Category Archives: Mark & Sandy’s Camino 2014

Madrid

2014

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The final two days of our great time spent in Europe was taken exploring the largest city we have ever visited, Madrid. I would have guessed that Rome or Paris was larger but Madrid has over a million more residents than both.

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Sandy and I were very fortunate to have friends who live in Madrid, so Juan and his lovely wife met us right at the train station.   They took us to our hotel and then out to relax at a nearby tapas bar.

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After an 2000-2130 dinner we toured Madrid by night.  The Spanish culture really starts getting out and about around 2100 hours and restaurants start getting busy for dinner at the same time. All stay open and serve dinners through 2300 hours.  Juan drove us all downtown and we saw most of the important locations in the historic city center.

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This is the kings palace at night.

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After a hectic drive through bumper to bumper traffic and a half hour trying to find a parking space, we parked and hit the streets with around 100,000 other folks.  We saw the Jamon Museum (above) dedicated to the hustory of how and why spanish ham is cured the way it is.

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After our walking tour we were back in the car again.  There were traffic jams everywhere and I have no idea how Juan avoided about four seperate crashes.  This photo was taken after midnight. We got home before 0100 (only because we started getting tired) and thanked our hosts for all their hospitality.

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On Sunday, after a nice breakfast at the hotel we headed out to downtown Madrid on our own. We quickly located the nearby metro station and were on the subway train before you knew it. Two train changes later we were again in the heart of Madrid.  This town never stops as it was again buzzing with thousands of people walking around and shopping. 

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Plaza Mayor was our first stop where we met up with our scheduled free tour with Sandemans NewEurope. It is a pretty neat concept. You book the free tour online then enjoy. You can tip at the conclusion or not, depending on how well your guide performed.  Our guide, actually born in Argentina with Italian citizenship, was great so we rewarded him well.

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Plaza Mayor was designed when the Austraians ruled Spain so it has “that architectural look” we have seen alot in Germany and Austria.

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The tour wound its way through several neighborhoods for a solid three hours.  The weather was in the 80’s so we headed for shade at almost every opportunity.

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Our guide telling us about the oldest restaurant in Madrid.

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This convent for sequestered nuns was very interesting. They made a lifelong holy vow to live in seclusion with no face to face contact with the outside world. To make some money to help run things they have taken up baking cookies and pastries.  To buy them you must push a buzzer at this door during limited hours every day. The “on duty” nun looks at you on video and asks what you want. If she trusts you, she will buzz you in. Once inside you come to a small room with a round table that goes into a wall.  This is where you put your money. The round table is turned and the money disappears and it turns some more and your purchased cookies and/or pastry appear.  All done without breaking their holy vows and absolutely no complaints allowed!

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Madrid still has quite a few historic sites leftover from when Moors ruled Spain. 

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Their cathedral was completed by four different planners/builders and consequently looks vastly different on all four sides.  It is really quite strange looking. At the base of the cathedral you can see a portion of the historic  muslim walls.

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Here is what the king’s palace looks like.  We were told that the structure is the largest functioning palace in Europe.

After having a nice (and expensive) late lunch downtown, we headed back on the metro to our hotel.  Once there we spent some time packing our bags for tomorrow’s flight back home, then off out into the neighborhood for dinner. 

This is the 72nd day of our vacation and to be quite honest we have reached that point where we are really looking forward to getting home and seeing our family and friends.

The experience has been fantastic and we were so happy to be able to share it with you.  So, thanks very much for following along as now it comes time to say Buen Camino and Ciao to you and this blog.

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Mark and Sandy

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Saying goodbye to friends & Santiago

The past couple of days have been quite interesting, a bit magical and have provided closure as we wind down our camino experience.  Amazingly, In Finisterre, we ran into an Australian peregrino we met on day one and then another acquaintence we met on our first few days in Spain. 

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All eight of us came together for dinner our last night in Finisterre.  Jorgen was planning to hike on to Muxia while Lene planned on staying in Finisterre for another day. We also met Tom from California for the first time.

