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Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 


Filtering by Tag: Cheese

Day 14: Palas de Rei - Arzúa

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

The night before, after some cheesy delicacies, we came back to the albergue where the washing machine, great invention pointed out on day 13, had an unexpected surprise for us. It actually did all except washing... the machine seemed to be broken so we had to charge all our dirty and wet clothes into another one and wait for it to finish.

But, you usually don't expect two machines to be broken at once, right? Well, apparently yes, and after a long 2h wait, the second washing ended as bad as the first. With Morpheus calling us to sleep, Maitane and I dried the clothes as much as we could and left them hanging in the cold night... Waking up, to our before last day on the Camino, Palas del Rei was going to be remembered as the place where we spent two hours drying our clothes with hair driers.

Fifteenth recommendation for the Camino: if you're a male pilgrim with short hair, join some female pilgrims, chances are you might need their hair drier at some point.

Fifteenth recommendation for the Camino, BIS: if you're a female bike pilgrim and don't know how to repair a punctured wheel, join some male bike pilgrims, chances are at least one can help you out.

My best Camino stamps!

With the clothes a little less wet... we did however go for our breakfast with not one, but two cappuccinos, my attempt was to try to out balance our wet apparel... and no, that didn't really work out. Although we left the albergue together, I suddenly decided to head back to the town's church, where I had met friar Jesús the day before to get my Camino stamps. They are actually some of the nicest ones of my Camino Credential (see them on my final Camino day). My sudden turn back, was probably motivated by the fear of not reaching the photo-interview objectives I had put myself. Therefore, I did him the interview which turned out to be one of my longest ones, not only because of Jesús' very positive energy, but also because of the many pilgrims that where coming for their stamps... this fact wasn't annoying at all, it even brought great unexpected moments and made me see another side of the Camino, the more spiritual, one of the people who make it possible; my time there was worth every minute.

The famous "Pulpo á feira"!

Reaching almost lunch time... yes, you've read right, it was 12:30, lunch time for most European countries, when I was going to start my day. To my surprise, Andrew had decided to wait me out, so we left together towards Melide. We went with the intention to have the famous Octopus dishes for which it is known. Some say that the best one is Pulperia Ezequiel other say it's A Garnacha... So how to decide when two options seem so seamlessly good... well, we were bike pilgrims, we only rode 1h30 on that day, we like beer, and we don't drink just one: so we had "Pulpo á feira" in both places (this is the Spanish name for yet another gastronomic delicacy, which some funnily and inaccurately translate into "Octopus to the party"; find more info here).

All topped up, Andrew and I took our beloved bikes and while still in Melide, it turned out to be one very social place to be. We had a chitchat with Raquel and Macarena, fellow pilgrims, at one of the "Pulpo" places, afterwards we found some Californian girls, Stephanie, Emilie and Sabra, pilgrims too. So the idea of staying was developing in our heads, after just 10 km on our counter this day, yes 10... I even found Alfred! Yeah, Alfred, the German I met on my second Camino day in Villanova, I couldn't believe my eyes! Obviously, he did take some shortcut, but that didn't make it less of a happy moment of finding a walking pilgrim friend, specially when I wasn't expecting to see him on the Camino again.

Deep Galician forest

As tempting as the situation was turning out to be, our bikers' guilt made us finally head out and some more unique and special moments were about to happen. We first stopped in the next bar we found, no, we didn't plan a bar crawl. We actually had committed to get ourselves some drinks once we'd reach the next bar on our way with the very funny Raquel and Macarena. Without excess, drinking a little on the Camino helped them to lessen their feet pain, which already forced many walking pilgrims to stop and give up on the Camino (check out Spain's tourism board recommendations here, if you intend to do your Camino walking, biking or on a horse).

After this nice encounter, we went on and stopped at a Church where it's inside baffled us with the enormous number of saints cards that were hanging there, if you pass by Boente, between Melide and Arzúa, get inside, you won't get just a stamp. Even if you're not religious type, it's worthy to see this religious perspective of the Camino made up by the most devoted pilgrims, instead of the usual cathedrals, churches, crosses, statues, etc. It was also where we met Marina, Laura, Irene, Rubén and others, a very happy and funny bunch of Spanish pilgrims from mainly Southern Spain. They were at least ten and they had just recently met on the Camino, their happiness and energy were really contagious. Again, the bikers' guilt was doing us very good.

