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Camino de Santiago

The Home Stretch on the Camino de Santiago

Things started to get a little crazy on the homestretch into Santiago – the Camino had become a zoo!

pilgrims

I had been duly warned, but was blissed out on the last few days of walking and really didn’t pay attention to what I had been told!  The guide book warned me, a tour guide in O’Cebreiro had warned me, but I blissfully head off in the morning, relaxing in the green surroundings and the road ahead.  After all, this was Galicia and I had fallen in love with the region.

Camino de Santiago

It turned out that I would be walking with the hordes of tourist pilgrims that join the Camino for the final 100K of the trek, for that is all you need to receive your Compostela at the end of the journey.  The home stretch had become a business, and “touregrinos” were everywhere.  (Pilgrims who have their bags carried and all arrangements made by a tour company.)  To further compound the matter – I was on track to finish my Camino de Santiago on a national holiday.  Joining me were (what felt like) zillions of Spanish nationals and school groups on a one week vacation, all planning on arriving at the finish for the long weekend!  I had long since given up calling ahead to reserve a room and got a shock when I arrived in Triacastela to find the dreaded “completo” sign.  Basically, no more rooms at the inn.  I walked further into town, trying any and all accommodations that I passed.  Panic starting to set in, for the next town was a further 12K away, I sat down and systematically called every number in my guide book, each time, the answer “completo”.  I was looking down the barrel of a 33K day and was quickly running out of daylight.  With what felt like no options left, I called ahead to the next down and booked a room – if I was going to be walking into the dark, I wanted to know there would be a bed waiting.  As luck would have it, as I was walking out of town, I tried one last hotel – they were not listed in my book but were worth the try.  Someone was watching out for me as they had one last room.  Barely able to resist the urge to kiss the lady behind the bar, I quickly paid up and took the room.

My walk the next morning made me so happy to have been able to stay the night – the walk was beautiful, don’t get me wrong,  but I could not have imagined doing it in the dark.  I would have gotten lost for sure.  The terrain was gorgeous as I walked through farmland, but the markers at time were a little less than clear!  Being a little pedantic about directions, there were some challenges.

I was back to booking ahead and had a bunk booked in Sarria.  The old quarter of town was packed with pilgrims and I was beyond delighted to catch up with friends from the road, basically table hopping my way through tapas and dinner.

the route to Compostela

Sarria marks the final 115K to Santiago.  While hard to believe, the numbers of pilgrims and the crowds on the trail continued to rise.  It was getting harder to have a quiet stretch as the pilgrims marched along, at times almost like a line of ants on a mission.  Coffee shops were packed to standing room only.  The number of pilgrims with small day packs considerably out numbered those carrying all their possessions.  The feel of the Camino had undergone a radical switch.  I contemplated my options – get off the etapes of the Camino as outlined in the guidebooks?  Take an extra day and try to get away from the masses of people finishing on the national holiday?  Having been on the Camino for so long, I had a strong desire to finish – could I live with the crowds?  It would also be nice to finish with my friends – celebrate together in Santiago de Compostela.

I pushed on.  I shifted my walking til later in the day and found the crowds more manageable.  I was consistently one of the last to leave the albergues in the morning which suited me just fine.  As summer had turned to fall, the sun was coming up later and later and I was not a fan of walking in the dark.  I could take my time at breakfast, leisurely enjoying my tea or hot chocolate.  I booked my rooms the night before and was not too worried.

I ran into a little trouble in Portomarin with a Spanish “touregrino” who snored.  He stayed up late, making lots of noise and keeping people up.  He was a tourist on the trail and the feeling I got from my fellow pilgrims was that this influx of pseudo pilgrims were not overly welcomed, but more on that story another time!

Day by day, the kilometres wound down, the atmosphere changed and there started to be a new excitement in the air, each way marker a countdown to the goal: the Cathedral and virtual finish line.  The weather was also starting to change – the rain Galicia was known for was threatening to fall.  Ponchos were at the ready.  I lucked out as I walked in to Castaneda – I made it to the albergue, but the heavens opened up!  I watched from my room as people continued by in the pouring rain, thrilled to have stopped one town earlier for the night!

rain on the Camino de Santiago

If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain – Dolly Parton

Let’s just say – the rain didn’t stop that night.  My second last day on the Camino and it poured with rain!  I should have been ok with it.  After all, I had very little rain over the entire walk, and it was only rain.  I wasn’t going to melt, but it just poured all day.  The mud caked on my shoes and everything was gloomy.  We looked like drowned rats as we walked along the route.  The forest offered some shelter, but nothing could compete with the rain.  Once again, thrilled to have a room booked, I was confident all would be well!  And it was….but I learned that so many book rooms at the end, that if you don’t get in at a reasonable time, your booking may still be at risk.  Some of my friends were booked at the same place as me.  They were about 20 minutes behind when I arrived and the owner was contemplating giving their room to someone else who had just walked in.  So many people book and don’t show up – you can hardly blame the owners.  I quickly confirmed that they were coming.

Final 20 km to Santiago

It was hard to believe, that after all these days of walking, I had reached the home stretch!  Tomorrow, I walk to Santiago!  

