El Camino de Santiago ||Week Five

Camino de Santiago, Personal, Travel


Welcome friends! In case you’re new around here, allow me to introduce this crazy adventure! Last summer I did the craziest thing of my life so far and walked 500 miles across Northern Spain with my 18 yr-old brother as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. It took us five full weeks to get from St. Jean Pied-de-Port France to Santiago on foot and I’m so excited to finally be sharing the photos and stories of our journey! I have committed to a five-week series where each Friday I post the next installment of our journey. Be sure to follow the links above if you’ve missed any of the earlier installments and hit the subscribe button to be the first to know when the next installment goes live!



DAY TWENTY-NINE: Vega del Valcarce to Fonfría || ≈ 23.6km (14.6miles)

We started off our last week of the Camino by climbing a steep path straight into the heart of the Galician mountains. Although the climb was probably the most strenuous portion of the Camino (maybe only second to the very first day) our bodies were so much stronger than when we crossed the Pyrenees at the beginning and while we were definitely tired at the end, we weren’t completely dead like we were after crossing the Pyrenees.

As we left the town of Vega del Valcarce behind I couldn’t help but snap a few photos of the massively tall bridges that towered over the village. I guess it’s normal over there for highways to just make these huge bridges to cut across the mountains but that is definitely not normal where I’m from!

After we left the steepest part of our trek behind us, we entered the last vilage of the region of Castilla which had exactly one business: this cafe/albergue. We ate a hearty breakfast here and I had the BEST cookie of my entire life, a homemade chocolate orange cookie that was to die for. I bought a second on our way out of town and honestly was tempted to buy more.

The first part of our ascent was through a thick wooded trail with steep switchbacks and rocky paths. But after we left the town of Laguna de Castilla behind us, the trail opened up and we found ourselves treated with the most incredible views.

The very first town you enter after crossing into Galicia is O Cebreiro. The region of Galicia was originally inhabited by the Celts and there is still a very strong Celtic heritage and the change in architecture and culture was apparent immediately. It was also so misty and foggy when we entered the town that it was easy to believe we had left Spain behind somewhere in the mountains and had mysteriously found ourselves in Ireland.

We ended up taking a decently long break in O Cebreiro and when we were finally ready to hit the trail again, the sun had decided to pop out from behind the clouds and join us for the rest of the day!

The albergue we stayed in offered a pilgrim’s meal where you pay a set amount, usually between 8-15euros a person for a 3-4 course meal) and seeing as this really wasn’t a town, but rather a collection of two or three albergues and a farm, we didn’t have much of an option when it came to dinner. But we thoroughly enjoyed our experience meeting more pilgrims and eating dinner in a traditional Galician structure called a “Palloza“.

DAY THIRTY: Fonfría to Sarría || ≈ 27.6km (17 miles)

This day entailed long stretches of misty forest paths and enchanting stone villages.

DAY THIRTY-ONE: Sarría to Portomarín || ≈ 22km (13.6 miles)

Sarría marks the major starting point for all the pilgrims who just wish to walk the final 100km to Santiago – the only requirement to receive one’s Compostela. The albergue was much more crowded and filled with eager groups of people about to start on their trek and who weren’t used to the unspoken rules of pilgrim etiquette yet. We noticed a change at once the following morning when the path was suddenly way more crowded than it had ever been. Large groups of European versions of boyscouts and girlscouts as well as groups of teenagers and families with small children had suddenly joined our ranks and the path was way more raucous and noisy then it had ever been.

The stone that marks the 100km mark! 700 down and 100 left to go!!!

Shortly after this exciting milestone (ahem, kilometer stone), we came across this lady who had set up a table along the side of the path and was offering a huge array of fresh fruit and freshly made baked items for pilgrims to eat by donation only. I asked for a crepe which she filled with fresh honey from her very own bees and nuts from the trees in her yard. It was SO good!

The much welcomed sight of a place to stop and fill up on food!

What a traffic jam on the Camino looked like:

As we approached the town of Portomarín, we got our first glimpse of a beautiful body of water in the distance.

The bridge crossing into Portomarín. The Río Miño was the largest body of water we had seen since we started the Camino and it was a beautiful sight!

The building in the photo below on the left was the albergue we stayed in and the photo on the right was the view from the tables and chairs outside it. It was SO beautiful!!

DAY THIRTY-TWO: Portomarín to Palas de Rei || ≈ 25.2km (15.6 miles)

Once again our day started off with way more fellow pilgrims then we were used to, despite our best attempts at an earlier headstart. The first 8km took us through the middle of nowhere with no place to stop but most of it was through the most beautiful woods I’ve ever seen so I didn’t mind.

A middleschool group from Italy with their matching neon shirts slightly head of us:

I mean, come on, is this path even real????

