I’m actually here, in Santiago de Compostela. I’ve told people the trip was different this time because I knew I could make it (barring unforeseen circumstances). I knew I’d actually get to Santiago, whereas the first time 1500 kilometres seemed like such an incredible distance that I never believed deep down that I’d ever get there.
But now, four days after arriving, it still seems incredible that I’m here.
Days 43 and 44: Ourense (0 km)
I figured I might as well take a rest day, since I had time and although my ankle was fine, my back was still intermittently sore. And then I was lazy and met up with a friend who was taking a rest day the following day, and one rest day turned into two. My Camino was definitely hedonistic on an intermittent basis.
The first day started with a bit of excitement, though. A French Canadian friend decided the bites he and I had were definitely bed bugs, and we spent the morning in the albergue washing our sleeping bags and all the clothes we weren’t wearing in the washing machine, and then soaking our backpacks in seriously hot water. If they were bedbugs, it seems to have worked, because I haven’t had a similar bite since.
Ourense isn’t the prettiest of cities—it doesn’t have a serious old quarter—but it’s definitely less touristy and very busy. I think I saw five stores just selling perfume, whereas if the towns I’ve been passing through sold any perfume, it was a few boxes crammed in among food, toiletries, and more.
Like I said, I was lazy. I saw the cathedral. I drank tinto de verano (a mix of red wine and lemon pop) and ate tapas. I saw the hot springs—it turned out when the Camino takes you down a set of stairs only to take you back up again, it’s so you can pass the hot fountain. I wandered around.
Day 45: Ourense to Cea (22 km)
This was a hot day with a lot of ascents—possibly the longest steep part of the trip. It was mostly on asphalt, but on small roads rather than the highway. It started out going past a lot of houses, but by the end there were bits of forest, some with eucalyptus trees.
I left late, and by the time I got to Cea I was in quick-march mode, ready to collapse from the heat.
I don’t know what it was, but this day and the next had by far the largest number of barking dogs on the route. My guidebook warns me to be careful of dogs, but up until this day I’d mostly been barked at by the occasional lap dog—the larger ones sometimes lifted their heads to watch me walk by.
The albergue was the usual nice but institutional building with a big dorm. If you stay there, make sure to find a bed at the back. The problem with the front is that if anyone takes the stairs, which they have to do to use the washroom, the motion-detecting light comes on. Very brightly. And it shines on the unfortunate sleepers. (I was lucky and in the back.)
Five of us ate out at a little bakery, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember. It was small, with only three small tables, and run by a very friendly family. The type of food was pretty standard, but the quality was better than average.
Day 46: Cea to Castro Dozón (technically 14 km)
I was still happy to be walking, but I gave myself a break and took the “easy” route to Castro Dozón instead of the one past the monastery at Oseira. But everyone else who took the route agreed that it felt rather longer than 14 kilometres. It involved a fair bit of climbing, especially if you missed the Camino and ended up at a farm in the middle of nowhere asking for directions, as I did.
The day started out overcast and got quite sunny. The general trend for quite a while has been either that, or starting out sunny and ending up seriously overcast. Since before Galicia, there have been the occasional “tormentas” (storms—but doesn’t it sound so much worse in Spanish?), but in the late afternoons and evenings. I only got slightly wet that first day in Galicia, the province that is supposed to have constant rain. I guess I’ve been lucky.
The albergue, just outside town, was nice. It would be a serious pain in cold weather, though, since you have to go through a covered outdoor area to get from room to room.
Day 47: Castro Dozón to Silleda (28 km)
This was a pretty walking day, with some beautiful forests and a few steeply uphill bits but a general downhill trend. There was a lovely little bridge just past A Laxe, a middle-of-nowhere feeling town.
In a little town just before Silleda, a man (priest?) invited a few of us to visit his church, a nice change from the usually-closed churches. He even gave us an orange (and apologized for not having more). We ate it in the nice square outside, which had potable water—something that’s become rather a rarity since most of the fuentes for the few days before Santiago have signs saying they’re not guaranteed sanitary.
I can’t comment on the albergue, since I ended up getting a room from a bar in town. A night without a dorm room was amazing.
Day 48: Silleda to Outeiro (24 km)
This was mostly a nice day, undulating through forests (there’s eucalyptus now) and countryside. At some point Luis, a Spanish guy I’d never met before, caught up with me and we ended up walking on together.
And then, approaching Ponte Ulla, there was a long, seriously steep descent. I was still feeling okay after it, but Luis, who’d walked a lot farther than I had that day, wanted to stop. Since I’d rented a room the previous night, I wanted to stay in the albergue, which was four kilometres farther. What’s four kilometres, after all? Luis decided to come with me.
Those four kilometres were some of the worst walking kilometres of my life. They were almost all uphill, and I don’t know how hot it actually was—I suspect in the low 30s Celsius. At first we walked through a residential area, where we stuck our heads over a fence to catch a bit of sprinkler water. Then we ended up staggering along through a forest. The road was wide, but we walked single file along the edge, since there were intermittent bits of shade there.
“If I stopped once, I’d never move again,” Luis said at one point, and I agreed.
Finally we reached a small Santiago chapel (closed, of course) with a fountain. The sign said the water wasn’t safe to drink, so we splashed it on our faces. Luckily, the albergue was only a few hundred metres farther.
There were only five of us in the albergue, probably because it was in the middle of nowhere. When I went down the hill (close to a kilometre) to investigate the food situation, I found one restaurant was closed (though later I was told it would deliver to the albergue). The other, in an utterly gorgeous hotel, was full up, but the father of one of the owners was incredibly nice and explained how I could get to a bar farther down the highway.
Of the five of us in the albergue, the two Austrian women ordered food, and shared their Santiago cakes with the rest of us. Pietro from Italy had hauled a lot of food up the hill, and offered to share it with me and Luis.
None of us except the two Austrian women had met before, and we all (with the same exception) came from different countries with different languages. But all five of us ate together, talking mostly in Spanish although only Luis was fluent and the Austrian women could hardly speak it at all.
It was a quiet final evening, but very Camino.
Day 49: Outeiro to Santiago de Compostela! (16 km)
Sixteen kilometres doesn’t sound like so much. After all, I’ve walked more than double that in a single day. But these 16 kilometres felt like at least thirty.
For one thing, there was a lot of steepness, both up and downhill. And then there was the heat, which hit hard by about nine a.m.
Apart from that, it was a nice walk, through countryside with fancy-looking houses and bits of forest. By about the halfway point, I could see the outskirts of Santiago sprawling up a big hill ahead.
I hadn’t realized that the Vía de la Plata has a much better view of the cathedral on the way in than the Camino Francés has. Walking through the Santiago suburbs, I crested a hill and could suddenly see the cathedral on the opposite hill. In that moment, I felt like I had arrived.
As I walked through the quiet streets, I couldn’t stop grinning.
Of course, the view came at a price. After I went down, I had to go up again to get to the cathedral, and the street was incredibly steep.
And then I was there, at the cathedral. As I’d been warned, it wasn’t as emotional an experience as last time. But all the same, it felt pretty good. I’d walked 1,000 kilometres, and I’d finally reached my destination.
I’ll tell you more about Santiago, and why I’ve been here four days already, very soon.
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If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.