“Every new person you met in your life introduces you to something new!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan
I walked the last 5 stages of the Camino Francés this week. I have the sore knees and many blisters to show for it. And of course, the official Compostela! Today, I want to do a diary style post on how it went, if expectations I had were fulfilled and if I’d recommend it. I’ll also update you on how my packing worked out later on in the week!
On Wednesday, the 1st of June, I took off from Santiago to get the bus from here to Sarria. I ironically had to walk up the last road of the camino to get to the bus station! My bus was at 6PM and I arrived at 9PM. I bumped into a few people along the way. I spoke to a guy from Limerick the whole way there about why he was doing it. Then we went our separate ways and I found my albergue in the middle of the old town. The owner was a little old Venezuelan woman. I was in a 4 room dorm and there was only one other girl there. Her name was Maria and she was from Malaga. We’re the same age-ish and got along really well. So we decided to get up at the same time and have breakfast together before we took off on our first adventure. I went for a stroll around the old town in Sarria too and picked up some bananas to have the following day. I didn’t sleep well, I think it was a mixture of excitement, anxiety about what was to come and the fact that I did not know what to expect at all.
Sarria to Portomarín – 21.6km (the number of kilometres that the stage says it is) (28.7 – the number of km I actually did that day according to my pedometre!)
I woke up ahead of my alarm at 5.55AM and got ready. Away we went at 6.30AM and we stopped straight away for some breakfast (toast, coffee and orange juice for €3.. Where would you be going?!). We left the café at 7AM and that was it, we were walking! It was dark and misty but it all added to the ambiance and made it a little bit more exciting. Maria and I walked together for about 10 kms. It was wonderful. She is an actress which I found fascinating so she told me all about being a Spanish actress! We parted ways along the route though because she had an ankle injury and was taking it very slowly. I wasn’t racing by any means but I like to walk quickly so I decided to start going at my own pace. I mean, one of my favourite sayings is
“Dance to the beat of your own drum”
and it couldn’t apply more to the camino. You have got to do you! Go at your own pace. Half way through the day, I met up with Frank. Frank (I wrote about on my facebook) but he’s an ex-Guard that worked for 30 years on Pearse Street. At one stage I decided to ask him to tell me the craziest things that ever happened while he was working and he did. He told me story after story about everything from having to stand outside the Dáil and answer stupid questions and deer shot in Phoenix park to murders, fraud and burglaries. It was interesting. Before we knew it, we were in Potomarín having lunch beside the church and we had completed the first full day of the camino. The last stretch is beautiful because you’re overlooking the river and you can see the town which is very motivating. I ran up the steps at the end, I was so full of adrenaline. The albergue there was new and clean and served a mean clara*.
Portomarín to Palas de Rei – 24.5 (30.5)
The following morning, I decided to go at half 6 and stop in the first café I saw for breakfast. I ate a breakfast bar and some nuts but the first café we came across wasn’t until we had walked for 2 hours. We went about 10km without eating properly. Rookie mistake. I’ll tell you something, I enjoyed that toast, coffee, banana and orange juice immensely! It was another very misty morning but it was so rewarding to walk for three hours in the mist (it was nice too, to be cool and having the mist was actually quite refreshing!) and then you’re rewarded with the most spectacular views and sunny scenes for the next 3 hours. We arrived in Palas de Rei after walking the final 5km with a lovely couple from South Korea who said that having done the entire camino for the last 5 weeks, they had been put off walking ever again! We arrived into the town and stopped at the first decent albergue we saw. I arrived into a 7 person dorm and there were two Canadians guys, Jordan and Matt, that were my age. I was delighted to meet someone my age after only seeing middle-aged and elderly people for the last 40-something kilometres! I also met up with Maria there and we went for lunch in the town which (like most) was small. I took a camino nap which is very common amongst pilgrims! And that evening I wasn’t too hungry so I just went to the supermarket and got some melon and jamón.
