25-1-2019 Granada, Spain

Some bad food was haunting me and a neighbor came home drunk and loud at 3 AM, so we played it low-key for the day.  The following day we had plans for a hike.

Up early and ready to roll. We headed to Monachil by bus to hike the Cahorros de Monachil loop.  The trail starts out just a walk along a river bank, dodging trees and trying not to slip in the mud. After a kilometer or 2, you cross a series of 4 or 5 hanging bridges. The last bridge is about 50 meters long and crosses a deep gorge.  It would have been more interesting and fun if it wasn’t an Instagram moment for so many. The bridge had a 4 person limit and everyone walking across it needed to spend forever getting every angle possible. A group of school kids took 30 minutes and they had already been there when we arrived at the bridge. If you need to get a photo, please be quick.

 

                After the last bridge, we came to the narrows. The narrows are a long concrete walkway on one side of the river.  It is narrow and frequently you need to duck (or crawl in one place) as you go up an increasingly narrow and overhung passage until it is a tunnel. A few people got overly concerned or claustrophobic. Large metal rings were set into the rock to give hiker a means to hang onto the side when the path got too narrow or the crawling got tough.

                After the narrows, the trail loops back onto the hill on the left and the terrain dries out. We walked through orchards, some abandoned, bee keeping, some grazing animals, and a small crowd of college kids. 

                Back in the town of Monachil, we discovered that the return bus didn’t come for another hour or two, so we hustled a mile uphill to catch it at a different bus stop. We ended up catching it as it pulled into the stop and made the return trip in style.

                The next morning, we were greeted with the most polite motorcycle rally that I have ever seen. They lined up politely, they didn’t make a lot of noise, and they helped out a guy whose bike died before the rally could take off.

                On our last day in Granada, we visited the baths and a couple of old Muslim homes. The tile, architecture, and wood work was very pretty.

                The next 24 hours are a blur. We caught a noon bus to Madrid. After a lovely hour in the Madrid bus station, we caught the 7 PM bus to Paris. This was probably the worst bus ride I have had (including the 4 months in South America). It started with a broken seat that wanted me to recline. At 11 PM, we stopped and picked up a family. The man smelled like someone distilled body odor and then soaked it in rotting garlic. He would pace the isle with his arms up from his seat in the back to the poor person stuck next to his wife and infant. Eventually he was allowed to take the seat next to his wife and the smell centralized there. Around 2 AM we had a rest stop at a bar. I wasted a Euro on a bottle of water from a machine that was broken.  Around 1:30 PM, we rolled into the Paris bus station. The restroom in the Paris bus station is the worst I have seen on 3 continents. I walked in and decided I would need to shower in bleach if I used it. The floor was a pool of urine and the sink looked like it had doubled as a toilet more than once since its last cleaning.  Welcome to Paris.

                A few train rides and a long walk brought us to our Airbnb. Our room for the night touted that it was a 7 minute ride to the airport, but they didn’t say that there is ZERO public transportation and taxis charge a large extra fee as it isn’t in Paris, but a weird neighboring town. The only option was hitchhiking or my first attempt at using Uber.  The other issue is that the Airbnb host owned the only restaurant in town. So pizza it was for our dinner in Paris.

                The next morning, my newly created Uber account provided for a quick arrival to the terminal. Oh, and if your Airbnb host tells you that you don’t need the extra couple of hours before an international flight, they are an imbecile.  We had ignored the supposed wisdom and were grateful for the extra time to navigate the long lines and still have time for a huge cup of coffee.

                In Detroit we had a long layover (thanks to United Airlines rescheduling us to add several hours), so we drink a big beer and ate an America style cheeseburger. United’s gift compounded into arriving home at 2 AM on November 1st.  Our dogs and bed have never been better.

17-10-2019

After walking and moving daily for about a month and a half, one gets a bit tired of having laundry hanging everywhere, eating random foods that will fit into the leftover spaces in your backpack, and the mental stress of figuring out when and where you will sleep the following day. We HAD planned to visit Morocco after completing the Camino. We HAD planned to walk to Finnisterre after the Camino. We HAD planned to do more…but plans change. We wanted to slow down the race and visit a place more than a few hours. So we spent one more day in Santiago de Compostela with friends and then took the slow train to Porto, Portugal.

Porto started out annoying and struggled to get better. We couldn’t find lockers to store our packs until the boardinghouse opened up, it was raining, and the Mercado Bom Sucesso  was relocated/closed for remodeling. We did manage to find a locker at a different train station and then walk in the rain to the São Beato train station to enjoy its beautiful blue tiled walls and ceiling. The murals are old (1905 – 1916) and depict scenes from the Battle of Valdevez (1140) and the Conquest of Ceuta (1415).

We also tried to visit the Lello & Irmão bookstore , but we had failed to procure tickets for the bookstore made famous by J.K. Rowling. The lines were long even in the rain.

Along the way, we sampled an IPA from Lavare Brewing.  It was the best beer we had in Porto.

