Leaving Tapia and the Spanish north coast behind us, we headed south with the intention of walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago. We earmarked a popular stretch of the walk, two one-day legs from the town of Portomarin to Palas de Rei and then on to the town of Arzúa. We planned to park up in the centre town of this stretch, Palas de Rei, and use local buses to transport ourselves between each location. This would allow us to walk the trail in the correct direction, towards Santiago de Compostela, whilst leaving Benny parked in the middle and returning to him each night.
But first, we would pass by the city of Lugo and felt it would be right to call in and visit. Lugo is Galicia’s oldest provincial capital, dating back to 14 BCE. Navigationally things didn’t quite go to plan, as when we eventually located the aire we were aiming for, it was clear the circus had come to town and the entire parking area had been fully taken over by them. After another loop of the centre we managed to find alternative parking on a wide street a similar distance away from the town centre, so we locked up Benny and approached the town on foot. We walked past the huge ancient Roman city walls that encapsulate the town, with views of distant spires set within the city and of adjacent old buildings. We visited the central cathedral and the main square, both rather grand affairs. The Catedral de Santa María is an example of 12th century Romanesque with various Gothic elements and details, a very familiar Spanish architectural style we have become well versed in during recent weeks.
We had our picnic lunch on a park bench in front of a large chess board, with only leaves for chess pieces, painted on the ground in the shaded prazo Maior, directly in front of the town hall building. The town hall, with its 18th century Baroque facade and tall clock tower, made a pleasant spot to take the weight off, have a bite to eat and undertake in the popular sport of people-watching. We later explored some of the wide, spacious streets adjacent to the main squares before looping the city centre on the top of the Roman walls and then heading back on the road.
After Lugo, we continued on to Palas de Rei, set to be our new base for two nights whilst we walked some of the Camino de Santiago. Benny’s new home was a beautiful picnic area where we parked in amongst the trees next to a concrete picnic table with no other motorhomes, or people, around. We explored this key stopping point of Palas de Rei town by bike, which had a lot of commerce and pensions for passing pilgrims to rest. The Camino itself is well signposted, especially this close to the city, and so is easy for the pilgrims to navigate. We noted that after a long day’s walking, often 25-35km per day on a typical schedule, the Pilgrims still had the energy to navigate their way to the local hostelries in large numbers without requiring Camino signposts. Dusty boots and hot aching legs were abundant on the front terraces of the small bars fronting the main road through the town. We asked around if there were any buses to our walking start point for the next day, to no avail, so with little other option we ordered an early morning taxi to drive us to Portomarin, 25km away.
We passed a quiet evening in our lovely countryside surroundings with only owls for company, and next morning we walked the brief distance to our taxi meeting point, in Rosario. Our taxi ride passed quickly with Nicky chatting away in Spanish to Angela, our driver. Nicky really enjoyed having the entire 20 minute journey to both practise and hear Spanish, rather than just the usual short exchange of sentences over a greeting or shop transaction. They discussed the differences in schooling systems, how and when youngsters learn Spanish or English, and how Nicky and Angela had learned each other’s languages. Nicky was pleased with how comfortable she began to feel with both speaking and understanding spoken Spanish again; the €25 taxi fare was worth it for this conversational opportunity alone.
But we had walking to do. We paid our fare and exited the cab right by the church in the main square of the town of Portomarin, the proposed starting point of our walk back to Palas de Rei. The weather was misty with cold low cloud, blanketing the day in an eerie paleness and calm. In contrast, about 30 noisy teenagers, who were anything but pale and calm, were gathering nearby outside their accommodation readying themselves for the same leg of the walk. We hastily hit the trail out of town to stay in front of them and pleasingly didn’t see or hear them again for the rest of the day.
In contrast to our past few weeks’ experiences was the prolific number of walkers, known as pilgrims, already walking on the Camino trail. October in northern Spain had so far rewarded us with a distinct lack of tourists and a relatively tranquil experience, yet now this busy trail was slightly disappointing in that we missed our solitude and space around us outdoors. The route itself was not one of peacefulness either, as it intermingled with the main road for the whole journey. The trail often ran directly alongside the road or near to it, or was only away from it for a short while before conjoining again or crossing over or under. The combination of the volume of pilgrims and this proximity to the road, left us underwhelmed with the day’s walk.
There was some shared camaraderie and a much heard greeting was ‘Bueno Camino’, the standard well-wishing between pilgrims, but many walked with head’s lowered, looked rather dejected – from exhaustion or piousness, who knows? We walked the 25km back to town at a sharp, brisk pace, passing hundreds of pilgrims on the way, with little to report on the route, villages or views. Perhaps we unluckily picked a poor stretch of path for our first walk, and other portions of the trail may have been pretty and interesting, but we came away with the impression that we hadn’t missed much at all, in purely walking terms, by not undertaking the whole distance.
Later we decided that, on balance, we’d prefer not to walk a further day on the trail, especially given we had already cycled some of the Camino trails on the northern route nearer the coast, and we felt we’d probably experienced the Camino sufficiently. Covering close to 30km walk for the day, it had certainly been good exercise out in the countryside air, and most importantly we were not at work, but we’ve certainly had better walks. In future we’ll focus our hikes in mountains and on countryside trails, as is our usual penchant.
We spent another pleasant evening alone in our lovely wooded picnic area, enjoying the calm tranquillity we’d missed out on during the daytime hike. Instead of our originally planned second day of walking, we decided to move on, with our next stop at the city of Santiago de Compostela itself.
Before leaving the following morning we took the rare opportunity of being alone to fully utilise the motorhome services and, for the first time since we’d been away, we washed and chamoised Benny to a shine. It was great to see the difference our efforts made, and we re-joined the road heading west feeling rested and cleansed.