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Steve from Canada, a nice Finish woman and Jacob from Denmark rounded out our group. We all shared our experiences and laughed at each members very funny stories.  Tom commented he stayed in an albergue that smelled like a thousand years of peregrinos. We all could relate to that!  Jorgen was to hike on to Muxia and return to Santiago after we left on Saturday, so we said our goodbyes.  On Thursday we headed back to Santiago with a 2.5 hour picturesque bus ride along the Atlantic.

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We have been keeping in touch with Bo via text message since we did the bike portion of our trip in Burgos.  We ended up finishing five day ahead of him, but really felt bad leaving him. We started out day one with Bo so we decided we would finish with him.  He texted us that he planned on arriving Friday afternoon.

So, around 1000 we hiked backwards on the camino for a little over a mile and found a nice bar where we had a good long view of the camino.  On the way, we met our Italian friends Arlo and Elizabetta hiking.  We hadn’t seen them for about three weeks. We spent about a half hour talking about our experiences.  We exchanged contact information as they invited us to spend more time in Roma.  They then hurried to catch the 1200 pilgrim’s mass.  After waiting a couple of hours at the bar, Bo came hiking up the camino.  We hiked together the cathedral and were really pleased to be able to complete what we started together.

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After Bo got checked into his albergue in the historic city center, we were surprised to meet Lene and Jorgen who were back in Santiago a day early.  They took a taxi to Muxia, spent an hour there, didn’t like it, and took another taxi back to Santiago. We sat at a bar waiting for a tapas restaurant to open.  A few minutes later, out of the blue, yet another long lost friend – Carlo walked by us.  He was another of our missing hiking buddies.  Also from Rome, he is a very good guy and so interesting and passionate about life. 

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So, all ten of us headed off to the tapas bar.  It was a bit expensive but very good food and great company.  About the only “missing person” from our group now was Dung Day from South Korea.  Day was taking his time on the camino and had an open ticket home.  Still, it was astonishing to see everyone considering the fastest of the group finished nearly a week ago.

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After dinner we all decided to walk to the cathedral’s main plaza where we all had the opportunity to say goodbye to the group.  It got quite emotional after Carlo’s description of what the camino meant to him and how the new friendships he made will forever be with him.  I am not a teary eyed kind of guy, but his emotions started causing everyone to wipe their eyes.

All were welcomed to visit one another and contact information was shared.  We then parted ways to our individual albergues or hostels.

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Saturday morning it was off to the train station for our 5 hour ride to Milan. Our last post for the blog will be on Sunday as we highlight our day and a half in Spain.

Ciao!

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Finesterre

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Yesterday we took the 0900 bus to Finesterre, which was for a long time believed to be the “end of the world.” Traveling to Finisterre, either by an additional 90 km (four-five day hike) or by bus is considered a fitting way to end your camino experience.  Our camino trek ended at the cathedral, so we opted for the 2.5 hour bus ride.

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We checked into our hostel immediately upon arrival and were surprised with this view from our room’s window.

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Finesterre is a small fishing village with a really nice beach.  This time of year about the only tourists are camino pilgrims.  We saw an Australian girl for the first time since we met on day one.  We also ran into Jim from Indiana, who we last saw on day three. Who would have thought we would have met here 90 km from Santiago?

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The streets are narrow and not pedestrian friendly.  In fact, our bus was involved in a minor crash right after we off loaded, delaying the departure of those pilgrims heading back to Santiago. This fish delivery truck struck and totally ripped off the busses open cargo door.

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After checking in at the hostel, we headed 3.5 km up the road to the lighthouse and the furthest west portion of the cape.  It was considered the furthest west a person could go. Finesterre is derived from the Latin finis terrae, meaning “end of the earth”. 

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The rocky terrain and Atlantic Ocean make for some spectacular scenery.

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The lighthouse at the point is said to be the oldest in the world.

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Close up of the old lighthouse.

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They have placed a camino like mile marker with 0,00 on it.  In reality, the Camino de Santiago ends in Santiago, but this makes for a nice photo opportunity.

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Many pilgrims burn things here as a ritual of being done with their pilgrimage.

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We hiked down quite a ways on the rocky cliffs.  There were numerous boots cast away and burned items still smouldering along the way.  

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Back up on top.

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After our hike back to town we checked out the local menus.  The “Rice with Chimp” sounded interesting but we settled for a german schnitzel and a mixed salad instead.

