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Journal

Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 

 

Filtering by Tag: Estrella Galicia

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 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. 

Day 9: Calzadilla de la Cueza - León

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Do you remember the last time?
On day 8 we were about to arrive to the end of our journey while trying to avoid thunder and storm...

Tigers and Wolfs!

Well, the thing is that the route to Calzadilla de la Cueza is only one and short, but that's on a normal day. With the hearing thunder and lightning approaching, rain doesn't usually scare off people from the north, even heavy one is ok, but when at some given point the expression raining like cats and dogs turns into rather tigers and wolfs... well, that's when you have to consider getting some cover. Add to this, killing hail and wind forces that displace you sideways for more than a meter, and you will see even the tough ones back down!

Against this rage of the gods, the only good thing I could do was jump into the nearest bushes and trees. But the storm was so strong that I had to find another solution, luckily, I was in the same place where the road's waterways were: two tiny holes of 1m by 1m. In the fashion of a circus like contortionist, I squeezed myself into one of them to wait out the storm. Following also the SMS instructions Marta's dad sent us a few days ago, what we initially considered funny ended up being some really good advise:

Tenth recommendation for the Camino: specially if you're a bike pilgrim, when seeing lightnings approaching, get shelter and away from your bike, or you might end up with a haircut worse than Einstein's.

My siesta "tent"

Actually, among mud and spider webs, during those 45 min of apocalypse, I even indulged into another great Spanish tradition, the siesta! Yes, with no way to reach the girls and whereas a Gaul's biggest fear was becoming true "the sky falling on our heads" (check here for reference). Well, that's the moment when a northern guy decided to simply take a nap ;)

The calm after the storm

With the calm after the storm and a lost hope of drying up, after some long ride I suddenly arrived to Calzadilla de la Cueza, where the only things available are the albergue and a restaurant... But what a restaurant! The guys running it and the food they serve is worth every storm, the servers' friendliness and funny attitude were amazing. On top of it, I had again some great regional dish and even retasted my second favourite beer, Alhambra Reserva. All ended even better with a big laugh attack of Marta and Maitane, only silenced due to the 22:00 lights out.

Calzadilla mornings

With Day 9 beginning, Marta and Carla retook last night's endorphins rush and started to dance dance dance! So after some energy rush and a great breakfast, off we went again. While crossing Sahagun, we stopped at a bike shop to refurbish our many punctured tubes from our legendary Puncture Day (check back on day 7 and day 8). Suddenly, that's when I realised that my fantastic pump was broken, whilst hesitating if I really needed it, I finally bought a new one for precaution. I also got myself the best Camino Bike souvenir I could get me, plus, it made me visible! (just in case another rage of gods fell on us; check future entries to discover it).

Pumped up, off we went again to actually get separated soon afterwards. The girls preferred to take the "royal Camino" and as my guide wrote, the "more humanized" one. Wrong it wasn't, since I took myself the "historic path" of Roman origin which was, quote: "more solitary, rough and wild". And boy it was really rough, we are talking here about 30 kms, yes, flat ones, but mostly made of clay-like grounds and full of small stones all the way, monotony and strong side winds all the time! When riding, I was even preferring the dreadful hills of St. Jean Pied de Port from my first day.

One of the only 3 pilgrims I crossed that day

If I thought having a solitary morning the day before, this one was definitively my most solitary moment in all my Camino de Santiago. The road never seemed to end because its landscape was all the time the same. Of course, since one "good thing" never comes alone (yes, if you sense some irony, you might be on the right track), it was my time to suffer a puncture! Somewhere in the middle of the roughest paths, my fate was to get punctured and with nothing around at all, yes nothing; outer space in comparison to this nothingness can't even keep up. 

But no worries, I was prepared, destiny wanted me to have bought a new pump that morning. She, destiny, really seems to be chasing me, because since I started the Camino she didn't stop to put me on the right track. In any case, after having changed 3 wheels the days before, I could almost do it with my eyes closed... but, there's always a BUT (interpret it as you wish ;) )! My new shiny pump didn't fit my tube, air was going anywhere except into it. I tried and tried and tried, and there was no way I would get it inflated, my other dear pump did fit, but it was broken... that's when at some point my favourite child series came to my mind, MacGyver! Yes yes, make whatever comment you want, but it actually worked. Using my broken pump in combination with the new one allowed my to inflate my wheel to a reasonable amount as to go on direction Leon. MacGyverism works!

So it was then, that I managed to finish one of my hardest and also coldest journeys of my whole Camino, I didn't take off my jacket all day. I finally entered Leon on quite an early time and I reunited there with the "Ondiñas" team again.

The amazing Estrella Galicia 1906

In need of some time off, I went to one great bar near our albergue where I received my reward for this hard day: my favourite beer! Even better, they had the toasted version, Estrella Galicia 1906! Ok ok, I guess at this point I might be able to ask them for some commission on all the promo I'm giving them. If not, at least I got a great picture and one amazing tapa of another Spanish delicacy: Jamón Ibérico (=Spanish Ham), the best ham in the World!

After this gourmet moment, another one had to come, dinner!

Looking for a place with a pilgrim menu it was also the first time we met a new companion, Felix from Germany. He actually started his "Camino" in Berlin as part of the World travel he's still in. Obviously, as every good German, after our great dinner he became my beer buddy by tasting and enjoying my favourite beers.

Leandro and the girls

Unfortunately, since some albergues have a curfew, we had to run back in order to avoid being closed out, but not without meeting one of the most funniest priests I've ever met, Leandro...

Tune in for the next days of my Camino to know more about him and other soon to be new companions of the "Ondiñas" team: bigger, better and stronger!