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Journal

Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 

 

Filtering by Tag: Cinema

Day 15: Arzúa - Santiago de Compostela

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Like in every good movie and story, the long expected moment, where all the bits and pieces come together for the final wrap of a unique journey, was going to be unfolded on my last Camino day. Day 15 was going to mark the end of another chapter in my life with the happiness of accomplishing my objectives and the friends I made on the Way. It wasn't without nostalgia of these amazing moments we lived, that Andrew and I were to face our last ride with some longing.

Arzúa mornings

We joined our recent Nebraska friends (see day 14) for our good old habit of a fresh breakfast. To our surprise, Father Nolte offered us our first supper of the day to which we were really grateful. Having the other "Ondiñas" members leading the troop from a further away village, we still had to catch up our slowed down pace caused by our latter "Pulpo" day (check back on day 14 to discover this tasty regional dish). Although it was going to be our last day, we were still about to meet much more friends than we could have expected. 

With our belly replenished, we pedalled away from the Galician cheese capital (Arzúa), to reach the capital of the Galician region itself, the pilgrim destination of thousands of people from all around the World: Santiago de Compostela, which is the centerpiece that united all of us in this journey. And even if it was the first reason for this adventure... the most meaning ones were soon to be discovered. 

2nd breakfast!

Going on with our path, even if the hills were not as hard as the ones we passed, every little hurdle seemed to be the biggest obstacle ever, and sometimes my legs didn't seem to respond. You might think that is probably due to the 14 days riding without rest, but the real reason behind my fatigue didn't seem to be physical, but rather mental. The amazing people and experiences I lived in these two weeks were so emotional to me that I knew my brain didn't want my body to finish... therefore, we simply stopped for our 2nd breakfast ;)

It seemed like the hotspot for pilgrims' breakfast, it was a small house with a garden which was filled with people from everywhere. We had a great Galician "empanada" (info here, in Spanish only), a typical regional dish that's similar to an English pie but much more thinner and bigger. My favourite ones are with "Pulpo" (=Octopus), cod fish, cockles and the really tasty "Zamburiñas" one, which are like small scallops. We added to this a good "cafe au lait" which was served with another typical Galician product: a Sargadelos like coffee cup. Sargadelos is a renowned pottery brand of Galicia (discover it here), which is distinguished by their typical blue-white colour pattern and high quality ceramics; it is often used for gifts and special occasions.

Steph the smiling Aussie

After this good treat, early morning cold made us go back to our path through the magnificent woods of Galicia. Among the many "Ring rings, we're coming!" and "Buen Camino!" (=have a safe pilgrimage), one pilgrim made us slow down to walking pace thanks to one of the simplest, most universal and sincere ways of human interaction, a smile! To what seems so obvious, but is often forgotten in our stressed urban lives, was the reason to make another friend on the Camino, Steph from Australia. She started her Camino in Sarria after a few months backpacking around Europe, visiting her motherly origins in Greece and simply discovering the Old Continent. It wasn't going to be the last time we'd meet and the next one was going to be sooner than expected.

Quique and Sonia and their amazing bar!

Having still to make up for the lost "Pulpo" time, we continued and at Salceda's municipal borders, we arrived to a quite unique place which can't be spotted at simple glance. First we only saw a terrace and a bar, after quickly dissolved doubts, we obviously went in for our 3rd coffee of the day. Once inside, it turned out to be a magical place full of history, where apart from wall messages and carvings, the most striking thing were... T-shirts! Yes yes, T-shirts hanging everywhere from the ceiling, there were at least 100 of them in all possible colours, left by pilgrims, visitors and friends from all around the World. In addition, the friendliness and energy of its owners, Sonia and Quique, made the experience even better. Obviously, under these circumstances, one of my photo interviews was mandatory; the recent story behind this unique place was both moving and interesting to hear. However, as all the other photo-interview stories, they will be published later within their own context.

After this surprising and positive moment, and going for my now very cold coffee, I joined again Andrew and... Steph! Yes, the happy Aussie we met before caught up with us and joined our coffee moment (and you're right, our longing was making us reeeally slow). Since we were near Santiago, we exchanged selfies and whatsapp to meet up again and celebrate together our Camino arrival!

A very comfortable horsegrino

With only a few kilometres to go for Santiago, Andrew and I pedalled away... but still with some nostalgia of the finishing adventure, hunger kicked in and Andrew stopped for some bacon and eggs, while I resorted to my beloved Galician beer, Estrella Galicia. There, we met two more Aussies, Sam and Jayne, and also some horsegrinos; horse pilgrims. If you're thinking if they qualify to be called pilgrims, yes they do. The requirements to be a Santiago de Compostela pilgrim state that it can be done walking, on a bicycle or riding a horse.

Once we were arriving to Pedrouzo (last hill before Santiago), the spectacular skyline of Santiago awaited us in all its beauty and with a completely blue lit sky, pierced only by the unique towers of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the famous Santiago Apostle rest. Which is precisely the reason that motivated this famous religious pilgrimage for many centuries.

