This is not the story of a race or competition. This is the story of a journey. A journey that starts with two bikes and two friends (Alex & me) and will end up with 900km riden throughout Spain in 10 days, making new friends and thousands of new experiences and tales. This is “El Camino de Santiago”
Day 0: An unexpected journey
As usual, we get up early, too early in the morning in order to get to the train station. Today we’re heading to Roncesvalles, 20km away from the french border in Navarra. So, here we are in a 10 hour train trip to Pamplona. Once in Pamplona we had over an hour to take the last bus to Roncesvalles at the bus station. Easy….or maybe not.
On our way to Pamplona
What seemed a peaceful walk through Pamplona turned into a desperate run, crossing the city carrying our saddlebags due to a technical problem on the train. Fortunately, we get to the bus station on time..to see the bus leaving in front of our faces. Now we need to pay an hour drive on taxi, but happily, 4 pilgrims rent a taxi to Roncesvalles and invited us to go with them and share costs, of course.
First we did in town was attending to pilgrim’s mass. We are not religious at all but the atmosphere here is amazing. People all over the globe gathering for a common goal, even the priest gave the mass in different languages. Awesome!
Once in the hostel, we had dinner with two friendly guys from Euskadi, riding to Santiago as well. We all finished that dinner drinking shots. That was a great way to start this journey!
Day 1: Roncesvalles – Puente la Reina 80 km
Today starts with concerns rather than excitement due to a mechanical issue. Last night we broke some little piece from my transmission. This means that I can turn the handlebar but the wheel doesn’t. So I have to ride downhill to the next bike workshop…in Pamplona. We tried to tie together the handlebar to the fork and we rode 47 km like this. Scared as hell.
Alex & me
Somehow we arrived save to Pamplona so we decided to eat something while my bike was at the hospital. The promenade by the river that leads to the city was beautiful and so is the city, especially the city centre and the university.
Moving on! We have to coronate the top of Alto del Perdón, few steep kilometres of narrow paths of grava, rocks and mud. In addition, the sun beating us down, made all this even harder. Last 500m we have to push our bikes uphill for a vertical wall…but the views from the top worths the struggle.
Finally, we get to Puente la Reina after passing by another beautiful village called Obano.
Great hostel with great views from its pool. Nice way to finish our first day. We didn’t know it yet but all our friends we would meet through El Camino are in this village! We have dinner with our basque friends from last night and Jon. A new friend on the way and another night that ends taking shots!
This was somewhere between Roncesvalles and Pamplona. Thanks Rubén for the videos!
Day 2: Puente la Reina – Logroño 76 km
Today we decided to complete the stage before lunch so we can get more free time at afternoon. We acomplished it but it wasn’t easy.
The first half of the stage was quite well although it was getting hotter and hotter but we passed by pretty villages such as Mañeru, Lorca and Estella. (Why all towns are seated on climbs??)
Fun fact: At Iratxe there’s a fontain of wine. Strong but free wine, anyway.
We are almost there, we just need to cross that huge mountain that we see on the horizon and that’s it! Easy to say! We made the tough climb to Villamayor Monjardín and then the descend. We will always remember the peach pie we ate in Los Arcos. Life can be wonderfull sometimes! but we need to carry on, so we continue to Logroño under the sun. This time our hostel had no pool so we refreshed our feet in another fontain next to theEbro river. At night, there was a great atmosphere in the city and we were jumping from bar to bar eating pintxos. No shots tonight.
Day 3: Logroño – Villafranca Montes de Oca 87 km
After a good breakfast and covering our skin with a thick layer of sunscreen we start riding again. Right next corner we meet our basque friends! So there we were, a funny straight line of 6 riders trying to find out the way out. As usual, all of us complaining about how bad our legs hurt everytime we had to step off the bike.
Sadly, our friends want to stop to take pictures too often so our pace is quite low. This is a problem for Alex and me because our idea was getting as close as possible to the high top we will have to climb tomorrow. So we decide to move on and leave the rest of the group behind.
Today’s challenge is featured by the sun, dust and no wind. This means we are tasting the treasures from Castilla.
The differences we find between the first villages in Castilla and the ones we left behind in Logroño were incredible; so dissapointed…Riding under the sun for hours to finally find a tiny ghost town. Fortunately, there are also beautiful ancient villages full of history such as Nájera or Santo Domingo de la Calzada where I broke one of my saddlebags but this could not stop us, we had become already in two handymen with this type of issues.
We decided to overnight in the middle of the climb at this little village but with a large hostel. The first hostel with Estrella Galicia…we are getting closer to home!
