it gives me great pleasure to announce to you all that next week I will start my 3rd Christian Pilgrimage by bike. It’s called “Caminho da Fé” which literally translated to English means “The Faith’s way”, but it is also sometimes translated as “The walk of faith”. This pilgrimage route is now considered to be the Brazilian equivalent of the way of St. James or Camino de Santiago, which I’ve done in 2015.
There is extensive material about the “Caminho da Fé” on the Internet, but in Portuguese only. I could not find much in English, so the English version of this post will be more detailed than it’s Portuguese one, so to give you guys more background information of what the pilgrimage is all about (most links on these page will open to English Language resources though).
Brazilians have been walking to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida for generations. Many to fulfil religious promises (i.e. to obtain a cure for some illness or for other types of graces), others for cheer devotion. With 18,000 m2 (190,000 sq ft), the basilica is the 2nd largest catholic church in the world losing only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
In 2003 a group of pilgrims who had walked to Santiago de Compostela a couple of times decided to create a pilgrimage route between Aguas da Prata in the Federal State of São Paulo and the Basilica, in Aparecida do Norte, 318 Km away on the designed route (walking paths). Currently, however, the route has many, so called, “branches” all of them starting from different cities, but passing through Aguas da Prata, on the original route designed in 2003. These, in turn, have also a few options which may increase or decrease the distance between the starting point and Aparecida do Norte. The branches are as follows:
Distance in Km
Option 1: Via the town of Pindamonhangaba
Distance in Km
Option 2: Via the town of Guaratinguetá
Aguaí to Aparecida
Aguas da Prata to Aparecida
Caconde to Aparecida
Mococa to Aparecida
São Carlos to Aparecida
Sertãozinho to Aparecida
Tambaú to Aparecida
Source: AACF (Friends of the “Caminho” Association. Site in Portuguese only)
I’ve chosen the longest path, starting from Sertãozinho, not necessarily because I want to ride more (although this was one of the reasons), but because of logistics. There is a direct bus from my current whereabouts to Ribeirão Preto, a city only 20 Km from Sertãozinho, so I only need take 1 bus journey (of 12 h though) to get to my starting point.
My entire journey will start on the early hours of Sunday, the 18th of September, with the bus to Ribeirão Preto. From Ribeirão Preto to Sertãozinho there is a short distance of just over 20 Km, perfectly doable by bicycle, but I’ve been advised to avoid this track because it goes through some high crime areas between the 2 towns (in Brazil, unfortunately, this is a constant worry).
So, as I arrive in Ribeirão Preto I may take yet another bus journey, a short one though, to Sertãozinho, or, if I am feeling adventurous, ride my bike (generally speaking armed thieves steal the entire bike with everything on it, and on the rider… it would be a shame if my pilgrimage was to end before it could even begin though).
In Sertãozinho I will overnight in the Agapito Hotel, one of the few places where you can buy the pilgrim’s credentials, which, exactly like in the Way of Saint James, you will need to stamp along the way in order to obtain the certificate of completion as you arrive in the Basilica in Aparecida do Norte.
From Sertãozinho I’ll let faith take me (no pun intended). I was going to purchase the excellent “Caminho da Fé” guide (link in Portuguese only) from Antonio Olinto, but I didn’t get to do it, so I will simply follow the yellow arrows (another thing copied from the the way of St. James / Camino de Santiago).
My two previous pilgrimages experiences taught me a lot and minimised a number of fears I had before I started. This one, in Brazil, is a bit different than the previous two as it introduces the fear of being victim to the social / economic situation of the country. Not that being a victim of crime isn’t a possibility during the Camino de Santiago where even murders of pilgrims are know to happen, but it is a question of the likehood of it happening, which in Brazil is much higher than in countries of the European Union.
The good thing about starting my pilgrimage on the 19th of September, though, is that I apparently will not be doing it alone, as I originally thought I would. I found out today that a crew of the Brazilian TV network “Globo” will be recording a program about the “Caminho da Fé” and that the main reporter, who I had the pleasure of talking to on the phone today, will also be riding on a bike all the way to Aparecida, supposedly followed by his TV crew. Who knows, I might even appear on the telly, which is an unexpected surprise. Life does have a way to surprise you, if you give it a chance.
As usual, I will try to post as much as I can along the way, but experience has thought me that any posts are more likely to happen on the EyeCycled Facebook page than on the blog. So, please, if you have not done so yet, and would like to follow me on this little adventure, make sure you like the page.