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About Anita Mac

The bucket list just keeps growing! The more I cross off - the more exciting new destinations and activities I find! I have been fortunate enough to travel a considerable distance over the years. My love of many things, including travel, cycling, kayaking and photography fit together like hand and glove. I have to keep asking myself....where to next? I am happy to share my travels and photography through my blogs: http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com and http://anitamacphotos.wordpress.com Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! On to the next adventure!

Discussion

12 thoughts on “The Home Stretch on the Camino de Santiago

  1. Congrats on the home stretch! Love that you are sharing this experience with your readers – love the photos too:) Have a Great One!

    Posted by cravesadventure | November 8, 2012, 12:32 pm
  2. Ah, the infamous Sarriá to Santiago stretch…….! Without it the Galician economy would sink out of sight. When I cycled the Camino Francés back in 1993 (the first Año Santo after the restoration of the route), we timed our arrival in Santiago for the feast of St James (July 25th)…….the crowds were unimaginable, with the Royal Family and Spanish Government all in attendance at the Cathedral.

    Posted by Frank Burns | November 8, 2012, 1:23 pm
    • Of that I have no doubt! Some of the villages were so small and all I really saw of this stretch were farms and the Camino. It was so beautiful though….I am glad they are working so hard to preserve it. I hope it continues to be there for many generations to come!
      As for arriving on the feast of St James – wow – I could not even begin to imagine it! Things were so crazy and crowded. People were everywhere for the National holiday. I heard the mass was the extended version for the day I arrived. With the Royal Family present – I am sure you would have also seen the extended mass. Very nice.

      Posted by Anita Mac | November 8, 2012, 6:00 pm
      • ….but there was no chance of getting anywhere near the Cathedral with the level of security and the number of people. So we headed off for Finisterra…………

        Posted by Frank Burns | November 8, 2012, 6:09 pm
  3. Well done you, I’m working up quite a thirst for doing this myself now :)

    Posted by brixpoul | November 8, 2012, 2:27 pm
  4. We walked into Santiago on the 17th of October. I have to admit we didn’t see the crowds, it was pouring rain, people didn’t hang around infront of the Cathedral. I am not sure where everyone was becaue the Cathedral was more than full for mass on the 18th, and again on the 19th even more pilgrims in attendence. It was worth the walk, dispite the rain and crowds. I am looking foward to seeing your arrival~

    Posted by jmeyersforeman | November 8, 2012, 4:11 pm
    • Too bad about the rain. I lucked out – while the weather was a little moody, the sun did come out and we had blue skies. It was fun to watch others arrive and the excitement of people reuniting with their family and loved ones! I missed the mass on the day of my arrival…but I knew I would as I left too late to even contemplate arriving in time. I figured with the volume of tour groups vying for the mass – the trail would be too insane. After all that time walking, I didn’t want it to finish that way. I heard the mass on the National holiday was crazy – absolutely packed and full of dignitaries so it went twice as long as the regular mass. What a pity – it looks like I left the day before you arrived – would have been fun to meet up!

      Posted by Anita Mac | November 8, 2012, 6:05 pm
  5. Hello Anita – I have enjoyed your blog as I work on preparing to embark April 2013. I have a question…do you recommend bringing a cell phone – Pros/cons ? Did you mostly stay in private albergues or in the municipal ones? Any other tips? I’m uncertain about whether to accommodate for occasional rest days into my plan…what is your opinion? Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    Posted by Aurora | November 8, 2012, 7:39 pm
    • Hi Aurora. The cell phone is a great question and comes down to personal preference. With smart phones today – they are quite useful for connecting to Wi-Fi along the route. I met many people who turned off the phone function and only used the Wi-Fi. Cell phones were coming out everywhere, and many also used them for cameras. The weight of what you carry is so important – every ounce that you are not carrying is a benefit. If your phone can serve that many purposes and save you carrying other items – it is worth it, whether you use the phone or not!
      I did not start with a phone, however I bought one on the trail. It cost around 25 Euro – a disposable tourist phone, it had an excellent international plan. It was cheaper to call Canada than it was to call places in Spain. I did use it to book beds in advance at times. While it gave peace of mind, I also felt tied to what I had booked and this reduced flexibility in how far I walked each day. I booked in private albergues,hostels and hotels. I also stayed in the municipal albergues however they do not take bookings. I was happy to stay in a mix – the hotels could be rather isolating, but were nice to stay in from time to time. I have a couple posts that are dedicated to the places that I reserved in advance that I liked – check them out for recommendations on where to stay. The first one is http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/2012/09/28/albergues-and-hotels-on-the-camino-de-santiago/
      As for rest days – the best advice I can give is listen to your body. If it tells you to rest -stop for an extra night. If you find you want more time to explore a city (I would recommend 2 days in Burgos – especially if the weather is nice as the Plaza outside the Cathedral is brilliant!!)
      I also planned to have extra time at the end of my journey incase I had any problems along the way. I ended up taking a few more days than planned, but it was worth it! I believe I enjoyed my journey so much more because I had the extra flexibility at the end as was not pressured to finish at a certain time!
      Hope that helps.

      Posted by Anita Mac | November 9, 2012, 10:04 am

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