Day 4: Villafranca Montes de Oca– Boadilla del Camino 102 km
Today was a long and beautiful day, my favourite so far. This morning starts with a steep climb, perfect plan after a free breakfast buffet. At the very top we enjoy some great landscapes and also some open space to speed up. It is so fun to ride fast after so many time going uphill. During the day we rode through Atapuerca, Burgos (impressive cathedral) and Castrojeriz where we stop to refuel our poor bellies. While we make disappear anything eatable that shows up in front of us we stare the lonely mountain we have to climb afterwards.
So, let’s say you are in the desert, no wind, no shadows, in August, at 16:00, right after lunch… Two wise men would never try to climb any mountain or ride for 2 hours with that heat…Luckily, Alex and me are simply not that type of people! So, there we are, riding up the hill, well…pushing the bike up the hill, drinking and pouring water on our heads. No chatting, no laughter…just breathing, heads down, some swear word and from time to time, we smiled at each other like saying: “We are mad!”
At the top, we rested at the shadow for a long time contemplating the view. Behind us, Castrojeriz with his tall bell tower; ahead of us, more desert…
We ride down in less than 5 minutes what it toke to us almost half an hour to climb and after few more kilometres we got to our oasis. Boadilla del Camino, 3 houses, 1 cute church and 1 hostel…with grass and pool! We open the gate and what we see is a paradise, people laughing, pretty girls and a prettier pool…In the pool we find two friends from our first night in Puenta la Reina: Rubén and Jesús.
That evening was delightful! Did you ever feel when you realise you are actually tasting and making the most of this exact moment? I remember every word, every face of that night. I fell in love with this adventure.
During the dinner with Jesus and Ruben and two lovely girls we met there, we share our tales from El Camino, our worries and goals. Alex and me, from the beginning, had planned the trip to finish in Santiago and return home but these guys wanted to get to Finisterre. I didn’t even think about that choice but I wanted to follow them and extend my adventure. However, these guys have higher pace than us so we would need to speed up ours. It would not be easy to get to Santiago the same day than these guys but I promised them if I make it I would go with them to the end of the world.
Day 5: Boadilla del Camino – Puente Villarente 112 km
We know we can not stay in that paradise for ever so we pack our things to hit the road one more day. This morning is fresh, with trees on one side of the path and a water channel on the other one.We want to enjoy the nature so we decide to stop and have breakfast in Frómista. We feel like kings right now and in the middle of our joy we see our basque friends passing by. Alex and me start laughing and wondering how early should have they woken up to get here.
Anyway, we gather altogether 20km away from Frómista, in Carrión de los Condes, a pretty village stuck in the Middle Age. After cathing up with them for a while Alex and me move on.
For what it comes next I will use the same terms Alex used:
“Let’s imagine a straight line. A never-ending straight line. On that line, let’s set an earthen firm and little stones. I’ll let you set few trees along this line (every 500m). We almost have it. The icing on the cake it’s a funny wind blowing in your face that doesn’t let you stop pedaling. Finally, let’s add 30 ºC degrees. Alright. Now that we have our straight line, imagine riding on it for 4 hours non-stop.”
It was hell, nothing in front, nothing behind, nothing on both sides. Though, really though. We even tried to change our mood and pilgrim’s by singing top hits.
We stop in Sahagún – Camino’s geogrpahic center – to pump up Alex tires. We keep our way through Mansilla de las Mulas, another pretty village. But heat, dust and long rides with nothing around make this day a real challenge, not only for our legs but our minds. Hours and hours with just pedaling inmersed in our thoughts. Last miles are almost a torture, we run out of water 10km away the closest village. Our pace is way too low but finally we get there: Puente Villarente and it’s hostel pool.
Our friends Jesús and Rubén managed to get to León, just 12km away from us.
Day 6: Puente Villarente – Rabanal del Camino 78 km
Today’s plan is just a short ride and enjoy our last miles through the desert.
We wake up and pack our things with calm and in a good mood. We take an easy ride to León where we stop in front of the cathedral to have breakfast. This is the first time we meet our new friends, a canadian couple riding on a tandem. In addition, we decided to pump up our tires and check our brakes as tomorrow we will be climbing a high top with a dangerous descend.
After some pretty villages – and after I got lost…- we get to Astorga. I’ve never thought this town would be so pretty. We take our time after lunch and we spare some time to become tourists for a while.
For the first time in a week, we see a lonely cloud in the sky. This adventure is getting close to its end.
We decide to overnight in Rabanal del Camino, as close as we can from the top. All these days our goal was to find some hostel with pool to relax and take a bath after a-day-long-effort and so we tried to find it here but we didn’t succed. When we ask for a pool, the lady starts to laugh and says: “Ask me again in two hours!”
