Pontevedra to Santiago de Compostela

Tuesday, 4 April, 2017

It was still early morning when I started out from Pontevedra.  The sun was barely up and there was still a distinct chill in the air.  The attendants of the early mass were filing out of the church in the main square, and one of them, an attractive girl with gorgeous eyes and long jet black hair, grabbed me and insisted on telling me the names and history of all the buildings around me.  For a fleeting second I felt as if I was once more thirty something and attractive to younger women, but of course she just wanted to make sure that a passing pilgrim left her town with a favourable impression of its architecture and history.  I could hear my mother say – ‘There’s no greater fool than an old fool’.  Still, there was a spring to my limp as I headed down to the river and across the bridge. And I felt at least forty years younger.

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The bridge from Pontevedra across the Río Lérez, with the shell emblems of Santiago

For the last three days, I have been on a high; the sun has shone from a cloudless sky; what little wind there has been, has been a balmy breeze; everywhere one looked, spring was rampant; old people, some quite ancient, were slowly digging, spreading manure and planting; the birds were singing their heads off; it felt so good to be alive and back in Galicia.

The landscape never ceased to be undulating; long stretches of uphill, a short top and then steeply down, only to start uphill again. It repeated itself quite hypnotically.  It is not a flat part of Spain.

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But for the three days, the surface was foot-friendly

From Pontevedra, my nights were spent in Caldas de Reis and Padrón, the latter being where the two followers of Saint James brought his body to bury it somewhere a little inland.  Legend has it that the two followers were eventually also buried with Saint James and the tombs became overgrown through neglect, and their origin forgotten, until their chance discovery by a local peasant some 800 years later.  The remains may have been moved to Santiago and the rest is the history of the camino.

Of course, the cynics say that it is all bullshit and that it was just a cunning fabrication by the local church hierarchy to gain power and induce the faithful to travel to Santiago.  We will probably never know the truth, but the romantic in me loves the legend.

So, some 70 km from Pontevedra, I struggled up the last long hill and into the city.  The walk through the suburbs and city proper seemed endless, but suddenly I was alongside a familiar park and a few more blocks bought me to my usual hotel.

I felt as if I was home once more.

And the sun warmed my shoulders and blessed my third visit to Santiago de Compostela.

If you want to read about my first time in Santiago de Compostela, it is here: Arzúa to Santiago de Compostela

Balugües to Pontevedra

Saturday, 1 April, 2017

Step by step, I have been slowly moving north across the map of northern Portugal and into Galicia.  It has been six days since I left Balugües, covering 127 km, spending nights in Ponte de Lima and Parades de Coura, before leaving Portugal and crossing into Spain, and staying in Tui, O Porriño, Arcade and tonight in the attractive city of Pontevedra.

Until the last couple of days the weather has been challenging – cold, wet and windy, with occasional downpours.  The torrential rain always waits until I am in the open countryside and far from possible shelter.

When we stayed in Montevideo, there were several sets of outdoor exercise machines, also in our current base of Green Point in Cape Town.  They always seem to be heavily used, and if broken, it would almost certainly be the result of overuse, rather than vandalism.  And now, I have walked through two small villages in Portugal, with their own set of machines, right on the camino.  I admit that I did not feel tempted to have a workout.

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The camino in Portugal is so well marked with the yellow flechas, that even I could not get lost.  This rather spoiled my normal excuse for talking to people in the street, but I soon found other reasons.  In Portugal language was a complication for me, as my Portuguese, so far, does not exist. I found that some Portuguese are comfortable in English, others in French or Spanish, but the majority are mono-lingual.  Before I go back to Portugal, and I surely will, I must master the basics of their language.

I was always aware that the Portuguese camino was mostly on paved surfaces, but I understood ‘paved’ to mean asphalt.  Big mistake!  For much of the Portuguese camino, paved means cobblestones of all sizes and shapes, whether roads and pavements through villages, roads between villages, country lanes etc.  The stones are unforgiving, and by the end of the day, my feet, knees and hips feet were quite beaten up.

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A typical village road
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A village pavement with smaller stones
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A typical country road

I would describe the Portuguese route as being undulating.  It is certainly not flat and in one case, between Ponte de Lima and Paredes de Coura, there is a steep climb of 400 m, largely on smooth rocks.  I had to be very careful not to sprain my ankle for the fourth time in three years.

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The view from the top of the climb

I have never before seen tame sheep wandering around a village with lambs.  One of the lambs was walking along the top of a wall and jumped down on the other side.  That set off a furious baaing by the mother, especially when its lamb could not get back onto the wall after several attempts.  I was about to set off to find the owner of the sheep, when the lamp cleared the wall in one leap.  The motherly scolding ceased and all went back to eating.

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Coming across a Roman mile-stone is a vivid reminder that the path had been used for more than two thousand years.  The mile-stone dated from c200 BC, probably from the reign of Trajan, and was a on a road that linked Braga with Astorga, via Lugo.

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The bridge from Arcade to the north was the scene of a decisive battle in the Peninsular War, when the Spanish forces defeated the French.  During the battle, one of the central arches of the bridge was destroyed to halt the French advance.

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The Ponte Romano de Pontesampaio across the river Vergugo at Arcade

It is now late Saturday afternoon in the beautiful city of Pontevedra, and I have just arrived.  The sun is shining, spring seems to have arrived and the plazas, streets and bars are packed, and everywhere there are children playing football.

And in three more days I hope to once more walk into Santiago de Compostela.