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On day two it was much more overcast and drizzly.  We walked around the harbor and checked out the fishing fleet.

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Lots of boats, nets and traps ready for use.

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Lots of really big fish next to the seawall just begging to be caught.

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We watched as the fishing boats arrived and immediately loaded their catch into waiting vans.  They have a huge ice house which fill up the cargo section of the vans before they load the catch of the day.

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We then stopped at one of the ten or so restaurants which line the harbor. The outside seating at this one came complete with blankets to warm you up from the predictably chilly Galician weather.

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Then, back to our hostel to warm up and relax.  This “down time” is providing us with time to reflect a bit about what we just accomplished and think about what’s ahead.

We will be taking the 1130 bus tomorrow back to Santiago where we are spending two additional days before heading to Madrid.  Next post on Friday.

Ciao!

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Santiago

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Today was our opportunity to tour the Cathedral of Santiago and attend the special 12:00 PM pilgrim’s mass.

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Would we get the opportunity see the Botafumeiro in action today? Nobody knew for sure.  It was much larger than I imagined.  It was originally used to fumigate the sweaty and contagious pilgrims. Now it is swung on certain holidays and special occasions as a remembrance to those peregrinos before us.

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The cathedral is actually quite narrow and somewhat small by cathedral standards. The pipes from the organ nearly touch overhead.

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While the cathedral is not huge by any sense of the imagination it is beautiful.  We have been to some really monster sized cathedrals which were just big empty spaces.  Santiago was actually just about the perfect size. It can seat 1000 and it was packed to capacity today.  We arrived an hour early and got some great seats. 

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The entryway was being restored so it wasn’t clearly visible, but what we could see was amazingly beautiful.

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We climbed a narrow stairway to the rear of the high alter.

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Climbing to the golden dome.

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We arrived at the rear of the golden statue of St. James which was covered with precious stones and of course scallop shells.

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Next, it was downstairs to pay our respects to his tomb.

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The tomb of the apostle St. James.

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As the (99.9% spanish language) church service was nearly over, a team of red robed tiraboleiros arrived and started the process of the botafumeiro.

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It was pretty neat.  It is said to reach speeds of up to 60 kph. It really produced quite a bit of smoke and we could clearly see the flame inside as it swung by us. Click on this link to see our video of today’s botafumeiro.

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After church we met with Lene and had a nice lunch.

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Sandy and Lene enjoying an after lunch beverage.

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Santiago is an electric city with a synergy I have yet to see anywhere else in the world.  There are new pilgrims arriving every minute from 12 different pilgrimage routes, pilgrims finally enjoying a much deserved rest, lively restaurants on most blocks, and always live music echoing from nearly every plaza. There are street singers performing in front of all the popular restaurant locations, all with their donation boxes on the ground. So today I decided to photograph a few of them.  This trio had a mandolin, and a huge base instrument and an accordion.  

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This guy was amazing.  I also videoed about 15 seconds of him playing. I up linked it and you can watch it by clicking here.  After listening to him for a few minutes I immediately felt the need for a Ricola cough drop.

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Bagpipes are a big part of the Galician region of Spain.  Santiago always has bagpipe music playing. In addition, street performers were also heard folks playing the guitar, harp, sitar, and lots of accordians.  Music fills Santiago’s air.

Here are some photos of the two compostela’s we earned for making this trek:

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This is from the Cathedral of Santiago.

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This is from the Franciscan Order.

Tomorrow we head to Finisterre which was once thought to be “the end of the world.”  It has become a fitting way to end ones camino experience by making your way there.  Jorgen and Gisele will hike while Sandy and I will take the bus.  Lene will take the bus on Wednesday. We will stay in Finisterre for a day and perhaps another day in Muxia. We plan on continuing the blog, probably every other day, up until we leave Spain on the 12th.

Buen Camino!

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Day 38: O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

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We knew that this would be an early start day as our fellow peregrinos in our hostel were set on arriving in Santiago with enough time to attend the noon daily pilgrim’s mass.   We were not planning on attending mass today, as our goal was to get checked into the pilgrim’s office, obtain our compostela and find our hostel.   We are planning on attending the pilgrim mass on Monday.   We were out on the trail before sunrise this morning.

