Friday 28 December 2007

The Santiago Road: The Eleventh Day

Monday, June 3, 2002
Portomarin to Santiago de Compostela
97.54 km, total for trip 952.29 km

After an excellent night’s sleep in Portomarín, I packed up the bicycle and headed west. Leaving the town I immediately came to a long, steepish hill and the road gradually took me away from the Río Miño watershed, through a green region of thick gorse and heather and rolling hills. Apparently in medieval pilgrimage times this section was notorious as an open-air brothel but 800 years later there was no sign of anyone. The green landscape was barely settled and I enjoyed riding along the quiet road although skies were overcast. After 20 kms or so I came to the hamlet of Ligonde and then went on to Palas de Rei. The latter, according to legend, was named after a palace constructed by a Visigothic king of the 8th Century, Witiza, but there is no sign today of its significance.

I took a break in a little park near the path and using the last bit of power in my cellphone gave my friend Karl in Canada a call for his birthday. It was nice to hear a familiar voice after this length of time cruising semi-inhabited Spain by myself.

I was now on a major road, the N 547, which would take me most of the way in to Santiago. It was still early in the day and rather than hurry the ride, which was going to be less than 80 kms, I made a detour and followed the original pilgrimage route for a while. This was a dirt track not far from the main road and although it was muddy in some parts that fact that I was riding on 25 mm tires helped my passage. It was nice to have the feeling again of being on the original Camino and occasionally I saw old stone crosses or milestones marking the distance and direction to Santiago. I passed a few hostels, and numerous walking pilgrims, and had my credencia stamped in several places as well before I turned back towards the N 547. It was getting darker and I was worried about the weather. This proved to be well-founded as an extremely light rain began to fall.

Next on the road was the village of Leboreiro, which had blossomed during the pilgrimage heyday, offering support for pilgrims from the 11th to 13th Centuries but there is not much there today but an old church which was rebuilt in the 18th Century. Continuing onwards, I crossed a small medieval bridge with four arches over the Río Furelos into the village of Furelos and then arrived in Melide, which spread out along the Camino.

I passed several smaller towns: Arca, Ferreiro, Cerdeda. Soon I saw signs for the Santiago de Compostela airport and passed through Lavacolla, where pilgrims traditionally stopped to bathe in the stream before entering Santiago. Ahead of me now was a 5 km climb up Monte de Gozo. Arrival at this summit was a momentous event for many pilgrims, who recorded their joy at reaching the top of the last hill, from which they had a view of their destination, Santiago de Compostela.

The Monte de Gozo today has a number of communications towers on it, along with a huge establishment for housing visitors. Rather than being isolated, it is actually now within the easternmost suburbs of Santiago. I swiftly rolled down the hill and entered the outskirts of the city. As I approached the Old Town, the roads narrowed and traffic was pretty terrible. I went in through one of the gates but turned around as I saw a likely-looking little hotel. A room was available and there was an courtyard where I could lock my bicycle up, although it was open to the elements.

After unpacking my panniers, having a shower and getting dressed, I went outside to survey the city. I decided to bring my credencia with me in the hope that I could get it stamped, which I did at the Oficina de Acogida de Peregrinos opposite the Puerta de Platería. I was given a questionnaire to complete about my motives for making the pilgrimage and after I had done this I was presented with my compostelana, the treasured certificate (in Latin) entitling me to all the benefits of being a successful pilgrim, such as spending a reduced time in Purgatory.

I had actually taken less time to ride the Camino than I had expected and now I found myself in Santiago with a few days to spare. I decided to just relax and enjoy the city to its fullest. I looked briefly at the cathedral, deciding to spend more time in it tomorrow, and then found a musical performance was being offered at the University. So on my first day in Santiago I not only became a certified pilgrim but I enjoyed a lovely concert version of Gluck’s opera “Iphigenie en Tauride.”

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