The Spiritual Variant – 125 Mile Pilgrim Finale

During our planning of this adventure, many had recommended that we do the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Way. It added a little more distance and included a boat ride up a river. We were told it was very special and quite beautiful. Pontevedra was where those taking the Spiritual Variant broke off from the main Portuguese Way. It had a lot less pilgrims and was very magical.

Pontevedra to Armenteira. 9.64 miles/15.5 km and 1519 feet/463 m of elevation

This was another brutal stage. Although shorter in distance, it was more elevation in a shorter amount of time. Ummm….I do not believe I was told about all these elevation stages! I was only aware of one! Apparently, I need to do my own research to see what I am truly getting into! The climb was relentless! If you recall from our last post, we had quite a bit of fun late into the night yesterday. As a result, Dan was suffering beyond belief (the result of mixing beer, wine, 4 different liqueurs, and port….I stuck to wine and the liqueurs). While he lamented the grueling hill in pouring rain, threatening to vomit on a regular basis, I dug my heels in and did my penance. I charged up the hill forcing myself to conquer it, leaving Dan far behind. I’m such a bad wife. Along the way, there was a drink station set up for pilgrims. It’s a help yourself set up with the request of a small donation if you can. Dan stopped and purchased an orange soda (something he never drinks and loaded with sugar). That was just the hit he needed, and before long he caught up with me. Unfortunately, his sugar rush only lasted about 45 minutes. Luckily, we were finely at the top. Now time to go down.

While up was certainly not much fun, down turned out to be just as bad. Thanks to days of rain, our descent was through thick and slippery mud and ponds of water (all in the pouring rain and wind). Near the end, we encountered rocks and boulders to down climb. Between the slickness of the rocks and my heavy pack (and gravity not working in my favor), I chose to slide down them on my ass. We finally arrived at the monastery in Armenteira., soaked to the bone and shivering. We headed inside and got our passports stamped by a monk. Now we had to figure out how to get to our lodging which was a 15 minute drive out of town. There were no cabs available as school had just let out, and they were busy shuttling kids. The owner of the guest house finally took pity on us and came to get us. It was a lovely stone house with a communal sitting area and 6 guest rooms. Unfortunately, the heat would not turn on until late into the night. A hot shower helped a bit, but Dan spent the next few hours buried in the bed under all the blankets. Yes, he was still sick from last night’s fun. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a light snack of local mussels and olives and a glass of local wine. It was a good thing since our overpriced dinner at this guest house was extremely meager and not very good. That was a disappointment. We did meet a gentleman from the Netherlands who was 70 years old and doing his 4th Camino! We also met a woman from Latvia. The 4 of us were all staying at the guest house. We left ahead of the others the following morning. Once again, we were trying to find weather windows with the least amount of rain.

Rain, rain and more rain!
Poio Monastery
Pilgrim encouragement!
Donativo- it’s a donation based fridge stocked with sugary drinks for energy for the big hill.
Trail was slick in many places from the rain
Monk stamped our credentials at the Monastery
Steep hill!
We met a 70 year old Danish man who was on his sixth Camino

Armenteira to Barrantes 4.38 miles/7 km and 65 feet/20 m elevation

We had a taxi come get us to bring us back to the monastery (it was important to us to resume our journey from where we left it and not shortcut it). We decided to make our trek short today since the rain was forecasted to get much worse. This leg was absolutely stunning (and a little scary). It is known as the Ruta da pedra e da auga which means the route of rock and water in Galician. Since arriving in Spain, we have been in the region of Galicia so my limited Spanish abilities were of less use since Galicia has its own language. Anyway, our journey today had us following a raging river with lots of rushing waterfalls. The surrounding area was very lush and tropical which also meant climbing over some downed trees from the bad weather. You may be wondering what is so scary about that? Well, thanks to days of heavy rain, the ground was again very muddy and slick. Often times, we were right at the water’s edge. One slip into the raging water would have been deadly. We also had to traipse over wet boulders and walk through mini waterfalls that cropped up because of the rain runoff. To give you an idea of the how rough it was, it took us 45 minutes to cover 1 mile (our entire journey to this point averaged just under 20 minute miles). This route use to contain a number of water mills. A number of the decaying, stone structures still dotted the banks of the river. This portion of the trek had been all downhill (finally!) which meant our entire elevation gain today was getting to our room. Once again, we arrived soaking wet and muddy. Man, I knew we might get some rain this time of year but geez! Enough!