The amazing display of Saints Cards

More good was about to come, the ride down to Ribadisio was one of our most funny and beautiful ones, where we didn't stop to laugh and smile from ear to ear. It was going to precede a moment where we were about to save a life... yes, we were about to become heroes!

Away from any highway, roads or civilisation, in the midst of the deep forest and with night's darkness around the corner, we spotted a helpless and lost living creature... we found one very dazzled...Cow! One of the most common animals in my home region Galicia, giver of milk and the delicious cheeses. This one was out alone and lost its herd. We then tried to prevent the owner some further kms away, but she couldn't go back since she was herding the rest of the cows, so that's when Andrew and I decided to go back to rescue Pitusa (this name is totally fictional and any coincidence with reality is unintended). So, in a pure pilgrim style, Andrew and I became the Camino Cowboys. As a team of two tenacious riders, the mission was going to drag us even deeper into the Galician lands to liberate Pitusa from its trap. Once found, surrounding her on the bumpy grass lands wasn't going to be an easy task, but even with our heavy bikes and carriage, speed and skills made herding a cow possible. Having Andrew cut Pitusa's way, we got her back on track and started to head home. Happily leading her on the right path, the emotional moment when Pitusa recognised her owner was demonstrated with a very very passionate mooing. With everyone happy, we went on satisfied with our good deed.

The Camino Cowboy!

With yet again, another unique moment behind us and having darkness at our heels, we decided to stay in the nearby Arzúa and end this day's adventures. Arzúa is mainly known for its glorious cheese, the one I already told you about on day 10, the famous "Queso de Tetilla". Being almost the cheese capital of Galicia [thanks Pitusa], they organise once per year the Arzúa Cheese Festival, where you have different cheese producers from all parts of the World and also several home made producers. The latter's cheeses are completely home made and so fresh that you have to consume it almost immediately. If you have nostalgia for you're grandma's culinary expertise, then get your cheese from these, mainly, lovely grandmas.

Arzúa cheese!

We didn't have the chance of the festival being held the same time we were there, but coincidence or destiny was striking me again in another way. We entered in an albergue that was actually run by a neighbour from my small home town Negreira, around 100 km away, so of course, there we stayed! We met there also 5 pilgrims from Nebraska with whom we went to find the most Galician pilgrim menu we could. So we did and learned about their story. They were from the same chapel and when their Fr. Nolte told them his intention to do the Camino, they simply joined him on this adventure. We had a lovely time together where I showed them all I could about Galicia and our gastronomy, obviously, being in Arzúa, we had some taste of the glorious "Queso de Tetilla".

So after a rather wet start, some longing, some great gourmet moments and many beautiful encounters, our Camino was gearing towards its end, but not without making more and more unique friends. At the same time, one of the most important aspects of the Camino was starting to become clearer.

Stay tuned for day 15 of my pilgrimage to Santiago, the final one of this amazing adventure.

Day 13: Samos - Palas de Rei

Ivan Blanco

Glorious Cebreiro cheese breakfast!

Español aquí

Day 13 of my Camino de Santiago was on the rise and we had a wonderful breakfast in the same place we had dinner the previous night. As local as it can be, we had the Cebreiro cheese with some honey for breakfast, and again, it simply was glorious (check back on day 12 to know more about this particular Galician cheese).

Fourteenth recommendation for the Camino: every region in Spain has its special products, dishes and customs, give them a try, you won't be disappointed.

To what at this point was almost becoming routine, I was to start my ride late again, but as Gandalf the magician from Lord of the Rings so eloquently said: "A wizard [or bike pilgrim in this case] is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to".


On the road!


This time I went back to the monastery to find a monk whom I could interview for my photo project, that's when I found fray Lorenzo, who at first was surprised and then happily agreed. He even went further by introducing me to a fellow pilgrim, Antonio, who is well known on the whole Camino. He actually lives on it and thanks to people's beautiful generosity and help, he walks it back and forth and was planning to reach Rome very soon... but I won't reveal too much, since the photo project is one that will have its own frame and context.

