Europe 2015: Cycling From Avilés to Santiago, Spain
Rather shockingly, the town of Avilés DOES sport a good amount of culture and grace, I learn. How absolutely unexpected! This starts rather right away, too, like right after crossing the busy road from the hostel. Suddenly I find myself in an ancient town of colonnaded streets, all under the gaze of those glassed-in balconies I'm increasingly getting used to. All of this serves to lead to Avilés's old port.
These columns are truly extensive, if generally only of a height that goes from the ground to the floor of the second story, but what they do fail to do in height they succeed in creating a sheltered passage through which one can navigate much of the old town. They also provide a frame for the picture that is each street, in some areas lending a presence to extensive restaurant offerings, in others merely shopping. Some front the grand plazas found here as elsewhere in Spain, naturally, offering still more restaurants, but as usual I finding myself walking toward the quieter lanes when with my inevitable intent of trying tapas and red liquids containing alcohol. With notes to write, plus the ever-present book in hand to accompany such fare, I can hole up anywhere, and here the surprise that is Avilés provides a fantastic day's end for a drowned rat!
Then again, with intermittent rain again signaling my return to the road come morning, I still manage to take an edge off the glow when I get a bit lost in Avilés's sidestreets. Eventually this screw-up finds me climbing a hill inland from town to what's effectively nowhere, where I'm traversing back neighborhoods unaccustomed to the likes of an idiot tourist on a loaded bicycle. This goes on for longer than necessary, sad to say, or at least it does until a local stops his car to respect my frantic flagging down. He indicates a complicated way back to the Carreterra Nacional, directions which will more or less serve to zigzag me to Piedras Blancas and the highway again, almost after which I stop to celebrate for an already belated tortilla-coffee break at Muros de Nalon.
Playing my trumpet for the cafe owner's young son son, including a blasted short rendition of "Flight of the Valkyries" over toward a stunned due of Camino walkers crossing the nearby highway overpass, another couple of cyclists following the Camino stop in for a coffee as well. We'd seen each other back in Avilés without proper introduction, recognizing other bikes without performing the due diligence of identifying the riders, but here we make amends over coffee. Thus I meet Laia, from Cataluña, plus her boyfriend Manu (short for Emanuel), from Rouen, France. Laia teaches Spanish in that northern French city; Manu makes beer and cider; she's recently joined him for this leg of his large tour that's going to hopefully be from Rouen to roughly Santiago and back, a temporary reconnecting while she's figuring what step should come next in her life.
To both I can precisely say what's coming next for them: you'll be riding with me. Well, at least more or less for a while: Laia's already debating aloud over how much more of this cycle-touring she can put up with. About the only thing that she's sure of is that she's pretty much determined to move back to Spain from France, perhaps to San Sebastián. That's perhaps not coincidentally where she started the Camino herself, first as a walker (and technically starting at the border town with France, Irun), but now as a rider after picking up a bike in Gernika to change gears and be with Manu. For now she's game to continue this silly biking, however, and the operating theory is that the pair'll turn around perhaps at what was considered "land's end" by the ancient Romans, the not-coincidentally-named town of Finisterre - which, coincidentally, is one of my potential final destinations, too. They're a lot more sure of it than I am, though, even if none of us are particularly concerned about whether we'll end up in Santiago de Compostella or not in the process. We're pilgrims of another stripe, coast-huggers and wine-chuggers.
So off we go, although not for too long. Travelers of my ilk, we've unsurprisingly soon detoured at a beach that's hidden from sight of the main road, even as it's actually quite close to yet another of Asturia's massive bridges that span many an inconvenient chasm. At the lone beachside establishment we down a number of beers under a necessary sunbrella, watching the waves crash as a few hardy souls try to frolic in the sloppy sea of no one's discontent. We continue with exchanging our life stories before deciding that, yeah, perhaps we might as well get back to ever more hills and, soon enough, ever more rain as we proceed en route to another promised Camino albergue in Cadavedo. Soon we climb, climb, climb while navigating one hairpin turn after another, both on a long up and then as well on its following down. We're always within something of a long stone's throw from the highway's monstrous arching bridges, each smoothing out the road for those allowed on the autopista, but we're happily receiving the substantial consolation prize that is all the better views of the shore - plus the traffic is minimal.
Finally, though, and with a bit of flattening out of terrain on something of a plateau, we stop at a cafebar already hosting a number of walkers, all lounging and looking rather spent on chairs just outside its doors. A few German girls are sometimes singing along with an older walker, a Spaniard who's doing the Camino for the umpteenth time with his mutt Pink Floyd - his favorite activity when not hanging out in his current base of the Canary Islands. As for music, this walking bard is focused on classic rock, naturally enough given his pooch's name, but after enough liquid has reentered my system I'm ready to join him on the horn regardless of genre. Our guitar-trumpet duo's a first for these parts, I'm sure, so it's likely for that that the German girls videorecord the moment for everlasting posterity. Or to be lost on a harddrive without ever being viewed again. I'll put $20 on the latter.
