Oct. 8: Sobrado
Once again, we are dumbfounded to find that, even with all our searching weeks prior, we are unable to find a place to stay at the next stop. Keeping our new mantras in mind, we realize there’s nothing to do, but taxi on to Sobrado.
Sobrado is another small, old town with not much personality, but what makes it stand out is the Monasterio de Santa María de Sobrado de los Monjes. Originally built in 952, the monestary suffered devastation throughout the years until renovation began in 1954. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Devoid of furnishings, the starkness of the massive structure inside juxtaposes with the highly decorative Baroque architecture outside. You can see where the large central chimney and fireplace were added to create a kitchen in 1250 and imagine the monks huddling there to keep warm during the brutal Galician winters. The sound of the wind streaming through the cracks of the moss covered walls and the eerie silence in the cloister create a mystical feel.
Originally over 100 monks were assigned to the monestary, but now only 14 call this enormous structure home. Within the buildings is an albergue where you, along with 200 other pilgrims, can stay overnight for €6.
Actually, the Hotel San Marcus, our stop for the night, is also quite basic. Our unadorned room is clean and we prepare our own complimentary breakfast.
Oct. 9: Arzúa – 15 miles
Pavement is much harder on the feet and legs, so the trek today through small farm towns makes us a bit weary. To keep our spirits up, we chat with pilgrims from Ireland and South America. Our new Korean friend speaks no English or Spanish, but when we tell him we’re from Texas, he does know the word “cowboy” and makes it a point to yell it, smile and wave wherever he sees us.
We stop to chat with a “señora” (older woman) picking vegetables in her garden. She tells us what she’s picking and how she will prepare them. Funny, we pass all these gardens, yet you seldom see fruits or vegetables on restaurant menus- only lots of potatoes and salads.
We find a bench to sit and rest and an older man stops to greet us. He takes Michael’s hands in his and says “guapo” (handsome). Rather than reaching for my hands, he places his weathered hands on my cheeks, looks me right in the eyes, smiles and says “guapa” (pretty). For the rest of the afternoon, I feel as if I’ve had a blessing bestowed on me and keep thinking of that lovely old man.
Today, we’ve connected with the “Camino Frances” (French route) on our way to Santiago. Pilgrims can earn their “Compostela” (proof of pilgrimage document) by walking the 100 km (62 miles) from Sarria. Unfortunately, this route travels through older towns with little to no personality.
The Hotel Arzua is clean, but, once again, it’s rooms are unadorned. We give it the best shower award and are excited to be served eggs for breakfast.
Oct. 10: O Pedrouzo- 14 miles
After a nice breakfast, we’re disappointed to see it’s started raining. Outside, there’s a sea of peregrinos, all walking in the same direction. We laugh and agree it looks like rush hour in New York City.
There are no “Holas” or “Buen Caminos” this morning. Everyone is trudging along, with their heads down and hoods up. Good thing the paths are wide, in order to accommodate so many. We immediately sense a different vibe and after only a few minutes, we agree we already miss the quiet and the camaraderie of the Northern route.
Rather than comment about the nondescript O Pedrouzo and the Pension Residencia Platas, here’s a taste of some Spanish culinary humor I came across along the way:
Restaurant name was not reflected in waiter’s dress code.
Oct. 11: Santiago de Compostela – 14 miles
It is with mixed emotions that I put on my shoes for the last of our treks this morning. This time, I switched from wearing Merrell hiking boots to Hoka Trail Runners and I’m happy to report I have not suffered from one blister the entire trip!
Every place in town that’s open for breakfast is packed. I assist in ordering for some American pilgrims who seem overwhelmed and just want their “huevo fritos, tostada, zumo de naranja y cafe con leche” (fried eggs, toast, orange juice and cappuccino) so they can be on their way. Through farm towns and forests, the paths are wide and crowded. We chat with pilgrims from New York City and Texas, who are already planning their second Camino.
I remember this next part well; the excitement of seeing the city sign for Santiago, then realizing there’s still three miles to go to get to “Casco Viejo” (Old Town). This part of Santiago is an older business district, but then the streets start to narrow and wind. As we head to the entrance of the dark tunnel, we hear the sound of bagpipes and I get chills.
We come out the other side to see the sun shining on the magnificent Cathedral; a breathtaking site. The square is a sea of pilgrims hugging, laughing, crying, taking photos or just sitting/laying on the ground, taking it all in. Always a bit emotional, we hug and shed a few tears, though we’re not sure why. Are we happy or sad to be at the end of this long journey?
The streets are closed to traffic and there’s a feeling of celebration everywhere, as cafes, restaurants and shops overflow with tourists and pilgrims. We laugh that it’s easy to tell the difference. The pilgrims are the ones wearing the flip flops, a welcome respite from those big boots/shoes.
The Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed between 1075 and 1211. Once again, I am mesmerized by its richly decorated Baroque interior all in gold, both grandiose and serene at the same time. Beneath the altar lies the tomb of St. James, a venerable site.
Give us a hotel with some stone and a few wooden beams and we’re happy, so even though we have to move hotels after day one, the Hostal Aires Nunes and Hostal San Clemente are sister hotels, close by and offer similar design.
We are enthralled with the history of the Camino at the Museum of Pilgrimage, get some more walking in at Parque Alameda and find a beautiful quiet spot for a glass of wine, away from the crowds, in the garden patio of the Hotel Costa Vella.
Each night, as I lay my head on my pillow, my mind starts to wander, as I sift through all the Camino experiences dancing in my head:
- The deep connection forged with strangers, people I was always taught not to talk to.
- The simple rhythm of each day and the freedom from the obligations of daily life.
- The feeling of being stripped of your identity, as you take on the role of just another pilgrim.
- How humility, gratitude and simplicity, once just words, will begin weaving themselves into my life.
- The realization of the importance of taking one step at a time.
- The privilege of discovering Spanish culture in slow motion.
Then, as I fall asleep to the sound of the Cathedral bells, I realize there’s nothing to do now, but sit back and let the magic of the Camino take over. There will be a lot for me to unpack once I get home.