If you’ve seen my previous post, you’ll be aware that I recently lost a “non-human” friend, my trusted Dell XPS 15 notebook, which I used to edit the videos for the YouTube channel and create content for the blog. As with previous pilgrimages, I fully intent to cover the entire route of the “Caminho da Fé” with time-lapsed videos and bring as much info and media to you as possible. Without a proper computer that might take awhile though, but don’t give up on me. Like “Arnie”, I’ll be back!
“Buen Camino!” or in this case “Bom Caminho!”
PS. If you can read in Portuguese, the site of the AACF (Friends of the “Caminho” Association) is an excellent source of information.
If you read the last post about our arrival in Santiago you will know that the next day we spent just getting to know the city and that on the 9th of June 2015, I decided to cycle further from Santiago to Fisterra. This was the 16th day overall and I did this stage of 94.45 Km or 58.7 miles from Santiago de Compostela to Fisterra in 8h 43 min, of which 5h 53 min were of actual moving time.
In this post I will write not only about the ride to Fisterra that day, but also what happened the day after, the 10th of July 2015, upon returning to Santiago and spending one more day there before leaving Spain and driving back to the UK on the 11th and 12th of July 2015.
As I was going away for just a day, I packed on one of my panniers just the essentials for the day’s ride and the night in Fisterra. That included the sleeping bag, a change of clothes, the sandals, items of personal hygiene as well as the electronic gear to record the video and take the pictures. Having the big locker at the Albergue Fin del Camino was very handy and since Fernando had decided to stay he did keep an eye on the few things that didn’t fit in the locker.
If you decide to cycle further to Fisterra this is a good option. If you are walking it will probably take you 3 days to reach Fisterra, so I am not sure leaving your belongings unattended at the hostel for such an extended period of time is wise and you will likely need everything you have anyway as you’ll be spending more time under way.
I left the hostel just after 8:00am and crossed the centre of Santiago to capture the image of the Cathedral one last time. Got a bit lost as the day before wasn’t enough to familiarized myself with all the small streets and roads in the centre of Santiago. Sometimes they look very similar to each other.
I, once again, used Google Maps to find my way out of Town and, as I mentioned many times before, this technology can be a bit of hit and miss, especially as in Spain cycling routes didn’t seem to be available in Google Maps, so I used the walking route as a guide. I didn’t want to use the car routes in fear that Google could guide me to some motorway or major roads.
Finding the way out of town wasn’t too difficult. Just before entering the AC-453, which was the major road out of town, I stopped at a little café for some breakfast as I hadn’t eaten anything before leaving the hostel. I then rode on the AC-453 for about 4 Km until a roundabout about 1 Km after Roxos, where I turned right in the direction to Portela de Villestro and Ventosa. Strangely enough, as I look at the map right now, although the road splits at the roundabout, both sections are called AC-453. I don’t understand the Spanish road naming system very well.
If you take the same route as me, some 2 Km after passing Ventosa, get ready for some hills that on a fully loaded bike may be quite challenging. As I was considerably lighter, I managed to pedal up, albeit very slowly.
After Augapesada you’ll cross through some nice patches of forest. Google Maps doesn’t even show a name for these small roads, but although a bit narrow their tarmac is good. The next small town on this route is Negreira and on your way there you’ll cross many tiny villages like Castiñeiro do Lobo, Carballo and also cross the river Tambre on an old stone bridge which will give you the opportunity for some nice photoshoots. Just before crossing the river there was a nice restaurant which I would have considered stopping for a few minutes, but it appeared to be closed. As you cross the river you go through a village called Barca before you reach Negreira.
I only stopped in Negreira for a few minutes to get directions and had a talk with a group of Portuguese cyclists who were also riding to Fisterra. The town appears to have a good infrastructure and it’s probably a good place to stop if you are walking and can reach it in a day (24 Km from the hostel in Santiago).
After Negreira there appears to be much less density and the villages appear to be further apart, but that may just have been my impression. Google guided me to the DP-5603 in the direction to Zas. After 10 Km on the DP-5603, about 3 Km after the village of A Pena, Google Maps instructed me to leave the main road and take some really minor roads, which although quite narrow where tarmac paved. I must admit I was a bit skeptical this was the right way, but I followed Google’s instructions nevertheless, only to find myself without a mobile phone signal a few Km up the road. Thankfully Google had cached enough of the map on my phone to provide me with some idea where to go next, but looking at the map right now, as I write this post, there appears to be a shorter way to get to Pesadoira through the village of Vilaserío than the one I took, which was quite hilly and had a lot of turns.
