“Faith“… when you hear (or read) this word, what is the 1st thing that comes to mind for you? Religion?
I can’t blame you. I would argue there is no religion without faith. Thankfully, though, the scope of the word is broader. If you write “faith meaning” in Google Search, the religious meaning actually comes 2nd. We are born is this world with nothing but faith.
Unlike many other animals who are up on their feet a few hours after being born, it takes humans many years to become self-sufficient. Even without knowing, we are born with the faith that either our parents or society will care for us. There are perhaps more meanings to this word that I could possibly write about here, but I want to focus on this one particular meaning: Faith in mankind.
I confess that in the last 2 years, especially this last month (Feb/Mar 2022), I have lost some of my faith. Wars and an increasing number of corruptible and power angry human beings lead to this innevitably, I think.
Although I am not a member of any church, I consider myself a religious person. Unlike other people, for my religion to survive I feel I cannot rely on faith alone… it must involve some level of science and evidence for me. I am not the kind of person who can base my beliefs in wild profecies, Biblical or otherwise, although I do believe that “…there are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. I do believe there are forces in motion in the Universe that our science may take dozens of centuries, perhaps tens of thousands of years to explain, if we don’t annihilate ourselves first. Our science is just starting to produce a huge network of things in this planet and beyond, so perhaps our universe being, … well, a lot older than us, is in essence a huge network of beings, covering a wide range of planets, realities and dimensions in which living (and “non-living“) humans are just a small part. Where our individual place is in this network is impossible to say, but perhaps many of the things we call “random” or “coincidences” are in fact the works of this network. If we knew ALL the laws that govern the Universe and had a computer powerful enough, we could perhaps even predict it.
Last weekend I received the visit of two Warmshowers guests (if you don’t know what Warmshowers is, visit this page). They were Meli (Melissa) and Caro (Carolina) from Costa Rica. Meli and Caro are on a 2 years journey that started when they flew from Costa Rica to Madrid 3 months ago and presently found themselves at my house last Friday. Among the many obstacles they already had to overcome was the loss of their passports in Spain (according to them a 5 seconds distraction… thieves were likely after money only, but took the passports instead) and a number of other smaller problems, all to fulfill the dream of learning a bit more of this world and explore it with as little impact to nature as possible, by the power of their legs.
Their bikes were really heavy and Caro, had a serious problem in her bike: Only the front disc brake was operational. So I took them to Trek Bicycles here in Bracknell, a new shop I didn’t even know existed as they opened their doors less than a month ago. I must say that, having a general knowledge of prices and values here in the UK, I thought it would cost Caro an harm and a leg to have the problem resolved, especially from a brand such as Trek. Indeed, Trek wanted to charge her as much as £120 for the repair, but upon learning about their story they waived ALL labour fees out, sold the parts at cost and not only fixed the rear brake by replacing the entire braking system with a brand new Shimano one (except disc), but also replaced the pads on the front brake and topped up the braking fluid. They also did an overal inspection on the bike to make sure it was as safe as it could be in the couple of hours the bike was with them.
In my opinion, when you see this kind of attitude, you must bring it to public knowledge because there is too much business and not enough kindness going on in the world these days. To me, personally, it restored a bit of my faith in mankind, that was so damaged lately. My kudos to all in Trek Bicycles Bracknell for understanding that business without kindness is very likely not the most meaningful part of this network I mentioned above. We cannot eat money nor take it to the grave with us, but who knows… perhaps the relationships we add to our individual network in our life-times is something we can indeed take to the grave and beyond (I guess, for Christians is akin to going to heaven).
After all the most urgent issues had been resolved we had a wonderful evening in which my children cooked a delicious dinner for us and the next day (Sunday) I rode together with Meli and Caro to their next Warmshowers host, in Aldermaston by the river Kennet, some 33 km away (67 km in total for me). It was my 1st long distance ride in the year (yes, I should feel ashamed) and the day was beautiful as you can see in the pictures below. Meli and Caro don’t have a fixed plan. They are now riding to meet a friend in Bristol and then they don’t know yet if they are going to Devon or Wales (most likely north). I wish them a safe and pleasant journey in the UK and then back to the continent for their 2 years adventure.
Before I close this post, one interesting thing I learned on this ride was about the signs for the Camino Ingles (English Way) to Santiago on National Cycle Route 4 (NCN 4), which in Spain typically starts in Ferrol (or A Coruna). I rode from Bracknell to Bath a few years ago and these signs weren’t there. It makes sense though… I think pilgrims (on a bike or on foot) would go from London to Bristol on NCN 4, then south to Plymouth on routes like NCN 3, 33, 2 and so on. There is a ferry from Plymouth to Santander, which is part of the “Camino del Norte” (Northern Way to Santiago). Maybe centuries ago it was possible to sail from somewhere in the south of England to Ferrol or A Coruna. The website on the link above suggests English templars used to do this route to Santiago from England to ask Saint James for protection on their way to Jerusalem. Anyway, it was very nice to see these stickers as they reminded me of my own “Camino” journeys in 2015 and 2019.
