Camino Primitivo, Day 13

Walked from: Pedrouzo

Walked to: Santiago de Compostela

Distance: 19km

When: 24 October 2019

My day started early. After lying in my bunk, unable to sleep as the small room’s two champion snorers duked it out for pole position, I dragged myself out of bed at 5am to catch up on the previous two days blogs. But I wasn’t feeling tired – I had the familiar buzz of energy and anticipation that surges through me on the final day of a long walk.

Daylight arrives late in the northwest of Spain at this time of year; setting off at 7am, our small – but perfectly formed – group walked for the first two hours in the dark on seasonally spooky forest paths. It was raining. We could see bugger all. It should, to be honest, if not eloquent, have been a bit shit. But as I listened to my friends, people I didn’t even know existed at the beginning of this Camino journey, chat (sometimes quickly to one another, sometimes slowly, with the thought that comes into picking words the English woman with crap Spanish might understand) and sing, I walked with the same big smile I’ve had on my face for the past 13 days.

Ten kilometres in we paused for breakfast, the rain falling ever heavier outside, before arriving into Santiago’s old town at noon. Soaked, the five of us (Nilda, Pepe, Esteban and Florentino) who had walked in together were joined for the final kilometre by Sumjio and Thomas, who had arrived in sunshine the day before but braved the rain to join us. I’d met them all for the first time just thirteen days before, when we’d spent the night at the wonderfully hospitable albergue in Villapañada on the first day of my Camino. As the days progressed, we had came together and left each other behind at different points, but they have all come to be special to me, and it was an absolute pleasure to arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in their company. As we reached the main Plaza, Thomas, a lovely German man with a beautiful smile and an excellent line in hugs, who speaks neither English nor Spanish, gleefully produced a bottle of Kas Limon from his pocket – a present for this lemonade-loving hiker. He’d been carrying it around with him for two days, awaiting my arrival. The thought that went into that gesture, the fact that he knew me well enough to do that despite us not being able to talk to one another, summed up the spirit of the Camino for me in one 500ml plastic bottle. My eyes might have been a bit wet. I blame the rain.

A quick visit to the Pilgrim Office to collect our completion certificates (my third one now) was followed by a looooooong, hot shower. And food. And drink. Then later, more drink. It had been an early morning and while I won’t bore you with the details of the party we had, or of my mild hangover the next day, I can assure you it was also a very late (but very fun) night!

This is the third time I’ve walked to Santiago de Compostela, and each has been special, but for me this one has been the most authentically Spanish. I’ve explored beautiful places, had conversations with interesting, different people who have really made me think about the rest of my life and how I want to live it. I’ve eaten a lot of bread and drunk a lot of wine, when I had some foolish idea in my head that I would do neither. And, quite frankly, I have laughed my arse off. Best. Holiday. Ever. Thank you for reading. And Buen Camino.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 12

Camino Primitivo, Day 12

Walked from: Melide

Walked to: Pedrouzo

Distance: 33km

When: 23 October 2019

The mission today was about one thing and one thing only – to eat up as many of the 52kms that stood between me and Santiago de Compostela as possible while the weather remained fine (for tomorrow an old friend on this Camino, pissing down rain, is due to join us for the final approach. It’s one Camino reunion I could do without).

I’ll admit I was a little jaded as I set off this morning. Despite a good night’s sleep, Florentino and I enjoyed a variety of alcoholic beverages in Melide last night, including an excellent bottle of red called Ramon Bilbõa, and I think the huge Spanish-sized serving of gin and tonic that I had as my night cap may have pushed me over the edge towards mild hangover territory.

Undeterred, we headed off towards Pedrouzo, the Camino undulating it’s way through largely pretty but fairly unremarkable landscape – the wild beauty and mountains of Asturias are now far behind, and there was some criss-crossing of busier roads today. I was also treading familiar ground, as the final 52km of the walk to Santiago follow the main Camino Frances walk. As I passed through the small villages and hamlets, I had flashbacks to this time two years ago, when I was in the midst of completing my month long walk from the very south of France. Except this time I managed not to go the wrong way on the approach to Pedrouzo, for which I am most grateful. Clothes washed, stomach fed, and happily reunited with the three friends from the Canary Islands who I met on the first night of this walk, I’m all set for the final 19km to Santiago’s beautiful cathedral tomorrow.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 11

Walked from: Ferreira

Walked to: Melide

Distance: 21.7km

When: 22 October 2019

The Camino Primitivo meets with its famous sibling, the Camino Frances (which is what most people think of, if they do at all, when they talk about the Camino de Santiago), in Melide. For many of my fellow ‘perigriños’ this was a source of some consternation – concerns about there being too many people, and about potential issues with getting accommodation were rife. A lot of people walked on, not wanting to stay in town.