Just before Pesadoira I got some directions from local farmers and then followed to Cuíña, San Fins de Eirón and Corveira, before entering again a major road, the AC-400. Just about 1 Km on the AC-400, Google was directing me to leave the main road again. Luckily I got some instructions from another friendly farmer on his tractor that stopped what he was doing, switched off the engine, got off his tractor and came to talk to me. It was a nice chat, proving that most Spanish people are really friendly towards strangers. His advice was not to follow the route Google was suggesting and I take local advise over Google most of the time. Continuing on the AC-400 until Pino do Val was much longer than Google’s suggestion was, but from what the farmer told me I think it was the fastest, the easiest and the right option as it went around some very steep hills. On Pino do Val I turned right in the direction to A Picota and Mazaricos on the DP-3404 which I followed until short after the village of Hospital.Before getting there, however, I stopped for about 20 min in the village of Olveiroa for a rest, to eat a banana and drink some freshly squeezed orange juice. Olveiroa has a nice hostel which appears to be a good place to stay if you are walking.
After Hospital I turned left on the DP-2302 which took me all the way “down” to the town of Cee and through some interesting villages along the way (there are quite a few places to stop along the road as well, like restaurants, etc.).
Cee is the next big town and is where you meet the sea for the 1st time. It’s pretty much glued to Corcubión and I don’t really know where one town ends and the next begins.
After Corcubión get ready for 3 Km of hills until you reach the next beach in Sardiñeiro de Abaixo. Just before Sardiñeiro de Abaixo there is a nice camping place which can be an option to stay, if you like to setup camp, and its right in front of the Estorde beach where you’ll also find restaurant facilities.After Sardiñeiro you pretty much follow the coastal line which offers some great photoshoot opportunities.
Google Maps shows that just before there is a village called Escaselas, but it all appeared connected to me so as I got there I thought I had arrived in the suburbs of Fisterra.
As I arrived in Fisterra I did a quick ride around the harbour area of the town. The street you’ll likely be on as you arrive in Fisterra ends right in front of the municipal hostel of the town, but I somehow failed to see the signs. Upon asking for some directions I found the hostel, checked-in and got my certificate of completion for having arrived on the so called Death Coast and at the end of the “Camino Jacobeo” (Jacob’s way).
Like many others before it, the hostel in Fisterra is basic, but sufficient. There was no WiFi connection in the room I was in, on the top floor of the building, which had, I think, 5 or 6 bunk beds. The municipal hostel cost €6 and has 36 beds. There are kitchen laundry facilities available.
After a shower I went out on foot to find a place to eat. Had a walk around town and returned to the hostel. It is tradition for pilgrims to walk (or cycle) to the Lighthouse at the Cape Fisterra / Finisterre, some 3 Km away, but I was honestly tired and I think the variations of “dry & rainy” + “hot & fresh” weather in that day had taken a toll on me. Many pilgrims go to the cape to burn something (a piece of clothing or something they brought from their origin) to symbolize leaving old worries behind and the start of the new life.
This completes the account of this day’s ride to Fisterra. I was in bed early as I had decided to take an early bus (around 8:00am) back to Santiago so I could have time during the next day to get to know Santiago a bit better and perhaps experience the Botafumeiro mass.
I managed to take the bus as planned back to Santiago and I managed to fit my bike in the bus’s luggage compartment without having to disassemble it, although I later saw that people just threw their luggage on top of my bike, which wasn’t cool, but then, I was taking a lot of space anyway (there was no damage to the bike).
As I got the more direct bus (there is one that stops more often) and it took me just under 2 h to get back. Because I arrived in Santiago before 10:00am I rode a little around some areas of the city I had seen from a distance 2 days earlier, such as the Alameda Park in the city centre, which gave me some new photoshoot opportunities.
Given the Albergue Fin del Camino opens only 11:00am, I timed my ride around town to coincide getting to the hostel as it was about to open. I had a shower, a change of clothes and set off to the city centre again to attend the mass.
Fernando wasn’t around as he had made some friends in the hostel and decided to take the bus to Muxia with them.
As I got to the Cathedral the mass had already started, but I got there still on time to experience the Botafumeiro.
