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Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 


Filtering by Tag: 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 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...