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
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
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