The camino continues – Mondoñedo to Sobrado dos Monxes

15 08 2015

D3: Mondoñedo – Baamonde = 56 km

Early to rise, but not as early to depart as hoped. What was supposed to be a quick pump up resulted in a complete deflation, thanks to a faulty hand pump, or faulty user. But after walking to the gas station (and thank goodness they had a Presta attachment), we were on our way. Then, our long, oh so long, 8 km uphill out of Mondoñedo. After an hour and a half and some blood, sweat and tears (okay, maybe no blood), the worst was behind us and we appropriately rewarded ourselves with chocolate when we reached the top.

Throughout the day, we were leap frogging with a French father and son who had cycled from Santander and were on the tenth day of their journey. Nothing that makes you feel especially old, slow and weary like watching a 14 year old boy effortlessly barrel up a hill, or so it seemed. We continued to cross paths with each other as we followed the same itinerary for the last three days. That’s the beauty and magic of the camino – while the pilgrimage might be a personal journey, there is a strong sense of community and solidarity amongst peregrinos. Familiar faces constantly reappearing; you part ways with someone thinking you won’t see them again (after all, there are so many pilgrims and you could so easily miss each other by a few kilometres), and before long, you see them again. We witnessed one joyous reunion in Sobrado dos Monxes – a Canadian woman, a kindergarten teacher from Toronto who had walked the Camino Frances three years earlier and was now walking the entirety of the Camino del Norte, and a Spanish guy. They had met in Bilbao and walked together for a few days, but then he went ahead and they didn’t see each other for a month. Then, while enjoying a menu del dia on a restaurant terrace, they saw each other, exchanged a huge hug and many stories of the past weeks.

Healthy snacks after a long day of cycling

Healthy snacks after a long day of cycling

D4: Baamonde – Sobrado dos Monxes = 39.5 km

On day four, we were bound for Sobrado dos Monxes, a town with a beautiful monastery where we’d received recommendations to stay for the night. So, we decided to get a nice early start, waking up at 6 AM and on our bikes an hour later. The morning was cold. Bitter, biting cold. We toughed it out for 17 km to Mariz. Quite easy terrain-wise, but we couldn’t even enjoy the downhills because they were even colder. Then, with frozen hands and toes and noses, Breanna declared, “I’m not biking in this,” and we stopped to warm up and wait for the sun.

Defrosting our toes

Defrosting our toes

We really are creatures of comfort. The previous afternoon the sun had been too hot. Now it was too cold. Too hilly. On this particular morning, I reminded myself that there is no bad weather, just poor clothing, or harsher yet, poorly prepared people. Granted Galicia’s cool and wet climate, I probably should have packed some gloves and warmer clothes, however in the scorching heat of Barcelona, this weather seemed unimaginable.

Cow crossing

Cow crossing

After the sun poked its head out, we continued on our way. Today’s route was a bit tricky because there were no main roads, we didn’t have surface information for these backroads, and it seemly likely that the camino was rugged. I’d set a route that seemed best, but of course some rugged sections (and even a rocky uphill) were inevitable with the limited information I had. It was a beautiful trail through a quiet forest of pines, and I reminded myself that “Smooth seas never made for skilled sailors.” Maybe a bit dramatic granted the challenge at hand, but it kept my wheels turning. After a headwind section, we were more or less coasting for the last stretch to the monastery.

Monasterio de Santa María de Sobrado dos Monxes, or the Sobrado Abbey is believed to be originally founded in the 10th century by the Benedictines, but was then abandoned and then re-founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1142. Upon arrival, we basked in the sun in the beautiful cloister. Then later, among other things, we enjoyed callos a la gallega, a tomato based stew with tripe (cow’s stomach), garbanzos, beef, chorizo and who knows what else.

