Day 34 (Oct 19): A Rúa to Santiago de Compostela, 20 km, 782 km
Our 34th and last day on the trail started with rain which continued off and on for most of the day.
Leigh Ann is still experiencing a lot of pain in her right shin but…. after 33 days we have decided we will stay together all day. But we are moving much slower on this 12.5 mile day so decide to not stop till we get to the cathedral in Santiago.
There are a lot of hikers on the trail today, not only the long-haulers like us and the folks who started in Saria doing the last 100 km but people who started just out of town. And we are all headed for the same place…. the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela!
And a view of the cathedral with pilgrims arrayed on the plaza… and the rain has stopped (briefly).
After toasting finishing with some large beers…
… we headed to the Pilgrims Office to get our official completion certificates (our Compostelas ).
So… after 780 km (485 miles), 34 days, countless sore muscles, blisters, “pilgrim” menus, supportive fellow pilgrims, great travelling companions, countless churches and helpful townspeople is over it is time to say goodbye to my trusty crocs.
Along the way we stopped in a small chapel built from the remains of a 13th century Templar pilgrim’s hospital where we got a stamp from a blind custodian.
And we saw the usual assortment of interesting and curious things along the trail.
Today’s hike was about 15 miles and while rain threatened most of the day it never happened. Tomorrow is our last long day (~30Km, ~19 miles) and promises to be rainy most of the day but… we will see.
Day 32 (Oct 17): Palas de Rei to Arzua, 30 km, 744 km
Our last big day started with a pouring rain at breakfast. The forecast called for rain all day but…. as we left the hotel the rain stopped and we had no more than a light drizzle the rest of the day.
And, as the rain cleared and sun came up, we had some nice views.
In the last 100 Km you are supposed to get at least two stamps a day. For the 100Km people this is not an issue but for us long-haulers we have to be careful as our passports are filling up. We still had room for a stamp at a pretty little church we passed in the morning.
We got separated today. Leigh Ann is having shin pain so Jim, Bert and Leigh Ann were moving slower and I went ahead. Around 10:15 Leigh Ann fell (a real face plant according to Bert) that required some doctoring. After the fall they seemed to be moving well. Jim and Leigh Ann elected to stop in Melide for lunch around noon. Bert kept coming and caught me at a little lunch spot about 13 miles from the start.
After lunch we learned that Leigh Ann was in too much pain to continue and decided to catch a cab to our hotel in Arzua. We continued on with Jim following a couple of hours behind.
We arrived in Arzua around 3:30 after a long, 18.5 mile day.
We are in a lovely boutique hotel which served one of the best meals on the trip. We all agree that the food has improved significantly since we entered Galicia.
Day 33 (Oct 18): Arzua to A Rúa, 18 km, 762 km
Our penultimate day! And good news, Leigh Ann is feeling good enough (with pain killers) to hike. We decide to split up so she doesn’t feel pressure to hike faster than she is comfortable with. Bert and I head out in the dark around 8:15 watching the sun slowly rise behind us.
Today is an easy day, only a bit over 11 miles. We stopped around 6 miles at a trail-side cafe with a nice view (there are lots in the last 100 km!) for coffee.
And we finally saw one of the grain storage structures (which are everywhere – we have seen hundreds of them) with actual grain. They usually sit 5-10 feet off the ground and are constructed to prevent rodents from getting in.
We are definitely getting close to the end, there are signs everywhere reminding us that we are nearly there.
At the end of the day we are only 21 Km from the end of our journey. It doesn’t seem real somehow. And, of course, rain is forecast.
Our accommodations always include breakfast and often dinner. We get the “Pilgrims Menu”. Maybe it’s because we are used to France but we find the food to be rather bland. Too much meat and not enough seasoning.
The wine, on the other hand, is quite nice. A bottle of the local vino tinto is usually included with our meal and we usually have no trouble at all finishing it off. A lot of the hotels have their own label.
Meal times are later in Spain than we are used to. They look at you funny if you try to eat lunch before 1:30 and most restaurants don’t open for dinner till 8:00. This makes it tough for early hikers (and early hiking is important to avoid the heat)
Unlike a lot of peregrinos we are not staying in albergues (hostels) but in hotels. They range from 2-4 star hotels and we have been very happy with them. We always have a private room with a bath. The albergues are usually 10-15 euros (but can be less than 10), so they are a very economical choice for many people. We used a service (FollowTheCamino) to book all of our hotels . This is both good and bad. We never worry about getting a room but we are on a fixed schedule.