More importantly, now that we've supplied ourselves with a proper ballast of suds, song and tapas, we're ready to recommence our roll on to Cadavedo, each of us harboring grand hopes of finding a bed on which to sleep for the night. Urp, no, that won't be happening, and certainly not when a hostel doesn't even have a dozen beds. Our dream obviously out of the question, we're nevertheless content to pitch tents alongside the converted house with a couple of others who have the same idea. Unfortunately our ecstatic joy can't last, however, when a scolding matron - and a matron she is, something she clearly establishes after telling us more than a few times that she's the exalted president of the local Camino Committee or something of that nature, in a tiny town of perhaps a few hundred - soon comes over. Here we've thought the rain clouds had disappeared... to enter a pissy storm of another nature. Sigh.
And so it is that President Ms. Matron Ma'am winds up, forthwith giving us all more than an earful of a dressing-down about staying on these hallowed premises. Sometime, in the never-ending litany that follows for us to endure, she makes a point or two about limits and numbers then, for good measure, makes it again some 30 or 100 times more - just in case we didn't get her drift. Her excitement in laying down the law is palpable as she becomes more animated with each retelling of her massive responsibility to all things town-n-Camino as we can only nod along. All we're doing is awaiting our deliverance, our heads and eyes remaining downcast and meek when not making sidelong glances to each other that say "Really, lady, we just want a stupid shower. We're happy to give you some money." Yeesh.
Finally, but only after having exercised and sufficiently breathed life every extent of the full glory of her power - which, granted, mostly consists of us being forced to listen to her if we want a chance for several minutes of glory under a clean spray of water - she huffs off, wagging her finger in the air about changes that are a-coming. This leaves the matter to the poor, sheepish woman who attends the hostel - who normally just lets anyone stay who is willing to pitch a tent - to shrug her shoulders and sign us in. We all imagine this scene must play out daily every summer, giving the matron something to look forward to during all those cold Asturian months.
At least she gives us plenty of laughing conversation to follow when a number of us convene at the roadhouse down the street, where we revel in a large meal with not a small serving of red wine. Eventually the singing German girls from the previous roadhouse make their way to us, too, and then the traveling minstrel with his dog does as well, all the better to let the party pick up again where it left off previously. When we get back to the hostel, of course, a clusterfart of flashlights ensues in particular for the newbies to try and put up tents while also drunk and absolutely dog-tired (which is literally true for one of us) - to which all of us survivors of the matron lecture naturally lay it on thick about all the trouble these latest miscreants will be in when the President catches them. With sleep in the offing and swimming heads, however, that's the least of anyone's concerns.
Come morning we've all got plans to get the hell out of this hostel's grasp, in any event, so again we briefly assemble our group at the roadhouse in anticipation of the wicked witch of the north's return for another round of berating. Over liberal rounds of coffee we all hazard our guesses on what the day will or should bring, all ready to continue our various journeys. For one of the German girls, though, who's absolutely had it with this Camino thing, she over breakfast essentially forces her friend to return with her to Germany. She uses the convenient net connection to suddenly buy tickets to fly out the next morning from the nearest airfield. Yikes, that was fast! And her friend is none too pleased, either, even if the trip's free. To this turn of events, for my part I find myself considering how such things happened before the internet made such an escape so convenient, without much need to tough out a situation gone south. So much for potential character building, or whatever it's called these days.
Laia and Manu, meanwhile, are ready to head off with a bit more steam that I am - now that's nothing new, especially since I can always find another excuse for another coffee - but I figure that I'll meet up with them later on down the road since we're of the same mind. That's exactly what happens, too, after I eventually desert the cafe after everyone else to plow with a fury under a copious steam of caffeine. I fly right through the hill-n-dale that's necessary to reach Luarca, then I make my way to Navia for my first break. Just about ready to leave, L&M instead pull up to join me at the cafe table. Guess I'll be... staying for another coffee.
This'd be a beach stop for them, they've been thinking, but the winds have now picked up semi-ferociously to scotch that idea. Meanwhile, speaking of scotching, or of getting scotched, it looks like we've stumbled onto Navia's fiesta days. How about that? Somehow this local version has some folks walking around playing bagpipes, and maybe it's that which finally allows me to decide to leave my friends behind to enjoy the tail end of this festivity by themselves. To the sound of oddly misplaced Highland music, I guess, I'm spurred and eager to continue my good day's progress and up for making my way on to whatever is to be had in Ribadeo. I've heard that this town, long noticed as a kind of route decision point on the map and located just into Galicia, is supposedly a stop worth making. I'm ready to find out.
Thus I'm loping along the coast alone again, harboring the resignation that the road ahead is going to force me to make a deep detour around the river that mouths out with Ribadeo on the other side. That usual highway designation thing screwing me again, I'm thinking. So I give in to the apparent necessity of the matter without even approaching the bridge, mistakenly adding what turns out to be nearly 20km extra (as opposed to what would've been an easy crossing into Ribadeo if I could've used the bridge - which I could've, damnit). Then again, if I merely crossed the bridge to access Ribadeo directly, how would I ever get to see the completely downtrodden town of Vigadeo, right? Yeah, right. Nevertheless, I DO choose to celebrate the crossing this town provides in entering yet another province. I grab a final sidra to quaff on Vigadeo's much smaller, much humbler bridge into Galicia.