We stayed in Palas de Rei for the night and stayed in the albergue located directly across from the Church. The Church is the stone building on the left, and the albergue is the blue and orange building on the right:

A real life photo of our bunks and the view out our window:

We attended Sunday Mass in this Church.

DAY THIRTY-THREE: Palas de Rei to Azúra|| ≈ 26.3km (16.3 miles)

This day had us cross through several small towns and more wooded patches and fields. It was raining on and off but still a day of beautiful scenery.

We hit a good portion of rain on this day and decided to take a decent break under the shelter this cafe offered. A few other pilgrims had the same idea as us.

Seeing signs on the highway for Santiago made it suddenly seem a whole lot real that we were actually only a few days away!

DAY THIRTY-FOUR: Azúra to Arca|| ≈ 19.1km (11.8 miles)

Our second-last-day! Crazy how parts of the Camino had seemed to last forever and yet somehow we were just about done!

I’ve mentioned earlier how a group of my friends were walking the Camino the same summer but they were a few weeks ahead of us. Well one of my friends left me a note on the corkboard at this tiny cafe along the path and she told me to look for it when we got there. It was so fun to find it!!

Because of our early morning start we arrived at the albergue about an hour before it opened, and we weren’t alone. A lot of pilgrims were already lined up and waiting for it to open before we arrived.

DAY THIRTY-FIVE: Arca to SANTIAGO!!!!!|| ≈ 20km (12.4 miles)

Our very last day walking the Camino!!!! What?!?!?! We only had 20km left to go which didn’t feel like much when most of our days in the last week had been over 25km. We passed through some GORGEOUS forests and traversed up and over some hills and then, voila, there was our first view of Santiago.

With about 9km to go we took our typical mid-morning coffee break (although this time I chose tea and I had a slice of the traditional Tarta de Santiago (an amazingly delicious almond cake).

At Monte de Gozo we had our very first view of Santiago. You can even see the spires of the cathedral in the right hand corner of the city:

We had to take a picture with the sign as we crossed into the city limits.

Entering Santiago!!

We headed straight for the Cathedral so we could officially end our pilgrimage in the square out front with all the other hundreds of pilgrims.

Someone offered to take pictures of us and I gave them both my phone and camera because I had a feeling the photos from my camera wouldn’t be in focus and I was right. At least they tried.

The one thing that I would change the next time I do this would be to have booked our albergue in advance for Santiago. The only albergue I booked ahead of time was the very first one in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port but I really should have done the same thing for Santiago. The city is too big with too many options and having just our guidebook to go off was overwhelming and I was stressed we wouldn’t find an inexpesnive option that still had beds available. We ended up staying in the Seminario Menor which is about half a mile from the Cathedral and wonderfully spacious. Even though it was still an albergue and we were still just paying for a bed and not a room, we had more space and privacy then in other albergues and that was nice.

After we checked into our albergue and changed, it was time to head to the official pilgrim office to get our Compostelas before it closed for the night.

Signs of how much we walked, the photo on the left shows the bottom of my walking sticks. When I bought them in Pamplona they had metal points that stuck out about 1-2 inches from the bottom of the poles and by the time I reached Santiago they had been completely ground down into nothing.

Later that evening we met up with some of the members of our pilgrim family and took a group photo in front of the Cathedral before going out to dinner.

DAY THIRTY-SIX & SEVEN: Rest days in Santiago

We had two days before our bus ticket to Fatíma, Portugal and we ended up deciding to just stay in Santiago and rest for those two days instead of going to Finisterre. I’m so glad we made that decision because it was SO NICE to stay in the same bed for more than one night and it was the perfect way to start to process the Camino.

I spent hours each day in the Cathedral and in various coffee shops journaling away. So peaceful and beautiful.

I went to Mass each evening at the Cathedral in the hopes that one of the days the famous botafumerio would be used. It is the largest incenser in the world and weighs almost 200lbs. It takes 8 men to get it going and then it swings back and forth across the cathedral until it’s almost touching the ceiling! According to the traditional stories, it was originally created as a solution to cover the stench of all the unwashed medieval pilgrims. It wasn’t used on the first or second day, but finally on our final night in Santiago I got to see this crazy thing in action and it was amazing!

I’ll leave you with some words I wrote in my journal on our final day in Santiago:

“I’m sitting in the main plaza outside of the Cathedral and simply watching the pilgrims stream in. The hugs and cheers and overall triumphant and joyful atmosphere is contagious and I’m struck by how this must be a small glimpse into the Heavenly celebration that takes place when the angels and saints joyfully welcome each weary and triumphant pilgrim home. “

Thanks for following along on our Camino journey! I’ll be posting more logistic posts (about our budget/food/lodging/what a typical day looks like/FAQ/etc) in the future!

Mary Kate


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