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Between the 25th of August and the 4th of September 2019 I cycled nearly 660 Km on the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago, from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
I recorded a short vlog about this trip a week before I left. In this video I explained my motivation to do this pilgrimage, so I will not repeat myself and go straight to the point with this introduction.
Upon my return, I’ve asked a few friends that have, and have not, done pilgrimages before, what would they find useful in this introduction and they asked me 7 questions in return.
I have answered all 7 questions in the video below, together with a photo show of the 210 pictures I liked most out of the thousands I took during the journey. I’ve added them to a photo gallery on the bottom of this post, in case you want to see them in a higher resolution.
If you don’t like to read, I essentially talk through these questions in the video, but in the text below I added a little more detail.
The 7 questions I got were: (Click to jump to the answer)
How long did the pilgrimage take? For me it took 11 days! Started from the Sé Cathedral in Lisbon on Sunday, the 25th of August, around 12 noon and arrived in Santiago on Wednesday, the 4th of September, around 4:00pm. Back to Top
How much did you spend? I spent €685.42 in the entire journey. That includes all expenses from the moment I arrived at London Heathrow Airport, on my way to Lisbon, to the moment I left Santiago de Compostela. It also includes the fees I had to pay to the airlines (TAP and Iberia) for transporting my bike. As you may not live in London, or in the UK, your journey to Portugal and from Spain may be quite different than mine, so if you only count the pilgrimage days, the total expense was €451.14 and as it took me 11 days to reach Santiago, the average per day was €41.01.
I’ve created a Google Sheets page containing all my expenses, as well as the telemetry from my Garmin Devices, such as distances travelled, altimetry, average heart rate and so an. I believe it is entirely possible to do the Camino spending much less than I did, but perhaps you’ll have to limit yourself to eating only 2 meals a day, cook your own food and just walk and sleep. If you plan to do the Camino with as little as possible, I would recommend that you reserve a minimum of €30 a day for your journey.
If you are looking to stay at “Donativos” (hostels where you pay just as much as you can) or accommodation under €12 a night you will find it somewhat challenging, especially in Portugal, as the number of beds in such places is small and fills up quite quickly. The cheapest albergue I stayed in these 11 days charged €6 a night. It was in Briallos (ES) and it was a publicly owned “Xunta de Galicia” albergue. Keep in mind there is a price rise expected for all “Xunta” albergues in 2020 (I think they’ll go up to €9 a night). I am not aware of any accommodation under €12 a night in Portugal. The “Casa do Sardão” hostel, was one of the most typical and attractive albergues I stayed in Portugal and it charges pilgrims €12 for a bed (well worth it though). Back to Top
Navigation: Was finding the way easy? The answer to this question is not a yes or no. In Lisbon there are very few signs pointing the way. I found only 3 and 2 were very faint. Signage improves after Coimbra, but you’ll still find stages where signage is excellent and others where signage is poor. After Porto, signage tends to be very good, however, if you are cycling you have to keep in mind the original Camino is meant for walking, not cycling, so there are signs pointing to ways you cannot (or should not) ride on your bike.
I am also almost certain there were arrows pointing to disused paths of the way as the Camino appears to have changed over the years. I frequently stopped to ask for directions and some locals said a few times, pointing with their fingers, “it used to go that way, but now it goes this way”. Remember that, generally, walkers go against traffic and cyclists move with traffic. That means if you are cycling, most signs will be on the opposite side to you and they are typically small and not always easy to see. Taking into consideration you have to be aware of the traffic around you, finding a little sign, sometimes 20 – 30 m away, takes a lot of attention and good eyesight. It becomes a game of “find the yellow arrow”. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Considering the number of times I got lost and had to rely on Google Maps or the Map loaded on my Garmin Edge 820, my route was actually pretty close to the “official” route of the Camino, if there is such a thing.
My recommendation is that you search for the GPX file of the Portuguese Way (I found this one wich became my reference route), download it, open it with Google Earth (or other such software) and study the way. That helped me find the way out of Lisbon with relative ease. I will also post copies of my own route in the blog, but they will contain the mistakes I’ve made. There is a gap of about 10 Km in my GPX route, as having the navigation feature always on in the Garmin caused the device to consume a lot more battery and that caught me by surprise as I was about 10 Km from Azinhaga on the 2nd day of the Camino and the Garmin Edge suddenly “died” (my Garmin Forerunner watch had already died earlier that day). In my usual bike touring rides the battery of the Garmin Edge 820 I use lasts for at least a couple of days, but without the use of the navigation feature. Back to Top
What were the worst experiences you had on the Camino? There were moments of frustration, no doubt, but I honestly cannot complain. I have not suffered any injury, nor had a mechanical fault that prevented me from continuing, nor was a victim of any “bad intentions” like theft, aggression, etc. I think if any of these things had happened, I would have a good reason to highlight them here.
