Cloister in Los Arcos on the Camino de Santiago

Cloister in Los Arcos on the Camino de Santiago

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day 10 Saturday – Buen Camino! 11th May 2013

Side Church – Cathedral of Santiago

I sat in silence for over an hour in the exquisite peace of this church, one of many off the main nave of the great Cathedral. Away from the click of tourist photos and rituals of organised prayer it was an occasion of grace and beauty. 

Caught in the reflection are two of the many candles we lit along the way and at the end of the Camino for loved ones, near and far.

Unfinished business.

We all hope to return to the Camino in the coming years.

Lorraine and I are talking of a family Camino next year. I hear talks of the Portuguese Camino, of the Northern route, of  the Primitive route, of returning to Pamplona, our favourite city, perhaps.

We do not find the Camino, it finds us.

The Camino calls.

It has changed each one of us. We each have made a little resolution to do something we had not planned ahead of the 2013 Camino.

Thank you, Joe, Josephine, Brian, Phil and Barry.

Buen Camino!

Day 9 Another special day in Santiago Friday 10th 2013


View of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela from the Park de Almeda

Friday was a fantastic day. It was the first day in eight we had not begun by packing our gear. We had a ‘lie in’ and arrived down to the hotel restaurant for a lazy breakfast at 8.30. I renamed the excellent hotel receptionist Marta, calling her –‘Santa Marta, de siempre aqui’ – ‘Saint Martha, always here’ - in acknowledgement of her being present in the hotel day and night, or so it seemed. She gave us the name and addresses of better, less expensive restaurants away from the tourist trap trail of yesterday.

Mel from Manchester

And me.

I could not attend the annual Frontline  Defenders awards ceremony which coincided with the Camino so I decided instead to wear their tee shirt. A number of pilgrims decided to look up the cause on the web on their return. Mel from Manchester took a more direct approach and produced a generous donation of sterling which is somewhere in the bottom of my rucksack. As soon as I unpack, I will send it into Charlie Lansom in Frontline in Blackrock. He will get bigger donations this year, I hope, but few more travelled.


Botafumeiro – the giant incense burner in the Cathedral of Santiago – at the Mass for Priests

Phil and I were greeted by Brian and Barry as they emerged from the 12.00 noon Pilgrims Mass. They had witnessed the star event in Santiago, the lighting of the giant thurible which we had expected yesterday at our own Pilgrims Mass. Being Ascension Thursday we expected fireworks, literally, but got none.

But we were in for a surprise. Today was the feast of St. John of Avila, better known to us as St. John of the Cross who is the patron saint of priests, in Spain at least. We decided to attend the 1.00pm Mass and were treated to two bishops and somewhere between one and two hundred priests, and wonderful singing. Happy memories of my days in the Monastery flooded back to the echoes of Gregorian chant. As the Botafumeiro flew over our heads we just hoped the lad on the rope wasn’t having a bad day.

Day 8 Santiago – Pilgrims Mass – Thursday 9th May 2013

Did I say our lodgings were damp on our first night in Santiago?

As usual we were up early and packed by 8.00 am and we moved to more expensive but vastly superior accommodation in the Hotel de Aliaga on Rua Aliaga Arriba, about five minutes from the Cathedral.

Taking no chances, Phil and I took our places in the Cathdedral at 10.30 for the 12.00 noon Pilgrims Mass. We were hoping to see the giant thurible, the Botafumeiro in action. Despite it being Ascension Thursday, sadly we did not.  I enjoyed the serenity of the Cathedral, other than the rock band warming up outside in the Cathedral Square during the Mass.

But it was cold, very cold inside. So much that when we repaired to a café I added an amaretto to it on purely medicinal grounds.

Barry, Josephine and Joe in the picture, and myself (taking the picture) decided to go on a tour of the Museum and the Cathedral. It was money very well spent. Later on, we were about to embark on a roof top tour of the Cathedral when the rock band struck up again and we could not hear ourselves. The apologetic guides returned our ticket prices. It seemed they enjoyed the noise even less than we did.

View from the cloister. We were impressed by the Cathedral. So much so we shelved the idea of spending the next day in A Coruna in favour of exploring further the delights of Santiago and its many churches.

Day 7 Santiago de Compostela –at last!

From left to right: Vivienne (Dublin), Barry, Mel (Manchester), Padraic, Denise (Manchester).