We have only stayed in one hotel with a guest laundry (and we took advantage of it). This is an advantage of the albergues as the almost always have a guest laundry. One of our hotels had an 11€ laundry service (one bag). Most of the time we just wash our hiking clothes in the sink and hang them out a window to dry.
They vary … a lot. We have hiked on dirt paths, paved roads and everything in between. A good deal of the Camino is on gravel roads and the shoulders of paved roads. This is completely different from the trails in the US. It has the advantage of not needing to carry a lot of water or food but it is also not quite as bucolic. But overall we have really enjoyed the trails.
We all carry a “Pilgrims Passport” (Credencial del Peregrino) to document our progress as we proceed along the trail. You get the passport at the Pilgrims Office at the start and collect stamps (at least one a day) at various places (churches, albergues, hotels, etc.) you pass. The person stamping your passport usually signs and dates it. To receive the “Compostela” in Santiago you must…
…collect the stamps on the “Credencial del Peregrino” from the places you pass through to certify that you have been there. Stamps from churches, hostels, monasteries, cathedrals and all places related to the Way are preferred, but if not they can also be stamped in other institutions: town halls, cafés, etc. You have to stamp the Credencial twice a day at least on the last 100 km (for pilgrims on foot or on horseback) or on the last 200 km (for cyclists pilgrims)..
“Facilities” along the Camino are few and far between so, in that respect, the Camino is no different than a wilderness trail. One of the disappointments has been the amount of toilet paper strewn in every likely pee spot. Obviously, the “no trace” ethic has not arrived on the Camino.
The longest stretch with no potable water has been about 10 miles so there is no need to bring water treatment equipment (filters, pills). After 20 days we have never had to carry more than 1-2L of water. The local water is good, cold and tasty!
What to bring
Below are my recommendations for what you do/don’t need based on our hike. If you elect to do the hike without using a bag transfer service (which can be pricey) you can easily keep your total pack weight under 20 lbs and 15 lbs is doable. The beauty of European hiking over wilderness hiking in the USA is that you have a lot of options for sleeping and food that can make your pack very light.
You DON’T need to bring or carry:
Sleeping bag (though some people bring them) or pad. The albergues (hostels) almost always provide clean bedding.
Water treatment (filters, pills, etc.). The water is abundant and good.
Food (except for snacks and sometimes lunch). There are places to eat all along the way.
Thermal underwear (at least not in the fall). The coldest temperatures we have seen have been in the low 40’s.
Bug juice. We did not have any mosquito issues. The flies were sometimes annoying near cows.
What you DO need to bring:
Medium lightweight backpack (40-50L is more than enough). Should not weigh more than ~2lbs.
Hiking footwear. I wear crocs. Lots of people wear trail runners. Some people hike in sandals. I saw a lot of people with hiking boots. Remember, you will be lifting each foot over 500,000 times if you do this hike. Think about that before you select footwear that puts 2 lbs on each foot.
Rain coat (and a pack cover). It does rain in Spain and not always on the plain.
Warm layer (micro-puff or fleece).
One set of town clothes.
Hiking poles (though lots of people don’t use them – this is a personal choice).
Two sets of hiking clothes (shorts/pants, socks, shirt).
Buff, wool hat and lightweight gloves.
Suntan lotion. Sunglasses.
A minimum toiletry kit.
First aid kit (analgesics, moleskin, antiseptic cream, bandaids, etc.)
Smartphone (with the FarOut app and maps downloaded), and 220V adapter/charger.
Couple of light water bottles or a hydration pack (2L is more than enough).
Day 28 (Oct 13): O Cebreri to Tricastela, 21 km, 644 km
A very welcome 13 mile day after the toughest day on the Camino.
The sun was not quite up as we started but soon we had some lovely views later in the day.
And we found a nice place for coffee after a couple of hours of walking..
And, after 5 hours or so of hiking we came into Tricastela (the three castles no longer exist) passing an amazing chestnut tree.
Day 29 (Oct 14): Tricastela to Sarria , 24 km, 668 km
Another easy day. We have been using the FarOut app to navigate so far and today was the first time it let us down. The most popular Camino route from Tricastela to Sarria is not shown in FarOut so today we just followed the signs and the other pilgrims.
We waited for sunrise since we will be navigating the old fashioned way…. by signs!
And unlike most of our starts, we had a very misty, drizzly morning. But is was warm (50’s) so we never used our rain coats.
And the trail was wonderful, packed earth through farmlands and trees.
But this is definitely cow country..
And, after four hours or so of hiking our home for the night came into view..