At least I'm officially inside this the last province of the Camino, even as I find myself immediately fighting helacious headwinds on roads that have suddenly become awful. Sigh. New province, new tarmac. (Also new province, new grain silo style, which also seems to change per region.) Seven kilometers of struggling against an invisible force later, I reach Ribadeo where, just as it would figure, another teeny albergue is completely stuffed. These oases are all too often mirages, true, but I nevertheless decide to grab a shower and handwash some clothes since no one is attending the place. I hang them out to dry in the sun outside shortly later, soon spying Manu and Laia rolling across that highway bridge of my desires untaken and realizing my screwup. Well, I guess I won't be getting THOSE 20 km of my life back, nor will I be able to erase the scar of seeing Vidageo up close - or that crappy cider. I excitedly flag them down from way below (the hostel is practically under the bridge), and soon they're likewise grabbing poached showers as we next debate what to do in this relatively small city. At least THAT part is simple: we'll eat and drink, of course!
Thus it is that we're next walking our bikes into the old downtown area, eventually setting ourselves down to a plentiful helping of seafood (and here I try a standout: squid in its own ink - superb!) and red wine. We check our maps in the process, confirming that the amazing "cathedral" beach (Playa Catedrales) I've heard of isn't much further ahead. Surely we can camp there, we figure, but darkness is already descending before we finish with our feast. So we roll out of town with apprehensions of riding conditions that are slightly dicey.
But they aren't in the least: after some seven kilometers of beautiful tailwinds, sweetly smooth pavement, and blessedly light traffic (most important), we've reconfirmed directions from a local at a lonely gas station and have cut off from the main road and descended toward the sea. We move along in almost pitch blackness now, outside of the little bit of light thrown by my headlamp, but luckily there's not a soul out to clobber us with their car, anyway. We somehow find a parking lot down nearest the sound of the crashing waves, immediately setting to pitching our tents on a patch of grass and hoping no authorities will find us worth the bother until morning. The stars are out in spectacular fashion on a cloudless night, meanwhile, so we lighten our panniers of a little more booze cargo to properly appreciate it. This, assuredly, is the magic of cycle touring.
Morning comes and we've not been bugged, bothered, or otherwise disturbed. Coming out of our nylon dwellings one by one, we spot only a couple lonely RVs in the parking lot that must've had similar ideas to our town, then each of us makes our own way along the bluffs to take in this magnificent beach. It IS a cathedral of rocky seaside bluff formations indeed, and I find it much akin to the sea stacks of rock on the Aussie Great Ocean Road - although here the stacks are accessible to walk among. Or one can do so while the tide is out, anyway, which it more or less is. So that's what we do, making our way below to walk in and out of the various rock hollows, cutting into caves, snapping the odd picture. I play the trumpet in some of them, sounding out acoustics while garnering a little bit of applause to properly soothe my ego from a few startled folks who are also just arriving.
Soon, of course, we're not even close to being alone, not when only some fifteen minutes after arising and making our way down to the sea the tour buses have begun pulling up. Soon it's an all-out onslaught of folks, all to a person armed with cameras and/or videorecorders, all posing for others or performing the dreaded selfies on a stick, and we eventually find ourselves crowded off the beach and back to our tents. Damn, that happened fast! We fold camp, grab coffees at the large tourist restaurant nearby (completely missed in our nightly arrival), and roll away down the shore not quite in a panic - but getting there. Within minutes of rolling away from the famous beach, all is quiet and order is again restored to our universe.
It turns out that it's right about now that we've now finally left behind the walkers of the Camino: somewhere around Ribadeo they turn inland to more or less beeline toward Santiago. As a result, our little Camino booklets are probably worthless now, true, but then again maybe they're not: I've recently heard that there are other Camino routes that approach Santiago from the North and west. Given that Santiago is in the NW corner of Spain, these are necessarily tiny routes that speak more to being excuses for saying someone's having "done" the Camino than anything else. A perfect illustration of this is the so-called British route, where one need only be reminded that Britain is mostly only distant from Santiago by water. Still, such routes give us a bit of hope in perhaps in further bumping into Camino Albergues - and we shall soon enough.
But first we've got some more rolling to do for the day, and we've got a phenomenal tail breeze to make for a perfect spin. We mosey along with the greatest of ease, then, passing a number of cozy, sleepy beaches getting their dabs of summer tourism, then we run out of those to briefly head inland to make our way back to the national road. Skirting a wetland area, then some back roads again, we soon approach the town of Foz - and there's no mistaking the town's name here, either, not when it has billboards spelling out F-O-Z on top of some of the biggest buildings in town.
More importantly, Foz offers us a golden opportunity for yet another pause in our riding, with a fortunate stumbling onto yet another fiesta day. We for three certainly won't pass up this call to drain a few glasses, each happy to watch the small religious parade that slowly ambles by. A semi-serious affair, it comes complete with held-up icons of religious figures... only to be followed by a concert with the local brass band and some fireworks. Then again, with each glass we're perhaps mainly just trying to put off having to climb back up the hill to regain the highway that we dropped into town from.
