Porto – Viana do Castelo
I was having a lovely weekend at Laura’s place, and was planning on heading out on the Monday morning, but at around 2pm on the Sunday I decided to hit the road and see how far I could get done that night. I’d been looking at ferries back to the UK, and found one on the 24th from Santander that I could take. That gave me a week to do about 750km, doable but not much downtime.
I said my goodbyes to Laura and her brother before leaving just before 4pm on the way to the coast. The most common route to Santiago is straight north, but the coastal route would avoid a couple of big climbs. Just before the coast I met two Australians, Mark & Terry, who were late in heading out themselves. They’d been out partying the night before and when I mentioned my trip and small budget they let me know they’d just been out for an expensive lunch and hopefully I didn’t feel too bad. I didn’t.
The coast was filled with people enjoying the Sunday afternoon sun, although with a good wind coming off the coast it wasn’t too warm. I’d still barely seen a cloud since leaving Lisbon about a week earlier. It was a lovely ride, passing through small villages on my way to Viana do Castelo where there was a fire station. It was 80km away and I arrived just after 9pm. There is a large hill in the middle of town, with a monastery on the top, and apparently another fire station, because when I got to the main station I was told that the chief was up on top of the hill and I couldn’t get permission without talking to him. They told me of the church in town, but after visiting there I found out that it had closed at 8pm and no-one was answering the door.
Back at the fire station they couldn’t think of much, other than maybe a park which would involve a 2-3km backtrack and so I said thank you and kept going. There had been lots of possible wild camping spaces that I’d gone past on the way, so I figured I’d just do that. On the way out of town, I saw a restaurant on the right hand side that was just closing up. The restaurant was actually a kebab van, and a seating area. I stopped and explained myself with Bibiana, who was outside cleaning. She went to speak with her mum, who was in the van, and within 2 minutes I found myself being told that of course I could stay, to take my bike inside and to eat a kebab.
I sat around with Bibiana and her mum for more than an hour talking. They told me of other pilgrims that they had helped, including one that had taken advantage of them by staying for more than a week and generally being a complete idiot. I’m glad that that experience didn’t scar them enough to not help people, because it was a lovely time. I was shown to a sofa and told that I could sleep there, and that there was no rush to leave in the morning. Wonderful warmth.
Viana do Castelo – Pontevedra
I was up around 9am and, to my surprise, found a breakfast of cereal, bread, cheese and chocolate spread already waiting for me on the table. Apparently Bibiana’s young daughter had seen the bike and been peeking into the room where I was sleeping, curious to meet whoever was clearly crazy enough to be cycling around, but had to go to school before I woke up. As well as having given me a large breakfast, I was given a big bag of snacks to keep me going on the ride. You can see them on the back of my bike in one of the pictures below. All I did was ask for a place to sleep!
From Viana it was just up the coast until I got to the river that marked the northern extreme of Portugal. To cross, I had to head a good way inland where I met up again with the caminho, very briefly, as I entered Spain at the town of Tui. I had a Warmshowers host lined up in Pontevedra and so didn’t have much time to ride slowly. He had at first told me that I could arrive after 5pm, but just after crossing the border he let me know that he was heading out again at 6pm giving me a short window to arrive in.
I got to Óscar’s place at 5:55 and was welcomed in. He is the father in La Familia Supertramp which is himself, and his two young children. The youngest of which was born 3 weeks earlier. He headed out to work and didn’t get back until about 11pm. We spoke for a bit, but – possibly down to tiredness -my attempt at Spanish was pretty terrible and came out as mainly Portuguese.
Pontevedra – Arzúa
In the morning I spoke with Óscar and Susana for about an hour over breakfast before I had to leave. They own recumbent tricycles and in the next couple of years are planning to head off on a long trip around Europe with their two young children. They had done their first trip back in 2013, from Amsterdam to Paris, and even written a book about it. I was given a copy of it to read, and pass on to someone else to share their story.
It wasn’t too far from Pontevedra to Santiago, but there was not only a headwind but also my first overcast day back in Europe which made it seem slower. I made sure to get stamps in my credential to make sure I would meet the requirement and receive my compostela when I arrived in Santiago later in the afternoon. On the outskirts of town it seemed to clear up a little, and I got to wind my way through paved streets with lots of tourists walking around.
I found the pilgrim office, around the corner from the cathedral, where two other cyclists had just arrived too. I gave in my credential and was asked why I had done the pilgrimage – religious, spiritual or other. The other two cyclists had both said religious, and received very fancy looking compostelas, but that wasn’t my reason so I said other. The lady warned me that I’d get a less impressive looking compostela, but that was fine for me. Finishing the pilgrimage and receiving the compostela is meant to absolve you of 1/3 of your sins, I’m not sure if mine does the same, but I’m claiming them gone!
I went to the cathedral, which was filled with people queuing up to hug or kiss the golden bust of Saint James, as well as a rather small looking silver casket which apparently holds his remains. They had a twist on the traditional candles that you donate for, normally you get to light one but for the first time I remember they were LED candles, nothing like as good.
By the time I left the cathedral, it had cleared up nicely and I decided to keep going. In the 30km I made it out of Santiago on the way to Arzúa I saw a bunch of pilgrims. The most interesting was a German called Christian who was so positive that he was a pleasure to talk to. He could have made it to the cathedral that night, but instead decided to just make it to the next hostel and get to the cathedral early the next morning.
I was on the outskirts of Arzúa as the sun was going down, and instead of making it into town I saw a farm and stopped to talk to them. The farmer was busy milking the cows but responded positively letting me know I could feel free to put my tent up wherever I liked. I thanked him and went to set my tent up, before going back to chat with him. His wife popped up and asked me if I liked milk. When I said I did, she filled up a bucket with fresh milk and gave me a glass. There was enough fresh warm milk to fill the glass up 5 times. After that I was asked if I had anything for dinner, to which I said yes, biscuits. The farmer’s wife shook her head and went to the house. I kept chatting with the farmer, who was telling me about the difficulties he had faced with consistently-low milk prices, although they were now climbing a bit. His wife came back, with a bag for me and told me that was my dinner. We chatted a bit more before I retired to my tent and found that the bag contained not only another litre of fresh milk, but a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and choriza to go on the bread. Yet another experience of stranger kindness.