The Camino de Santiago

Day 280, Santiago de Compostella, 15.819 km

Like many things since the beginning of this trip, I had been told about it, but apparently hearing and feeling are not the same thing. « Santiago de Compostela, you’ll see, you need to climb it ». « The north of Spain, you don’t stop going up and down”. I have to admit, once again, that I didn’t choose the easiest way (at the same time I wouldn’t have left Hamburg if I had followed the easy way), but still: on average over the last 3 days: 138 km / 2. 534 m of ascent per day (the time is long gone when exceeding 2.500 m of ascent in one day was considered as a feat… and at that time I was « only » doing 100 km in one day… we’ll say that training pays off!). Indeed I confirm, you need to have good legs to go to Santiago…

Let’s meet where I left you last time: I’m sipping a glass of port, in Porto, to digest the gargantuan brunch I just ate. The weather is a bit cloudy, and I hurry to do the 2-3 errands I need to do before the rain breaks. Ready for the departure, I just have to enjoy a good night sleep before the next day. The weather is grey. I keep my fingers crossed that it will last as long as possible. The beginning of the ride is quite monotonous: I go from one village to another, without even a forest to break the continuity of car dealerships, supermarkets and industrial areas. I’m a little bit above the Douro valley, but apart from some houses and a few rows of vineyards here and there, there’s not much to admire… I arrive in Amarante, and the road starts to go down (or rather up) a little bit more in the nature, in the forest. Nice. On the other hand, this is the moment where raindrops start to fall… Less nice…

The Douro valley
Fortunately there are bus stops to take shelter during the breaks…

The advantage with the rain is that it refreshes you a bit during the climbs. And we’re not talking about a horizontal downpour that makes you feel like you have to lift mountains every time you pedal, but a light rain, not too violent… but I’m still wet… Anyhow, I’m still in a good mood, or at least in a good enough mood to admire the view during the climb. The colors come out differently, the top of the mountain is often in the clouds, it is difficult to evaluate the distances, but the bottom of the valley invaded by clouds is worth a look…

I finally arrive in Vila Real. The Lonely Planet sold me the highest wine region in Portugal. I may have the highest rainfall in Portugal, but I don’t feel like going for a walk in the vineyards… I take a little tour of the city center, but I quickly get tired of the cobblestones (a custom in Portugal apparently, for any medium-sized city, the city center has to be entirely cobblestoned…) and I start looking for a café for a little break. After 2 coffees, 2 sandwiches and 4 Pasteis de Nata, I’m still wet and the idea to stop in a hostel for the night crosses my mind. But it doesn’t last, and I quickly have a much better idea: to warm up, there is nothing like a little climb. And it’s a good thing, to get out of Vila Real, I have to go through a pass at 1.000 m. Andale!

Vila Real seen from above

The rain calms down on the last kilometers of the climb, I even have the impression to dry and I find a small corner of nice forest to spend the night. Just before the next rain shower… The next day, everything is soaked, especially the shoes that it is very unpleasant to put back on, but it is not raining. A fog covers everything and hides the road after a few meters. Not ideal for the descent. At a sharp bend in the road, I see a little late the car coming in front of me. None of us is going fast, the probabilities of collision are close to zero, but I brake anyway. Bad idea. The road is soaked, slippery, my rear wheel skids and I end up on the ground. Clever. Fortunately, more fear than harm, I can leave with a good fracture of my self-esteem but nothing more serious. Then I find a bike path (it must be the second one I find in Portugal…) that takes me through the vineyards, that goes up a little and down a lot, in short I enjoy it. 

The road in the fog
The vineyards without the rain this time

Against the advice of my GPS, I decide to follow the departmental road. Good idea! A nice artificial lake is waiting for me at the bend with a long descent towards Viera do Minho. With a few more degrees I would have gone for a swim. Viera do Minho, my last stop on Portuguese soil. For good measure, I order 4 Pasteis de Nata at the local pastry shop, then 2 more (I’m told that the ones from Lidl in Spain are not bad, I’ll have to test them…). Then I go against the GPS again (we will not have been very much in agreement during this day), and it is still a very good idea. The views on the valley of Cávado are simply grandiose. With the sun rising as a bonus. Fairy-like…

Mountain lake…
The valley of the Cávado

Then begins the ascent towards the Spanish border. The road winds in the forest, in the shade of the trees, with from time to time a view on the valley. The trees are gigantic, the rock formations too, and I feel very small in the middle of all these giants. The sun is beating down, but there is a water source to drink from almost every kilometer, and even some impressive waterfalls.

I wonder what is waiting for me at the border, as usual I start to think, to repeat in my head the story I will be able to tell to the customs officers. I come across some cars that have passed me a little earlier and are coming back down. I start to wonder. And when I reach the top, the border is indeed closed…

Ha Ha Ha

It is written that I will not have any problems at the borders. I lose one hour and I start a superb descent. Spain knows how to welcome ! I meet a German cyclist who makes the road in the other direction, we discuss a little and I set off again. There is a bit of wind, it’s still climbing (not too much but enough to feel it) and the day starts to be a bit long. I find a small flat spot just after a last big climb, perfect to bivouac.

The sun rises

I start by going downhill the next day, but as I will soon realize, « Every descent to Santiago must be climbed again ». Moreover the sky decided to play with my nerves. It’s raining. I put on pants, overshoes and close the jacket. I start to feel hot. So hot that I wonder if I’m wet from the rain or from sweat. It stops raining. I force myself to wait a bit before taking it all off, you never know. Finally I am too hot, I remove the rain gear. Guess what, it starts raining again. Too bad, all this will dry tonight… Last big climb before the finish, I get ready to push on the pedals for 20 km. After 10 km, it goes down again… « Nice to see these climbs going down, I think to myself ». Except that every descent must be climbed again… Ha Ha. The end of the stage reminds me of the departure from Porto. City, city then city. Gas station, car dealer, supermarket. In short, I arrive in Santiago…

I find cyclists in my room when I arrive, they go to Portugal, so we spend the evening together, get some drinks and eat a huge burger. I even discuss with a German who is travelling on foot, and meet a girl whom I had already met in Seville 3 weeks ago… Long live the travels!

The cathedral of Santiago under construction… coincidence, I don’t think so

Un avis sur « The Camino de Santiago »

  1. Really stunning photo’s … I can’t imagine taking such beautiful images when climbing all that hills while on a bicycle 😳.
    Ahh Santiago de Compostela … the end of our two Camino’s (one from Pamplona and the other from Lisbon) … two very different walks, but the end was on both occasions, just a great feeling of relief!


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