The good news is that our coastal exit route allows us to stay down and low, still hugging the shoreline westward as, instead of riding up the big hill to greet the highway, we play coy and keep riding west until the highway comes to meet us. And thus we can continue together as one happy family on to Viveiro - where again we pull into a town only to immediately regroup over beers. We're even able to take advantage of some internet access for our trouble, ultimately deciding that we'll just camp here some way, somehow, somewhere. To that end we next walk around Viveiro's quiet streets of white-paned, glassed-in balconies - the white in particular which we take to be a Galician thing, along with their more stately-roofed granaries - before muddling about the town's low, central bridge to cross some extensive mudflats and debate our options.
A couple of checks for hotel prices yields a best offering of 80 Euros, a no-go as much to my friends as myself. We all agree that a huge point to cycle touring is to spend the money elsewhere, like on food and drinks. And more food and more drinks, which even the least dedicated reader of this massive tome will agree I've dutifully accomplished. (Okay, it's also true that as a rule cycle tourists are cheap. We don't care. That's how we roll.) In the end it's the impending darkness which'll win, anyway, so we head to a central municipal park located near the waterfront (Parque Paseo Maritimo) to see what we can get away with. Yes, there's the random citizen walking through this well-lit, fully-forested park that's a bit startled to see us, that's completely true, but we figure that if we're friendly enough, no one'll care. They don't.
Come morning, we realize that the official municipal campground we only sort of were looking for the previous night is actually within shouting distance - oops! - but we've enjoyed our quiet, "rustic" night in this city. We hurriedly pack our stuff up on the early side as a consequence, happy that no policia has found us worth the bother - which they typically don't, since, as opposed to American cops, Spanish ones generally don't worry about piddly stuff like folks drinking or crashing in a park unless folks complain. Quickly we next turn to the paramount task of loading up on the morning's helping of coffee, then we get back to map-consulting. What's to look up, though? Follow the coast!
And that's exactly what we do, too, although the Galician coast has more than its share of curves and twists. Such road shenanigans don't stop us from getting to Porteiro or so, though, and it's there where we have lunch with a view to, for a first time, realize that's not a bad idea to focus a bit on using up our food and drink stocks. It *does* seem kind of silly to end the ride with any such stuff onboard, and that goat cheese from Asturia (queso Cabrales) should REALLY be long gone by now (if I hadn't been buying so much), not to mention any remnant chorizo. (And here let me say that all of these artisanal Spanish foodstuffs have been awesome to a one, with each I'm absolutely sure having the benefit in not being fattening in the least while providing Grade-A nutrition. Or that's what the locals say, anyway - and who am I to disagree, especially when I've got cheese hanging out of my mouth and a just-opened wine bottle in my hand getting its first gulp of air?)
Thus with stocks being taken stock off, we resume our hill and dale progress to soon turn off toward Cedeira. This is a bit of a slog, but fortunately it's one that graciously ends with a long slide into town just as the air temperatures surrounding us go even further south in some unsettling kind of concerted manner. Yet another drizzle and now wind set in, precisely now that we finally seem to be on land that's facing WESTward into the Atlantic: we've rounded the corner of the Iberian Peninsula!
As for Cedeira, it's a pretty town, and considerably bigger than expected, plus it houses one of the most quaint squares hemmed in by white-paned glass balconies imaginable. We've somehow ended up in this charming corner (if central) part of town, where there's even a gazebo in the middle of this thing for concerts - or so I surmise in breaking out the horn to surprise some locals. No tomatoes come flying, so I revel in this setting with my new friends before we decide it's high time to get out of the wet and head down to the port area. Again it's time to make some beers disappear while celebrating another good day of riding.
With the weather now turning frankly turning miserable in conjunction with this town being prettier than imagined what with its bridges and all, meanwhile, we happily decide on grabbing a room to spend the night. And now we're *really* ready to celebrate, deeming it more than past time to sample the Galician delicacies of percebes (which I don't know how to describe other than their being kind of these claw-like things that cling to rocks, generally expensive and odd - if tasty -things to twist and pull apart to eat), pulpo con conchelos (octopus, local style), and calamari (squid). No, there's still no fabada making its way to my gullet (a dish I've been looking to try since Asturias), but we're doing pretty well here.
Morning brings a continuing poor weather outlook, but it's sure been comfortable having a room after the previous night in Viveiro's central park. Thus we're slow to abandon town and get going toward the next city, Ferrol. We're now officially heading primarily south for a first time, something to celebrate, but this turn of events naturally begins with a big climb out of town to get things on a typical keel. But next comes a rope-a-dope of lop-ing through mild up-and-downs which allow us to more or less cruise the 35km necessary to reach the city.
We enter Ferrol along with a prodigious amount of traffic to put us on more alert than usual. This is a city, alright. Indeed, I haven't felt myself in such a hustle and bustle of city environment since Santander, a hectic realization, but eventually we find quieter streets in the city center, oddly enough. There we quickly turn to begging suggestions of where best to get our coffee-wine-seafood cycle started. This is yet another industrial town, and known for being so, but we don't find it without its charms to pass a couple of hours: mission accomplished. Still, after meandering about Ferrol's supremely dead port zone, then looking at the sky, we decide on a little more rolling for the day.