This was our last coffee stop on the Camino before reaching Santiago. Vivienne had suffered our hospitality and had clearly assumed the coast was clear, but we were to meet again in Santiago.

Barry looking very debonair on the hill overlooking Santiago. Earlier in the day we had walked past the Airport perimeter and past the hill Monte de Gozo. This was our first sighting of the Cathedral city. We were incredulous and disappointed at the lack of signage from hereon into the city centre. Whereas every town and village, however humble, along the way had showered us with yellow arrows and markings, it seemed as if Santiago itself had dismissed the Camino as an awkward distraction.

Fortunately the beauty and atmosphere of Santiago more than made up for the lack of signs and the abundance of rain. It is a truly wonderful city. A University city full of students and laughter. A holy city full of history and devotion. A city full of cafes and bars.

Day 6 Arco do Pino (Pedruzo in Spanish) Tuesday 7th May 2013

The following day, Tuesday I was condemned to walk alone. It had taken me five minutes to find my boots, and a further five to find my feet. Another twenty minutes looking for glasses proved fruitless, so I headed off on my solitary treck.

It was ‘golf weather day’, which translated into English means, that as soon as you have donned your wet gear – its stops raining – and as soon as you take off your wet gear – the clouds reassemble.

Mustn’t grumble though. We heard of pilgrims on the Finisterre route who faced two days of horizontal rain. It’s green in Galicia for a reason…

One of the advantages of walking alone is that you meet more people. This is David from Canada who is a professional photographer. He had walked from St. Jean Pied de Port and was planning to walk the extra 90km to Finisterre. We saw him the following day in Santiago enjoying a quiet beer with a fellow Canadian so we guess he got there.

With his eye for a photograph, David had picked out this old lady who was tending her sheep. She was carrying a purple umbrella to keep her dry from the light mizzle. Just as blue skies and sun had framed the first four days, changeable, moody skies dominated the next four.

We were more than happy to arrive at the modern yet comfortable Hotel O Pino. We enjoyed a delightful meal later that evening. We all went to bed early that night!

Day 5 Arzua Monday 6th May 2013

The ponchos, which had cost 6 euro in Palas de Rei proved one of our better investments on the Camino. The ponchos will not have made any fashion statement but kept us dry and airy. We felt that if a car driver knocked us down it was because he intended to.

Barry at the ‘honesty shop’. We were intrigued to come across a shop in the middle of the country with fruits and drinks on offer with a suggested payment at our own discretion. We doubted if the idea would take off outside of the Camino.

This sign marks the spot.  Rosario and her husband Jose Manuel run this excellent bar and tapas café. We innocently ordered some cheese and ham. Ominously it took about 20 minutes to assemble the meal. When Rosario appeared with heaped plates of food we protested - it was far too much. Two hours and two bottles of wine later there was no food left, or wine either. We then departed on a 20 minute tour of the town. As the rain fell, the author felt it best to take shelter in the bar with unintended but predictable consequences.

Day 4 Melide Sunday 5th May 2013

We were up and out early on Sunday morning. The Pension Bar Guntina was closed on Sunday so we found an unsuspecting and slightly surprised café nearby and proceeded to order 6 rounds of toast, six omelettes and six cafes con leche. The unflustered girl behind the bar womanfully coped with all. She was later joined by an elderly man whom we supposed was the owner. It was only when settling the bill we discovered that the elderly man who had made coffees and cleared the tables was just a regular customer who rose to the occasion.

This was another classic Camino moment.

We headed West, as always, with the rising sun directly behind us. Barry and I stopped to take an iconic photo while Phil and Brian disappeared in a blur in the distance.

Left to right: Rosemarie, Phil, Brian, June, Padraic, Josephine, Barry and Joe

This was out last encounter with our fellow pilgrims from Northern Ireland. Rosemarie and June would walk the full 26km that day to Arzua. For reasons of health and safety we decided to cut the stage in two. Making a stop in Melide was not to prove such a bad decision after all.

On the way to Melide, Phil stops to take a photo of the flock.

This was probably our warmest day. It was also the last day we walked in uninterrupted sunshine.