“Route of rock and water” – a highlight of our Camin0
Beautiful hike!

Barrantes to Villanova de Arousa 10.34 miles/16.6km and 430 feet/131 m elevation

Surprise! Another day of rain forecasted. We tried to find the best window to start our next stage. The day started out with drizzle as we trekked along the banks of another river. Unfortunately, because of the endless days of heavy rain, parts of the river had overflowed the banks (and thus our trail). We were quickly getting wetter and wetter trying to navigate through the ponds of water. An hour and a half into our journey, we hit the big river overflow. It was clear that those who came before us strayed off trail into the tall foliage in an attempt to find higher and drier ground. As we followed their path, the water had already risen to the point that there was nowhere to go but through. As the crushed plant life began to sink beneath our feet, we were now calf deep in water. The river had bested us. We now had 2 hours left in our journey in sopping wet sneakers, two pair of wet wool socks, and wet pant legs….yuck. Our resilience on this pilgrimage was definitely being put to the test. Our final 20 minutes of walking, the rain poured down on us. Why wouldn’t you want your top half to be as wet as your bottom half?!? This also meant the arrival of our first blister. We were about to finish the Spiritual Variant of our journey and rejoin the main Camino route.

The next morning involved a boat ride up the river to the city of Padron. There would be no walking today and of course, no rain. This was a good thing since it was cold and windy on the boat ride, so rain would’ve really sucked. As we cruised up the river, we passed through 2300 mussel farms run by individual families. This area is the largest exporter of mussels. Each platform consisted of 200 ropes. Each rope was capable of growing 250-300 kg/551-661 pounds of full grown mussels. Also along the river route, there were 17 crosses to commemorate the journey of St. James’ body. At one spot, there were 3 crosses together which were said to represent St. James and the two disciples that traveled with his body from Jerusalem (it is the local interpretation). Another cross on the river has its post completely submerged during high tide leaving only the cross itself visible on the water. The next cross we encountered was named Pisa. The story was that the workers installing it had taken a lunch break which involved a few bottles of wine. They went back to work after lunch, and the cross was installed with a very evident lean to it. From there, we passed by some Viking tower ruins from the 9th and 10th centuries. This area was a Celtic town that frequently fought the northern countries of Europe. Beside the towers are 2 replicas of Viking ships. In August, the town re-enacts the battle between the locals and the Vikings. It is supposedly quite the event to see. An hour and a half later, we arrived in Padron. Unfortunately, it was a holiday in Padron so many things were closed. We did walk the town which was quite beautiful, went into a few churches, and enjoyed a big concert in the square. Since this is where the Spiritual Variant of the Camino and the Portuguese Way intercept, there were many, many pilgrims here. It was hard to believe that we were almost done with our 194 km/120.5 mile trek. We were excited about our accomplishment but also feeling oddly sad that it was coming to an end. How weird is that?

Onwards on the Spiritual Variant!
Arriving in the seaside town of Vilanova de Arousa
Boat trip on the “Maritime Way” retracing the path to Santiago of St James’s remains
17 stations of the Cross along the way
Ancient Fortress defending the town of Padron from Vikings
Replica Viking longship from days long ago
Padron Cathedral
Springtime in Padrón

Padron to Milladoiro 11.84 miles/19km and 1182 feet/360 m of elevation

Video warmup of our penultimate stage

The last stage of the Portuguese Way goes from Padron to Santiago de Compostela. Given that there was a decent amount of elevation remaining (almost 1700 feet/518 m), I was not sure I could handle 17 miles as well, all in one go. I also figured that getting in to town the next morning would make for less pilgrims arriving at the office to get their certificates. Based on the number of pilgrims we encountered in Milladoiro, it appeared we all had the same thought…haha. This was our last big day. Tomorrow’s trek into the old city would be a short one. It felt so strange to not have any more big days ahead of us.