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There were some really interesting parts of the way this morning.  This section had huge man made walls on either side of the camino.  The tops must have been 30′ above us. When the trail finally rose out of the cut we could see a very old abandoned town complete with trees and vines inside the old houses.  If we had the time I could have really had some fun exploring this.

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We again hiked through some huge eucalyptus forests.  The cool early morning temperatures caused an air inversion and the smell was amazing.  Spain imported these trees into the country for their paper/pulp industry.

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After a few more kilometers we came upon Santiago’s airport.  We knew we were getting close! 

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This drying shed was interesting with the date on top of it and the little sparrow sitting on the cross.

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We were hiking really quickly today as we heard that yesterday’s tally of pilgrims checking in was 1,400.  We thought if we could arrive during the mass we could avoid the reported three hour lines at the pilgrim’s office.  We did stop at three locations along the way for our passport stamps, refreshments and bathroom breaks. This place was interesting as people left their small coins on the rock walls inside.

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The typical €3 pilgrim menu consists of buttered toast and a cup of coffee.  This photo shows the usual options available for a few extra euros. It is all very tasty.

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We came upon these horseman on the trail today.   They parked and took a quick coffee break.

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Just as one starts to desend down to Santiago you pass this huge sculpture dedicated to Pope John Paul.  There were also a couple of large buildings where the state run TV broadcasting studios are located.   While we were there, I could not help but notice two plain clothes police officers carrying backpacks (apparently trying to look like pilgrims).  Their city shoes, sunglasses and hyper vigilence gave them away. 

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Here is the first glimpse of Santiago from the camino.   As we were just past this point and moving down the small road, several marked police cars passed us heading uphill.  I thought, how nice that Santiago PD has such a keen police presence along the way.  A few minutes later, a large black van pulls up next to us and a driver, dressed in a very nice suit, asks if we speak Spanish. I tell him “poco”, but I speak english.  He asks, if I know where the TV station is and I said, yes it’s up this road. He thanks us and before driving away. Sandy notices there is a oriental man in the second row and an oriental woman in the back row.  So, they tear off uphill.  Next, a little ways down the road we see a national polizia van full of uniformed officers blast by us up the hill, then back down the hill, then back up.  I tell Sandy, those cops are lost.  All the while a police chopper is overhead.  Something was up, but i had no idea what.  Well, come find out the prime minister of Japan is in town and did a TV interview before attending today’s pilgrim’s mass.  It was pretty funny how we got right in the middle of the whole thing just minding our own business hiking along the camino.  

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After a while we came upon the first dried corn storage we have seen. I know, anti-climactic after our prime minister episode but I really like corn.

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We are getting closer to the cathedral! Just one step in front of the other.

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We are in the older part of town before we can finally see the steeple.

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Just as planned, we arrived at 1230, so the 1000+ pilgrims were inside the cathedral for mass.  We proceeded directly to the pilgrim’s office and were pleasantly surprised to see only about 40 other pilgrims in front of us. We had  our passports checked and received our final stamp and compostela in about 30 minutes.  So much faster than yesterday’s 3 hour wait. After mass the lines lengthened considerably. 

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Happy couple…proud to have been able to complete the camino.

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Tomorrow we will tour the cathedral and will also attend mass.

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As mass let out, we met up with our friends. They arrived yesterday. It was good to see them again.  Bo will arrive on Friday.

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Our feet at the last step on the camino.

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Fitting words for what we were able to accomplish. Just do it!

Tomorrow we will post about the church service and show sone of the really high levels of synergy in the city of Santiago.

Buen Camino!

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Day 37: Tunel to O Pedrouzo

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Today’s hike looked completely flat on our guidebook, but in fact it did have quite a few steep climbs and some knee popping downhills.  It also had the largest palm trees yet on the camino.

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There were even a few houses with banana trees.  Yes, banana trees in northern spain!

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We have no idea what tree this is, but it sure produces some beautiful flowers.

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We took an alternate camino route for a mile or two but rejoined the camino at a junction point.  There are many camino routes which all lead into Santiago.  However, we needed to be on the route that goes through O Pedrouzo, as we booked a room in a hostel there. 