After the mass I walked around the city centre for another 3 hours before returning to the hostel, where I met Fernando in the evening. The next day I had to wake up early to go to the airport and get the rental car I had reserved from England, so by 10:00pm I was already in bed. There was little cycling this day, but some significant walking so I was pretty tired.
Next day I got up around 7:00h so I could be at the airport by 9:00h to get the rental car at Hertz rental. There is a bus stop on the main road, the N-634 (the one by the big shopping centre nearby) right in front the San Lazaro church (just 2 blocks away from the hostel) and there is a direct bus connection to the Airport. The bus ride takes about 25 min. Even for those leaving Santiago by plane, this is a good tip.
As I arrived at the airport there was a little queue at the Hertz counter, but I was happy to get a free upgrade to a bigger car (a Renault Megane), which meant it was easier to load the bikes and we had a bit more leg room in front. I am aware that many pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago have to return to Saint Jean, like we did. Renting a car is not the cheapest option if you are alone, but if you are in a group of 2 or more the cost of car renting starts to break even when compared to trains and buses.
Before we left England, my online research showed that returning to Pamplona by train would have a cost of at least £30 or €40 each (or £60 / €80 for both of us) not taking into consideration any possible bicycle carriage fees in the train. It’s apparently a 9h journey by train. We would then have to take the bus from Pamplona to Saint Jean the next day at a cost of approx. €20 / £15 each (not accounting for any bicycle fees). I calculated the total estimated cost of returning by train / bus to be of between £90 to £100 for both of us (approx. €130). We paid £80 for the car rental with another €45 for fuel, a total of £115 or €150. The comfort of the car rental was worth the extra £15 in my personal opinion and the drive back to Saint Jean and Pamplona through the north was wonderful.
As I returned to the hostel, we loaded the car and stopped at a nearby café for breakfast before driving off to Saint Jean. We decided to take the north route back to Saint Jean and drove on the AP-9 motorway in the direction to A Coruña (also known as Autopista del Atlántico) and then further north to O Ferrol following the coastal path of main roads and motorways in the region (which change names) through Oviedo, Santander and Bilbao.
If you love driving, I truly recommend this drive back to Saint Jean. Its many tall bridges over valleys and tunnels make it an attraction in itself. There are a few tollgates along the way (can remember at least one at a tunnel near Bilbao), but the fee is nowhere near as high as the ridiculous prices practiced in France (something like €1.30 – €2). I was looking forward to drive in that part of Spain since we left England and I was not disappointed.
It took us about 8h to drive to Saint Jean and when we got there my car was exactly as we had left it 3 weeks before. We transferred the bikes and everything else from the rental car to my car and while I drove the rental car, Fernando drove my car back to Pamplona where we had to return the rental car at the Hertz office in Pamplona’s Airport.
The drive from Saint Jean to Pamplona was an interesting experience, as we took practically the same route we did with our bikes 3 weeks earlier. Along the way I kept remembering the hard climb with fully loaded bikes from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles and thinking how easy it is to be corrupted by the comforts of modern life. It took us only a few minutes to get from Saint Jean to the Roncevaux Pass (Ibañeta) at 1057m that we had reached by bike, after 6h of pedalling, 3 weeks earlier.
Because I programmed my TomTom SatNav to guide us to the Airport in Pamplona, it took us through some rather minor roads after Roncesvalles, which I believe now wasn’t the best route. Believe it or not, I only had to fuel the rental car some 15 Km before Pamplona, so it managed to do more than 900 Km on just 1 tank, which I thought was very good.
We arrived at Pamplona’s airport around 20:00h and there was no one at the Hertz counter, so I dropped the car keys in the box and we left the airport to find the place we were going to stay for the night. We had already reserved a room with breakfast. Finding it wasn’t too difficult.
I don’t know if it was the excitement of the day’s drive, but contrary to Fernando I was very awake and full of energy. Had a shower and left to go find something to eat and walk around the city. I didn’t see much of Pamplona that evening, but from what I saw, I loved the city. It’s a city that, in my opinion, managed very well to mix it’s old heritage, with its Roman beginnings at 75–74 BC, through the ages in which it was a fortress-city, in which the Citadel is the biggest landmark, and to its modernization. I absolutely loved its wide avenues and many green places along the paths I walked to reach the city centre. It’s a place I would definitely like to spend more time if I ever have the opportunity again.
