Eucalyptus and Octopus
As we moved further into Galicia, our final region on the Camino, we started seeing the eucalyptus forests. Eucalyptus is a non-native and invasive species here but it has become a symbol of Galicia. The trees are massive but the scent is not as prominent as I imagined it would be.
Our long-lost friends Australian Mike and Reuben (who had bussed ahead to the final section) had posted a video walking through the eucalyptus forests. Eucalyptus trees were familiar to them, being from Australia, and they were delighted.
“Crikey, Reub! It’s a eucy forest in Spain. How much can a koala bear?”
We had missed their goofy jokes and were glad to know they had made it to Santiago, even if they had to skip a few sections.
Melide was our stop for the night. According to our guidebooks, this was the place to try pulpo (octopus), and pimientos padrón (roasted and salted peppers). As we were walking through town to find our albergue, we passed a restaurant with a window that opened onto the street.
There was a person standing over a boiling pot of water and as we got closer, I saw them pull out a whole octopus. They saw the surprise on my face and proceeded to cut up a tentacle with a pair of scissors, add olive oil, salt, and paprika, and held out a bite for me. It all happened so fast that I didn’t think better of it.
I grabbed the toothpick and popped the bite in my mouth. Not bad. Good, even.
As usual, I was at the back of the pack so Andy and Nicole didn’t realize what had happened until I told them. Sometimes it pays to move at a slower pace.
After we checked into our albergue, we went back to the place that gave me a sample. Luckily, they had a pilgrims menu that included pimientos padrón and pulpo (and wine, obviously). The meal was tasty and a welcomed change from the usual pilgrims’ menu offerings.
After dinner, we grabbed some walking beers, then hit the gelato shop near our albergue.
When we got back to the albergue, we decided to go ahead and make reservations for the next two nights. We had been intentionally staggering our stops to avoid towns the guidebooks recommended. It helped us avoid the most crowded albergues and so far, this strategy had served us well.
We rested easy that night knowing that we could relax and enjoy the final days of our Camino.
Keep your eye on the arrow
We awoke to another early, quiet, and peaceful morning leaving Melide for Salceda. We savored the silence because we knew it would be over soon. Our legs were heavy and our feet ached, but even this would soon be missed.
We were walking through more eucalyptus forest when we realized something wasn’t quite right. We hadn’t seen a yellow arrow trail marker in a while.
Our suspicions were confirmed when a man ran out of his house waving his arms, telling us we were going the wrong way. We had probably walked an extra mile or two because of it.
Somehow, we had made it all the way to day 43 without getting lost or having to backtrack.
Well. All good things must come to an end, I suppose.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet, each of us spaced out along the trail and in our own minds.
Our stop for the night was Salceda, a tiny village that didn’t have much for accommodations. We were the first to arrive at the albergue, a rare occurrence for us. The man running it insisted that we relax on the lawn while he finished cleaning.
We were happy to oblige.
When he finished cleaning, he gave us a full tour of the premises. As if we were in a position to refuse if it wasn’t up to our (nonexistent) standards. He was so friendly and had a great sense of humor that even if we didn’t like the accommodations, he was getting our business anyway.
The room had two bunks and we ended up with a roommate, a fellow American named Deborah. We didn’t get much out of her except that she had been on the Primitivo Route, a much more remote, less-traveled route of the Camino.
She seemed annoyed at our being there and wasn’t in the mood to talk. I could see a similarity in her apparent annoyance with us and our annoyance at the recent glut of “tourigrinos.” I couldn’t blame her, but seeing things from this side softened me up a bit toward the new pilgrims.
We had to cross the highway to find the closest dinner option, a small family-run restaurant. We made our selections from the menu and ordered bottles of their specialty home-brewed beer. There was a group of three other pilgrims sitting at a table nearby, talking and laughing over dinner.
We could tell from their attire that they had been on the trail for more than a few miles. Maybe even from St. Jean like we had. We could also tell that they were a trail family, like the three of us. Enjoying one of their last nights together before their journey together ended.
We settled into our bunks that night, one of the last times we would have to do it. As much as we were looking forward to reaching the destination, we were all feeling a mix of emotions about what that would mean for us.
The Camino has been fairly easy from a thinking and logistical standpoint. Wake up, pack up your things, fuel your body, walk a lot, find a bed, fuel your body, shower, rest, repeat.
Now we would have to figure out where we’re going next, how to get there, and what to do when we got there.
The last full day of walking!
The next morning, we returned to the bar where we had dinner the night before. We had a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, coffee, and churros. We were in high spirits and we played our Camino anthem, Good Day for the last time.
Along the way, Andy and I ran into an American pilgrim we met back in León, Chris. He told us he had completed the Camino and had been hospitalized for some pretty serious kidney stones. Now he was walking the Camino in reverse all the way back to Saint Jean Pied de Port. We were so excited to see each other again, especially in the sea of new pilgrims.
We met the group of three pilgrims that we saw at dinner the night before and had a conversation. The American of the trio was from Virginia and she knew a woman that I had worked with during my time working with Feeding America.
First, I met my neighbor at our first communal dinner. Now, I meet a friend of a colleague. On the other side of the world. What are the odds?
As we were walking, we heard a strange sound overhead, something I hadn’t heard in 45 days. An airplane! It was flying low, coming in for a landing in Santiago. After traveling by foot for so many days, it was jarring to see fast-moving, modern transportation again.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a large outdoor dining area. We were tired and hot and a little anxious from the crowds of pilgrims. We took a seat and ordered a heavy lunch and a couple of rounds of beer.
We had decided ahead of time that we wanted to walk into Santiago early in the morning, after a good night’s rest. So we planned on staying at an albergue about 5 kilometers from Santiago in Monte del Gozo. As we were overtaken by noisy parades of pilgrims on their way into the city, we were grateful for that decision.
When we got to Monte del Gozo, we could see the steeples of the cathedral in Santiago for the first time. For the first time, it felt real. Here was the place we have been walking toward this whole time. It was real and the next morning, we were going to be there.
That evening, I was in my bunk when I realized I finally got my first blister. I was so proud of it! I almost felt bad bragging to Andy and Nicole about it because they had had so many problems with their own blisters. But I wore mine like a badge of honor.
Finally, on the last full day of walking, I earned my first blister.