As you get closer to Santiago the number of fellow Pilgrims on the trail increases a lot
Less than ten miles to go!!!

Milladoiro to Santiago de Compostela. 5.29 miles/8.5 km and 504 feet/153m of elevation

We made it! Not only that, but we arrived on my birthday. We rolled into Santiago de Compostela early in the day and headed straight to the pilgrims office. We received a ticket number for our spot in line. We were pilgrims number 118 and 119 out of 2,037 that arrived that day. We answered some questions, showed our stamped passports and were given our certificates of completion. It was quite a fast process which was very unexpected based on all we had seen and heard. This is also where I chose to leave my final rock. I saved my favorite one for this special place. I had picked this one up on the trails around our house during our training hikes. It was striped and glittery and shaped like a heart.

Our hotel was right in the heart of the old city which was spectacular. We visited the focal point of the city which was the St. James Cathedral. It was beautiful. We also saw the tomb of St. James. That night, Dan took me to a Michelin star restaurant for my birthday where we had a wonderful tasting menu. The following day we attended the pilgrims mass which acknowledges all the pilgrims that arrived the day before. The mass was done in Spanish, and we are pretty sure we heard the word Arizona. We assumed that maybe they mentioned the furthest location of the pilgrims arriving the day before. Who knows? It was a nice experience even if I could only understand about a third of it.

On our last day, we took a train to the beach town of A Coruna. This turned out to be a much larger city than we imagined. It was about a half hour walk to the seaside and also where the cruise ships arrive. We wandered the old town here for a bit, had some octopus and calamari for lunch, then headed back. Back in Santiago de Compostela, we explored a few museums. One of the museums was a Pilgrims Museum which detailed the history of the St. James pilgrimage through history. I was somewhat reluctant to go (boring), but it was actually quite fascinating.

We spent 2 nights and 3 days in Santiago de Compostela, but the time had come to return to Zoe and finish up our work….boo. They say these pilgrimages are addicting. I laughed at that. How crazy! Oh, how wrong I was! Before we even finished, we were discussing which one would be our next and how soon we could do it. Spoiler alert….our next one is almost fully planned, and in this very same year. Go team Muzich! Thanks for joining our adventures!

The first time in 125 miles the arrows were unclear of which way to go!
Video of last stage thoughts on our Camino
The destination of “The Way” – 11th Century Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
On line at the Pilgrim office to get our credential processed
We received certificates attesting to completing the Camino
Robyn showing the two stamps a day in our Credentials
Dan is proud of his hard won Pilgrim Credential as well!
Robyn placing her last “burden” at our destination
Collection of Pilgrim burdens at finish
Pilgrim mass honoring those who arrived the day before
Viewing the Tomb
The Tomb of St James

2 Peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago

After several fun filled days exploring the city of Porto, it was finally time to make our way to the starting point of our 194 km/121 mile trek of the Camino de Santiago.  We hopped on a train for the 1 hour ride from Porto to Barcelos.  From the train station, we had a 20 minute walk to the city center.  Something big was underway, as the streets and alleyways were lined with beautiful lighted sculptures, colorful flags and banners, and hundreds of students lining the streets getting ready to march in a parade.  It turned out to be a celebration of Portugal’s liberation 50 years ago.  It was fun to be in the center of all the excitement.  We only had the one evening in Barcelos before starting our Camino trek the following morning, so we wandered the city center and found a cafe that catered to Camino pilgrims (peregrinos).  For $5 euro each, we had a big bowl of hearty soup with bread, a plate full of food, and a large glass of wine.  What a deal!  All throughout the city, there were these bright and colorful roosters of varying sizes.  The rooster is quite famous, and the story quite intriguing.  I will give you the short version but highly recommend looking up the more detailed version.  Basically, the folk tale is that a dead rooster crows to prove an accused man’s innocence. There are a number of variations on the basic theme and all are quite fun to read.  Needless to say, we purchased a small version of the colorful rooster that adorns the town.  We turned in somewhat early in preparation for our long walking days ahead.