She was right. We completely forgot how high we are, even higher than Roncesvalles where we started a week ago. At 7pm is so cold we are forced to wear for the first time pants and shocks. This beautiful hostel is packed but even so the owners give their loving to all the customers. The canadian couple stops in the same hostel few hours later so were able to chat with them for a while that night.
Our canadian friends
Everything is going well, until it’s time to go to bed. How a human being can snork that loud? That was a fart? Really? Alex and me looked at each other laughing because we can not believe what it’s happening there. It was very funny, anyway.
Day 7: Rabanal del Camino – Vega de Valcarce 81 km
It’s getting usual to wake up and find out we are the last group to leave the hostel. We are in holidays after all, we won’t get up earlier than a regular day. Furthermore, today we have a great challenge ahead: “El Alto del Manzanal” where we will find “A Cruz de Ferro”, therefore, we need a healthy breakfast.
10 km of sustained climb, not too steep, we managed to get to the top without stepping off the bike. Great achievement! At the top, there was moment to get some photos, chat with the people there and even Alex left a stone brought all the way from Coruña that he was carrying all the way since we left home.
I spend some time picking up some letters there. This makes me think about the pilgrims and their stories. People doing El Camino alone…just with their thoughts for weeks. There are letters about the loved ones lost, letters about a better world and letters asking for wishes. It makes you reflect the different reasons that exist to start this tough, tough adventure. This is not like going out for a long walk. You will suffer here but the reward is always bigger.
The person who finish El Camino is wiser and stronger than the one who started it.
After saying goodbye to people we won’t see again anymore we start a dangerous descend with fog and closed turns. My bike is famous for its weak brakes so I cannot enjoy the descend as much as I wish but nothing happened and we ride for 20km without pedaling. The landscapes around us are getting greener and greener, the clouds cover the sky… We are almost at home. Farewell, desert!
Molinaseca del Bierzo
On our descend we stop in Molinaseca del Bierzo, gorgeous village. My favourite so far. The descend lead us to Ponferrada. A big town with medieval castles. Here, I get a flat…this change my mood a bit because I was scared to get a flat again but this fear disappears at lunch time in Villafranca del Bierzo where we find again our canadian friends.
During the meal, we discuss on where will we overnight; tomorrow we are climbing to “O Cebreiro”, a harder climb than it was today. There are three villages very close to each other at the bottom of the mountain, so we will decide where should we stop once we get there.
The first village, Vega de Valcarce is…too quiet for two young men from the north like us and we thought about keep going to the next one, but next village has a population of 22 people and next one 67…So we decided to settle in Vega de Valcarce, almost a ghost town underneath the highway.
Next day we’ll be sleeping in Galicia
Day 8: Vega de Valcarce – Portomarín 81 km
We are kicked off the bed. It’s 8am and a lady asks us to leave the hostel with rude manners. The day does not start very well…we start riding with cold and empty bellies.
But we are in good mood anyway, we are entering in Galicia in about few hours!
We agree on having breakfast almost at the top, in the last village of Castilla-León. Our ride starts pretty well, the climb is not too steep, with some breaks where we are able to relax and recover our breath. Everything is going well….too well. After 30 minutes and after reading a sign we realise we took the wrong way…Back down again, swearing and talking about how fools we are.
Let’s start over. This time we are on the right track and the story is completely different. Very steep climbs, with few turns, no planes and all this without eating…impossible! Foot to the ground and start walking. No shame.
After almost 3 hours for just 15km we see “La Laguna de Castilla” , next village we’ll be in Galicia. While pushing our bikes up we meet a girl pushing her bike as well. We did not expect such a hard climb but the views totally worth it.
We all gather to eat something: omelette, chocolate cake, orange juice, hot chocolate…maybe too much. Last (vertical) miles in Castilla and we will step in Galicia. Alex and me complain once again about how stupid we are for eating that much. When we are almost about to throw up our breakfast we managed to get to O Cebreiro. At last in Galicia! Althouhg we are a bit disappointed, must say. As Alex said, we thought this would be a place reserved just for the braves and the chosen ones…not at all. It is full of tourist.
A moment to pee and enjoy the landscape and let’s go downhill! This time was really, really fun! A long straight descend. It is just perfect. Aerodynamic position and enjoy. It’s simply an amazing experience to feel the wind in your face while you witness how the landscape changes. Just beautiful!
Of course, good things end too soon. We’ve just passed the last big climb at El Camino but don’t forget we are in Galicia. This means there is no such a thing as “plane” in Galicia. Our descend ends up in Samos. A tiny village with a pretty old monastery.