Finally, in Santiago!

The feeling of accomplishment, happiness and satisfaction of entering my studies town, where I spent almost 10 years of my life, with just the strength of my legs on my dear 20kg heavy bicycle, was one of the greatest feelings I ever had. I was so happy to see my hometown again that I even jumped on its sign (check out the cover picture above)... going down the cobblestoned streets, passing by the "Museo do Pobo Galego" (Museum of the Galician people), then going up to the "Plaza Cervantes" (named for one of our greatest Spanish writers) and the last descent to the magnificent cathedral of Santiago made all my memories and feelings mingle into a big burst of joy. Best thing, I was received by my parents and one of my best friends, Jorge, to share together this unique achievement. We then went to another nostalgic place for me, the "Hostal de los Reyes Católicos", the 5 star hotel just next to the cathedral and where I did one of my summer internships some years ago. After the Cathedral itself, it's probably one of the most iconic and historic constructions of Santiago, which used to be a hospital for pilgrims (find out more about its history here). We were very well received by my former colleagues and we had great tapas at the "Enxebre" restaurant. 

Pilgrims' patience

While my parents had to leave, Jorge, Andrew and I had lunch together before we went for our "Compostela", the certificate issued by the Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which certifies the completion of the pilgrimage. In order to obtain it, you must do the journey with the Pilgrim's credential (see mine below), which you need to have stamped during your pilgrimage in any church or albergue you pass by. There are also distance requirements, at least 100 km walking or 200 km on your bike are needed to obtain it (find more information here). 

 

My Camino credential

 

"Ich bin dan mal weg" the film

So we went then to the last step of our pilgrimage and to one big...queue! The "Oficina del Peregrino" (=the Pilgrim's office, where you get your certificate), was full of people, but contrary to what you'd expect (specially for those who do it in August, month of greatest pilgrim arrivals), it wasn't due to too many pilgrims, but because of German "Hollywood"(which we first met on my Day 11). Therefore, patiently as a pilgrim, we waited for them to finish their few scenes and observed those immaculately clean "pilgrims" carrying featherlight backpacks... so after some "Action!" moments, we finally could write the last dot in our journey.

That's my Compostela!

Last dot...? Not quite yet, heading back to the "Obradoiro" square, where the Cathedral is, I reunited with 3 of my faculty friends, Pablo, David and Martin. They came to say hi before Andrew and I headed to our Albergue and joined our "Ondiñas" friends for dinner and pilgrimage celebration!

 
 

So what started as a "Let's pedal to Santiago" finished by being one of my greatest adventures and eye opening experiences. There's not one unique reason to do the Camino, there are as many as people and stories you can find while doing it, and as with most travels and adventures, what matters are who you encounter, the journey and what you will learn for your own life.

Therefore, I will finish my last day with my Sixteenth recommendation for the Camino:

Start the Camino with your own personal reason, forget it on the way to indulge the journey and get inspired by the people you will encounter.

"Buen camino" my dear friends!

 

PS: You wonder where it all started? See here Day -1 and Day 1.

Day 11: Astorga - Villafranca del Bierzo

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

With day 11 on the agenda and almost touching my home region Galicia with my fingertips, off we went the 7 of us direction Santiago de Compostela (if you missed the growth of our "Ondiñas" team, please check back on day 9 and day 10).

The "Ondiñas" team

As usual for us bikers, we were the last ones to leave the Albergue and right after went to indulge our early morning breakfast ritual. We rode mostly together, until at some point I lost the "Ondiñas" team by adventuring into a rough path, which on a given moment narrowed to a human size passage only, but a very fun one.

On the way I met Klaudia, a Spanish girl from Malaga who was doing the Camino to find herself and her own path. Strangely, she pointed out that I was one of the first Spanish she met and that most people only talked English, which she doesn't. It actually is true, most of the people I've met were from all over the World, so if you're going to do your Camino to learn some Spanish, you might consider the other paths like the "Camino del Norte" or the "Via de la Plata".

Camino Tech Station

When amidst bushes that were almost covering the whole track, my GoPro and camera run out of memory, so I simply pulled out a Pop Up Camino Tech Station, check out the pic. Cards emptied, off I went again through the treacherous narrow paths where I suddenly got reunited with one of our newer companions, the unstoppable pedaller, Andrew.

Cruz de Hierro - Iron Cross

Achieving together the heights of "Cruz de Hierro", what initially seemed to be a hard ride up, ended being a very pleasant one. The "Cruz de Hierro" is actually the highest point on the whole French Way, 1600 m of altitude. On top of it stands a 5m high pole with a cross (replica of the original) that gives this place its name (check here for more information; in Spanish only). 

Suddenly to our surprise, we found there a cinema crew too, they were filming some scenes of the film adaptation of the besteller book from the German Comedian Hape Hakeling: "Ich bin dan mal weg" (=I'm off for a while, then). In it, he covers his Camino de Santiago done a few years ago, narrating all the stories and people he encountered. It is not any kind of movie, it is one of the big German film productions with renowned actors like Devid Striesow, mainly known for his role in the Downfall and the Counterfeiters. Funny coincidence thou, that I started my own Way and travel blog precisely mentioning this book and story on day -1 while sipping a coffee in Bordeaux. 