Before doing these interviews, I saw again Alessandro and Daniela, bike pilgrims I had met some days ago together with another Italian, Alex, the long bearded pilgrim from day 4. Suddenly, while I was interviewing Antonio, I met another bike pilgrim too, Marcos, who asked me if I was a journalist or something. He is a real journalist himself and this wasn't going to be the last time we'll cross each other's paths... keep reading.

Into the Wild

At last, starting to do the thing for which I embarked myself into this adventure, I hit the road of the Camino towards Santiago, but not without a quick stop in Sarria. Since this Camino town has it's own history with me, I couldn't pass by without saying hi to my ex-girlfriend's lovely grandma, who made me many times dinner, hosted me and always had a smile for me. Unfortunately, since I'm a late starter, I missed her while she was shopping in town, I said hi to the dog and cat though, and left a small note.

The Real Camino Milestone... and an example of how you shouldn't ruin historic pieces

Going on with my route, passing over rail tracks, deep forest passage ways and almost reaching the 100 km marker to Santiago, I got reacquainted with some early encounter, I catched up with Marcos, the journalist from that same morning. He started his Camino in Madrid and had a limited number of days to do it. However, he joined me up to Palas del Rei and together we reached that final 100 km mark, but be aware... you might be fooled! There's a Km stone marker which is tricked by some Bart like minded person (check "The Simpsons" for further reference) to look as it were the 100 km before you arrive to the actual one. Therefore, you either wait 1 km to see the real one, or just do like us, a picture with both :)

Colour explosions in one unique sunset

Seeing the sunset almost about to start, a quick call to the rest of the "Ondiñas" team confirmed our day's final destination and the booking for an extra member. When we finally arrived in Palas del Rei, we reunited to be one of the biggest bike pilgrim group in my entire Camino, so many, that we filled up an entire room just with ourselves.

Talking about sunsets, although this little town hadn't much to offer, it gave us one of the best sunsets in all our Camino. The colours and light were simply magnificent and with everyone gazing, the star of the moment (take that as the perfect analogy) was the sun. Palas del Rei also moved me to buy a new T-Shirt to cover my loss in Navarrete on day 5, good thing I did, because I had all my other clothes being cleaned in the washing machine when we went for dinner. But, oh dear, the washing machine... 

Stay tuned to my next day and learn what surprise this wonderful invention was going to give us...

Day 12: Villafranca del Bierzo - Samos

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Leaving the day before with one casual thou glorious pilgrim family dinner, a new day was about to start and new heights were to be conquered!

Cozy albergue dining 

Sleeping in a lovely cozy house, with about other 30 pilgrims per room, it's not rare to be woken up at early hours by some plastic rattling and pilgrims waking up early (check day 3). However, this time a rather uncommon sound woke us up everyone at the same time. Imagine yourself sleeping tenderly among fellow pilgrims, wrapped up in your sleeping bag and all cuddled up when... SUDDENLY, a big BANG wakes you UP! In addition to this, someone cries out anxiously "Oh Dios mio!!!" (=Oh my Gosh!) with a strong English accent. Being the room pitch black, making sure it wasn't me and not hearing anyone complaining any more, in a mix of startled and sleepy situation... I soon went back to dreamland.

With the first sun rays hitting my eyes I finally woke up and we all discovered the night's mystery, there was a person who literally fell down from one of the higher bunk beds, which was what made that big noise. However, the "Oh Dios mio!!!" wasn't the same person, it was someone else bewildered by the banging noise. Mystery still surrounded on who was the person who fell down... that's when an "Ondiñas" member confessed: Carla fell down! Even with a slim body as hers, the bang was an impressive one and although she didn't cry it out, the "Oh Dios mio!!!" jokes didn't stop during the whoooole day :)

After this revelation we soon attacked our breakfast in one of the loveliest albergue dining rooms I've ever seen. The breakfast itself was glorious too, to Andrew's rejoice, they served us bacon and eggs on delicious bread. I also caught up with Fee, the Danish pilgrim from day 11 and I could do another of my famous photo interviews with Blanca, who works at the albergue where we stayed. This made me yet stay behind again, but it wasn't just that, awed by Villafranca's charming beauty, I couldn't leave without a photography moment, check it out below.

