owner also gave us a plate of delectable tuna empanadas as he thought we needed strength to tackle the climb down the hill. He was right. There was a section that was scarily steep. I would hate to drive up or down that section.

Starting the descent. Redondela ahead.

Then it was just another hour of road walking before arriving into the centre of Redondela (pop 130,000). We sat down for another drink and whilst contemplating whether to stay or continue on, it started to gently rain. The Gods had spoken and so we stayed.

For 6 euros each we are staying at Casa da Torre, a converted 16th century manor tower house near the centre of town. We have gone for a walk around a very sleep town with not much open and not much to see. So we are doing what the locals do and resting.

Time after Time…(Cyndi Lauper, 1983).

Day 17- Fontoura to Porrińo- walked 30.9km.

I want to backtrack for a moment.

Last night we stayed in the fantastic Albergue Pilger Pause. Verena, the owner, went out of her way to make us feel welcome. She has an arrangement with the local restaurant 1.5km away, where she texts the order and they deliver for free. She use to cook a donativo menu but it was becoming to expensive. Unfortunately we had run out of cash and the closest cash machine was 10km away. So Verena paid for our meal and we made arrangements to drop the money in her car this morning after “robbing the bank”. She said that this has happened many times to other pilgrims (due to the lack of cash machines around) and she completely trusted us. When we dropped the 20 euro through the slightly opened car window, I sent her a text showing that we had done it. Not long later, we heard an ahoy from behind us. There was Varena running up to give us a big hug and a final farewell. Another Angel of the Camino.

About last night. Well this morning really. It was a treat having the Albergue to ourselves overnight. We woke up refreshed and got fully dressed before I looked at my watch the second time, this time with my glasses on, and realized that it was only 3.50am. When I first woke up I had thought the time said 7.20am, hence when I walked out to leave and saw all the stars twinkling down on us, I new something didn’t add up. Luckily we had emptied our bladders as we couldn’t stop laughing at the situation.

We woke the second time at 7.15 and were on the road by 7.45am (we had already packed earlier). It was another beautiful day as we walked the 10km, mostly downhill, to Valença and stopped at the first cash machine. We decided to have our first cafe break within the walled fortress of Fortaleza. This fortress stands guard on the Portuguese side of the Rio Minho. Due to some road works in this old fort, we got a bit lost and ended up walking outside the wall but still in the fort. It is here we were surprised to see a snake on the path.

When we found the correct Portas da Gaviarra, a little used side exit leading to the steps near the International Bridge, we were a little sad to farewell Portugal. It is a wonderful country. The people have been lovely, although they look at you suspiciously until you say Bom Diaz, then it’s a smile and a Bom Viagem or Bom Caminho. They are also a hard working lot, out tending their fields or farms in all weathers. It was nice to see so much of the country walking through it. Then we crossed the bridge to Spain.

Tui is the first city that greets you in Spain. After paying our debt to Varena via the rowing club, we walked up to the Cathedral and got our first Spanish stamp (sello). As Spain is also one hour ahead of Portugal, I put my watch forward to 11.30am whilst we had our first cafe con leche and planned the day ahead. We had read that the waymarked route out of this medieval town conveniently passes a lot of historical monuments. So we decided to slowly continue on our way and see how far our legs would take us.

The day was again glorious. You have to remember that we are now in Galicia, a region that is notorious for their high rainfall. So we are going forward whilst the weather is so good. Much of the todays path was on tree lined country lanes. There were also a few more idyllic roman bridges to cross as we spent a bit of time beside rivers and creeks.

As it was a Saturday, the Spanish are out enjoying their weekend. We were passed by a few guys on motocross bikes whizzing around the dirt paths. We even passed a motorcycle track where kids as young as four years old where riding at breakneck speeds around the track.

Then there are all the old men playing a version of Gaelic cards in teams at the bars. All enjoying themselves and oblivious to the pilgrims coming in for a beer or a toilet break.

By 5pm we were on our last leg (literally) as we walked the 2.3km along the river path, kicking our way through the fallen autumn leaves. Locals were out jogging or just taking in the last of the sunshine as they sat on the park benches and watched the colourful ducks swim by. A perfect last section before turning into the town and finding a place to sleep. The first Albergue had a sign saying that it was full. A little panic set in. Luckily the next one, Albergue Sendasur, had room for us. They also had an open box of chocolates at the reception desk for anyone to have. I had at least five. I’d earned them.

River deep Mountain high…(Tina Turner, 1988).

Day 16- Ponte de Lima to Fontoura- walked 26.4km

We had one of those days where we probably bit off more than we could chew.

After a good nights sleep for both of us, we were awake and raring to go by 6.45am. It was still dark but manageable with the street lights until dawn finally arrived. We wandered over the medieval stone bridge (rebuilt in 1368) atop of the Lima River and proceeded to walk down country lanes flanked by vineyards for the next few kilometres.

St James watching us as we cross the bridge at Ponte de Lima.

Our first cafe break was actually at a trout farm at the Labruja River. Cafe Pescaria opens for pilgrim passersby but is more of a fish farm where you can catch and cook your evening meal.

Not long after this, we caught up to our German friends Josef and Hannah. We walked together for a kilometre or so before leaving them at the next cafe. This was the last cafe before the start of a descent hill climb, so there were quite a few walkers and cyclists carb loading on toast and croissants. Not us. We had our banana and coffee and were ready to tackle this monster of a climb. We also thought that all the Germans would eventually pass us. They never did.

The beautiful Hannah and Josef.

I may be slow and steady on the flat terrain but I’m a veritable mountain goat going up hills. I even passed the cyclists. Go figure. Those poor guys had to carry their bikes up the rocky parts. Michael even kept on stopping me from taking his photo because he looked close to death most of the time. I put my head down and kept the sticks chugging along. I was euphoric when I reached the summit and checked out the view.

Joining us at the top and staying with us for another hour on the way down was John, a 65yr old Portuguese man who has walked this Camino over twenty times. I had asked him about the bags attached to the base of the pine trees. I innocently touched the sap and that’s when he told me it was glue. So John probably thought it best to make sure the silly Aussie with her fingers stuck together, got down the mountain safely. On the way, he gave me some great information of the walk to come. He stopped and explained the Moinhos, the ancient mills used to grind maize to make flour and every now and then, he would stop and use his stick to draw maps of Portugal in the dirt, to increase my understanding of his broken English. He was a mine of information and just loved sharing it. I was happy to learn and listen. In the end, we were too slow for him and in a puff of smoke he was gone.

We reached Rubiáes, the town at the end of Brierley’s stage, by noon. Whilst sitting in the cafe opposite the Albergue (admiring the use of shoes for plants), we discussed the possibility of continuing on. We were both still feeling okay even after the climb. So we set our sights on the reasonably priced Albergue Pilger Pause for tonight’s accommodation.

Leaving Rubiáes, we crossed the Rio Coura on another Roman bridge. I believe the Roman military marched up and down these paths in Portugal, hence all the bridges they made to cross the rivers. Then another small climb till we summited at Sao Bento da Porta Aberta and another cafe stop. We needed the energy for the last downhill section to Fontoura. We could see Valenča in the distance and the end of Portugal for us. Tomorrow we will cross the bridge from Valenča to Tui and head into Spain.

Olé.