This day wasn’t as exciting as the day before. It was in fact quite boring to be honest, so I am not going to add much about this day to this account. We attempted to circumvent the motorways in order not to have to pay the expensive toll fees, but that was delaying us so much that we feared we would not get to Calais in time to get the Eurotunnel train back to England. After driving for many hours and covering only about 20% of the distance we gave up and went back the motorway and to the toll fees. They designed it so that it leaves you an alternative, but the alternative is so bad (single lane roads, lots of traffic) you end preferring to pay the motorway toll fees.
There was some nice French country side scenery along the way too, but I think at that point we had enough and just wanted to get back home.
We got lucky as we arrived in Calais and were allowed to take the next train through the tunnel (our reservation was for a train leaving 3 h later). That meant that by 23:00h we were back again on British soil and guess what? Some 20 min later, it started to rain torrentially. A rather typical welcome back to the UK.
By midnight we had arrived at my house. Fernando only transferred some of his gear to his car, which was parked there, left his bike with me and drove home.
This now completes our entire series on the Camino de Santiago, from the very beginning where we left Bracknell to the moment we got back.
I am thinking of extending the series a bit more with an extra post to summarize the experience and perhaps add some “interviews” with people I have met along the way or that have done the pilgrimage before and after I did. Don’t count on it as my time is very limited nowadays, but I’ll do my best.
Thank you for following me and coming on this journey with us. I am looking forward to the next adventure on the “Via Francigena” pilgrimage, starting on the 30th of July 2016.
If you have never done a pilgrimage before, what are you waiting for? If you are about to do yours, here goes a statement you are going to hear a lot during your pilgrimage: “Buen Camino!”
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.
After leaving Melide, we rode another 15 km to a nice petrol station just before Arzúa (nature was calling some of us) had some water, ate some bananas and rested for a few minutes.
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.
Just before the town of Pedrouzo, few meters after a sign that indicated Santiago was 19 Km away, we witnessed something we were really not prepared for: Death!
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.
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).
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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Welcome to the post about the 13th day of our Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage by bike, which happened on the 6th of June 2015. We did this stage of 50.57 Km or 31.4 miles from Sarria to Palas de Rei in 7h and 58 min, of which 4h 2min were of actual moving time.
This was a nice bike riding day in the company of new and old friends. Marcelo, Alice and I left the hostel in Sarria just before 8:30am and went to look for a place to have breakfast along the way out of town. As we were pushing our bikes up the “Rúa Maior” we walked passed a small Café / Restaurant called “La Taza Magica” (The magic cup) and decided to stay there for breakfast. About 15 min. later Fernando arrived coming from Samos where he had spent the night before.
After our delicious breakfast we’ve moved on, but made a short stop a few hundred meters away at a public market place were Fernando bought a box of delicious cherries for just € 3.00.
As we were making our way out of town we met Guy, a MD from Sydney, Australia, who was also cycling the Camino all the way from Saint Jean. I understood Guy had purchased sort of a cycling package in Australia which included all hotels along the way and the transfer of his luggage from town to town. All he had to do was to follow the schedule imposed by the travel company that sold the package.
I am mentioning this because it might be of interest to other people to know that there are such options and I believe there are such packages available not only for cyclists, but for walkers too.
Anyway, Guy joined our little group for this day making it the biggest group I’ve cycled with throughout the entire Camino. It is not easy to cycle in a group as everybody needs to respect each other’s pace, but this day everything worked remarkably well. We took it a bit easy as well, as we were not under any time pressures and we’ve made several stops.
There isn’t, honestly, much to write about. About 3/4 of the 50 Km we did this day were made on the LU-633 (the same one I failed to take when I took the wrong way after O Cebreiro). After leaving Sarria we made a quick stop at a petrol station in Paradela, which is about 16 Km away and then continued towards Portomarín for another 10 Km (about 26 Km from Sarria).
In Portomarín we stopped to stamp our Pilgrims’ credentials, take photos of its “fortress-like” church (Church of San Juan of Portomarín) and to eat something, together with some ice cold Spanish beer. Portomarín is a lovely town and well worth staying, if you can.
Our short stop in Portomarín lasted for perhaps 30 min and then we were on the move again. We did another stop at the village of Gonzar, at a road side bar called “Descanso del Peregrino”, for a cold drink and, between the 5 of us, we ate most of the cherries from the box Fernando was carrying since Sarria. We were also joined for a few minutes by 2 female pilgrims from Germany who, upon knowing Guy was a doctor, asked for some medical advice.