Not me though – I’ve been more focused on getting to Melide, a pretty underwhelming mid-sized town – on this trip than I have on arriving at Santiago. My reason is excellent; I’ve developed a love of razor clams in my past walks in Galicia, and there’s a pulperia (octopus restaurant) in Melide that I was determined to get to today. I am pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed with my experience. The octopus was also excellent. Happy days on the Camino… as I think the particularly sophisticated photo of me below makes plain…

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Camino Primitivo, Day 10

Walked from: Lugo

Walked to: Ferreira

Distance: 22.4

When: 21 October 2019

(Image: Helen and Florentino)

The landscape I’m walking through has changed. It’s less mountainous, less wild – in fact, much of today looked a lot like the Yorkshire Dales, but with more woodland paths. And a lot more chorizo.

(Image: the 18th century church at SAN Vincente del Burgo)

But today wasn’t really about the landscape – it was a social day, and it was definitely about the people: the locals I encountered on the way (including a tiny 90 year old lady with the most beautiful smile, who was out collecting chestnuts) and those walking their caminos, wherever they started. And some people started theirs many months ago, like the Austrian man I had breakfast with this morning (my first churros con chocolate of the trip, to give me the sugar rush I needed after a dorm room night that included some of the most exceptional snoring I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience in my life) who has walked all the way from Vienna. Four months into his walk, he’s within days of finishing. Pretty bloody impressive.

(Image: the bar in Taboeiro – loved its old school look)

I walked all day with Florentino, one of the happiest, largest-hearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I first made his acquaintance about 22km in on our first day on the Camino, heading towards a welcoming hostel with stunning views where I subsequently got bitten by fleas (the itching has gone but I still have some pretty unattractive marks on my arms). We finally met back up again yesterday, and he happily talked to me, and our brand new Camino friend, Helen, another English woman, all day in Spanish, despite our mangling of his beautiful language. And when he wasn’t talking, he was singing – Florentino is a human jukebox, with a fine voice and an excellent line in 80s and 90s rock, which suits this fellow 70s baby very well. The kilometres passed, the evening came, and with it a few celebratory drinks with another Camino friend we’ve caught back up with – the lovely Rosa, who celebrated her 23 birthday today. There were many renditions of Happy Birthday, in a number of languages. And there was no rain today… it was an excellent day on the Camino.

(Imagine: Florentino and the chestnut collector)

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Camino Primitivo, Day 9

Walked from: Castroverde

Walked to: Lugo

Distance: 22km

When: 20 October 2019

I had an entirely inappropriate fit of the giggles this afternoon in the cathedral in Lugo; I suspect the half a bottle of red wine and the liquor chaser I had as part of my late lunch may have had something to do with it. I was in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Big Eyes, and it immediately triggered a memory of a stupid 1980s TV programme in the UK, with its constant references to the picture of Madonna with the Big Bobbies. Highly immature, a quintessentially English reference and, as I said, brought on by afternoon drinking. That aside, Lugo Cathedral is quite lovely – I recommend a visit if you happen to be in the area, even if the colour scheme of the upstairs museum reminds me of a bar I used to frequent in west London in the late 90s.

Today was a good day. A couple of minutes aside, it didn’t rain on today’s walk, although I donned preventative waterproofs for the first part of the morning. I met a new Camino friend, Aurelio, as I was leaving Castroverde, and walked all the way to Lugo with him, treading beautiful forest paths, and passing a 500 year old church and a couple of awfully old – and very big – chestnut trees. Today’s itinerary included a delightful, and entirely unexpected, cake/hot chocolate stop along the way at Vilar, where the albergue owners couldn’t have been more welcoming; if only I had known it existed yesterday, I would have walked the extra five kilometres from Castroverde to spend the day in their beautiful farmhouse.

On the final approach to the old town in Lugo, where I am staying in a hostel that has communal showers (shudder) I passed a sign telling me I only have 100km left to walk to Santiago. I’m practically at the bar crawl part of my trip. Even better, it turns out that a lot of people I met on my first night in the Camino are in Lugo tonight, and are walking tomorrow. It’s shaping up for quite a fiesta in Santiago on Friday night!