With that in mind, some of the lighter frustrations came from… – The airlines that damaged my bike in transportation and charged me extra to transport them on top of what I had already paid for luggage; – My own mistakes; – The amount of urban traffic in some places and – The poor signage in others.
I also found it difficult to find pilgrim accommodation in some places after 4:00pm and had to resort to staying in more expensive places, but that would only have been a real problem if I could not afford them. Since I gave myself a comfortable budget to do this pilgrimage, this was not an issue for me. I was, however, committed to try to do the Camino as much as possible in a “pilgrim’s honoured” way.
Some frustration also came from the challenging type of terrain I had to face with a heavy bike and the fact I was somewhat unprepared for that level of difficulty. Again, this is no one’s fault, but my own. The Camino, following the yellow arrows, is very challenging for cyclists. It’s absolutely not meant for touring bikes, so I would recommend you evaluate this well before you leave. If you plan to follow the yellow arrows on a bike, a sturdy mountain bike is highly desirable. Also, from Lisbon to about Coimbra, the Camino is very urban in most parts. Done on busy roads and going through industrial areas. Not exactly the notion of nature’s paradise one would expect.
This was also one cycling trip in which I got very frustrated with my tech, much of it due to my own fault as well. These include video recording hiccups, which meant I have no footage for a portion of the Camino or when both my Garmin devices ran out of battery as I explained before (“Strava cyclists” will understand the frustration). Back to Top
What were the best experiences you had on the Camino? Honestly, just doing it! It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I loved the views of the many places I’ve been through and the people I met with whom I had a chance to have a conversation with, in the hostels I stayed and even if just cycling very slowly alongside them for a few minutes. If any of them is reading this, I am so grateful for the opportunity to get to know you, hear your stories, your reasons for doing the Camino and other experiences you had as pilgrims.
Some of the best experiences also came from the most challenging ones. The times I looked up a hill and thought I would not be able to climb it up, but then I did. Obviously hills are supposed to be hard to climb, but the reward when you get up there is not just the feeling of accomplishment, but the visual delights of the views. Other worthwhile experiences include things like the sounds and smells of the forests I cycled through or the coastal paths I cycled by.
And then, there was also the simple culinary delights of a 3 course pilgrims menu, typically for less than €10 in some places, which often included excellent local wines. In Carreço, Portugal, the pilgrim’s menu at Sergio’s included a starter, a main course, desert and a full bottle of white all for €8.50. A pilgrimage is certainly not a dream holiday for many, but then a pilgrimage is often only a holiday in the sense that those who, like me, live busy professional lives, can only do them during their holidays, hence the reason young people on a gap year and retired people seem to be dominant on the Camino.
People go on pilgrimage for a multitude of reasons, but certainly not to lay down and relax. It is quite demanding physically, even if you are fit and in a good state of health. The paths are more often than not full of sand, gravel, stones, mud and boulders which becomes especially difficult if you are climbing up or even going down steep hills. Back to Top
How Safe is the Camino? All I can tell you is that I had no issues whatsoever in my Camino. There were moments I left my bike completely unattended with almost everything on it (with the exception of my documents, money and the more expensive electronic equipment). In some of these moments I locked the bike, like when I entered the Sé Cathedral in Lisbon and then at the Paroquia Dos Martires church as I was looking to buy a pilgrim’s credential which I had forgotten back home. In these moments the bike was outside on a very busy central location for at least 30 min and nothing was missing when I came back.
I also felt safe cycling on the roads, despite the heavy traffic in places. There were a few exceptions in which I thought some drivers drove a bit too close for comfort, but in the vast majority of times the Portuguese and Spanish drivers respected a safe distance. I cannot stress enough though that some roads are really busy and you should always be careful, regardless if walking or cycling the Camino. Walkers will have to walk on roads and hard shoulders in several occasions too.
Despite all of this, I can’t think of one moment in which I felt like I was in serious risk. Back to Top
Where did you sleep? (Accommodation) The network of pilgrims’ hostels, or Albergues as they are known, is not as extensive in the Portuguese Way as it is on the French Way (from Saint Jean Pied de Port), yet that doesn’t mean it is not sufficient. I used 2 resources to find accommodation:
1) Gronze.com: Probably one of the best online resources for all Caminos to Santiago. One catch is that the site is only available in Spanish, but you can use Google Translate to automatically (machine) translate the site. The site gives you all stages for all Caminos and a list of accommodations for each stage, which include not only pilgrims’ hostels, but hotels and other types of accommodation as well (camping areas, etc).
