Day 18: Herrerias to Fonfria – 20 km.
.. I was a bit anxious about today’s hike. Our guidebook described the first eight kilometers as “it climbs steeply through the chestnut woods and offers no respite along the way”. After that, even our ‘non-judgemental’ map showed today’s walk to consist of relentless ups and downs. To top that off, despite my zealous foot-care, I had acquired two blisters (one on each heel), both of which had become quite cranky. The opening climb was tough, as promised, but the scenery was among the most stunning that we have seen so far. About six kilometers in, I must have looked in rough shape. A man walking a horse came by and asked if I needed a ride to the top. Needed? Absolutely! Ego willing to give in? Not quite yet! I continued walking. Despite the unending climbs, the views remained phenomenal throughout the day. Oh, and I would be neglectful not to mention the amazing pound cake that we had at the top of our first climb (O’Cebreiro). It was just like my Grandma Weissmann used to make. It tasted like home, childhood and family in every delicious bite!
Day 20 – Fonfria to San Mamed Del Camino – 25 km.
Just when we thought that nothing on the Camino could surpass yesterday’s views, today’s scenery was literally jaw-dropping all day long. (So much so, we made very slow progress because we were always stopping to take photos!) Today was a ‘perfect Camino day’ with so many things that we love about this trail combined into one. The weather was gorgeous and our paths were tree-lined and shady for much of the way. We had breakfast at a small, quaint restaurant. Our lunch was at a ‘help yourself to whatever we have’ spot (coffee, tea, juice, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cookies…) all for whatever donation you would like to leave…with no one watching or judging. The concept is totally built on trust! We also stopped at a tranquil picnic spot for a snack. We ended the day at a picturesque auberge that was ideally suited to sheer relaxation! And if all that was not enough, we discovered that Jenny, Sven and Ida (the couple walking with the ten-month old baby) were staying here as well. We finally had the chance to ask them why they decided to hike the Camino. They answered, “We had five weeks off of work and thought about what we would like to do with all of this wonderful time together. We considered hiking the Alps, but then thought that the Camino would be a perfect choice.” How inspirational is that?
Day 21 – San Mamed Del Camino to Portomarin – 27 km.
Today started exactly the way that we like our Saturdays to begin — SLOWLY! We slept in later than usual and had a leisurely breakfast before we began our walk. This was followed by many other casual stops along the way. At one spot, Richard lingered over coffee and the newspaper. He even tried to convince me that he can now read Spanish. He recounted (in detail) one story that he believed he had read. “It’s easy”, he exclaimed. “There are enough Spanish words that are similar to English that you can get the gist.” Or, he just totally made stuff up…which is the more likely version! Despite our relaxed beginning, we still covered more than 27 km. Quite accidentally, we ended up in a huge auberge with more than 100 beds in one room. Not as bad as you might think…but not without its challenges!
Day 22- Portomarin to Palas de Rei – 24.6 km
With just 70 kilometers left to reach Santiago de Compostela, we no longer wonder ‘where have all the pilgrims gone?’ They are now omnipresent and can be seen (and heard) almost everywhere. One of the reasons for this is that Sarria (a town that we passed yesterday) is one of the most common starting points for the Camino Frances as it offers the minimum distant that must be covered in order to receive the official ‘pilgrim certificate’ in Santiago. We love the excitement and energy of so many different types of walkers on the trail. But we do miss having long stretches of tranquil, stunning paths to ourselves (…if you don’t count the occasional cow). It was sheer luxury! Oh, and the cost of a bed has just doubled (Ten euros instead of five). That’s supply and demand for you!
Day 23 -Palais de Rei to Boente – 21 km.
.. A blogger that I follow, recently posted about the simple pleasures in life. This is also very true on the trail. With Herculean effort, I have endeavoured to keep my backpack both small and light. There have been many consequences to this. One major consequence is that my all-purpose trek towel (yup, the one I use after showering) is smaller than the average hand towel! I thought that I had been making do just fine. But, tonight, our auberge offered freshly laundered, ‘regular-sized’ bath towels for only one euro more. I tell you most solemnly…it was sheer heaven! Who knew that one small (make that ‘medium-sized’) towel could make such a difference? As an added bonus, I purchased two new pairs of trekking socks (for a fraction of the cost that they would be at home). The two pairs that I had with me, recently lost interest in this walk. The difference that fresh, new socks can make is truly magical! Richard, on the other hand, found his own ‘simple pleasure’. To each his own!
Day 24- Boente to Santa Irene – 25 km.
Today was the second last day for most walkers to reach the Camino’s official end point in Santiago (and the last day for most bike riders). The energy, excitement and uplifted spirits were palpable. When we were relaxing outside a small cafe in Calzada, a brass band rolled by, on a truck, and played some very funky, upbeat music. Instantly, everyone abandoned their coffees (and other refreshments) and began dancing on the trail. Very fun! We are now in Santa Irene, less than 25 kilometers from Santiago. Irene is my sister’s name (now deceased). I have thought about her often during this walk. That is inevitably one of the key attributes of the Camino. It strips away the ‘busyness’ of our daily lives and helps clear our minds to reflect on what is most important to us.