So it's back to the ol' up-down-up-down with us, although we rather quickly make it down to the town of Pontedeume. We enter it only after crossing its appealing bridge - which only comes after looking longingly at some alluring beaches to our right. Sure would be a nice to place to hang out! Per the usual of late, though, the hostel's full at this pleasant beach town, so we only get to take a peek at its small, ancient tower before resuming our wheeled march. From Pontedeume we continue down a coastal road that is beautifully deserted while being, well, beautiful. A grand survey of the area's large and natural harbor is made ours in the process, where we can make Ferrol out to one side now in the distance and what must be A Coruña somewhere over there and off ahead - if only based on the number of freighters anchored offshore.
Somehow my friends and I separate along this mesmerizing stretch, but ultimately we all find ourselves together again at what seems to be yet another forgotten "official Camino" hostel, now in the tourist town of Minos. This place's got one new twist, anyway, with its battery of weird showers that are almost impossible to keep on while showering. You physically have to hold down the button for water to be emitting from the showerhead, an interesting dance of one-handed scrubbing. Otherwise, the only feature of note that it sports is a dirty and industrial interior. Yuk. It seems completely unsecured, too, but our reaction to that detail is to nevertheless abandon our stuff inside to escape its dreary clutch. Minos gets marginally worse when we subsequently don't have much luck in hunting down any decent tapas or beer in town, either. Double yuk. Make that a triple: isn't there a law against that in Spain? Boo on Minos, we all agree, although when we return to the hostel we'll at least find some other mildly miserable folks to give us some moderately miserable company (actually not really true, but today is sponsored by the letter M), all having hoofed it over after being similarly rejected at Pontedeume.
Maybe it's this lousy Minos stay, or the enduring wet and the rain, but come morning I've made my decision that the end of MY Camino run is nigh on the horizon. Yeah, I think I'll be hanging it up cycle tour-wise in A Coruña - which means today. Decision made, it's next emphatically driven home by the horrendous rains that shortly greet with our start out. They drench us to the bone before we've only made five kilometers, so we logically hole up as the only customers in a large and lonely roadside restaurant that we THINK usually has a view of some sort. We soon become quite welcome guests, however, as we order item after item from their offerings while looking at the rain pour away beyond the window's merciful glass. Our soaked gear, meanwhile, isn't even thinking of drying, only managing to drip down to a slightly more fighting weight over a chunk of hours. Fortunately we don't care, all of us merely content to go from coffee to tortilla to tapas and beer. The thirty kilometers we're theoretically planning for the day really isn't that much, we know; we've got time. Finally, however, and only with a slight reprieve from the dumping outside to a mere showering, we venture outside. We re-stick our clothes onto our backs with a unanimous gallows humor of "Oh, THIS'll be fun!" ilk.
With continued rains to be the apparent program, then, we forge ahead, all too soon with traffic picking up as we near the big city with under 20km to go. On the way, unfortunately, Manu's bike springs a flat with only about 13km to go. So we stop at a roadhouse for repairs - plus the necessary accompanying beers to repair our souls - and then we're back at it. And then... another flat. Frustrated, Manu tries riding on the rim without much success, but all such worries disappear into fairy dust when the Grand Miracle of the Road occurs: a Decathalon sporting goods store is suddenly sitting just across the highway from us. Could it be, here where I'm ending the ride, that my bike is coming full circle to its mother? Well, maybe not, but the service inside is excellent and Manu's bike is soon more than road-ready while Laia's picked up some overdue gear. For my part, I get to determine in a timely way that the exact bike I bought back in Lisbon costs the exact same amount here. So now I have an idea of what price neighborhood to try and sell it for, and that moment is coming very, very soon. Like in less than 10 kilometers.
Finally we properly enter A Coruña, fighting the encroachment of increasingly pesky traffic until we can curl off the highway. We shortly enter into the older area of town, thankfully finding cycle lanes near the shore to make all our worries disappear. We dodge in and out of some very grand spaces of the city as a result, with one of these being the town's main plaza (which follows the typical pattern in Spain with its ostentatious grandeur, although here I don't find the often uniform facades to each side). That's all well and good, we three think, but we all know what's overdue and comes best - adopting a cafe, specifically one which sports a counter with many appealing offerings to while away our afternoon with. Hmm. What else?
Oh yes! I'm done with the ride! I'm done! I'm done! And, given the weather, I'm a bit overjoyed. Yes, it's mostly been a great riding experience, but the end always feels so glorious - and here it's especially so when the weather has turned to such consistent and absolute crap. My guessing is that I've covered 882km on this San Sebastián-A Coruña leg, but the reality could easily be 20-30km to either side of that. Experience suggests it's more likely on the greater side, but I'll stick with the half-assed 882km calculation.
Truly, I can't be bothered with what the kilometer tally is when, post cafe, we're so-o-o-o more than ready to find a hotel room for showers and changing. This, however, turns out to be something of a task, one requiring an extended (and often repeated) wandering up and down the narrow streets of the old town area and asking around (while also figuring where to get a proper dinner of octopus, bacalao (signs of Portugal!), and wine). With the hotel and celebratory dinner eventually accomplished, then, we're all three in pretty fine spirits - even if I can already tell that Laia's more than a little envious of my new saddle-free reality. As a consequence, Manu's probably already calculating in a compensatory fashion how he'll have to reply to her likely unavoidable requests to end their journey as well.