About 5 Km after Gonzar, at a locally known as “O Hospital” the LU-633 appeared to end at a roundabout. We then crossed over the N-540 and took a small, unnamed road, towards Ventas de Narón.
On this small road we crossed through some interesting small villages like Ligonde, Airexe, Portos (with the huge ants sculptures), Lestedo and Os Valos. This was a nice stretch of road with lots of trees and interesting things to see. After Os Valos we took the N-547 all the way to Palas de Rei for another 3 Km. Upon arriving in Palas de Rei, we have first looked into staying at a hostel called Albergue Buen Camino. I didn’t go in, but Fernando and Marcelo did and they came back out not very impressed. We then decided to stay at the municipal hostel of the town, which was €6 for the night. The hostel was clean and good.
Since Guy already had accommodation in Palas de Rei as part of his Camino package he didn’t stay with us in the Albergue, but he joined us again the next day on our way to Santiago. This is where this post about the 13th day of the Pilgrimage ends. Short and sweet this time… 🙂 Please indicate if you like it or not by clicking on the stars on the bottom of the post and feel free to leave comments, questions or to get in touch through the contact form.
Welcome to the day 12 post of our Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage by bike which happened on the 5th of June 2015. I did this stage of 63.82 Km or 39.7 miles from Las Herrerías to Sarria in 8h and 05 min, of which 5h 14 min were of actual moving time.
I must confess, I’ve been dreading to write this post as it reminds me of the biggest navigation error I’ve made in the entire pilgrimage. I felt (and still do) like a fool for having done that error, but if this post and video help prevent other pilgrims from doing the same mistakes than it is worth it. My ego can take it 🙂
I left the hostel in Las Herrerías around 7:30am, 30 min earlier than I was used to, because I knew it would be a day of challenges ahead. Fernando had left the hostel about 40 min earlier, I think (he is used to waking up with the birds).
Full of energy and disposition I started cycling up hill, but without my Navigator by my side (I don’t have a very good sense of direction) it wasn’t long before I made the 1st mistake. When I came to a crossroad junction and had to decide to continue in the direction of La Faba on the small road I was on (labelled CV-125/1) or take another small road to La Laguna (labelled CV-125/15) I decided to continue to La Faba (there was no yellow sign to help out at that point).
I must add a note here to say that this mistake is only relevant to those who do the Camino by bike. I essentially took the same route as the walking pilgrims do, which from the village of La Faba onwards is totally unsuitable for most cycling pilgrims. It is a 4 Km long uphill track that even walking pilgrims carrying a heavy backpack would struggle with, I think, let alone those pushing a loaded bike up. So, for anyone reading this post and planning to do the Camino, do yourself a favour and take the road to La Laguna. It is about 2 Km longer, but believe me, it’s worth it!
The worst part of the 4 Km uphill track actually wasn’t so much having to push the bike up. It was the huge number of flies because of the amount of horse manure left in the track. In Las Herrerías it is possible to “rent” horses to carry the luggage up for you (is that cheating? I don’t think so, as you have to walk it up anyway… the horses only carry the luggage). Obviously the horses leave “stuff” behind when going uphill.
I arrived in La Laguna with a feeling of achievement, but was really tired and it was a slow ascent. So much so that some walking pilgrims that had left the hostel after me, actually caught up with me in La Laguna as I stopped for a few minutes to drink some freshly squeezed orange juice and eat a banana. La Laguna is by far not the end of the ascent to “O Cebreiro“. After La Laguna there are still another 2 Km of uphill which was steep enough to force me to get off my bike again and push (I’d say perhaps a 12% incline in places… about 150m up in 2 Km).
Well, now we come to the point that I got to the Village of “O Cebreiro” and stopped to take a few pictures. Once the pictures were taken I decided not to go into the village (which I should have done) and moved on. Somehow I missed the yellow sign that was actually pointing towards the village. Instead of entering the village, in order to get onto the LU-633 in the direction of Liñares, I continued on the small CV-125/1 and happily rode the wrong way downhill for more than 6 Km until a lady waved at me with the typical “no” gesture. Must confess, by that point I was already suspicious of having taken the wrong route, but God knows how much more I would have traveled if that lady didn’t do this small gesture and took the time to explain to me how to get back to the Camino.
Angels appear in many shapes and forms. We are all angels when we help other people. Religious chatter aside, I feel I can say that for me that it was God who placed that lady there, right when I needed it, to bring me back to the right track, so “Thank you God!”.