The pretty town of Barcelos – our Camino starting point
The famous rooster of Barcelos
Pilgrims canteen – hearty and cheap fuel for trekkers

Day 1:  Barcelos to Balagues – 11 miles/18 kilometers

The first part of this trek was definitely not my favorite.  We walked through town and along busy roadways without sidewalks making me very uncomfortable from a safety standpoint.  Plus, this was not at all what I pictured in my head.  A tradition on the camino is to carry a rock from home that serves as a symbol of your burdens.  During our hikes around our house, we had carefully chosen several rocks, unique to our area, that would represent our burdens.  I decided to leave one at the start, one at the border between Portugal and Spain, and the final one at the Cathedral of St. James.  As we began to leave the town behind, we came across a stone cross which seemed like the perfect place to leave our stone.  Dan asked if I had left my burden behind to which I replied, “no because you’re still here.”  Haha….just kidding!  We both laughed.  Eventually, the path meandered into the countryside where things were much more tranquil and serene.  The countryside was beautiful and ever changing.  3 hours and 45 minutes later, we arrived in Balagues very tired and very sore.  We arrived at our accommodation where we were greeted with an ice cold beer.  Man, that was the best beer ever.  Our room was quite amazing as well.  Cut into stone archways with wooden doors and shutters, maroon tapestries and a canopied bed, it looked like a room in a castle.  Unfortunately, we did not read the small print (ok, not so small) on our peregrino passports that says you must get 2 stamps every day on our journey.  Awww man!  Our only option was this 1 restaurant which was a 20 minute walk away.  So, despite being exhausted and sore, we made the journey to the restaurant.  We pre-ordered (the restaurant actually called us ahead of time to get our order) the grilled cod (salted cod is very famous in Portugal and we had been eating it in a variety of ways since we arrived).  When it arrived, we were both shocked at the ginormous piece of fish that sat between us.  Yikes.  Oh, the lengths you will go to in order to ensure you have the required number of stamps.

121 miles to go….all on foot!
Getting our Pilgrim Passport it’s first stamp of many
We brought some rocks from Arizona as a symbol of “leaving burdens behind” on the Camino
Robyn settling nicely into trekking long distances
First day video recap
The hotel welcomed us with cold beers. Perfect after a day on the Camino!
This was one of favorite rooms of the trip!
The largest piece of seafood we have ever had for dinner!

Day 2:  Balagues to Ponte de Lima – 12 miles/20 kilometers

We hit the trail fairly early again since we had another long day ahead of us.  I forgot to mention that when we began planning this journey, the requirement to acquire your certificate of achievement was to walk at least 100 kilometers.  Since we (Americans) don’t really operate in kilometers, I told Dan we should just make it an even 100 miles.  I was also told by Dan that the average miles per day was 10.  When we set out, I began to question how he managed to sneak in an extra 21 miles?  He then told me that it was actually more than that since we were adding in the spiritual variant!  What?!  I then questioned how we were getting a 10 mile average when these first two days were over 10 and none of the upcoming days were ever under 10.  He then tried to tell me that he said it was the median not the average.  Oh no you don’t…..I know exactly what you said and it was not median.  I have now threatened to record our conversations.  Ahhhh, the conversations you have while walking for many hours.  3 hours and 57 minutes later, we arrived in the city of Ponte de Lima (once again, exhausted and sore….I am sure that surprises you).  Here we had a nice room in the heart of the city.  After a little bit of a rest, we headed out to explore the city and grab some dinner.  It’s amazing how much lighter and faster you feel on your feet once you ditch the 20 pound backpack!

Ticking the the KMs (and miles!) down
Spring time scenery was wonderful
Wonderful trekking
Ponte de Lima – our stop for the night
Our guest room was in a great location in the heart of the town
Enjoying some local lamb after a day of trekking
Day 2 video recap

Day 3:  Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes – 11.6 miles/19 kilometers and 1804 feet/545 meters of elevation gain!