The toughest part of navigating the Camino is in the bigger towns as there are lots of competing signs.
And we are definitely getting closer to Santiago… as the sign shows. 652 Km from where we started (St Jean Pied de Port) and 114 to Santiago.
Day 30 (Oct 15): Sarria to Portomarin, 22.5 km, 690 km
To receive the “Compostela” or pilgrim certificate you have to:
Make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, or at least an attitude of search.
Do the last 100 km on foot or horseback, or the last 200 km by bicycle. It is understood that the pilgrimage starts at one point and from there you come to visit the Tomb of St. James.
Collect the stamps on the “Credencial del Peregrino” from the places you pass through to certify that you have been there.
As Sarria is the last town before the 100Km mark, we have been joined by many, many people doing just the last 100 Km.
And we saw vans dropping off folks just before the official 100Km marker.
But we had a gorgeous sunrise as we walked out of Sarria so who cares about the newbies!
And even though overcast we had some lovely views.
After 14 miles or so we arrived at the Rio Mino and Portomarin.
Tomorrow we plan on an earlier start to try to miss the new hikers (who don’t even know that you are supposed to say “Buen Camino!” when passing!).
We are (finally!) nearing the end…. only four more days and (roughly) 90 km to go.
Day 25 (Oct 10): Rabanal to Ponferrada, 33 km, 568 km (total)
Tough day on the Camino and one of our longest days so far (almost 20 miles). Another pre-dawn start to get a jump on a very long day.
And we have definitely entered the mountains. The coastal range which we have seen 50-60 miles to the north for the last three weeks have swung around as we slowly approach the western coast.
We stopped for coffee at 6 miles or so at a Refugio. The coffee was so thick it almost didn’t pour, but no complaints. It was hot and black on a chilly morning. And today was the high point of the entire Camino, the Cruz de Ferro at 4,934′.
And we bumped into Stitch (“Steech”), a puppy doing the Camino on the back of very nice frenchman…
And we had some lovely views as we hiked higher in the mountains.
And we finally stumbled into our destination town, Ponferrada, a small city of about 65,000 with a 13th century Templar castle, which was unfortunately closed while we were there.
Day 26 (Oct 11):Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo, 25 km, 593 km
Much easier day between two tough ones, only a bit over 15 miles. We are actually in a valley between mountain ranges today so not a lot of climbing. We stopped for lunch at a litte refugio that had avocado toast (yes!)…
…. with a new friend.
Today was mostly a hot road walk with not great views but we had a few and our destination town was very pretty.
And we had a new Camino marker to look out for.
Day 27 (Oct 12): Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreri, 30 km, 622 km
Tough, tough day on the Camino…. but lots of fun! 18+ mile day with a big 2500 foot climb in the afternoon. Started the day at 1750 and ended it at 4250.
The day started in the dark at 6:30 with our usual 6 mile road walk to get to coffee. Saw some unusual art along the way..
And today was clearly dangerous as we passed a warning sign for…. snowflakes?
We had an early lunch at a place that was just opening up (we had to talk them into serving us) in Herrerias. Then …. the big climb… 5 miles of up, up, up but with stunning views near the top.
And… after many, many days we finally left Castille y Leon and entered Galicia.
And, after 7 hours of hiking we rolled into O Cebrerio and a much deserved libation.
Day 22 (Oct 7): Leon to Villar de Mazarife, 20 km, 483 km (total)
Our last easy, 20 km day for a while started at about 8:15 as spent the first hour slowly leaving Leon to the west.
After leaving Leon it was a fairly typical day on the Meseta – gravel roads through rolling farms. We stopped for coffee, as usual, in a little town after 6 miles or so.
The Camino seems to be a big part of the local economy. A lot of these small towns have an albergue or two with a small cafe or two that cater almost exclusively to pilgrims.
And, around 1:00 we rolled into our home for the night..
The church is closed but the bar was open…though guarded by a vicious dog.
Day 23 (Oct 8): Villar de Mazarife to Astorga, 31 km, 514 km (total)
After a stretch of relatively easy days today we had a 20 miler. We got an early start leaving our hostal in the dark at 6:30. We walked a paved rural road for two hours with headlights as the sun slowly rose.
After three hours we stopped in a busy pilgrim town where three trails come together, Puerte de Orbigo, for breakfast (and coffee!). The place had some very interesting birds hanging around.
Leaving Orbigo we passed over the medieval gothic bridge, the Puente de Orbigo.
And then more miles….
After 15 miles of hiking we stumbled onto a lovely refugio where we had lunch.
