Welcome to the post about the 14th and last day of our Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage by bike, which happened on the 7th of June 2015. We did this stage of 70.75 Km or 44 miles from Palas de Rei to Santiago de Compostela in 8h and 22 min, of which 4h 42 min were of actual moving time.
As I was in the middle of the writing of this post I decided to come back here to the top of the text again, just to let everybody know about the avalanche of emotions I feel as I write these words. Not only the emotion to have completed the “Camino de Santiago” Pilgrimage, which was in fact my 1st “real” long distance bike tour, but also about the incident which happened when we were just 19 Km away from Santiago.
I will get to that point in the text below, but first I want to go back to the subjective description of the day.
We left the hostel in Palas de Rei just after 8:00am and as we were riding out of town, on the main street, we stopped at a café for breakfast. That gave Guy, the Australian doctor who had ridden together with us the day before, time to catch up and join us again for a good portion of the day’s ride. Guy wasn’t riding all the way to Santiago this day as his scheduled called for a stop in Arzúa and the completion of his pilgrimage the next day.
The day was nice and sunny and we rode 15 Km for about 1h 45 min crossing through little villages like Carballal (just outside of Palas de Rei), San Pedro and many more (this region appears to be a densely populated area in northern Spain) until we got to the town of Melide, which had a lively Sunday market just across the road from the café we stopped for some coffee and juice. We were probably there for about 20 to 30 min and then back on the road again, the N-547, which was the only road we took this day and it brought us all the way to Santiago.
Just a few hundred meters after the petrol station we stopped again at the town centre as there was some sort of religious celebration taking place (I think it was Corpus Christi as there was a huge picture frame made of colourful leafs on the floor near the church). There was a little market with religious items on sale and a nice choir / band playing. As Guy stayed in Arzúa that was the last time we saw him. We left Arzúa feeling re-energized by all the happiness around us and with a clear goal to reach Santiago this day.
Little did we know at the time that a sad moment was waiting for us up ahead.
After Arzúa we rode pretty much non-stop for 21 Km all the way to Pedrouzo. The little villages we crossed along the way were far too many to list here, so I am not even going to mention them. It was a day of mainly flat ride so we managed those 21 Km in just over 1h and 45 min.
There are statistics on pilgrims deaths during the Camino de Santiago. Apart from this 67 years old woman who was struck by a car, I am aware of another 41 years old American woman who, in April (2015) had gone missing for months until police found her body near the town of Astorga. She had been assaulted by a men after she got lost and apparently knocked at his door for directions (police suspects he painted fake yellow arrows to lure pilgrims to his house).
I write this not to scare anyone, as statistically speaking the number of deaths during the Camino is very, very small (about 15 to 20 every year for almost 250,000 pilgrims per year, or 0.0006%). Also keep in mind that the majority of those deaths are by natural causes (heart attacks, existing medical conditions, such as cancer, etc). I do believe there are pilgrims who know their lives are nearing the end and the pilgrimage is the last thing they want to do before passing, but many don’t make it. It is poetic though, to die trying.
So I would like to leave here a humble prayer, not only in the memory of the 2 ladies I mentioned above, but to all those who lost their life during the pilgrimage.
Please don’t be put you off by the incidents I described above! If you are thinking of doing the Camino de Santiago by foot or by bike, please keep in mind that the danger of doing it is probably NOT greater than any other dangers you might be exposed to in your normal day to day life (like crossing roads, etc), but because of the physical efforts necessary to walk or ride such a long distance carrying with you everything you will need for the journey, please be prepared, healthy and reasonably fit (nobody needs a 6 pack though), take good care of yourself and watch out for other pilgrims who you think may be struggling on their pilgrimage.
Make sure you don’t overly rely on the yellow arrows for direction. They are generally very good and are maintained by a legion of kind volunteers along the way whose only concern is to help the pilgrims, however, reports of fake yellow arrows are common, with the overwhelming majority being painted for commercial interests, like restaurants, hotels or hostels who want to attract pilgrims to come to or stay in their establishments.
