Armenal to Santiago de Compostela cathedral

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May 29th 2016
Published: May 31st 2016
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It had been a long night, but we woke to the sound of songbirds and gentle rain. All quite pleasant until you realised we were about to venture out into it. I got the gang roused by about 0550 and we started to gather our belongings in the dark with head lamps. The Frenchies continued to sleep almost oblivious of our movements. I guess their 28 km trek of the previous day knocked them out: note to self about our plans for an even longer Camino in a few year's time. Backpacks swung over our shoulders and down stairs to regroup. One final "emu parade" of the room and we were on our way. Greg's knee was OK but causing him some trouble. Of course the younger ones were completely fresh and raring to go. The rain was steady and cold for the first two hours walking when we decided it was time to stop. We had realised by now that one did not stop at the first Albergue in a village because that is where the crowd gathers. Notwithstanding our discomfort we decided to leave the crowd behind, continue walking and were rewarded with a cute little place, half filled. Everything we were carrying was wet on the outside but not drenched. The spray covers on the new Berghaus backpacks were pretty good, but steady rain has a way of seeping into every little spot it can. Our basic Spanish only got us so far in communications for coffee and tortillas, but the Italians and Spaniads in the room seemed to have no problem with stories around the football finals for tonight. Lots of wine and beer drunk at 9am to enhance their conversations. We trudged on and the rain showers came and passed.

The terrain was still rolling hills and small lanes running around dairy paddocks and market garderns. The Camino mileage markers were still showing the way but for some reason most of the little metal distance plaques had been removed. Made it difficult to know exactly where we were - not that it was possible to get lost. The villages were between 2 and 5 kms apart so we were never too far away from civilisation. Most farms and villages houses had a full sized horreo, or at least a small model horreo that was the letter box / fresh bread box. The Camino at this stage also winds back and forth past the highways and intermediate roads. I guess this is no surprise since the Camino trail was probably the first trail that followed indigenous community tracks, and the roads were built around them. We thought about the story of the dimensions of the Space Shuttle ultimately being scaled by the width of a horse's bum - search for it on the net if you have not read it before.

We were now out of sequence with the bulk of the pilgrim walkers because we stopped at different places. Likewise this day, the guide books refer to completing the stretch from Arzua to Santiago de Compostela in one day: a distance of about 38km!! After a couple of day's walking and enduring a few minor ailments we realise that this distance would be unsustainable to say the least. We are comfortable at about 25km, so we tried to fit a stop in between the two towns. Our host at the Posto Albergue had said that there were relatively few Albergues in this last stretch and this turned out to be true. So we opted to stay in a Hotel in Armenal and this turned out to be a good choice. After lunch along the way, persistent rain, and some ailments, we were really pleased to see the Hotel sign appear around a corner. The country was now open and peri-urban. The fields were smaller and the patches of forest tiny. There were plenty of pilgrims gathered around the entrance of the Hotel Armenal. The host was English, we think, but he could not work out the difference between Gregory Harper as the person who was booked in, and MacGregor. The booking seemed to be for MacGregor, but this was immaterial. We checked in to this three star hotel and jettisoned the wet gear. Wet boots in particular. We enjoyed a restaurant style lunch and a fine local Rioja. Mostly resting during the afternoon, but Alex and Greg tried to go out for a walk around the village. Turned our Armenal was nothing more than this Hotel and some older broken down farmhouses. Later we played some five hundred and prepared for the evening meal. It is true that this trip was largely walking, talking, thinking and eating. In Greg's case the pork rib Churrasco was memorable. Given that we had multiple i-machines available to us, we played GeoGuessr until ready to call it quits.

Arriving in Santiago de Compostela on the 29th of May 2016.

Even though the weather continued to look inclement, the walking was fine. We were walking by 0630 and everyone had their own ailment to nurse on the journey. Alex and Jill were still nursing some foot problems from a recent walk in the English moors. As before, the path markers were not showing distances so we were unsure just how far we needed to travel. We thought Amenal was about 14 km out of the city but it could have been 16. This was important because we wanted to get to the Cathedral before the start of the pilgrim's mass at midday. The Camino passed through small villages and past factories. The walking populace was out on the road again, though it was possible to escape for a few minutes. It looked like this final stretch was a day walk for some locals. At one stage we walked past a fauna reserve that included some lovely old Oak trees: no doubt having "seen" many many pilgrims. Still no sign of the cathedral spires though. The Way went past a major sculpture that preceded the outskirts of Santiago proper. Down the steep hill with joints feeling the strain. Through the suburbs, and we saw again some of the pilgrims we had met along the Way. The university here, founded in 1513, is spread around the town at various campuses, and we passed several. A sports stadium, a hospital and finally old town and the narrow streets we recognised from the brochures. We turned a final corner and saw the spires. Catherine and Greg had seen the Santiago de Compostela cathedral before in 1986, but those were very different times and circumstances. That time we were travelling after the wedding of Juan and Adela Bernar, friends from Washington days. The cathedral was much blacker then, and has responded well to some renovation. Time was tight so we quickly dropped our gear at our accomodation (another story) and made our way to the entrance.

The cathedral is a monument to St James, but also to the millions of Christians who have undertaken a pilgrimage to see his remains over some 19 centuries. Our entrance for the second time had a great deal more meaning and personal significance. The place was packed with pilgrims and locals. The service was conducted to some extent in four languages: Spanish; English; French and German. Someone we had seen on the Camino was actually a American priest and he lead some of the prayers of the faithful and communion. The organ, which I didn't even notice last time, was magnificent and the pilgrims were recognised and praised in several ways. While it wasn't the only highlight, the swinging of the Botafumerio was spectacular and quite unique. The congregation, unsure just how to recognise this spectacle, clapped at the end of the service. Enriched, and feeling part of a greater whole, we left the service. Wouldn't you know it, we met up with some of our Camino buddies immediately upon leaving the cathedral.

Our accomodation was in the Parador Hotel which is just across the square from the cathedral: the complete antithesis of the first night we stayed in the big communal Albergue. We have stayed in these wonderful hotels just twice before, and they are special because of their location inside buildings of great historical significance. In this case, a 15th Century hospital established to care for the pilgrims of the Camino. We
Greg, Jill and Alex Greg, Jill and Alex Greg, Jill and Alex

Are we there yet?
had decided to stay two nights here and to gift the experience to Alex and Jill overall. Marvelous experience in a hundred ways as can be seen from some photographs. The afternoon was spent exploring this marvelous building and preparing for the special birthday meal. This was in the Parador itself and involved a Galician tasting menu and a companion vegetarian menu. Spanish white and red wine to complement - what more could one ask. We crossed the enclosed cloister to turn in after a big day.


Additional photos below
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Catherine striding it outCatherine striding it out
Catherine striding it out

Greg looking fetching with an over-shoulder number

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