But that's their axe to grind, I'm thinking, a new skip to my step. As for MY next order of business for me, that's to quickly get my hands on a piece of cardboard. This I do, next writing an advertisement (hopefully with a bit of humor) to hang on my bike. Until further notice, I'm npw first and foremost a salesman, with a plan to consistently maintain the bike and its sign prominently on display anywhere we go - which'll start with a few outdoor bars this very fine evening. And the sign does catch eyeballs and even a question or two, but there's no immediate sale. We'll see.
Morning is rain, naturally, but we that won't deter us from duly checking off our common tourist box for A Coruña, principally that of checking out the impressively-named Tower of Hercules. To be precise, this is actually a lighthouse of tower *form*, originally built by the Romans, but it's one which has seen a few major revisions over a couple of thousand of years. Which is to say that its look has changed considerably since its original rendering. It nevertheless IS the oldest lighthouse in existence in the world, and that's not a bad claim to fame all things considered in anyone's book - certainly not ours.
In the tower's general area there's a bit of parkland that also houses some contemporary sculpture, also with an ancient bent in its faux-Stonehenge-esque way, that's been erected on another promontory of rock nearby it; altogether the scene here among the rocks and crashing waves is indeed an "end of the world" - if not the 'official' one dubbed by the Romans in Finiterre. As far as I'm concerned, this a worthwhile-enough End-of-the-World since it means my herculean riding has ended. It all fits, if only in my addled brain.
Meanwhile, with the parting of our merry trio soon to come, I avail myself one last time of Manu and Laia's mere existence. They stand guard over my gear a final time as I hurriedly zip around to a few local bikeshops nearby, each one a modest hope to offer to buy my bike for a reasonable price. Nothing comes of such efforts, though, so the time comes to say goodbye still sporting a mechanical horse. But it'll be a less burdened one, anyway, as I give Laia my larger panniers as a parting gift in addition to some smaller gear. Shockingly, Manu passes on taking my clip shoes. Or maybe not. Then my two friends of nearly a week make ready to make tracks for THEIR final surge: it should only be a small number of days more for them to reach Finisterre.
Adrift and suddenly alone again, I find a bar with tables out in the town's busiest pedestrian zone alley, now only of mind to unceasingly parade my bike as I finish off requisite tapas and wine. There's no action on that front, no, but some cyclists in matching lycro outfits DO roll by to keep things mildly interesting, faux-shooting six shooters in a display I can't quite understand. But otherwise I feel suddenly mostly alone and reflective. Sigh. It *was* good to have some company for a stretch, and here I can particular commiserating with how Mattias felt after he briefly joined me only to find himself shortly on his own again. Such events can kind of take the will out of the riding a bit, losing company, but at least in my case I have the caveat of already knowing that it's over.
So I sit over my glasses of red, even quite happy to receive a little bit of marketing advice from a bartender on rewording my ad - which I heed - but otherwise the few queries I receive aren't serious. It looks like this bike-selling bit might take a bit more work than thought. Hmm. Soon I'm consulting the internet, of course, finding a couple of used goods stores toward the train station, so I stop drowning my trip in red and decide to go next try my luck with them. Only one shows interest, however, but with such a low price - 40 Euros - that I'm willing to try a bit longer. Cue another "Hmm..."
Well, I'm musing, why not just head over to Santiago de Compostella? It's only about 60km away! Surely there'll be a lot of folks exchanging gear and whatnot at the end of the Camino, no? Plus there's direct train service! (Once deciding that a ride's over, spiritually there's no going back - like NONE - so that alone effectively squashes any possible thought of actually riding there.) Almost immediately selling myself on this brash, bright idea, in almost no time I'm on a train to Santiago and wheeling myself out of the walker-baggage mayhem that is the station. Santiago! I made it! Uh, this was my plan all along!!!
Or not. But it does feel right to be here, the end of the road for so many thousands if not millions over the years. At the station itself there are uncounted folks with backpacks everywhere, in what must be the annual pandemonium that is the end of the Camino. Most of these trail refugees look completely exhausted and/or relieved , to be honest, with a good number of them slumped over their packs or even lying on the ground. Such numbers, meanwhile, DO make me wonder if I've made a slight mistake of a different sort... will I find a bed in this madhouse?
On first survey, the answer is a resounding NO. That's obvious almost right away, and that's harshly confirmed after getting on the internet and surfing through the hostels while I sip a glass of wine at yet another cafe-bar. Walking about the streets doesn't make this dire situation feel any more promising, either, as I go from the relatively light bustle in the city's more-modern area near the train station to encounter the full-on hordes that are ambling about the old town area. There are groups of folks just *everywhere*, but it seems that most are clustered at the exterior cafe tables or hanging outside of the bars getting their drink on. Yep, they've finished the famous Camino, and now it's all about the reward. Without a place to stash my things, I feel completely alone and anxious in the midst of this scene.
