It has been a LONG while since I´ve had a computer. I still plan to add pictures for the other posts once we return to the States. This post is long, but has pictures.
The last two weeks have been grueling but beautiful. It was so nice to come off the meseta and see different things. Galicia is beautiful and green, but more than anything it has simply been nice to be, once again, somewhere ¨different¨. We actually liked Leon a lot, and even the meseta, but after 7 to 10 days of the same thing every day, it was wonderful to have bagpipes, octopus, and celtic culture. I must admit I am a horrible Irishman though. I have now been to every Celtic región (Galicia, Brittany, Cornwall, Scotland, and Wales) besides Ireland. And I have a Irish last name. Worst. Irishman. Ever.
Kepa´s fame has grown beyond belief. Expect a post on this topic upon our return (before we retire the blog). We are seriously worried about his adjustment back to the States. We began worrying if he could be happy on the camino. Now the worry is how will he cope without walking 25 k a day and being ¨¨the famous Camino baby Kepa.¨ We continue to meet people who know his name, age, where we are from, and what we do for a living, even though we have never met them. Scary.
June 8 Leon to Villar de Mazarife (23.1 km)
We were excited to be ¨leaving¨ the meseta, but this day was pretty ugly. Half suburban and industrial Leon, half just more meseta. But we made it to Villar de Mazarife amidst the hopes that new terrain awaited.
June 9 Villar de Mazarife to Astorga (30.1 km)
A beautiful walk over a mountain into Astorga, a town we were very excited about. For centuries, all chocolate came into Europe via Astorga. We couldn´t wait for our chocolate city. Also there is a Gaudi house there and a beautiful gothic catedral. The problema was this was a very, very long day over a big mountain in the sun. And it was Sunday. By the time we got there the chocolate museum, the Gaudi palace, and the catedral were ALL closed (boo). We did get to see the outside of them all. We really liked the Gaudi (being modernists, we usually do) and the cathedral (outside anyway) was our favorite yet. Alas, the chocolate was mediocre at best. The chocolate in Estrella was far better. But we really liked Astorga and plan to return someday when things are open.
|Coming over the mountain, Astorga and its catedral in site|
|The Palacio Gaudi in Astorga. Half whimsical fairtale, half practical, a beautiful structure IMO. Now houses a museum about the camino (also closed when we got there)|
June 10 Astorga to Fancebadon (27.2 km)
Another long day, but increasingly pretty. Ended after a MASSIVE, STEEP climb, just below the cross de fero (see previous post). We stayed at what felt like a remote outpost. Really pleasant.
|Some German friends of ours create a way marker out of pinecones|
June 11 Fancebadon to Pontferada (28.5 km)
Crossed over the peak of the mountain, left our rocks at the cross of iron, and headed down, down, down to Pontferada. This was another rough day, but rewarded with a beautiful castle built by the knights templar (da Vinci code fame hahaha)
|The four of us at the Cross de Fero|
|The Castle in Pontferada|
The terrain getting ever more green, we entered Vilafranca through 5 km of open wine vinyards. This región of Leon, Bierzo, is trying to establish itself as a major wine and cherry región. The wine is solid and the cherries damn good. This is also the last major outpost of Spain......although for at least a day now it has been clear that the culture is primarily Galician (Gaellego) even if we are techically still in the provence of Leon.
|Fried eggs with bacon, chorizo, and fries and a pitcher of sangría. Heaven.|
|Kepa enjoys a swing in Villafranca. Check out the church in the background|
June 13 Vilafranca to Laguna de Castilla (28.1 km)
After another MASSIVE and STEEP climb, we stopped short of the Galician border by a half a kilometer. We were still greeted by our favorite hotel/albuerge yet, celtic music, and good beer (Estrealla Galicia´s 1906 reserve is REALLY good).
|Having climbed above the tres we near Laguna de Castilla (the lake of the Castillians....no lake, but the last inhabitaded spot of ¨Spain¨)|
|This couple from Montana and their 9 year old daughter are doing the Camino by bike. She had more energy than her parents and apparently got them up the mountain almost by herself. And no, that is not a tándem, it is a triplet!!!!!|
June 14 Laguna to Triacastella (Galicia) (22.7 km)
Galicia!!!!! Not our ¨favorite¨region of Spain, but a good one, and a vast difference from the mesata. A much needed change. Say what you will, but Galicia es única. Most rural villages are Gaellego first language, Portuguese second, and Castillian (Spanish) third. The music is bagpipes (including their famous Brand of Gaellego punk), and the food is mostly octopus, as well as vegetable stew.