After the initial shock, some of us considered not continuing the pilgrimage to Santiago that day and staying in Pedrouzo. The incident has even managed to generate a level of conflict between some of us, but thank God we didn’t stayed and moved. For me there is nothing like a bike ride to think and clear the mind of all worries.
Five kilometres later we were approaching the International Airport of Santiago and met a group of fellow cycling pilgrims whose one member had a broken chain. We tried to help as much as we could, but unfortunately were not able to and they had to proceed, presumably, pushing their bikes the rest of the way as it was Sunday and bike shops were closed.
As we got nearer to Santiago a new avalanche of emotions was starting to take place. Santiago the final destination for most Camino Pilgrims. I was firmly in the decision to extend my pilgrimage to Finisterre as I knew we would get to Santiago with time to spare, but Fernando, Marcelo and Alice ended their journeys here. We had ridden for more than 820 Km with just 3 Km to go to the Cathedral when Marcelo had a bit of bad luck and got a flat tyre. None of us had a spare inner tube that would fit his 29′ wheel and the tyre sealant spray I had brought with me didn’t help either (I came to the conclusion these things are a waste of money and time), so we had to fix the tube the old way, with a rubber patch and glue. It wasn’t perfect, as we probably were too impatient to leave and didn’t wait long enough for the glue to properly work, but it was good enough to get Marcelo the rest of the way.
The little ride from that point to the Cathedral, which is the final destination for most pilgrims, was for me a mixture of excitement and apprehension. You know when you come to the end of a journey and you are happy to be completing it, but you wish it wouldn’t end? Emotions in conflict.
Santiago is an old medieval city and the streets of the old town centre are narrow and, at first, a bit confusing to navigate, but we kept asking for directions and managed to find our way relatively quickly. The arrival at the cathedral square was a great moment. I know this is something hundreds of thousands of people do each year and millions have done it over centuries, yet, there are 7 billion people living on this planet right now and God knows how many have lived since the times of Saint James (Santiago), so it feels pretty special when you know you have done something not many humans will ever get a chance (or be willing) to do. We took pictures and enjoyed the moment before leaving the square to look for the pilgrims’ office, where the Compostela certificate is issued by the Catholic Church upon presenting your fully stamped pilgrim’s passport. Luckily the queue was not too big and we had to wait perhaps less than 30 min to get ours. Again, time for everyone in the group to take pictures of their certificates and proudly show them to the world over the internet.
We left the pilgrims’ office and went to the tourist information bureau which is just a few meters down the road. Accommodation in Santiago is pretty expensive in relation to the other places, towns and cities along the way.
The cheapest private hostel we could find, which was in the city centre, charged us 22€ each for a bed in a tiny room with 2 bunk beds (4 beds). There were a couple of showers / toilets which were OK, but not exceptional in cleanliness and functionality (please read the day 15 notes below for more recommendations about accommodation in Santiago). In strong contrast to the “5 Star” hostel we stayed in El Acebo and considering Santiago is the final destination for most pilgrims, the volume of business should justify an increase in the offer of beds in my opinion. Again, the ugly face of the system of things is always showing itself, where money and commercial interest take priority over everything else. Yes, I understand the reason for it to be so, that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
After a shower and a little rest, we left the hostel to look for a place to eat dinner. There is absolutely no shortage of restaurants, cafés and eateries in Santiago and the city, seems to be alive until late hours even on weekends (this was Sunday). After some lovely dinner and wine we walked a bit around the city centre and took many night pictures of its magnificent cathedral.
It was the perfect end of the day, for a day full of contrasting emotions. Even the sadness of the fatal accident we’ve witnessed could be seen in a positive light, in the sense that it reinforced in us the certainty of our own mortality and how precious every moment of our physical lives is, because you never know when it will be the last.
So the lyrics of the theme song I choose for the final video are some of the last words I wish to leave you with, for this part of the post.