Well, as you all can imagine the frustration of having taken the wrong direction for so long was only matched by the realization that I now had to climb another 6 Km again after an already challenging morning climb pushing my bike most of the way up, but that was what the universe wanted me to do at that point, so I did it. Thankfully the directions given by my angel were clear and precise and with some checking along the way I was able to re-join the Camino near the village of Liñares 1h and 38 min later. So the result of my mistake was a loss of about 2h and the need to ride nearly 10 Km or 6 miles more than I should have, of which 8 Km or 5 miles where of steep uphill again.
After that, you could think that the rest of the day was a breeze… Well, it wasn’t bad, but as I paid more attention to the yellow signs they led me to paths which were again not suitable for cycling pilgrims after the village of Hospital, but the worst parts of these paths were relatively short compared to what I had endured between La Faba and O Cebreiro in the morning. I would strongly advise though that if you are cycling the Camino you stick to the road (the LU-633) until about 1 Km after the village of Fonfria where you may follow the yellow signs onto the walkers path which is very smooth compared to the previous ones and it will save you some 2 Km over staying on the LU-633.
If you do take the walkers path, about 1 Km after the little village of Fillobal, you will re-join the LU-633 again. From that point onwards I decided I had had enough, no matter where the yellow signs pointed to. I knew that road would take me to Samos and Sarria, but I didn’t know at the time in which city I was going to stay for the night (was aiming Sarria though).
Along the way I crossed little villages and towns, such as Pasantes, Triacastela (where I met a pilgrim on a recumbent tricycle, pulling a little trailer behind with his dog in it), San Cristovo do Real, Renche, San Martiño do Real and Samos.
I didn’t know at the time, but it was in Samos that Fernando had stopped.
As I arrived in Samos at was still about 2:00pm and I decided to ride further to Sarria, the next town in the Camino. I stopped in Samos just to stamp my Pilgrim’s credential at the municipal hostel and moved on. I added some of Fernando’s pictures here, although I have not experienced the town myself. From Samos to Sarria is just another 12 Km, but I was pretty tired from all the uphill climbing this day, so my plan was to make an early stop there. Crossed through and by tiny villages with distinct Galician names such as A Ferrería, Teiguín, O Vao until arriving in Sarria around 3:00pm. Sarria is a well-developed town and I followed the yellow signs to see if they would take me to a hostel in town.
By cheer luck, as I was riding through Sarria I passed by a little souvenir shop and glimpse inside only to see Marcelo and Alice in there. I stopped to say hi and ask what their plans were. At that time they were uncertain if they were going to stay in Sarria or ride a bit further, but when I told them I was pretty tired and was going to stay they decided to stay as well. It just happened that nearby there was a private hostel named Casa Peltre. Alice went to take a look inside and came back saying she thought it was very good (and it was indeed). The overnight was €10 and the albergue is clean and comfortable with a fascinating decoration (take a look at the pictures in their web site). Maria, the “hospitalero” who received us is a really nice person. It is a small hostel and can accommodate only 22 people at once, distributed in 3 bedrooms: A big dormitory room with 14 beds on bunk-beds where we stayed and two other rooms with four beds in each (2 bunk-beds). The hostel has two spacious and very clean bathrooms, with very good and warm pressure showers. It has also a fully fitted kitchen upstairs and a dining area.
After a warm shower Marcelo and I decided to walk around town to find something to eat (Alice was a bit tired and decided to stay and have a nap). We found a Kebab place by the Sarria river side and filled our bellies with Kebabs. With bellies full we walked around town a bit more until we got to a tapas bar called “Mesón O Tapas ” and treated ourselves to some delicious Spanish beers. It was a day filled with mixed emotions: The physical challenge of having to push the bike up some very steep paths full of obstacles, the frustrations of the mistakes I made along the way this day, the blessing of having an Angel direct me to the right path again and the joy to encounter good Camino friends at the end. I certainly could have lived without the mistakes, but it was a good day, in spite of them. Well, that concludes this post about the 12th day of the Pilgrimage. Please feel free to leave comments, questions or at least indicate if you liked it or not by clicking on the stars in the bottom of the post.
Welcome to the DAY 11 post of our Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage by bike which happened on the 4th of June 2015. We did this stage of 61.89 Km or 38.5 miles from El Acebo de San Miguel to Las Herrerías in 6h and 12 min, of which 3h 58 min were of actual moving time.