A few days ago we heard through the camino grapevine that everything was booking up near and within centro Santiago.  The pilgrims office reports May and October to be the months with the most pilgrims on the camino and there were lots of peregrinos hiking and biking in superspeed today.  They seem to be in a hiking frenzy to arrive in time for Sunday’s Mass. We, on the other hand decided to keep to our pace of around 20 km per day. We should arrive in Santiago between1400-1500 tomorrow (Sunday).

We went online Thursday on booking.com and booked the last available room at our hostel.  Sure enough, when we arrived in O Pedrouzo, there were twenty or so pilgrims walking from albergue to hostel to hotel, all unable to get into anything for the night.  With nothing available they will either continue on to the next albergue or head back to a town with bed space available.  At the same time, we booked two nights in a hostel in Santiago and again, the availability was pretty sparce.

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With two unusual rain free days in a row, the local farmers are cutting and gathering their hay.  They mow it then pick it up by rake and fill up their wagons.  They dump it all in a huge “bowl” until it is filled to the top.  Then they take their tractors and pack it down with their tires.  They then place a tarp over it until they need it during the winter.

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Sandy getting chilly in a huge eucalyptus forest.

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Our camino guidebook is devoid of pages. As we have done every day, we remove and place the next days route in my pants pocket.  There are absolutely no pages left.  Wow, reality sets in…Tomorrow we are in Santiago.

Today’s trek was 18 km (11.2 miles) in ideal hiking weather.   We have right at 20 km tomorrow and we will finally arrive in Santiago after 38 days on the camino. We will likely first drop off our bags at our hostel, then hike on and  celebrate in the plaza in front of the cathedral.  Next, we will proceed to the pilgrim’s office to check in and obtain our official “compostela” (certificate of completion). We have a very exciting day ahead for sure!    

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Buen Camino!

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Day 36: Melide to Tunel

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As each footstep moves us closer to Santiago we are noticing less farms and more improved homes for those commuting or as getaway locations from the big city.  Some of the new homeowners have completely restored old farms and they look absolutely fantastic.  We saw this lemon tree today in a yard.  Lots of smaller palm trees too.  What can’t they grow here?

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We have also noted two types of pilgrims.  Those “experienced pilgrims” who have some serious miles under foot and the “newbies” who are limping along on their third day.  The experienced hikers will always seek soft ground to hike upon. The newbies always hike on the road or sidewalk when available.  The seasoned pilgrims will wait until it starts raining seriously before suiting up in rainwear. The rookies putting it on when it mists and take it off on the next steep climb.  It keeps us entertained along the way.  Another thing we have noticed is that most of the seasoned pilgrims are winding down a few notches as we get closer to Santiago.  Not wanting such an unbelievable experience to end, having to say goodbye soon to new friends, or simply exhaustion…maybe a little of each. The next three photos represent what our daily late morning rest stops look like.

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Boots come off to air out and cool off, outer socks come off to dry and toes are wiggled. We have taken especially good care of our feet and boy has it paid off.  Sandy had just two tiny blisters on week one which were gone in three days and I have thankfully been blister free.  Just watching some of the terribly bad foot conditions of our fellow peregrinos keeps us vigilantly aware of our own feet.   

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I was ready for a nap. Quite unusual for me.  Perhaps I am becoming acclimated to the siesta lifestyle???

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Today was an absolutely beautiful day. Temperatures in the high 60’s and nearly cloudless skies.  This was the first time I could wear just my short sleeved shirt since the Meseta on day 18. That would be 18 days ago!

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We hiked for 14 km (until 1300) and had lunch in Arzua.  We skipped dinner last night and we were a bit hungry. Peregrinos menu to the rescue.  First course stuffed spanish peppers, second course traditional Galician paella (complete with octopus, squid, clams, and something red and squishy.)

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Today was our short day as we line up Santiago for a Sunday afternoon arrival. We stopped just before the village of Tunel at a 2 star hotel along the original way. It is our first hotel stay along the camino.  It is a nice treat to have full services.  We dropped off our stinky clothes to have them washed and dried.  Obviously we are now on the Camino’s luxury track as we wind down.

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Today we hiked 15.1 km (9.4 miles) and are now on track for two days of 18 km to reach Santiago.

36 km to Santiago….Buen Camino!

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