Galicia reminded me a lot of New Zealand, apart from the slate and stone houses of course. It was so green (Galicia is well known in Spain for it’s rain which we were fortunate enough to avoid), there were lots of ferns in the bush and it was never ever flat, we had ventured far from the plains. It definitely competes with La Rioja as the most gorgeous region on the Camino, although the two can’t really be compared – La Rioja with its dry almost desert like landscape. There are not many major cities on the Camino de Santiago in Galicia and we only walked through a couple of big towns, most of the time we were walking past little farms, beside green fields or through small villages, some consisting of only 5 houses together.
As we left Sarria, we were passed by a sea of new pilgrims who had started the Camino there. That’s the last place you can start the Camino and still get a certificate on the Camino francés (the route from France). It was really a shock to the system, after a month of walking to see all these clean people who would only be walking only five days to reach Santiago, most of them not even carrying their own bags! Unfortunately this also meant the beginning of a daily race for beds in the cheap municipal hostels.
Not far out of Sarria, we arrived at a major milestone: 100km until the end of the Camino. You’d think that the closer we got to the end of the Camino the more excited we’d be about finally finishing, right? Ironic as it sounds, instead of looking forward to it, I became very apprehensive. I didn’t want it to end. After finally becoming accustomed to the simple life of the Camino, I didn’t want to go back to reality. I loved not knowing where we would be sleeping every night, I loved meeting people from all over the world who were doing the Camino for any number of reasons. I was used to walking so far every day and being away from big cities. And I wasn’t the only one, it seemed there was a direct relationship with how far you’d walked and how apprehensive you were about reaching the end.
Our first night out of Sarria took us to beautiful Portomarín, a village on the edge of a large river. The closer we got to Santiago, the earlier people got up. In Portomarín we were woken up by people getting ready to go for a walk at… 4.30am!!!! What were they thinking? The early risers generally also have no concept of being quiet. After a while everyone gave up trying to sleep and we ended up leaving our hostel well before 7am. We emerged into the morning to find a thick fog had set in over the river. At times we couldn’t even see more than 20m ahead of us which made for a very mysterious atmosphere as the sun rose.
Each day in Galicia got hotter and hotter, what a change from less than 2 weeks earlier when we were wearing almost all the clothes we had just to try and keep warm. We arrived in Palas de Rei in what we thought was the heat of the day, at about 2pm. We were surprised to realise that this was just the beginning. The heat didn’t reach it’s peak until well after 7pm, which made it very difficult to go out and explore the town, although it did make conditions perfect for an extended siesta. The sun didn’t end up setting until well after 10pm, which explained why 2pm was not the hottest part of the day.
Not a day went by on the Camino where we didn’t think of the finishing. Whether it was wanting to hurry up and get there, how long until we got there, or what we would do once we arrived, it was never far from our thoughts and discussions. And yet arriving in Santiago was the only disappointment of the entire Camino de Santiago. After walking through the dirty outskirts, into the old town we finally arrived at the Cathedral (the official end as that’s where Saint James is allegedly buried).All my apprehension from the days before turned into profound disappointment. Not only had we finished the Camino but there was no finish line, no 0.00 km remaining sign, there weren’t any recognisable faces to congratulate us and there weren’t people waiting to high-five us or share a beer with us. Instead, we were greeted by tourist shops selling mementos made in China, a sea of people who had obviously walked no further than the 20m from their tour bus to the Cathedral and local hawkers trying to sell us their wares or their hostels over the Camino hostels. It was so unauthentic and I wanted to get away from there as quickly as I could.
It did get better though. As we ran into people we’d met along the Camino we started feeling a bit better about being in Santiago. We ran into people we hadn’t seen for 3 weeks, and people we’d spent the past week with. As the Cathedral bells rang at 7.30pm, everyone congregated in the square in front of it and we were able to say our farewells to friends and fellow walkers (as well as congratulations on surviving the 800km). What we’d done finally started to feel real and a bit more authentic. It was sad saying goodbye to all our Camino friends, but as one adventure ends another one begins.
Since we’ve finished I keep getting asked, would I do it again? Of course, I would love to. I’ve already been investigating the walk from Lisbon to Santiago as well as the Caminho do Sol (Brazil) and the Shikoku Henro (Japan). I’m hoping to meet some friends from the Camino in Barcelona in a few weeks and I’m sure the topic of conversation will change very quickly to when we are all free to do another great walk like this one!