Our hotel was the well-appointed Hotel Carlos at the entrance to the town. The braver souls went for a meal in a local restaurant that specialised in the regional delicacy – pulpo – octopus. Not to everyone’s taste. I sulked and skulked in a café on the Camino and met Jim from New York State who is a Presbyterian Minister who was determined to walk another 15km that afternoon to Arzua.

Barry brought us on a virtual wine tour of Riberio del Duero during our evening meal. The proud hotel owner, Luis, served us up his signature liqueur café. The coffee was in line to get an award later that week. We sure hope he got it!

Day 3 Palas de Rei Saturday 4th May 2013

The sun shone on our little flock on Saturday. We enjoyed a very simple breakfast in the cafe above the reservoir that had hosted the civic reception of the previous night. We left Portomarin as the morning mist burned off. The sun grew warmer on this, our longest, walk.

View from Pension Bar Guntina, Palas de Rei.

We were happy to slip off our dusty walking boots in the basic accommodation of the Bar Guntina. We strolled around to the sunny side of of the town and sipped a very enjoyable and well deserved beer in the company of three pilgrims from Australia, Greg, Graham and Peter. We enjoyed the pilgrims’ meal later that evening in Casa Curro in the company of Rosemary and June from the North and Vivienne from Dublin. The pilgrims’ meal cost us €9 each. The wine may have cost more.

Day 2 Arrival in Portomarin

The 100km sign, just outside Portomarin.

Some pilgrims we met had walked much more than the minimum 100k necessary to get a ‘Compostela’ in Santiago. We came across a jolly group from Beauvais in Picardy in Northern France who had walked for a week every year for the past twelve. They had started in Chartres in Frnace and had covered the Camino Frances. Now they were on their last lap. They walked, talked, chatted, drank and ate in a thoroughly Gallic fashion. We were to meet them finally in the pilgrim reception in Santiago when receiving our own Compostela. Clearly there are many ways of completing the Camino.


View across the reservoir of Portomarin built about 60 years ago.

You don’t get to see a lot of water on the Camino and we all agreed this was one of the prettiest stops on our journey. We stayed on the very acceptable hotel Andres in the middle of Portomarin who kindly facilitated us when I lost the details of the hotel we were due to stay in. We eventually tracked ‘Roberto’ down to another hotel and made our apologies. Portomarin was built during the construction of the reservoir to house the residents of the drowning valley. The Church had been relocated stone by stone to the new centre.

We enjoyed a cool beer in the arch lined main square and repaired to a restaurant where we later joined by Rosemarie and June.

Day 2 Portomarin Friday 3rd May 2013

Photo taken from hotel bedroom on early Friday morning as the mist rises above the restaurant of O Chanto. Today we would walk to Portomarin. Our luggage was in the hall for its 8.00am pick up. We set out with the sun at our backs.


The path brought us through lush agricultural lands with rich agricultural smells.  As Phil remarked early on the first day, ‘ a walk downhill invariably means a walk uphill sooner or later’; generally sooner.

The morning mist held on as long as it could until the bright sun chased it away mid-morning. Our path brought us through farms and fields. Every farm seemed to boast a corn shed, chickens and cows, many of whom we met on way to milking.

Day 1 Sarria – evening of Thursday 2nd May 2013

From right to left – Phil, Joe, Josephine, Barry, Padraic and Brian

The decision by Aer Lingus to delay the flight by three hours meant that we landed at the later hour of 3.30pm local time. This prompted a decision to share a bus driven by the amiable Jose Luis. We shared the invitation of a lift to Rosemary and June who in turn offered a lift to another Irish couple.

We spent the first night at the unpretentious but pleasant Villa d’Oca (Villa de Sarria) pension (budget hotel) in the town.

Barry and I contemplate finishing the journey we had commenced in Pamplona in 2006 when the world was a different place and our knees and hips were younger. Some of our friends picked up their pilgrim passport in the modest Church which acts as the starting point for those walking to Santiago from Sarria which stands at km 115.


We stopped to say a little prayer and light a few candles before repairing to the pleasant and unpretentious restaurant ‘O Chanto’. After a sun drenched beer on the terrace overlooking the river we retreated indoors. The owner told us they had endured snow barely a week before our arrival. Napoleon was observant when he commented about preferring ‘lucky generals’ and how a pilgrim group makes progress on its stomach…  One of the highlights of our Camino trip were the little cafes along the route where we stopped for coffee and a chat with other pilgrims.