ANERLEY’S PILGRIMS PROGRESS, part 4.
After the extremes of a night in a Spanish barn, and then a night in the splendours of the monastery at Sobrado, it was time to move on towards our destination at Santiago Compostela, which was only some 50 miles from the monastery. Our elevenses stop was at the small town of Arzua where we joined the main east-west road to Santiago. This was also the main pilgrims’ route along the Camino Frances, six weeks on foot from Paris! Here we stopped for refreshments, sitting under the shade of trees in the main plaza, and watched the world go by. Pilgrims on weary feet, loaded down with heavy rucksacks, and lots more travelling on mountain bikes. Next we visited a mercado to buy food for our lunch stop and left Arzua along the Camino, a narrow, medieval road. Shortly the Camino became a track which wound its undulating way through oak woodland. A perfect, shady place for our lunch stop.
It was now 5 days since I was struck down by the evil eye and was still being tended to by our Dr Irena. Today she was in a very generous mood. Instead of one slice of dried bread and Coca Cola to keep my energy reserves from being completely empty, I was allowed a special treat – a two course lunch! Two tins of baby food – one, beef flavoured ground rice, plus for pud – apricot purée!!!
Now, with fuel in the tank, I rocketed off along the still winding and undulating track through oak woodland. This was excellent and very enjoyable for mountain bikes. but mutiny in the ranks dictated that we again return to tarmac at the first opportunity!
As on all our previous 9 days, the hills did not get any easier, and with the sun settling in the west we came to a little, woodland hostel for our overnight stop.
Unfortunately, being a small hostel on the now busier route, there was no room at the inn! But fortunately, there was an enticing café opposite this hostel at O Pino. Still with 10k to the next hostel we decided to call it a day, or as Ewa our linguist said, “Maňana”. So maňana it was! We stopped for a relaxing coffee or two.
Re-charged with caffeine we started off again for the next hostel. If it was also full, we still had our tents and sleeping bags. However, it was a big hostel and whilst full with many hiking pilgrims, we managed to find beds for the night.
Maňana and the End of the World.
Next morning the hikers were up very early, before the sun made the tarmac too hot for walking. Tired feet were shod in sandals, not boots. Even their dogs wore suitable paw wear!
Now we were nearly there, only a few more miles before we reached Santiago, and fortunately our route took us past it’s airport. Finding its location was a bonus as we would be flying home from there in two days time. And then the next sign to indicate that we were nearing Journey’s end!
Shortly afterwards, we had our first religious experience. The massive monument on the Monte do Gozo. This is a hill top of historic significance over looking Santiago. The monument was built to commemorate the visit by the recently deceased, Polish Pope John Paul. Naturally it had a special significance to Ewa and Irena, both being Polish Catholics.
We then pedalled on into the old town centre, and arrived at the Cathedral just in time for the daily, Pilgrims Mass. This unique service is the highlight of the pilgrimage and the huge church was filled to bursting point with expectant travellers from around the world. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this service was a wonderful spectacle and a moving experience.
We spent the rest of that day sightseeing in and around the cathedral and the surrounding old town. At long last, and just to prove that we had made it to the Cathedral of Santiago Compostella, we managed to get a photo of all four of us, including Yoshi our official photographer!
But the pilgrimage does not end there.
A tradition grew up of continuing west for a further 100+k to Cabo Finisterre. Here at the symbolic end of the world, the medieval pilgrim, as a final cleansing, burnt his clothes on the beach and plunged into the sea for a baptismal renewal. We did not have time for this extended bike ride but we all wanted to complete our journey with a visit to the most western point of Europe, the end of the world before Columbus discovered America. So the next morning we set off early by coach for the long return trip.
It was an interesting ride zigzagging up and down the steep sides of wooded hills, past verdant farms and small hamlets, until eventually we wound our way down to a wide bay with sandy beaches and wooded cliffs stretching off to distant headlands on each side of the bay. We continued along the coast road, west and then south to our destination at the small village of Finisterre. From here it was a 3.5k cliff walk to the light house and Pilgrim’s shrine, on the very end of the world, and over a 4,000 miles of ocean to the next land fall on the coast of the Americas.
Now Yoshi and I waited with anticipation. Were Ewa and Irena going to fulfil the final cleansing? Were they going to burn their bras and leap naked into the cold Atlantic waters? Well unfortunately not, but Ironman Yoshi did, and that certainly warranted another photo!
But the excitement of the day was not yet over. On our return journey we saw a wall of smoke darkening the sky, and as we got closer, the red glow of a raging forest fire. Over head, water carrying planes were swooping in to drop their loads, trying to dowse the flames. Later that evening, back in Santiago, we could still see the smoke darkening the sky. And then it was time for bed, our last night before our flight back to England.
So thanks to Ewa for inspiring this epic and so interesting bike tour, also of course to Yoshi, without whom there would not have been so many photos to record our adventure into the unknown!