As we were checking out of our room in Ponte de Lima, our young host told us to please enjoy breakfast.  We politely explained that we really weren’t hungry and thanked her.  She got this very concerned look on her face and told us to please take some of the food with us.  We explained to her that we really don’t eat breakfast and typically won’t eat until late afternoon.  She looked a bit horrified, bagged up some croissants and begged us to please take them with us.  We agreed and were on our way.  As we walked along, we both were chuckling at how insistent she was that we have food.  This was a beautiful part of the trek through very lush forests.  The trail was great and the smell of pine permeated the air.  This was really cool….until it wasn’t.  We had to come up and over the mountain!  It was relentless climbing over tree roots and rock gardens….footing very unsure.  Every inch of our lower body was on fire!  I now understood why our young host was so concerned that we were not eating breakfast and didn’t want to take any food with us.  SHE knew what we were going to be facing.  I can’t tell you how relieved we both were when we finally reached the top!  All downhill from here.  We stopped just on the outskirts of town (as did many pilgrims) for a much needed ice cold beer…ok, maybe two.  4 hours and 26 minutes after starting, we arrived in the small town of Rubiaes and checked in.  Unfortunately, this very small town had very few options for both restaurants and lodging.  Since I am way to old (and sleep challenged) to stay in hostels with 30 or more of my closest friends, Dan worked very hard to make sure he booked us private rooms wherever he could.  This was probably my least favorite lodging as we had 2 twin beds that were like sleeping on cement.  Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.  On top of it all, it had started to rain and the only restaurant in town was closing up for siesta when we arrived (we were starving by now).  So, we got to walk there and back twice after our big day!

Across the medieval Ponte de Lima Bridge
You meet many nationalities on the Camino
The trail is starting to get a bit steep!
And even steeper!
The summit was an ideal location to leave symbolic rocks of “burdens left behind”
The Apple watch tells the tale – over 1600 feet elevation on this stage
Video recap
Guest house was a welcome sight after a difficult day!

Day 4:  Rubiaes to Valenca – 10.24 miles/17 kilometers

Today came with rain.  That should make things interesting.  Our host had told us that today would be a much easier day after yesterday.  That was a huge relief.  By the time we got started, the rain had become a steady drizzle.  Not too much trouble, but it did make footing interesting.  A large portion of the path was cobblestone blocks which became slick in the rain.  Other sections were dirt which became mug bogs and required carefully picking our way through.  We were once again enveloped by lush green trees and shrubbery in some areas, beautiful swaths of flowers in other areas, and large vineyards as far as you could see.  We followed streams and rivers with many small waterfalls and farm areas with sheep, lamb and cows.  It was beautiful.  Everywhere we went, locals and fellow pilgrims wished you a Bom Dia (good day) and Bom Caminho (good camino).  3 hours and 28 minutes later, we arrived in Valenca,

wet and bedraggled but feeling pretty good.  Wow….were we acclimating to these long days of walking?  We had a lovely apartment booked inside the fortress walls.  This was our last stop in Portugal before crossing the border into Spain.  I’m not going to lie, I was feeling a little sad to be leaving Portugal behind.  This was my first time here, and I really loved it!  Although very crowded with tourists, we enjoyed wandering the cobblestone alleyways and exploring the small shops and cafes.  In the center of the square we enjoyed some drinks while listening to a man belt out some old American classics.  Most of the pilgrims we encountered weren’t staying in Valenca.  Many pass on through to the town of Tui which is only a mile and a half across the river to Spain.  Since we really wanted one more night in Portugal, we decided to build in a rest day by staying in Valenca and crossing to Tui the following day and staying a night there.  We had a leisurely morning in Valenca before making our way to Tui.

In order to keep this somewhat manageable for you, the reader, I will end this post with the Portugal section of the Camino.  Our next entry will pick up with the Spain portion as we make our way to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.  We’ve included some video clips in the hopes of giving you a better sense of the experience.  As always, thank you for following along and hope you enjoy!

Vineyards are everywhere on this trek
Cafe’s were a great place to take a brief rest and enjoy well made cappuccinos
Valenca – last stop in Portugal
Walled fortress of Valenca
Video recap of the day