Palas de Rei to Arzúa – 28.7 (32.9)
We left at 6.30AM again and got breakfast soon after we left. I walked with Frank until we got to Melide which was halfway between Palas de Rei and Arzúa. Then I left him there because he was only walking that far that day. But I had the 30km in me! So, when we got to Melide we stopped in a café and I got some orange juice and we bumped into the Jordan and Matt again. So, I joined them for the following 15km. It was such a great decision, we ended up getting along like a house on fire. They were also hilarious, so the time passed very quickly while they were around! On that path we also bumped into two more guys our age. One was from Boston, Chris and the other from Minnesota, Sam. So, we all stayed together for the rest of the trip. We arrived into Arzúa quite early and got another great albergue. We went for lunch, napped and then we decided after the long day, that we deserved a few beers. The albergue had a fully equipped kitchen so we made a family meal and celebrated making it over half way. Three of them had done almost the entire camino from Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port so they had a lot to celebrate!
Arzúa to O Pedrouzo – 18.8 (23.15)
The following morning we decided not to set an alarm and to leave when we rose. We got up at 7, we were on the road by 7.30. This day was a tough day. It might have been the beers we had the night previously, but I think it was my mentality. I left in the morning thinking it’s only 18km – it will be easy in comparison to the 30km the day before – but it felt never-ending! Mostly because we walked straight past O Pedrouzo because there was a bicycle race on and when we got into the town there was loud music playing and people everywhere and we missed the signs leading towards the town. Thankfully, we found out later we weren’t the only ones that that happened to! We spoke to loads of other pilgrims who did the same thing. We had to turn around and walk back for a kilometre to get an albergue. It was torture because we knew we were going to have to do it again in the morning! I got a recommendation for an albergue in O Pedrouzo from a lovely Irish woman I happened to bump into in Santiago who is from our road in Galway, when Dad was visiting. And it was amazing. It was by far the best albergue. The showers were rainfall showers with jets on the wall that sprayed your body. Definitely the best shower I’ve ever had! We got some pizza for lunch, napped (although I couldn’t nap really so I read a Camino de Santiago guide book!) and then we got traditional Galician food for dinner to balance out the pizza! We decided to go to bed super early and get up and do a night walk for the final stage of the camino. We wanted to beat the crowds and we thought a night walk would be really cool. There were also 5 of us too, so we knew we’d be safe!
O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela – 21.3 (32)
When we woke at 3.30AM the weather forecast predicted rain for 2 hours and none for the rest of the morning so we decided to sleep for another hour and go at 5AM. It was the best decision because we still beat the crowds and it meant that I managed to do the whole trip without getting rained on once! Such an achievement considering Galician weather is comparable to Irish weather. My goodness, did we have a pep in our step for this stage. The night walk was really cool. The first bit of the walk was through a forest so we used our torches and barely met anyone along the way. Then it brightened up and it was beautiful. We got to Monte Gozo by around 8AM and we could see Santiago. Only 5km left. We got into Santiago just after 9AM and it was the most unbelievable feeling. Hattie came to congratulate us. We got our photos in front of the cathedral and we went to the Pilgrim Welcoming Office to get our Compostela. Then, the celebrations commenced.
So there you have it, a round up of my 120km walk home. If it did nothing, it taught me that I really can do whatever I set my mind to. I love setting myself challenges (as I’ve previously mentioned) and there’s nothing more euphoric than realising that you’ve successfully achieved a challenge/dream you’ve had. I was on top of the world. The whole trip cost me €170 door to door (including the bus there, food, bed etc) and I can’t think of anything else I would rather spend that money on. It was an experience of a lifetime and I’d recommend it to anyone! As they say (probably all too frequently)
“Travel is the only thing that you can buy that makes you richer”
I posted the whole trip on snapchat (imperfectlyfree), did you see it? If you have any questions about the Camino de Santiago from Sarria – don’t hesitate to ask me on facebook, insta or twitter either. I know it’s daunting before you go, but trust me… it’s worth it.