Meanwhile, and the closer I get to the main cathedral, the crazier this atmosphere of celebration becomes. Yikes. I guess this is like Mecca on a smaller - yet nevertheless impressive - scale of pilgrimage. I must look absolutely bewildered since, as I'm standing with my bike alongside me, jaw dropped, an elderly woman comes up to me and asks if I need a room. Wha-at? Completely surprised that something is actually available, and for a very reasonable 15 Euros to boot, I'm suspicious but gratefully take her card. She tells me that she often looks for cyclists like me, since we don't tend to cause any trouble. Hmm. Probably true.
It doesn't take too much more wandering around afterward, certainly not after repeatedly cutting through this endless mass of walkers, to decide on giving this godsend a chance. I'm soon figuring out directions to the house on my tourist map, more or less locating it near the old convent over on the high side of the old town's general sloping. In only several minutes more - the advantages of having a bike are speed, speed, and speed - I find myself squirreled away in a tiny room, my bike resting in the hallway with a few others, and very, very happy that this has all worked out. Before my chance meeting with the woman in the street, I had already been more than halfway debating taking the next train onward to Vigo, so overwhelmed was I by the crowds. Instead it looks like I'll get to check out Santiago after all, and hopefully I'll even sell my bike here in the process.
I naturally sign up for a few days of this convenient situation, in no time taking to my established program of walking from cafe to bar to cafe to bar. Each time I leave my bicycle prominently displayed with its sign in the street, but outside of some long glances, the next couple of days bring no real queries of interest. I continually make my around the old town's alleys regardless, ultimately walking all of them and multiply repeating the ones with more action. The good news is that this lackadaisical sales technique forces me to idle away a lot of time drinking coffee, sometimes eating the famous "cake of Santiago" - a tasty sugar bomb, indeed - or perhaps sampling an empanada of bacalao before switching to wine at the appropriate hour. Sales isn't a bad job, I'm thinking, outside of actually having to sell something. Burp.
Santiago, it turns out, IS quite a destination. No religious person myself, I nevertheless can't deny nor not appreciate the phenomenal detail in its inspiration seen here on the grand buildings on display. I do wonder if the buildings or the pilgrimages came first, however, which one feeding the other, but vowing to look up that factoid up doesn't result in actually doing so. In any event, I do notice that many of the impressive elaborations here utilize the same tan stone I've seen both in Madrid and especially ubiquitous in Salamanca. They're just of a significantly higher density here. Granted, I'm a bit surprised to note that some of the most austere and dignified buildings of original religious purpose are now actually hotels or have other non-parochial use, but then again I'm not. For one thing, this is Spain. For another, and I've noted a number of times, this Camino stuff is big business, and the throughput of folks wanting to dump some cash at the end of their long road is high. They're served.
There is something of a shared high, meanwhile, in watching virtually uninterrupted flows of walkers attain their last blocks of drudgery, each clicking a stick on the cobblestone with increased step to suddenly straighten their back upon proudly entering the main square. Many even fall to the ground in joy with the trek over - although some of that is obviously for good show. Smiles abound, needless to say.
Still trotting around with an unsold bike, meanwhile, on my last night in town I decide to up the ante that's the impetus of my sales drive. I stop at a couple of bike shops; I even ask folks in places like book stores if they know anyone looking for a bike. The bike stores aren't interested, no, but I do receive some interest from some locals in other (unrelated) stores which nonetheless leads, unfortunately, to no sales. I do eventually manage to at least secure another grudging offer of 40 Euros, anyway, this time at a packaging service for those sending their bikes back home after the Camino - but that's not terribly promising when I still hope for around double that. At the packaging place - and almost as if to prove he's not all that interested in buying the bike - the man in charge gives me numerous suggestions on how to better present the bike, word the ad on the cardboard (handing me a new piece in the process, plus a felt marker), and work the bargaining process. I should especially take care with the crucial aspect of not being the first to name a number, he tells me. I thank him, wandering back outside into the open air salesroom.
Heartened with the new tactics, I nevertheless figure that I very well might be soon taking his 40Euros, regardless: I've got a flight to Ireland - leaving from Lisbon, still a ways from here - approaching soon. At the very least this backup plan is an encouraging thing, I think, next naturally settling down to yet another restaurant with the bike sitting outside. Should I opt for a plate of almejas (clams), which the waiter naturally assures me are the best in the world? Now that's a better proposition, and the answer is yes. I again push the bike sale far from mind, happy to again focus on these culinary opportunities that might only come with a specific region. And to this subtle turn of events I can only whimsically wonder if there are still many traveling salesmen in the world. More importantly, is there space for one more, if fare like this in its varying forms is on tap everywhere? And just how do expense accounts work again?
Eventually, of course, it's back to "work", and I'm back to wandering about ever more, sometimes even stopping at a low wall or park bench to pull out my horn and play as a form of advertising. Finally, after one such salvo of notes, sitting in a small courtyard near the old town that's beginning to succumb to a drizzle, I lean to one side to pass out under a fountain. I've left the bike to tough out the wet nearby as I drape my jacket over my head and torso, using my trumpet case as usual to serve both as a knee support and for its security. Sigh: it looks like I'll just sell the bike to that guy at the packing place, I'm figuring, falling into a pleasant doze... until a woman comes up to me just as I awake. I'm gently asked if I'm still selling the bike, and what would I like for it. Now I'm awake!