I left the 5-Star hostel “La casa del peregrino” about 8 in the morning as usual, and as usual Fernando had already left by then. El Acebo is located at an altitude of 1,130m according to my Garmin and in a period of just 15 min I went down nearly 500 m and covered more than 10 Km distance. The only thing preventing me to go faster was the tight curves and turns of the road, which nearly tricked me once and forced me to go over the opposite lane due to the speed I was riding. Thankfully there was no incoming traffic, or that could have been a problem. In Molinaseca the altitude evened out and remain more or less constant through the ride this day.
I crossed through the village of Molinaseca, but not before taking a couple of pictures from the old stone bridge over the Meruelo river, built in Ancient Rome times.
As I arrived in the town centre I found Fernando taking pictures. This town has that wonderful mix of new and old and would be worth staying for a couple of days, if you can afford it. I believe one of the main attractions is the Templars‘ Castle known as the “Castillo de los Templarios”.
It’s is a well preserved and impressive middle-age edification and has all the characteristics you would expect of a middle age castle.
Fernando and I made a Breakfast stop in one of the restaurants facing the Castle.
Villafranca de Bierzo is an old medieval town with very interesting architecture, such as the Villafranca Castle, the church of San Juan and other religious buildings such as the Collegiate of St. Maria and the convents as well as the narrow bridge over the river Burbia overlooking the town.
The route then follows the “snake” like path of the N-VI road alongside the magnificent A-6 motorway (Autovia del Noroeste) crossing under it several times. With its many tunnels and high valley bridges, whose pillars can be seen from bellow, the motorway offers an interesting and modern perspective to the views on the road (N-VI).
This road also follows the path of the small Valcarce river which lends its name to some of the towns and villages along the way.
As I was pedalling on the shared pedestrian / cycle path, protected from the cars by a concrete wall, I kept looking at small river below and all the green around it and thinking that the people who travel at 70 – 80 mpg on the motorway above will never know the natural beauty that was just below them. This is something you can only experience in slow forms of transportation such as cycling or if you are walking.
Along this route we crossed through the villages or towns of Pereje, Trabadelo, La Portela de Valcarce, Ambasmestas, Vega de Valcarce, Ruitelán until we finally decided to call it the day in Las Herreíras.
Las Herreiras is a tiny village just before the El Cebreiro mountain which is known as one of the greatest challenges of the Camino and we could see a storm approaching in the horizon, so it made sense to stay there. To my knowledge there is only 1 Pilgrim’s hostel in Las Herreíras, appropriately called “Albergue Las Herreíras“.
The hostel was 8€ for the night and is run by a nice lady who speaks many languages (I’ve overheard she talking in Spanish, German, English and French) who is a strict vegetarian. She offers evening meals, but no meat.
She cooks the meal herself and there is no menu to choose from. I believe she charged us 12€ and it had soup, some type of salad as main meal and carrot cake as desert. It was enough and delicious even for a meat eater. Other than that there is only 1 other place in the village where you can get something to eat.
There are essentially only 2 rooms. The upper floor has the main room with about 10 bunkbeds and a small individual room for 2 pilgrims or a couple which costs a bit more (12€, I believe). Downstairs there is a small reception and the common areas with two bathrooms / toilets, a laundry area with a washer / drier and the dining room with 1 big and 1 small table.
After having a shower and handwashing a few pieces of clothes I had a walk through the village and took a few pictures of the small “Las Ramas” river by the village. Moments later the storm came and a flash of lighting appeared to have been the cause of the complete power blackout in the village for more than 1 hour. The time was spent talking to other pilgrims from various parts of the world and playing cards.
It was an enjoyable evening. The “No Wi-Fi” policy of the hostel actually works 🙂
That’s it for day 11 of the Pilgrimage. Please feel free to leave comments, questions or at least indicate if you liked it or not by clicking on the stars in the bottom of the post.
Welcome to another post about our Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage by bike. This one is special as it covers 2 days of our pilgrimage (well, essentially the was no pilgrimage on the 10th day). On the 2nd of June 2015 we rode 39.5 Km or 24.5 miles from Astorga to the village of El Acebo de San Miguel in 4h and 30m, of which 3h 21m were of actual moving time. On the 3rd of June we gave ourselves some time-off from the Pilgrimage. We woke up late and spent most of the day in the Hostel with a little walk around the village for lunch.