The refugios don’t charge for the water, food and shade they provide. They just ask for donations. It is very nice, especially on long stretches with no towns.
Day 19 (Oct 4): Sahagún to El Burgo Ranero 18 km, 425 km (total)
Unfortunately Leigh Ann is not feeling well this morning so she will be taking a taxi to El Burgo Ranero. This is another short day so we are still in recovery mode. Only 11 miles (about 4 hours of walking).
Leaving Sahagun to the west we passed an old city gate and someone’s second vehicle.
About halfway today we passed a chapel, Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Perales (Our Lady of the Pears). It had a very brightly painted altarpiece. And some very strange angels.
And, before we knew it, we were heading into our destination town.
Day 20 (Oct 5): El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas 19 km, 444 km
Unfortunately Leigh Ann is still not feeling well so it was just the three of us this again this morning. Another long, straight, flat walk along a road but… the trees had knitted trunks!
And we got some instruction on trail etiquette…
We were fortunate enough to hit a place for coffee today (at about 8 miles).
And while we did not see any trail-side churches/monasteries today we did have several crosses and a pilgrim statue.
Day 21 (Oct 6): Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon, 19 km, 463 km
Leigh Ann is back! She is not feeling 100% yet but felt good enough to join us on this relatively short day.
About three miles into the day we came upon an enterprising Spaniard with a shop along the trail…
After 10 miles or so we crested a hill and had a view of Leon. Our first city in a while
And, of course, there are two magnificent churches within a couple blocks of our hotel.
But the truly impressive church is the Cathedral of Leon..
It’s hard in pictures to convey how impressive these medieval cathedrals are. These are truly massive buildings with amazing displays of religious art.
We have now finished the first 21 days of our 34 day adventure. This last week has been pretty easy (~12 mile days) but next week is going to be a bit tougher.
We enter a new month and from Fromisto we start a string of relatively short days. Since our 34 day plan has no rest days, our third week on the Camino will be our recovery week.
Carrion de los Condes
Carrion de los Condes
Calzadilla de la Cueza
Calzadilla de la Cueza
El Burgo Ranero
El Burgo Ranero
Mansilla de las Mulas
Mansilla de las Mulas
Villar de Mazariffe
Our Next Week
Day 16 (Oct 1): Fromista to Carrion de los Condes, 21 Km, 370 Km
Another beautiful day on the Camino. Had breakfast at the hotel and headed out (along with a herd of hikers) onto the Camino for a short, 13 mile, hike to Carrion de los Condes. And you never know what you’re going to see…
Soon after the giant hand we passed a 13th century hermitage, the Ermita de San Miguel.
We stopped for lunch in Villalcazar de Sirga and visited the Iglesia Santa Maria la Blanca. The church has Templar roots, the last three templar knights associated with the church were removed in the Templar purge of the early 1300’s.
Nearing our day’s destination…
And …. our home for the night…
Day 17 (Oct 2): Carrion de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza, 16 Km, 386 Km
A 16 km (10 mile) day!!!! This is our shortest day so far and is basically a rest day for us. And today marks the halfway point in time (though not in distance – we pass that milestone tomorrow). It is a short, straight, hot (no shade) walk across the Meseta.
The day is so short that we end up eating our lunch in our destination. This also gives us all afternoon to catch up on laundry and do some equipment maintenance. About 5 miles in we stumbled upon some enterprising fellow with a food truck (and coffee!).
And more strangeness along the trail…
Day 18 (Oct 3): Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagún, 22 Km, 408 Km
A little longer day so, because breakfast was served unusually early, we were able to get out before sunrise for our earliest start of the hike, 6:50. This is nice because it has warmed up a bit (50 at sunrise rising to 80 in the afternoon).
And it was another flat day on the Meseta.
But today was special as hit the official halfway monument just outside of our destination in Sahagún.
And of course we had to get our official halfway certificates (3€ at the Sahagun tourist office).
We arrived in Sahagun a bit after noon and we were so hungry we overdid it a bit for lunch. We ordered so much food they had to bring extra tables.
And tomorrow begins the second half of the adventure.
Day 14 (Sep 29): Hornillos to Castrojeriz, 20 Km, 324 Km
Big day as we passed he 200 mile mark on our slow march across the north of Spain. Today was a short day (12.5 miles or so) so we had breakfast in the hotel before heading out. This is our first full day on the Meseta.
We stopped for lunch in a little town (Rabé de las Calzadas). This is usually what we do – either breakfast and lunch (on longer days) or just lunch on the trail.