The gorgeous Villafranca del Bierzo

Stopping by a small village to quickly sip a coffee, to my surprise the unstoppable Andrew arrived behind me, he got slowed down because he walked with some pilgrims he found on the way. Riding together, he told me a story that happened to him: he was simply riding on the road as usual pilgrims do, with his luggage rack, bike and all when he suddenly sees at some near distance a group of cyclists, quite a bunch of them! When he neared more and more, with his weight and all, he saw it was a cyclists peloton that were taking part at the Cycling World Championship we saw the day before, in Ponferrada. The thing is, he had at some point to overtake these professional guys riding 10.000 € bikes... the funny thing is that the guy in the car told Andrew to "back up, back up", to which he simply answered: "Well, they've got to ride faster then!" Yep, the amazing Mr. Andrew with a heavy trekking bike and loaded, was faster than World cycling champions... what a rider! (we then guessed the team leader didn't probably want to discourage the riders from being overtaken by a heavy loaded bike pilgrim ;) ).

Climb and you'll get rewarded

Thirteenth recommendation of the Camino: follow your way step by step, don't fear the big players, sometimes you even overtake them!

We later entered the beautiful area of "Los Ancares" where Andrew took the lead (try to keep up yourself after the story I just told you). Therefore, I rode mostly alone on the way up to Cebreiro, until I encountered two Basque men doing the Camino on foot, we had a fun chat and I went on for a last push and climb the 1098m heights of the first Galician village. With unplanned perfect timing, I found there the "Ondiñas" team, who had taken the main road vs. the secondary one I did. I actually already knew Pedrafita do Cebreiro quite well, it was one of the places I used to bring friends to visit and specially see the traditional dwellings called Palloza. Besides of this, they also have one exquisite gastronomic delicacy: the "Queixo do Cebreiro" (= Cebreiro cheese, more info here; Spanish only). It's a bit like a ripened soft cheese, that you can almost spread on bread but not as soft as French Camembert or the other Galician cheese "Tetilla" (read more about the "little breast" cheese on my day 10). I then convinced Andrew to stay there a bit longer and visit this small village, it wasn't difficult to do so, he happily agreed by ordering two beers while I got us one piece of this cheese, bread and some delicious home made raisin marmalade; mmmmm delicious!

Delicious Cebreiro cheese and my favourite beer

After yet another gourmet moment, what wrongly looked like a smooth ride down, soon became another steep hill to be conquered. We even adventured ourself to a typical narrow trekking path... which was becoming an impossible task, to such an extend that pilgrims almost overtook us and we nearly fell down twice on that rocky climb. However, this made the arrival to the top even more rewarding, once there, we mingled with three Brazilian pilgrims who were amused by our exhausted faces. Lucky thing too, there was a nearby bar where we had a few well earned beers: cheers to that!

Happy rainy rides!

Fully recharged, we hit the road again to dive into the magnificent landscapes of my beloved home region Galicia; hills, cows, trees, fresh air and unique views were welcoming us to one of the greenest areas of Spain. Of course, in a region that is similar to the French Brittany or Ireland, we couldn't be welcomed without one of its most outstanding elements... the RAIN! This source of life poured on us in its most natural form and in just a few minutes we were completely soaked up, which, contrary to general belief, made us happier and have even more fun on our ride down. 

The "Ondiñas" team in the Samos Monastery

After this fresh downhill, we finally arrived to another unique place: Samos! Its most noteworthy point of interest is the wonderful "Monasterio San Xulian de Samos", a medieval monastery belonging to the order of the Benedictines, dating back to the 6th century with examples of three different architectural styles: late Gothic, the Renaissance and Baroque. Among the likes of the Cathedral of Santiago, Samos is on its own rights one of the most beautiful places of my home region.

The Monastery's Church

When we reached our final destination of the day, Andrew and I had a great welcome from our "Ondiñas" friends that arrived just a few minutes before. Settled down in the nearby albergue, after a quick shower, we went to the Monastery and enjoyed a guided visit of the grounds. In the visiting group there were some people who didn't speak any Spanish, so, since no else offered, I did them the translation into English. Both non-Spanish speakers were really grateful for my assistance and even fray Horacio, who was our tour guide, wanted to recruit me for the congregation. Before leaving, he even told me "Think about it!"... it was a funny anecdote for something I will... not do ;)

The amazingly tasty Zamburiñas

In a whole: good cheese, magnificent green landscapes, rainy rides, one beautiful town, people and our "Zamburiñas" (like small scallops) dinner, made again for another wonderful Camino Day.