From there we walked to temporary location of the Mercado Bom Sucesso to get some cheese and fruit. We collected our bags and checked into the boarding house. Friends told us of a few places to visit and porto makers to sample. The easiest way seemed to be through a “Yellow Bus” package. We got a tour by boat, double decker bus, a porto maker tour, and few other random things.

The Yellow Bus tour started badly. The email said that you could start anytime and you just met at a local monument. There was nothing but tourists at the monument. A long call to the package organizer made it evident that they weren’t able to reach to the bus company. Temperaments were short when on the way to the train station we spotted a sign for the same tour. A conversation with the business owner helped us locate a random signpost to stand near to catch the next bus. What a pain. The boat tour and the port tour were good despite the sound system crapping out on the boat and only 3 samples of port (I mean come on!).

If it had rained earlier, it dumped the following day. The cleaning staff knocked on our room to tell us it was raining in the hall. Water was sluicing down the walls, dripping out of electrical fixtures, and forming a small lake on the floor. We decided to go to lunch instead of risking death by electrocution. The slopped street out front was a raging river. I stepped in a shallow spot and it caused the water to leap up my leg and fill my shoe. We found a close restaurant and ate.

After enjoying the rain in Porto, we decided to aim for a dryer and sunnier Madrid.  We went to a favorite of all dirt-bag backpackers, the long distance bus station. Where local bus stations have people trying to get to work or a market, long distance bus stations have people trying to figure out how indoor plumbing works and how to beg for change in 5 or 10 languages. We chose ALSA as they had cheap tickets across Europe. The bus company didn’t label the stall for which our bus would appear, but the bus did require exact change to use the restroom. That should have been disclosed before reaching cruising speeds.

Using a variety of guides, websites, black magic, and rumors, we wondered the streets of Madrid. We tried no less than 4 times to get churros and chocolate sauce, but each time we failed. Once at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés, we waited in circus line only to flub the order and get bland churros and coffee. Unless you want to wait in line again, you just leave. The churros didn’t even have cinnamon and sugar on them…disgusting. Another time we waited for 15 – 20 minutes at a restaurant in a park but the wait staff pointedly ignored us. After that I started to understand that we are cursed.

On 22-10-19, we ditched Madrid for Granada. A four hour bus ride brought a warmer climate and a nicer city. We got a great spot in the downtown and started enjoying the smaller and older feel of Granada. On our second day in Granada, we walked to the Alhambra. Since we didn’t plan (where’s the fun in planning 6 months out?!?!) we couldn’t get the much coveted Palace tickets, but we did get the Alhambra Gardens and “Generalife” tickets for the next morning.

We wondered the castle and grounds for the day. The Muslim architecture and gardens were interesting. Great pains had been taken to channel water to the gardens and buildings via ingenious methods. The castles had formidable walls and fortifications. Together, it helped Granada endure to be the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Only hunger finally drove us to leave the lush gardens. We dined on Mexican food for dinner. It was OK, but expensive.

The following day we wanted to learn more about Flamenco dancing. I can’t be sure if it was someone’s sense of humor, the only available museum space in the region, or just coincidence, but the Flamenco exhibit is in the Torture Museum AKA “Palacio de los Olvidados” . The exhibits bounced back and forth between the various types of music that fused into modern Flamenco and how the Inquisition used various methods to torture people (mostly suspected Jews and Muslims) into either confessing, death, or both. The top floor had a display of photos to add to the WTF aspect of the whole place. In the evening, we went to a Flamenco show. The show was impressive. The dancers can really stomp their feet.

 

It is the eleventh of October and the sun is taking its sweet time getting up in the morning. We started at 715 AM out of the Hostel in Miraz. We had gotten up early, but Laura found a bedbug in her bed and it was still full of blood. We mention it to our roommates… Diane says that her friend got bedbugs from the hostel in Baamonde. AAAUUUUUGGGHHHH!!! Instantly your mind goes through how to rid yourself of these nasty beasts. We had treated all of our clothes, packs, and Cocoon sleeping bag liners with permethrin any bug spray. We hope that it kept the bugs to a minimum and kills the remainder, but heat and/or laundering is the best way to rid yourself of them. By the time we make the town of Sabrado, we have plans to wash and dry all of the clothes and gear we can.

Despite the low spirits and general bad mood the bedbugs impart, we trek on through the dark, eventually passing our friends on a dark hill around 8 AM. The sun creeps up around 830AM, but coffee elude us. An albergue/hostel on the way is supposed to have a café, but when we approach it, we can see that they are closed- maybe for the season. We hopped up on a stone wall and ate some cookies and random snacks from our pack while watching farm animals walk around and the albergue owners get in their car and drive off.

After a long uphill and on one of the last hills of the entire Camino we came to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It was first noticeable by the large number of dogs and cats roaming around and then more forcefully by the smell. They kept lots of chickens, turkeys, and who knows what other animals. The place was a bit of a mess of random outbuildings, but, lo and behold, there are two fellow Camino walkers drinking coffee and eating toasted bread. Apparently the farm operates a “café” as a side business. If you can get past the farm smell, the instant coffee and toast with jam wasn’t bad. As we ate, Diane and Patrick joined us.