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Camino Primitivo, Day 8

Walked from: Cádavo Baleira

Walked to: Castroverde

Distance: 8km

When: 19 October 2019

(Image: leaving Castroverde)

It’s rained a lot so far on this trip. And that’s ok – I’m English, I have the wet weather gear. But there was something about hiking 31km in pissing down (yes, that’s the technically accurate meteorological term) rain that simply didn’t appeal. So after walking for just two hours, I bailed in Castroverde, the one town before my originally intended destination of Lugo where I knew I could get accommodation.

(Image: view from my hotel room)

I sought out a €20 hotel room with the world’s smallest shower but an excellently functioning radiator, and basically hung out in my warm, dry room all day reading, seeing the latest horrors of the Brexit debacle unfold in front of me on social media, and watching, for the umpteenth time, the finally two Harry Potter films. Not a day lost – I noticed certain clear parallels between the forces of good and evil in J K Rowling’s magical world and what’s happening in my own county right now, and I’ve started calling the current Prime Minister of the UK Voldemort. Whatever gets you through, eh?

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Camino Primitivo, Day 7

Walked from: A Fonsagrada

Walked to: Cádavo Baleira

Distance: 26.3km

When: 18 October 2019

I’ve had the most extraordinarily interesting, rain-filled, mist-shrouded day. Things started off pretty much as normal; I left at around 8.15am and it was still as dark as night outside, everything coated with a damp, misty sheen. Throughout the day, it rained, then it stopped, then it started again – the layers of clothing kept changing to adapt to the weather. I passed through a lot of undulating woodland paths; the greens of the moss-coated stone walls, the beige and red shades of the many mushrooms, the scent of the pine trees all especially vivid on this dark, dank day. A hilariously muddy downhill after the one point of obvious historical interest on today’s route (a solitary building on top of a hill at Montouto that had been a pilgrim hospital from the 1300s until the early 1900s) was rewarded with a hot chocolate and a cafe full of increasingly familiar, friendly faces. So far, so normal. And then I met Claire and Wraith.

Claire and Wraith are the people that put the extraordinary into my day. Originally from the south west of England, they moved to this tiny corner of Galicia four years ago to live off grid in a village some 20 minutes walk from the Camino route, on the stretch between Paradavella and A Lastra. I met them as they were out walking their dog – they were chatting to the one other English person I’ve met so far on the Primitivo. It transpires that he was the first, and I was the second, English person they had ever met doing this walk. Words tumbled out of their mouths, such was their enthusiasm at talking to native English speakers. Stephen, the English man, continued on his way. I walked a couple of kilometres off route to take up their invitation of a hot drink and the opportunity to see their home and the land they were farming. We sat for several hours, me firing off questions about how they came to be here, how they live, the local community. Theirs is not my story to tell, and I don’t think I have the capacity to cope with the physical toil and hardship I perceive them to deal with on a daily basis. But, with no farming or construction experience whatsoever, they have made a life for themselves in this valley, a place full of hardy Galicians where electricity arrived for the first time in 1995. And I tell you what, they seemed very happy. It was a huge pleasure to meet them.

I arrived in Cádavo Baleira hours after I’d expected to, half prepared for all the hostels to be full – everyone I had met was walking to this small town today. But I was in luck – my fellow peregrinos (as those walking the Camino are called) had largely headed for the private albergue in town. There were just four of us staying, two in each dorm, and as the sole woman, I had a bathroom to myself. Content with my accommodation choice for the night, I headed to the local shop for a $1.50 bottle of red wine, sharing it over a chat with an inspirational man from Denmark who spends much of his year walking the trails I dream of. Today’s Camino showed me – in the clearest possible ways – that there are many more options in life than the path most travelled.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 6

Walked from: Castro

Walked to: A Fonsagrada

Distance: 19.1km

When: 17 October 2019

I was prepared for most things on this trip: that the weather would probably be bad; that there would be a lot of hills; that I would end up eating a lot of bread, despite promising myself I wouldn’t. All those things have turned out to be true, and it’s been fine – although my bathroom scales may tell me another story when I return. What I honestly wasn’t prepared for was how much Spanish I’d be speaking. Bear with me here; I know that statement sounds odd – I DO remember what country I’m in. I can speak (terrible, error-strewn, mainly present tense) Spanish, and have a good line in check-in and food/booze purchasing phrases. But on my other four Camino trips, full of people from across the world, English has always ended up being the dominant language. Not this time. This time I’ve met and walked with lots of lovely, and very (very) patient Spaniards who have had their poor ears mangled by my mis-conjugations. As I explained to a new Camino friend yesterday, an Italian woman who speaks five languages fluently, my confidence to speak far outweighs my ability to do so… an issue that goes back many years, and in all honesty doesn’t just apply to my lack of mastery of an Iberian language…

