Lavacolla > Santiago > Tour of coast > Santiago
October 4 – 5, 2017
[My apologies that this post has been so long in the works. There’s something about coming so close to the end that makes that last little bit hard to get through. Although I will be continuing this blog I’m not sure of the regularity past documenting this trip or where I will go next, both in terms of writing and the actual adventuring. But this post marks the last of the Camino walk itself and then I will have 2 more about our last couple Spanish destinations. I hope you will stick with me for those and beyond. And please do let me know if you have any questions especially about backpacking and bikepacking and any other travel issues one might face as an unlikely adventurer. Oh and one last thing, all photos except the one of Monte de Gozo directly below and my shoe picture are by Vanessa Friedman.]
For only the second time of our walking trip we embarked in the morning as a little crew. With Kathryn at our side we had an infusion of newness into our conversation and someone to share our excitement with upon reaching Santiago (as well as someone to share the 3 hour line, but I’ll get to that). In early darkness we took a moment to shut off our headlights, enjoy the silence, and look up at the stars. The morning was misty and we weren’t too far from the city so it wasn’t the most stars that I had ever seen in the sky but it was a nice moment of stillness before the brightness and excitement that were to come in Santiago.
As the sun rose we crested the hill to come upon the Monte de Gozo.
Monte de Gozo, or Mount Joy, was once the first place that pilgrims could get a glimpse of the Cathedral spires [of Santiago]. A new stand of trees blocks the view now. It is a large gathering place for pilgrims, who flock to the over-sized monument commemorating the pilgrimage that Pope John Paul II made here in 1993.
Hordes of tour buses carrying mostly Chinese and Korean tourists ferried camera-toting gawkers all around the hilltop monument and spilled into the small church room where people got a credential stamp. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people but calmed by the gargantuan sculpture that loomed underneath the rising sun.
We were almost there. But first we had to pass by the largest albergue complex we had ever seen. A complex that at its fullest could bed 400 the Albergue Monte de Gozo sprawled out before us like a dystopian future prison industrial complex. Built to accommodate the expected crowds of a jubilee/holy year in the early ’90s it has seldom been full and therefore only a couple of the buildings are really kept up. This makes it even less inviting so even as the pilgrim numbers increase at an exponential rate (I heard this year was the largest ever at 300,000) occupancy here remains low. So we scuttled past as quickly as we could.
This was probably partly to blame for our missteps onto an accidental alternate Camino. There were still yellow arrow signs, which meant it was likely the bike route and we saw plenty of others making our same mistake so we got into town just as well but I was still a little disheartened that our approach was mainly over some highway like roads with roundabouts. Still, entering the city felt exciting and Santiago is a lively city, but not so huge as to not feel welcoming. For the first time our matching footsteps with others felt not like and overcrowded march but a gleeful group of children skipping towards our goal.
When we got to Santiago the spires were under construction so our pictures weren’t as perfect as we may have wanted but we futzed around with it anyway before heading off to get our compostelas.
I can’t say much about waiting in line. It was 3 hours that included some cute reunions and chatting but largely just as boring as you would expect a 3 hour wait to be. I was nervous when I got to the end but I needn’t have been. I got my name in Latin on a fancy certificate also all in Latin and bought a sturdy tube to hold it for 2€. Then Kathryn ran into her long time trail buddies and headed off to have lunch with them. We also ran into some friends, the Italian ladies who were so cheerful though we could only communicate without words, and took a slew of pictures. We were just about to head off when there was some drama coming from the compostela office. A lady was shouting and security was about to escort her out. Apparently they wouldn’t award her the certificate though she insisted she walked the required kilometers. Wish I knew the whole story but I only heard this little bit at the end. Hard Copy take note!
We had booked an AirB&B instead of staying in an albergue because once you got to Santiago the prices shot way up and we found our own room right in the center of town for the same or, really less, than we would have spent on a shared dorm. We never met the husband Xabi but Carla was just the sweetest and gave us a really great restaurant recommendation (that I just spent 10 minutes trying to find the name of even though probably no one cares except me) that we ended up going to twice during our trip. The second time we even ran into Carla who was chatting with a friend over some oyster tapas. She was easy to spot with her bright blue hair. She also had the cutest little kitten, an orange tabby named Ron Weasley who was rambunctious enough to have his own set of rules. Among our favorites from this list that was posted in our room were “Don’t step on it; it’s just a baby” and especially “Don’t get starched!” Carla and her husband were foodies, music and cat lovers and Harry Potter nerds so we felt right at home.
Even though we hadn’t done as many miles as usual we were still pretty beat and we only had one full day before heading to meet our friend Diana in Barcelona the next, so we got an early night. In the morning we had a tour to all the “end of the world” Atlantic ocean spots we just didn’t have time to hike to. On our tour bus were, once again, the Italian ladies, as well as the Australian couple we had met and it was nice to be going with some familiar faces.
Our tour guide was very thorough and explained everything a couple times. Vanessa thought her English wasn’t all that great and I thought it was ok but her accent was quite thick so perhaps she had gotten used to repeating herself. I didn’t mind too much, though, because she kind of looked like a young Tina Fey, like the kind of girl in a movie with a mousey blouse and flats that when she takes of her glasses the protagonist suddenly realizes she’s beautiful.
The tour of the Costa da Morte (death coast) with Art Natura took us through 4 destinations: Muxía, Finisterre, Ézaro, and Muros. Finisterre, what ancient pilgrims considered to be the “end of the world” is the most famous and most traveled by pilgrims taking an extra 3 to 4 days to get to from Santiago by foot. But though it is rocky and treacherous it is actually Muxía that holds more shipwreck legends. It also includes plenty of shipwreck facts as evidenced by the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker that spilled thousands of tons into the water and onto the shore here in 2002.
It is also said that Santiago (St James) the guy whose pilgrimage we’ve been following this whole time, came here to cry after massacring a whole village of pagan celts. Even though he was crying more for their lack of Christianity than his villainous murder spree it is said that the Virgin Mary herself came in a stone boat to comfort him and tell him that his work was done. There is a large smooth rock outcropping that is said to be the sail from her boat and if you pass through it 9 times will cure you of all back and kidney disorders. I say if you can hunch that low to get through that narrow slit you never had any back problems to begin with.
After these 2 stops I was getting pretty tired and didn’t really feel the need for 2 more but in Ézaro we got to see a pretty spectacular waterfall that runs into the sea, the only place in Europe where you can find that. And then in Muros we finally got to have lunch. It was an overpriced and yet somehow rather boring little tourist beach town but I did have more scallops with gonads so I appreciated that.
As the bus finally began its journey back to town and our tour guide wound down her spiel I thought about how much she talked about the Galician people. Like our time in Basque Country, they also had their own language that they used in conjunction with Spanish. And also like Basque it used an inscrutable amount of Xes that I had no idea how to pronounce. As we would continue our trip through Spain this separatism would only become more apparent. But before I could get too engrossed in my oh-so-serious thoughts we passed a man peeing on the side of the road, and entire tour bus staring at him. “Not his lucky day,” Fake Tina Fey said, and I fell into an uneasy nap.