I don’t recall anything about the night in Sabrado other than doing several loads of laundry and baking it in as much heat as I thought the fabrics could handle. 

We started at 7 AM with clean clothes and hope that the bugs were a bad memory and the renewed hope that when we joined the main pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago Francés, in Arzua things would be easier. The Francés route is the most popular. That means that more businesses cater to the weird hours and high calorie diets of the pilgrims. There was a spring in our step and my knee was almost normal as we walked through long roads alone. As we approached the town, our now good friends Diane and Patrick showed up.  We all marveled at a church that seemed to be dedicated to a stoner…or maybe the drawing skills of a high school student.

 

We each had booked different albergues, but enjoyed a brief chat before separating again.  Our Albergue was fancy. Cotton sheets and a nice layout for people doing a long walk. We had lunch and tried to buy stuff for dinner, but the stores closed before we could get in. So much for the Francés route providing. We did score a loaf of bread and some pastries, so all was not lost. 

When we left in the morning, it was raining. We donned headlights and stomped through the rain. We hadn’t made it more than a kilometer when we saw someone ahead. It was a tall guy dressed strangely in what looked to be a kid’s patterned rain poncho, one trekking pole, an umbrella, and a weak headlight. I had a hard time understanding him, but he mumbled something about three headlights were better than one.  As we walked I learned he was in his 60 or 70’s. His appearance reminded me of a businessman that was stranded with a small set of random gear from the trunk of a rental car.

Laura was sporting a new headlamp, so she took lead and lit the way. We were walking on a road that was the low point with high banks on either sided. Salamanders and frogs could be seen in our headlights. It was fun except the guy started talking at us. We learned he was from South Korea and he had a tight schedule to finish the Camino that day. He would repeat the same sentences over and over. Something about the Korean or Vietnam War. He was hard to follow and any attempt to glean additional information or change the subject caused him to start over talking about a war that we never were 100% about which one it was or why he was talking about it other than that is all he knew about the USA.  We stopped at a coffee shop and were amazed when the South Korean guy ordered fried eggs and an apple.  We had been living on chocolate croissants for weeks and hadn’t seen any place that had a short order grill. As we drank our café con leche and ate our chocolate croissants, another South Korean showed up. He was in his twenties or thirties and talked briefly with our guy. You could tell by the younger guy’s reaction and his quick escape that our guy was odd. The others wanted nothing to do with him. We walked with him for a good distance more, never got further with details of his life or talking about ours. We eventually left him giving away his umbrella and his poncho to bewildered folks who were just out for a walk. 

We found our hostel and started laundry, this hostel didn’t let you do your own, but they had an inexpensive paid service.  As the laundry got washed and dried, we went looking for food. The first restaurant was a Michelin Starred place that we just walked by in hunger. Our budget didn’t rate that kind of food. Most of the other places were closed due to it being Sunday and Festival Nacional de España. We did find a nice hotel restaurant open and a gas station that sold some odds and ends for dinner- bread, box wine for €1, and a small bag of olives that we thought was olive oil.   Our feast of bread, the worst wine in Spain, and olives (for me) was punctuated by another guest talking loudly into a phone the entire meal. To add context, a bottle of cheap and good wine in Spain will set you back 2-5 Euros. A broth box of gutter wine will set you on your back with a headache and the sad disappointment of how you got it.

 Around 830 PM, I went to brush my teeth and ran into 2 Americans, Ted and Diane. We chatted for maybe 30 minutes before Laura joined us. We chatted for another hour until we decided it was time for bed.  In the middle of the night it came to me, TED AND DIANE! We had been told by several walkers that we should talk to them. It was a strange stroke of luck that they had seceded to stay in an albergue that was a fairly short walk to Santiago to avoid the Sunday/Holiday madness, too.  After we got up in the morning, we chatted some more.

After we left the albergue, we walked with a couple from Missouri that were taking a gap year, too. The rain poured down from the sky like a broken hostel shower set to cold. At times the gutters turned to rivers and Camino walkers disappeared into cafés and stores to wait out the worst of the rain. Since Laura’s rain gear had failed and she was soaked through, we continued. When the rain finally stopped, we stopped at one of the few places that was dry. I sat down and promptly tore a 3 CM/1 inch hole in the seat of my pants. FML. We walked on until we found a trash can where Laura deposited her rain pants and a few choice words.

We stumbled down to the Compostela office to turn in our documents and get a number in the line so we could finish this on October 14, 2019.  While waiting for our number in line, who should walk by but the guy from South Korea! Apparently he had walked the distance but arrived too late to get his certificate on the day he completed the walk.  We waved, but left to check into our hotel. After check in, we went for food. Pizza, wine and a salad hit the spot.  We later completed the certification process and got our certificate of being stupid enough to walk over 500 miles.

That evening, we hung out with Eddie and Clare.  All were feeling the happiness of completing a long and tiring task.

The next morning, we braved the wind, cold, and tired legs to walk 200 meters to a waiting bus for a ride to Finisterre. Friends had planned to walk the extra 90 kilometers/56 miles, but most were thwarted by the horrible weather. The tour bus made it just fine.