Apparently this woman's been noticing me walking about, usually stuck at her makeshift table selling jewelry on the street to tourists: a bike sure would be useful to shuttle such stuff around in. Now, usually there's this game of who wants to name a number first - just as the packaging owner mentioned was such a crucial thing - but with her humble manner and pleasant demeanor I just throw such tactics out the window. I go straight for a reasonable lowball price, further giving her all the exact costs of the bike, the racks, and there it is - take it or no. 70 Euros and a pleasant conversation about jazz later, my bike has a new owner and I'm free to resume my cafe life a little lighter for the load. I hustle to the train station to buy my ticket, for a first time on this trip not having to pay the surcharge or endure the risk over one of those coveted three bike spots.
It's a leisurely next morning which finds me ultimately boarding a packed train for Vigo, abruptly changing mental gears to this new, bikeless mode of travel while appreciating the lovely landscape passing by just outside the window. The town of Arcade in particular stands out as it slides on by to our east, with an island in a lake or inlet replete with old stoneworks, and then not much later comes a good chunk of sea to our west with evidently extensive fish farming. Arriving in Vigo after a mere couple of hours, any plans to go hunting for a restaurant are nixed almost upon arrival when all I can see near the train station is an atmosphere of dead and deader, shut and shuttered businesses. Santiago this ain't, so I retreat to the train station to eat and drink of the usual culprit edible-sip-able forms before playing my horn from a bench near one of the deserted train tracks. I'd really make SUCH a good hobo, I know.
Finally it's time to board the creaky old train that'll convey me back to Porto, seemingly only to be accompanied by a trio of scruffy young Portuguese college students similarly on their way back after completing the Camino. After the shiny and smooth Spanish trains this hulking wreck is quite a comedown, I can't help but feel, and even my new companions waste no time in making a few jokes about it in a laughing and self-deprecating manner that fully comes at their country's expense. By my thinking, however, I can more graciously note that, although it's a bit grungier inside, it still moves considerably faster than any U.S. Amtrak coach I've ever been on (sad to say). Regardless of this drop in traveling conveyance, I'm quite excited to be returning to Portugal after a couple of months - so I quite longingly look out the window as the terrain becomes ever greener, wetter, and more rugged, all touchstones which remind me of this country I only so recently and briefly have come to know. The fall of night turns off this verdant show down memory lane somewhere near the border, however, but when we near Porto my eyes again perk up to recognize some familiar sights.
Unfortunately, I won't be staying long in Porto, just a quick night to take one of only a few beds I can even find available during peak season. So there'll be no sipping of port to a sundown for old times (well, two months ago) sake, but there *will* be a proper salvo of coffee (ah, back to a mere 60c for such goodness!), pasteis de nata and bacalao - all best sampled under the clocktower, in the same cafe where I remember dining before (@Cafe Dos Clerigos). Soon, though, I've grabbed a ticket down at the station, once again giving a long listen en route to the trumpet player just outside doing his extended and overblown classical arias. His emphases in these operatic turns are gaudy, true, but I give him enough credit for his gusto and tone to again happily drop some coins into his hat. And then it's some three hours of train-ing, a return down the gut of Portugal in a packed comboio to find myself in Lisbon again. It's almost like returning home.
I luck out, too, in finding a hostel that truly feels like a home. At This Is Lisbon Hostel I befriend the owner almost right away, soon finding myself in long conversation about all that is good and bad in Portugal - according to her - over glasses of red. We sit on the hostel's large balcony, under the shadow yet out of view of the castle of San Jorge somewhere behind us, nevertheless happily taking in the view before us. I pull out the horn to enjoy the moment in lieu of any greater plan.
This theme continues, too, when I take leave from my new host and friend to continue the same leisurely activity of drinking from the next hill across the way, now with the very same Ivo I stayed with during my first days here. I get my ragged backpack back as we catch up over some beers. He relates what the roommates have been up to over the last months as we move between a few outdoor viewpoints each offering something to drink - first facing across to the hostel, next looking over the port for the remaining setting sun. Eventually we part ways and I return to the hostel for another round with the owner. A better, more pleasant return to Lisbon couldn't be had.
Unfortunately, this stay will last for less than 48 hours, what with a flight awaiting me in order to comply with the evils that attend a Schengen Zone visa. Naturally I "waste" away most of the time with my new friend at the hostel, or do so when not traipsing about, each time going up and down the untold number of stairs that attend life in Lisbon. In the process of this extended lounging I meet many of the other guests, most generally only beginning their travels or on a weekend getaway from elsewhere in Europe. Of these, a crackpot Englishman who is getting set to begin the Camino on foot from Lisbon is a particularly oblivious riot to chat with. He arranges and rearranges his gear while talking and questioning endlessly, all the while looking akin to Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders with his safari outfit. He's of high spirits and utterly clueless, but with his attitude I'm sure he'll do fine - or never be heard from again. As for the sullen, young American woman who has the bunk below him in our room come nighttime, she takes a decidedly less benign view entirely, nastily flinging a few of his articles of adventure back up at his bunk with violence every time one falls off to land with a "Kerplunk!" next to her bed. Ah, hostel life!, I can only smile, wondering if it'll play out in just the same way on the Emerald Isle to come.
Extra Avilés To Santiago Pictures
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