Anyway, all the listening and speaking – and thinking about listening and speaking – I’ve been doing led me to take refuge in a hotel room of my very own this afternoon. A little mini-break from my holiday, chilling in the small town of A Fonsagrada, where legend has it St James turned the local fountain’s water into milk (hence the name of the town), and where rather more reliable historical sources indicate there was a Roman presence a mere 17 centuries ago. It’s also in Galicia (the beating culinary heart of Spain) – I left Asturias behind after two rainy hours of walking this morning. And I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that the rain stopped / the sun came out as I crossed the frontier between the two provinces. The rain DID stop shortly before I crossed, having peed it down for several hours. And the sun did ‘sort of’ come out. For a bit. In places. But it was chilly, and the lure of my warm hotel room has been strong this afternoon: I’ve had my 30 euros worth, that’s for sure. Last of the big spenders, that’s me!

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Camino Primitivo, Day 5

Walked from: Berducedo

Walked to: Albergue Juvenil, Castro

Distance: 23.8km

When: 16 October 2019

In a run of luck I know can’t last, but which I am nonetheless grateful for, I yet again got to my hostel this afternoon just as the weather turned. I’m writing this snug on the top bunk of my rather lovely albergue in the Asturian hamlet of Castro, listening to the wind and rain do a climatic tango with one another on the other side of the window. The jury is out on which one is winning, but they both seem to be doing well.

Today’s walk was really all about one location – the reservoir at Salime (Embalse de Salime) which I spent much of the morning descending towards, and a couple of hours walking away from. It’s a haunted-looking location – the abandoned buildings that line the hillside above the dam have a sadness about them, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the community that would have lived there, where they went and how they felt about having their valley flooded in the name of progress. Wikipedia tells me that over 100 workers died during the dam and reservoir’s construction, which eventually opened in 1954 after the UK broke a UN embargo against Franco’s Spain by supplying the turbines and generators it needed.

The reservoir itself looks beautiful from a distance, appearing just as the light was perfect and the surrounding hillsides at their most impressive. Pine woods and chestnut trees fill the local landscape, the forest paths frequented by fat, black slugs, almost as big as bananas (but, you know, less yellow…), making their slow, slithering journeys from goodness knows where to who know what.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 4

Walked from: Campiello

Walked to: Berducedo

Distance: 29.6km

When: 15 October 2019

My guide book warns that the ‘Hospitales’ route I walked today is one of the most demanding days of any on the many caminos that crisscross Europe, bound for Santiago de Compostela. It’s often shrouded in mist, in which case you’re urged to take the alternative, easier route (which still sounded quite challenging, based on the stories of the people I met this evening). Oh, and there’s no facilities on the way, except for a bar some 3.5km before the end which turned out not to exist. I spent those last 3,500 metres plaintively muttering ‘pub, pub, pub’ to Rosa, the good humoured young German woman who I hiked much of the day with. Whatever gets you through, eh?

Anyway, my luck was very much ‘in’ today. Thomas, a German man I’ve been hiking with, noticed I’d left my rain jacket behind and carried it with him until he caught up with me. He saved me the extra hour of walking that would have been involved in going back to retrieve it and is officially my hero of the day, and possibly for the whole trip. Rosa lent me one of her sticks for the steep decent after Puerto del Palo, which was a huge help – think I may need to rethink my ‘no stick’ strategy. The visibility was excellent. The rain stayed away until the final kilometre or so. And the views were abso-bloody-lutely spectacular, new vistas opening up in all directions with every new crest climbed. The skies got in on the act, determined to compete with the landscape in putting on a show we wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Wind aside – and boy did it blow; it was safe, but a few more miles an hour and it wouldn’t have been – it was perfect conditions for experiencing an extraordinary route. The Cordillera Cantábrica is stunning. Come. But make sure you bring wet weather gear… and a sense of humour.

Views aside, the route also takes in the ruins of a number of medieval ‘hospitals’, where the hardy pilgrims of old would stay when they were walking to Santiago de Compostela some 800 year ago. One, Fanfarón, had a roof, providing some much needed shelter from the howling wind while we quickly wolfed down lunch. It was an altogether more relaxing experience this evening, sitting in the hostel post-hot shower, talking about adventures past and planned, and sharing my bottle of €1.15 ‘no label’ wine. I’m living the high life in altitude, if not attitude!

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