The views back down the mountain were truly stunning, and we went through tons of tiny Little villages (3 to 4 houses) with cows being walked around us and poop everywhere. Really quaint and fun. Though smelly.
|Coming over the mountains into Galicia.|
|Coming down into El Acebo, half way down the mountain. Had a lovely lunch|
|The weather is finally getting warm enough in the evenings to wear the clothes we thought we'd wear every evening!|
We added 6 km this day to the total you go by way of Samos, a traditional stopping point on the camino that is now bipassed for political reasons. A beautiful and ancient monestary is here. The day before this was the most beautiful weather of the trip and this day was a close second. More rustic Galician villages and almost no one on our alternative trail. A great denoument to the previous day.
|We walked back from San Mamed 1.3 km to eat some great paella at a rural restaurant with one heck of a view.|
3 km in we passed Sarria. Our lives changed. See, you can technically get a compostella if you only walk the last 100 km. So suddenly the number of peregrinos multiplied by 4 or 5 (not kidding). Mostly day trippers helped by buses, and often not even carrying bags. The route is crowded. No spot to sit at a café. Miserable. If I ever did this again I would forgo Santiago and stop at Sarria. Not exagerating. Then, to boot, Portomarin lacks carácter because it was moved in the 1960s. Apparently they thought the dam would give way so they made them move the city up the hill and flooded the valley on purpose. The town now lies a half mile down . What was interesting is that they moved the church Stone by Stone and rebuilt it. You can still see the numbers etched in each Stone.
|The original town of Portormoran is below us. The new one ahead of us.|
|It was a fiesta in Portomarin and they had bagpipes (of course!)|
Drizzly rain and hordes of people. Like a disneyland. A Palas de Rei may have once been the home of Galician kings (I asume, google it) but I didn´t see a building more than a century old. But we did have a wonderful meal.
June 18 Palas de Rei to Castaneda (23.4 km)
Some pretty scenery and a few less day tripers. Stopped in Mewilde for the most famous pulpo (octopus cooked in wine) in Galicia. Not a bad day. Castaneda was remote and slightly nondescript, but we liked it just fine.
|A nice looking way marker along the way|
June 19 Castaneda to Arco do Pino (25.2 km)
More drizzly rain, and more eucaliptus forrest. But pretty enough. And not super wet.
|A lone cross of St. James along the way|
We made it!!!!!! Arrived in town by 1 PM, greeted in the main square by tons of friends, bagpipes, and a beautiful catedral. Santiago is a tad touristy, but it is great to get here.
|7 km out!|
|Immediately upon arriving in the square. Taken by a German man we´ve talked to for weeks who speaks no German. We call him Oompah.|
We had originally planned to start walking for Finnestare today, but we think we may not walk all the way to the historical end of the world (3 to 4 days from here) although in many ways I do believe that to be the real end of the camino. I mean, how many medieval pilgrims would turn around 3 days from the coast? But it felt nice to rest and rejoice at being here, to hang out with friends, to see Santiago, to go to the food market, to drink more Galician beer, to go to Pilgrim´s mass (they swung the thing!!!!! google it you´ll see). It has been a good day. Tomorow we will bus to Cee, on the coast, 11 km short of Finnestare. Then we will walk the last short leg to Finnestare. Sunday we will walk 20 km to Muxia. Then we bus back to Santiago, get a rental car, and head to the Basque coast for a few days before flying back. We allowed extra days walking because of Kepa, but in the end we finished in only 1 more than the ambitious guidebooks claim.
Kepa did not get a compostella (not old enough) and was denied baptism (need a letter from our home parish, which we don´t really have), but everything else went aces. A great, great trip. But its odd to not be walking. Even Kepa was grumpy today till we put him in the pack to walk around town. I used to think I´d look forward to being done. now it is such a habit I cant imagine not having 25 km to walk today!!!