2) A Google Sheet list of (currently) 536 places along the Portuguese Way of the Camino (all variants: Lisbon-Porto, Coastal, Central and Spiritual), created by a user named “Anonymous Goose”.This is a great resource, maintained by volunteers and frequently updated based on information received by pilgrims. The list gives you the phone numbers for all the places, in addition to estimated cost, number of beds, type of accommodation, website (when available) and physical address as well as recommendations. The list is extensive, but I printed it and used it together with the printed Gronze stages (only carried in my handlebar bag the sheets for the stages I was planning to do for that day).
As far as my own experience goes, the places I stayed are all listed in the Google Sheets page I mentioned in question #2. I can only say that they were all clean, comfortable and functional, some even luxurious for pilgrimage standards. I am not going to say more than that as what you expect for your Camino might be very different from mine, but if you choose to stay in the same places I did, I can recommend all of them to you. Few important things to mention for cyclists, although this wasn’t an issue for me, not all places I stayed had a space to store the bike. I think I was lucky that in the places where that could have been a problem, I was the only cyclist that night, so it was always possible to find a little corner to leave the bike. For example in Coimbra I left the bike at the reception by the exit door of the hotel I stayed. If there were more bikes that night, that would have been a problem as the space was quite tight.Back to Top
So these are the 7 questions I received, but if I missed something you want to know, or if you have other questions or want more detail about my experiences on the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago (while you wait for the Blog posts to be written and the videos to be published), just get in touch by leaving a comment here or message me through the contact form in the Blog.
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For a while I’ve been wanting to record a video and write a post about my upcoming cycling pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, this time the Portuguese way to Santiago.
I’ve done the so called French Way between Saint Jean Pied de Port and Santiago de Compostela (and further to Fisterra) in 2015. As there are several “ways” to Santiago, there is still plenty to be explored and, as I have not done any touring in 2018, it was about time to get on the road (or track) with a bike again… for longer than the usual day trip.
I am not going to extend the writing here in this post too much, as I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say (and more) in the video below. it would be redundant, I think, to also write it all again here.
In the video I mentioned I was going to leave links to some online resources on the Portuguese Way, but I decided that, following the “index pages” I created for my previous 3 pilgrimages, I will also create an “index page” for the Portuguese way this week and put the links and online resources there. This post will be the first of hopefully many in that page.
I am travelling to Lisbon on Saturday, the 24th of August, and starting the journey by bike on Sunday the 25th. According to the web sites I looked, the distance varies depending on the path you take (even in this way of the Camino there are several options to choose). The most traditional way is apparently 620 Km long (385 miles), but I am still undecided if, from the city of Porto, I will follow the inland / central way or the coastal way (inclined to try the coastal way). In any case with my legendary navigation skills I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up doing closer to 700 Km on the bike to get to Santiago.
I am hoping the journey by bike will take 10 days and then have 2 days to rest, visit the wonderful city of Santiago again and pack my bike for the flight back to London.
It is very unlikely I will be posting here in the Blog during this journey. I am thinking of not even taking a computer with me, and I really hate having to type a lot in the small virtual keyboard of a phone. I will make every effort to post pictures in Facebook (or Instagram, if I learn how to use it properly by then) and perhaps even the odd video during the journey, so please follow the journey there if you want to know how I am doing.
It’s nearly mid-night here, and its already way past the bed time of this “child”, so I’ll end this post here.
Do you like these posts? Why, then, don’t you pay me a coffee to help with the blog hosting cost and as a caffeine incentive to keep me going through the long hours of the night?(Suggested amount: £2.00 or USD $3.00 or 2.50€ or whatever you want to give). You may donate through my Patreon Page or through PayPal directly.
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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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Although this Vlog was recorded Thursday morning as I was putting it together in the evening my video editing software decided to keep crashing (I suspect it was the sync between the 2 cameras that for some reason was causing a problem this time). That made me waste a lot of precious time, hence the Vlog has only been uploaded in the early hours of Friday. Being a Vlogger is harder than I thought 🙂
In today’s Vlog…
A new post about Music and Cycling is almost done
I am going to ride the Devon Coast to Coast route during Easter
Day 14 post of my Caminho de Santiago Pilgrimage by bike.
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It’s Thursday and as usual time for another Bike Vlog. This one almost didn’t happen though, as I am a bit sick and considered staying home today. The thing is… it was such a nice day to stay home, I couldn’t resist. In this one I am riding my recumbent bike.
In today’s Bike Vlog…
London Bike Show
The future post about the 14th day of my Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage.
The future post about Bone Conducting Headphones.
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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.