Day 26 – Santiago is suddenly too close – Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (29 September, 22.4km, 5 1/2hours)

We were on a short stretch of the busy N550 today and everyone saw the sign “Santiago – 40km” (likely just to the suburbs along the trunk road) but it hit home. Everyone is talking about it – our journey is soon ending.  It’s been hard but it has also been fun. Many people will soon go back to being a dentist, an Air Force pilot, a surfing instructor, a computer programmer, a pharmacist, a scuba instructor, etc. and life will be very different.  Things will be “normal” again. Sort of. The difference is that as while we are cleaning someone’s teeth, preparing a flight plan, whatever, we will also be thinking back to the laughs we have had with new friends.  Whether you spend five minutes or five days walking with someone on a Caminho, you have not only made a memory but also a friend.

The walk was lovely today with a chilly fog settled over the suburbs of Pontevedra and staying with us the first eight kilometers or so.  I still had my arm warmers on until the sun was high enough around the twelve kilometer mark. We paralleled the rail line and N550 trunk road northward but most of the trail was on earthen tracks or quiet back roads. Whatever it was, the coffee before departure, the risotto for dinner last night, the pulpo (Galician octopus) appetizer before dinner, or something else, Melanie had the right formula. For the first time this Caminho, I was having trouble keeping up with her. She was racing along with me in pursuit, similar to many portions of our walk on the French route two years ago. Most of this walk we have done together but a fair portion, particularly over the past few days, I’ve had to stop every few hundred meters to wait for her. I’m glad speedy Rodrigues is back.

One not so nice experience on today’s stage was in San Amaro at the eight kilometer point, our first chance for a café stop after leaving the hotel bar this morning. I could see the town in front of us and I made the comment to Melanie “I smell coffee” (I didn’t really but I wanted to spur her on).  Just then, we rounded a bend and saw an attractive young woman waiting at the end of the dirt trail where it hit the road into town. I knew right away that she was likely someone promoting a hotel, café, bar or something else. Sure enough, she greeted us with a well-practiced speech “Would like the official church sello (stamp for our credencials)? We have it in the café right over there with the white umbrellas.  We are also giving a free scallop shell today to all pilgrims and we have a special deal for breakfast”.  Hmmmm….. Why the hard sell? Surely every pilgrim will stop here as it’s the perfect time for refreshment and we can see the café right next to the trail. We thanked her and headed over with a little spring in our step but coupled with a little suspicion in our head. Sure enough, a few meters past where she met us – and 30 or so meters before her café – was another café run by a rival who was standing at her doorway with pleading eyes. I had the “special deal” for breakfast anyway (actually I shared it with Melanie as she had the coffee and one slice of toast and I had the orange juice and other slice) but I also left with a bad taste in my mouth. There must be a better way to operate a business.

We arrived in Caldas de Reis at 12:30pm (as I said, Melanie was fast today) and checked into the decent Hostal Lotus near the albergue (35€ for a clean en-suite room with a balcony above the river). I even had time before stores closed for siesta to go look for a laundry. Yes, I’m getting that lazy. Unfortunately, the laundry is not what you would call “pilgrim-friendly”. They could wash and dry our sweaty clothes for us but I had to come back in two days to pick them up. Errrr, that might be a problem.  That meant I had washing duty before lunch and it was a good thing our balcony was facing west and soon to get some sun.

At lunch, we ran into the Spanish couple we met yesterday who are walking the route to celebrate their 50th birthdays. Due to issues with their backs, they are having their luggage transported for them. They have raced past us a few times yesterday but we chatted briefly in the “German” cafe. At lunch, we asked if we could sit at the table next to them so we could chat but they moved over and joined us.  Marta and Carlos are from Madrid and support opposing football teams there. The rivalry was humorous.  We had a very nice chat but then when it came time to pay, Carlos insisted on picking up the whole tab. It may not have been a lot of money but daggone, that was nice of them. I’ve already paid it forward.

While we were eating lunch, Marcelo came in with German Victoria and another German man we have often seen but not met.  We spoke to them before leaving and the German guy went off to the bathroom. Melanie took the opportunity to ask Marcelo what the man’s name was and in true Marcelo fashion, he replied “Well he said it was Dirt but I think he meant Dirk”.

For those who are following us: enjoy the day.

Thought for the day: I think I covered that in the first paragraph.  Peace y’all.

The trail north of San Amaro

Approaching Caldas de Reis

Santa Lucia church near Tivo

The view out our hotel room toward the albergue and bridge over the Rio Bermaña