A nice thing about the Camino is the response from the locals. Everyone smiles and says “Buen Camino” when they see you. And each little town we pass through has a wonderful church, usually from the 15th century or before.
Near the end of the day we passed through the ruins of a church/convent that used to service perigrinos.
And, after 13 miles or so our destination, Castrojeriz came into view. The town is known for the ruins of the castle on the hill.
After getting cleaned up we decided to hike up the castle.
The castle was built originally in the 9th century. That’s right, the 800’s. It was expanded over the centuries and was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The views from the top were stunning.
Day 15 (Sep 30): Castrojeriz to Fromista, 25 Km, 349 Km
A bit longer day so we started before sunrise, skipping breakfast at the hotel and hiking by 7:00.
On these early morning we usually try to find a place for coffee and breakfast after 5 or 6 miles (2 hours) and, so far, have been pretty succesful.
And, as usual, we had nice views of the Meseta as we hiked along with hundreds of other pilgrims.
The temperature in the mornings are in the low 40’s (41 this morning) but warm up into the 60’s by mid afternoon making for perfect hiking.
We visited the deconsecrated 12th century church (and the active church) in Fromista.
Day 9 (Sep 24): Nájera to Santa Domingo de la Calzada, 21.4 Km, 211 Km (Total)
After yesterday’s nearly 30Km jaunt, today was a welcome change at just a bit over 13 miles. The next few days will be relatively short (15 miles or less) so we can recover a bit.
And we are headed to a town named after a big patron of the Camino, Santo Domingo.
Between breaks in the rain we had views of rolling farmland (mostly grapes).
We arrived at our hotel just before the rain really started to come down. After it stopped we toured the cathedral and the clock tower.
Day 10 (Sep 25): Santa Domingo to Belorado, 21.4 Km, 233 Km (Total)
Roberta and I are both sick. Some kind of head cold thing that is hitting Roberta a bit harder than me so she elected to skip this stage and taxi to Belorado. I decided to walk and think it was the right decision as I slowly felt better as the day wore on.
And we left the autonomous region of La Rojia and entered Castilla y León.
We stopped for lunch at an albergue in Redecilla del Camino that had no menus. They were serving only “omelette sandwiches”. When we tried to pay, the lady said there were no prices, you just pay what you can or want to.
We arrived in Belorado around 2:30 to find Roberta comfortably recovering in our hotel.
We walked around a bit after getting cleaned up and discovered at least one other American had preceded us…
… and discovered some very nice wall art.
Day 11 (Sep 26): Belorado to San Juan de Ortega, 24 Km, 257 Km
Rain threatened today but never materialized so we had another nice (but overcast) day with very mild weather (40’s in the morning rising to 60’s in the afternoon). And we are all together again as Roberta is feeling up to hiking!
We spent pretty much all morning climbing gently (with a steep section near the end) from 2500′ to over 3700′ before slowly descending to the tiny town of San Juan de Ortega. San Juan was a disciple of Santo Domingo and also dedicated most of his life to the Camino. He built the church and hostel here to protect peregrinos from bandits.
And we passed another sobering reminder of the Spanish Civil War.
And of course we followed the numerous and varied Camino markers.
Day 12 (Sep 27): San Juan de Ortega to Burgos, 25.9 Km, 283 Km
A bit longer day, 16 miles, to get to the big city of Burgos which is supposed to have an amazing cathedral. So we started before sunrise…
The sun rose in about an hour just as we exited a forest. We passed Atapuerca which has a famous archaeological site with evidence of some of the oldest inhabitants of Europe
We got our first view of Burgos with still 6 miles to go. The last 4 miles were through the outskirts of the city but along a river so very nice.
And what is the deal with the sunflowers? We’ve seen literally thousands of sunflowers in fields that appear to be dead but not harvested.
Burgos is a pretty big city (>100,000) and is famous for their cathedral which is truly amazing. We toured the cathedral before dinner.
Day 13 (Sep 28): Burgos to Hornillos del Camino, 21 Km, 304 Km
We passed the 300 KM mark!!! And, near the end of the day, we climbed up onto the Meseta . A pretty easy day but it took us forever (it seemed) to get out of Burgos. We did have a lovely view of the west side of the cathedral as we left.
And they had these metal pilgrims showing the way…
Roberta: “This is what you get when you drop acid and decide to sculpt…”
We finally climbed up onto the Meseta near the end of the day. The Meseta is a plain (rolling hills) of farmland and few features.
And then down into a small valley and Hornillos del Camino,