When we were leaving the scene of this German "Hollywood", the crew were putting up some fake Camino stones and props. It was remarkable too, how fresh and energized the Camino "extras" were, their jeans, yes, jeans for an 800km "pilgrimage"... and their bags were immaculately clean. But you know, cinema is cinema! Meanwhile, dirty us, we hit the road to continue our dust gathering.

Nevertheless, don't mind too much my ironic account of events, remember that a story might not always be 100% real, but if its purpose is a pure and passionate one, it will still reflect the vision and emotions of a true story.

The amazing Andrew overlooking the amazing Bierzo region

Once back on the road, in total contrast with the previous days' monotonous rides, we were about to start one of my preferred actions on a bike: riding downhills! With a magnificent scenery as a background, our first descents took us through wild stone paths where our breaks had to be pulled constantly. Letting me finally convince by Andrew and to avoid breaking his beloved "wife", we chose a smoother path; consider that if a bicycle stands the fact of crossing from Canada to Argentina (yup, the fricking whole north to south ride), you might as well call her your wife. That's what Mr. Amazing Andrew did among many other great rides. If you're looking for your "wife/husband" too, consider this:

Twelfth recommendation of the Camino: if you plan to ride cross-country and on rough paths, consider a suspension mountain bike. But, if you're more into long distances on mainly flat but also off track trails, you might look at a touring bike; durable and fitted to carry all kinds of racks (that's Andrew's wife! Check here to know more about bicycle types).

Molinaseca village

Once on tarmac, we rode some of the best 20 to 30 min downhills I've ever done on a bicycle, the striking landscape and the serpentine roads made it a glorious descent. It all ended in a cobble stoned little town with a lovely river, a bridge and full of pilgrims. We went on however to the nearby Ponferrada, where by accident, we stumbled into the World Cycling Competition with teams and bikes from all over the World (Andrew has one amusing story with competing cyclists... but, I won't reveal it until the next Camino day).

Passing through this big World competition, we came across a couple of journalists, who actually were from the National Italian tv RAI uno (similar to Germany's RTL or England's BBC). We were bikers of an 800 kms journey, in a now cycling capital, one American long distance rider, a Spanish polyglot and a camera... well, the natural course of events was that an Interview was mandatory. So it was, that I pulled out my Italian side and answered to a few questions to Italy's biggest and main TV channel: my 15 minutes of fame! Yyyhaaa, I can check that one out of my bucket list! (mail me if you wish some signed portraits of mine ;) )

 

Ponferrada's Castle area

 

Trying to avoid the crowded Ponferrada, we ended the journey in Villafranca del Bierzo, one of the prettiest small mountain villages of the region. To our surprise, the girls and Felix were still behind us, their lunch pause got us ahead so it was our turn for the usual mass booking in the town's albergue. While we waited for them, I practised some German with 3 pilgrims and also met the first Danish pilgrim on the Camino, Fee, a young actress walking her first Camino. Don't forget me when you become a Hollywood star ;)

Villafranca del Bierzo's sunlights

Being ahead of time, I decided to grab my laptop (yes, I took my 13incher across hills, rocks, punctures and storms with me) and try to work on my blog. "Try" a peculiar word it is, since it may give you enough ambiguity that a task might not get fulfilled at all. And yes, that's exactly what happened to me. While I was looking for a quite and nice bar to settle down, I saw one with my favorite beer and as soon as I stopped, one of the most common things on the Camino happened, fellow pilgrims that were sipping some beers started talking with me, and I obviously joined them. That's when I met Brian, Emma, Ondrej and Brandon by pure coincidence (a mix of Aussies, Irish and Czech). I also did some arm weights exercises by carrying uselessly my laptop around Villafranca. We had some interesting conversations and it was a pure pilgrims moment, after a journey of effort you gather to meet people and stories in a family kind of atmosphere.

Delicious Botillo

However, part of the family was missing, so I called up the other "Ondiñas" members and as soon as they arrived, thanks to Álvaro a study friend from Ponferrada, I remembered that they produce here a regional dish called "Botillo". At first it might look more like a big chunk of badly shaped chorizo, and it somehow does, but it's made of several pork parts stuffed into a spiced big ball of meat. Best of all, we accidentally ended up in the best Botillo place of the town, we could never have found it if I hadn't asked some locals where to get it. The Don Nacho is on a really narrow road of Villafranca and far off from the bustling city centre; a real local's secret tip. But be warned, this dish isn't for the softies among you. Check out more here.

Pilgrim Family dinner at Don Nacho

So it was that eleven people that didn't even know each other a week before, were now sharing a big dinner in the most local place possible, we were: the Camino family!

Follow me on the blog and my social media networs for more stories and Camino dinners of my first ever Santiago pilgrimage!