Don’t want to be afraid
Hard not to hesitate
But we can’t wait
To be the change
it is a walk away
see its not damn to you
so find an instant
to see this true
It’s not too late
Free from hate
Think of the future that we could create
Face the facts today
There’s a better way
It’s not too late
Think of the future that we could create
Face the facts today
There’s a better way
Take one step back and say
There’s a better way
Like a tree
Rooted in peace
In peace, in peace, in peace, in peace, in peace
This was the 14th and final day of our Camino de Santiago by bike, but I think the experiences we had the next day, when we moved to a different pilgrims’ hostel might be relevant for many reading this.
I will also write at least 2 more posts: One to cover my ride from Santiago to Cape Finisterre (Fisterra) and another to perhaps summarize all the experiences and provide some extra resources and information for future pilgrims planning to do the pilgrimage themselves (they say the pilgrimage starts when you decide to do it).
Day 15: In Santiago, No Cycling.
Just some quick notes about the next day in Santiago.
The first thing we wanted to do was to move hostels. Marcelo and Alice had a few things to sort out in relation to the transportation of their bikes back to Brazil and decided to stay somewhere else, so this was the last time we saw them.
After some research we decided to move to a hostel maintained by a not for profit organization, the Albergue Fin del Camino or Hostel the end of the way (Click here for a flyer in Spanish), at the Rúa de Moscova (Moscow Street) near Santiago’s biggest shopping centre, the “As Cancelas“. Although this hostel is not in the city centre it is not far, about 25 min walk and if you take a bus it’s just about 10 min away. The price for the bed was 8€ and the hostel has been recently fully renovated. Everything is brand new and clean.
The hostel has 110 beds and the beds are in large dorms with up to 10 bunkbeds (20 beds) per room. Included in the price is your own bedsheet (a kind of cheap linen with stretchy borders). The mattresses are comfortable and the beds are sturdy. Another great thing about this hostel, which is different from many others in the Camino, is that in this one you can stay for as long as you like, which is quite handy if you planned some extra days and get in Santiago too early. Each pilgrim can have a large locker, but you need to pay a 5€ deposit for the key, which is returned when you return the key.
There is more detail on the links above (kitchen and laundry facilities, etc), but I would like to leave here a strong recommendation that if you are doing your pilgrimage on a budget, i.e. you are looking for good value pilgrims’ hostels to stay, this is definitely the best in Santiago (some pilgrims chose to reward themselves with a bit of comfort when they get to Santiago, and that is perfectly alright). One IMPORTANT thing about this hostel is that is almost right in the path of the pilgrims’ route to the cathedral, in fact only 2 blocks down the road you will most likely take to get to the city centre, the N-634. The problem is that there aren’t any sign postings to the hostel, so it is easy to miss. My recommendation to you would be, if you can, that as you approach the first signs for the “As Cancelas” shopping centre, go look for the hostel, or use these Google coordinates. I have highlighted in the “Video Moments” video the direction to the hostel. You can then leave everything there in your locker and then walk or cycle to the city centre, load free, but don’t forget to bring your pilgrim’s passport and other documents with you. Keep in mind the hostel opens only at 11:30am, so if you get to Santiago too early that may not be an option for you, unless you are OK waiting or perhaps walking around the shopping centre until the hostel opens.
After we were re-lodged in our new home for the next few days, Fernando and I walked to the city centre, and by sheer luck met Paula again who we met on days 2, 3 and 4 of the pilgrimage (what a small world, right?)
This day we have checked another of the pilgrims’ traditions from the list: To hug the golden statue of Saint James from behind. It seems to be the final act that closes the Camino pilgrimage. Unfortunately photography is forbidden, likely due to the high value of the gem stones engraved in the statue.
We did not witness the famous “botafumeiro” event this day, but I did witness it after my return from Finisterre and I am going to write about it in my next post.
Feel free to browse through the photos of this day in the Flickr album.
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Thank you for your time!
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