El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

Final Section to Santiago

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From Portomarín to Melide

8 June 1993 and 29/30 June 2002

My two Caminos along this route took on different aspects for the final section into Santiago. In 1993 several members of our group were short of time so we sprinted to the finish in three days. In 2002 however several people were carrying injuries and no one was in any great rush so we had a gentle stroll for five days.

1993. Somehow during the party last night we had decided to gain a day in our journey towards Santiago by attempting two long stages. We therefore started this day just after 6am when it was still dark. I was still feeling the affects of the previous night so I let the others sprint ahead, confident that my usual tortoise and hare act would enable me to keep in touch with them. In a lay-by just out of town I passed the car and driver of the rogue group of walkers as he was waiting to collect their packs but fortunately this was the last contact we had with this group.

farm cart

The first part of the walk was along a main road and I was enveloped in a thick fog until I was able to climb above it. When I left the main road the scenery became much more interesting as the way wound through hamlets and farmyards. Here there were several old wooden carts and ploughs, some of which were obviously still in use.

I caught up with the others, as I expected, in a shop on the outskirts of Palas de Rey where we had a beer and discussed our plans for the rest of the day. Some decided to eat in Palas while the others wanted to put in more distance before stopping. I plodded on at my own pace and caught the sprinters after about an hour in a new refugio on the outskirts of the small hamlet of Casanova. The water in the refugio was temporarily cut off but the caretaker was cooking a meal in her house next door for a gathering of pilgrims. She also had a table of home-baked cakes for sale outside her door. I was still not feeling up to a full meal so I just had a banana and yoghurt then rested for a while before moving ahead of the group.

For the last part of the journey to Melide I was accompanied by Angel from Zamora and we arrived at the refugio about 5pm, feeling very hot and tired. The refugio opened at six so we left our packs with a neighbour and went to seek refreshment (more beer) in the bar Sol Y Mar. This bar is run by Maria who speaks good English as a result of having spent some years working as a chambermaid in the Tavistock Hotel in London. She was surprised to see that she was mentioned by name in the guidebook supplied by the Confraternity of Saint James.

The refugio proved to be the largest I had stayed in. It was new with a capacity of well over 100 beds and even had a stable block for those travelling on horseback. I quickly got cleaned up, did some laundry then fell asleep while waiting for the others to catch up. They had bought some food for an evening meal but I returned to Maria’s with one or two others for a snack and to speak English with one of her young relatives who was studying for a school exam.

Back at the refugio the weather was looking bad so I brought my laundry in to dry in the lounge. This was lucky because some cyclists who had left their multi-coloured clothes out to dry under an external shelter had them stolen overnight.

2002. We found that the bar in Portomarín was open for breakfast so we took advantage of this and then set off about 7.45 for a slow walk to Palas de Rey. As usual we divided into small groups for walking but every now and then would gather in a bar or café for coffee and cakes.

I was with Lindsey from Hawaii and Eric from Sidney at first but we split up after the first coffee break at Gonzar (only 6km but who cares). I found Jann just before Ligonde where we had a look at the refugio before moving on. The next refugio at Eirexe was closed until 1pm and there were no bars or shops nearby so we pushed on to a new meson (country restaurant) at the hamlet of Portos. Here we stopped for soup (Caldo Gallego again) then walked on to Palas, arriving about 2.30.

Angelika had arrived early and was waiting outside the refugio to direct us in and show us where we could claim a corner for our group. Over the next hour or two our group straggled in and, with a bit of difficulty, we got eight of us together in the same section of a dormitory. Our honeymoon couple Bernhard and Judit went off to find an hotel but would join us later for a meal.

The showers in this refugio had no doors or curtains so the men had to whistle tunelessly while showering then stand guard at the entrance while the ladies took their turns.

The whole gang gathered in a restaurant near to the refugio for an evening meal and I shared a table with Doug and Vance from Virginia. Doug had retired from the personnel department of a large company and Vance was an Anglican priest. Neither of them had ever before grown a beard but by this stage of the Camino they would have been unrecognisable to the folks back home.

Zwei Deutsch

Next morning we left late for the 12km walk to Melide but, of course, stopped for mid-morning coffee and cakes at a bar called “Die Zwei Deutsch”. The owners were Spanish and even the German speakers in our group were unable to discover why it was so called.

At Furelos, shortly before Melide, we were given a guided tour of the church then, leaving Lindsey to rest her sore leg in a bar, we walked into Melide.

There were rockets exploding in the sky and we soon found the town in full fiesta mode. Our yellow guiding arrows were hidden by the crowds but I remembered the way to Maria’s bar which was now a small hotel called Xaniero I. Four of us wanted to enjoy the fiesta so we booked in here then went looking for the others.

Today was also the final of the football world cup and Angelika directed us to a bar where Eric was guarding a large table in front of a television. We all managed to gather here for the match, drinking copious amounts of Rioja, and cheering every move regardless of which team was winning. Melide is famous for the quality of the spiced octopus sold here and Tony slipped out at half time to return with a carrier bag full of this delicacy. The bar owners didn’t seem to mind this as they were selling lots of bottles of wine.

After the match we retired to our various accommodations for siestas before the fiesta. We then all met in the refugio for an evening meal before wandering around the town and dancing until midnight.