We keep our way to Sarria where we meet some friends to eat. Sarria is just 100 km away from Santiago! After lunch with our friends in a pretty restaurant with galician beer we continue with this adventure. Our legs are fresh, we talk a lot which is unusual after so many days riding. We are home and chasing the milestones set along the paths. Beautiful nature and green paths, are so fun to ride. This is a great afternoon. An small detail like seeing cows becomes in an excuse for us to take a break and chat and laugh.
The whole path is formed with ups and downs. This could break our legs and our minds. Luckily, we are close to Portomarín, a pretty and old village next to Miño river. Portomarín is full of tourists-pilgrims, this sort of pilgrims who starts El Camino just 100 km away from Santiago. Too easy and too clean for us!
In the hostel we meet our canadian friends again. A lady lead us to our beds. A huge room full of beds(130) and full of people. We are not used to this kind of hostels but certainly, it will be fun.
Tomorrow we will get what we are looking for: Santiago de Compostela.
Day 9: Portomarín – Santiago de Compostela 95 km
Good morning everyone! Today’s feeling was completely different. We are going to Santiago!
The paths are crowded; cheers, screams between pilgrims. What a great atmosphere! We even meet on the road our canadian friends.
Our legs hurt after so many days and the paths are getting complicated. Luckily, we find Jon on the way, our friend from Puente la Reina. We haven’t seen him since then. Now we are three on the team.
Our last villages where well known for us: Palas de Rei, Mélide, Arzúa. We stop in “O Pedrouzo” to eat something, just 18 km away from Santiago! We are almost done and we stink! We three spend this time recalling our memories from the adventure. When we stop and think what we are about to do, US, just regular people…amazing!
Enough chatting! Back to our bikes and let’s finish this! Our last stop is in Monte do Gozo where we have one more beer and take some photos. From this place we can see the cathedral. THERE IT IS! Suddenly, our legs doesn’t hurt anymore and we ride quickly through the streets. There are more and more people as we get to downtown. We follow the golden shells. We are so excited right now! People, music…the end of an achievement. And finally we enter in A Praza de Obradoiro…that moment was…hard to explain.
I’ve been to this city since I can remember but I’ve never seen it this way, as I never been there. I remember to stare at everything like it all was new…and familiar at the same time.
I remember to lay down in the middle of that square and feel lighter, feel happy.
Day 10: Santiago de Compostela – Finisterre 90 km
There’s a perfect moment when we all gather there. Jon, Rubén, Jesús, Alex and me. Any of us could say we would concur in Santiago that night in Puente la Reina where we all met.
As I promised in Boadilla del Camino, if I got to Santiago the same day as them, I would follow them to Finisterre.
We say goodbye to Alex who decided to come back home and we four start planning our ride til the end of the world. Once again I meet the canandian couple. They’ve got to Santiago as well and they would go tomorrow to Finisterre too.
Rubén, Jesús, Jon and me meet at 8am in Praza do Obradoiro. First problem, I have no brakes at all. I must throw myself to the bushes. The paths are so green with tall trees. I love so much Galicia.
In Negreira I stop to check again my brakes and move on. The way doesn’t allow us to breath or relax. The ups and downs are sustained and technical. I even fall from my bike due to the grava on the path.We all are excited to finish but this has become a real challenge. We cannot move as fast as we thought…
I’m the slowest by far in the group but these guys cheer me up and I keep pushing. How beautiful are these views! We all are in pain and finally, Jesús find a milestone that prays: “To the End” from where we can see the lighthouse.
After 6 hours riding we get to Cee, few miles from our goal. We stop to eat something. We devour our sandwiches, we are exhausted but we need to keep going. The path is done, our last miles go along the road, much easier. We start to speed up. the wind blows against us, the road starts to go up but we don’t slow down, we see the lighthouse, so close….so close….
Smiles, hugs, screams…we did it! WE FINALLY DID IT! Everybody there just can see four dirty guys but any of them could imagine we just travel over 900 km in 10 days. My dear friend Isabel was waiting for us with chocolates! Thank you so much Isabel!
There’s a tradition of burning stuff that you have been carrying during the whole trip and so we did. We burn some underwear, energy bars and my shoes…Photos, cheers, laughter…
Up there, staring the ocean and the bonfire, I cannot avoid to wonder why we always try the hard way instead the easy way? Why anyone would make anything where literally we suffer? Why do we keep going instead of giving up?
This story finishes going down with bare feet from the lighthouse. We get a hostel and a good shower. We prepare for our night out with our canadian fellas. Great night with friends and seafood. We ate until we got satisfied.
That night, so many memories and lessons came to my mind. A journey like this, is more than that. So many places, faces and experiences that I will never forget. This is what I really want in my life what it really matters to me and I can’t wait to live it again.
What a day. What a trip. What an adventure.