The lovely Sobrado Abbey

The lovely Sobrado Abbey

Its impressive facade catching the setting sun

Its impressive facade catching the setting sun

In every full albergue, you will also find a full rack of stinky, well-worn boots

In every full albergue, you will also find a full rack of stinky, well-worn boots

After cold beginnings, a nice, warm, relaxing afternoon. And tomorrow, we would be Santiago de Compostela.

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El camino

12 08 2015

A couple weeks ago, I welcomed my sister at the Barcelona airport, the fourth and final member of my family to visit me in Spain! The first few days, as she recovered from jet lag and I finished my final shifts of work, we stayed in Barcelona – cycling around the city, enjoying a picnic and open-air cinema at Castell de Montjuïc (which offers an amazing vista overlooking the city and the sea), delicious Neapolitan pizza and of course, craft beer. But after a few days in Barcelona, we embarked on the real meat and potatoes part of her visit – cycling the last 250 km of the Camino del Norte from Luarca to Santiago de Compostela.

As the Wikipedia story goes, Santiago de Compostela became an important Christian pilgrimage site after the remains of apostle Saint James were discovered there in the 9th century. The Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James, which denotes several different routes culminating in Santiago, became increasingly well travelled in the Middle Ages as it was means for pilgrims to earn indulgences. However, supposedly the camino’s origins date back much earlier than this widely known history indicates. As early as 1000 BC, Celtic pagans travelled this route, then known as Via Finisterre, in search of the land’s end (as the name suggests) and the sun’s resting place as a born again ritual. Rather interesting.

While there are several caminos originating from different locations, the Camino del Norte starts in Irú and follows the northern coast of Spain through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Austurias and Galicia.

Barcelona – Luarca (by bus)

Travelling with bikes proved to be a bit of a hassle, unless of course we were riding them. Not only did the bus company require us to pay a 15 euro charge to transport each bike, but upon arriving at the bus terminal, they also required us to pay 12 euros each for a bike bag. But at this point, what other choice did we have?

A long 15 hour journey through Lleida, Zaragoza, Burgos, León and Ovieda, drifting back and forth between sleep and snacks. Met a Belgian guy on the bus who had walked the Camino del Norte three years ago, and now embarking on the journey again, starting in Gijon. So, there must be something to this camino business, or at least something a bit addictive…

Luarca greeted us with typical weather – rain and rather cool, and we both wondered if we’d packed appropriately – definitely a contrast to the scorching temperatures in Barcelona. Re-assembled the bikes, warmed up with a cup of chocolate and headed to the first albergue we saw.

Luarca, the quaint coastal fishing town where we started our camino

Luarca, the quaint coastal fishing town where we started our camino

An albergue is the type of accommodation you find along the camino – cheap (usually about 6 euros a bed), anywhere from 12 to 60 pilgrims or peregrinos in a room (so sometimes a symphony of snoring to listen to through the night), basic yet all the essentials. At our first one, in Luarca, we obtained our pilgrim’s credentials and got our first stamp!

At the albergue, we met a 16 year old guy from Olot (a city in Catalonia). Our conversation began when he asked me if he could cook rice in the microwave. I wasn’t sure but gave an encouraging response. He’d been walking the camino for 16 days, starting in San Sebastian. With dismal summer job prospects (remember Spain’s unemployment rates), why not walk the camino? With just a couple hundred euros in his pocket and needing to make it last the trip (and too proud to ask his parents to send him more), he hadn’t eaten the day before and had camped in the forest the previous night, or at least tried to. Woken up by rain, he fled to the awning of a shop. He was getting tired he said and had 10 days left and wasn’t sure if he would finish. Not sure if he did, but I sort of think so.

That night, as with almost every night, we anxiously awaited the re-opening of restaurants around 8 PM. Appropriately, we went to a sideria and had some local cider with croquetas de jamon and a board of different Austurian cheeses and some apple jam. We even had some leftovers to take on the trail with us. Early to bed, early to rise – we wanted to get a nice early start for our first day – a bit nervous or at least uncertain of what it would hold.