Week 17: Mi Vuelta a España

19/12/22 – 25/12/22 207 km

My second night in the old schoolhouse wasn’t as comfortable as the first. The wind was howling through every crack in the brickwork and water was hammering down on the roof. I gave up pretending to sleep at 7am. When I opened the shutters I could see horizontal rain illuminated by the street lamps. The scene, as I’m sure you will agree, was not conducive to walking.

I forced myself out just after 8am. It was almost pitch black still. My only navigational tool was the light from the streetlamps as it reflected off the standing water. Despite wearing waterproof kit, I was soaking wet within ten minutes. To add insult to injury, the passing cars took no mercy as each showered me in a deluge of spray. I wished I was still in bed, the only thing that made me feel better was the thought that the old schoolhouse had probably flooded by now!

As the sun came up, or better said as it became less dark, the situation worsened. I was higher by this point and more exposed which meant that the rain was coming in from all sides and the wind was close to gale force. The impact of the rain against my hood was so great that I could barely hear myself think. Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle in the UK knows exactly what I mean. It took all of my energy to stand upright, let alone walk forwards. Fortunately for me I had already seen the landscape four days earlier. At least I had my memories of Galicia to cling on too!

The only thing that kept me going was the thought of some food in a bar I had stopped in, five days previously, coming the other way. It was closed on Mondays, of course it was! I imagine they heard my screams, I hope they understand, it was nothing personal! Desperate and ready to give up I decided to check my phone. You can imagine my relief when I found out that Klaus would be passing me today as he walked in the opposite direction. Another friendly face from the road. I was even happier when he announced that he had called it quits and booked into an Albergue four kilometres ahead of my position. I was soaking wet when I arrived. It took me all of a millisecond to decide to stay too. It had been the hardest twenty five kilometres of the trip so far.

As soon as I was in, I peeled off my wet clothing and spent the next hour carefully positioning the contents of my backpack around the one electric heater. I wasn’t hopeful that it would dry. When I had finally finished with my gear we had a warming lunch of lentejas (lentils and chorizo) and local wine. I ate seven bowls, it didn’t stop raining once! Needless to say I didn’t eat again that day.

The next morning the rain was still coming down hard. Remarkably my kit had dried and after a filling breakfast I said my goodbyes to Klaus. He was off to Finisterre and I would be arriving in Santiago for the second time this week. It was hard going, many of the paths were flooded from the recent downpours and I was often forced to find alternative routes in order to avoid the swollen rivers and streams. It didn’t stop raining all day. Drizzle was the new dry, dry a distant memory.

When I arrived in Santiago I made my way back to the Post Office where I was again reunited with my tent. Parcel in one hand and poles in the other, I left the city and headed back to the Albergue of San Lazaro, stopping only to replace my headphones and pick up some food.

That evening I rearranged my bag as I would have to take on an extra 3.7kg. As a result I decided to donate my bivvy bag to a local tramp. It was still raining when I woke up on Wednesday morning. This time I was ready, having bought a roll of black bags in the supermarket the previous day. I left the city in the dark and started my third ‘Way’, this time I would be walking the Camino del Norte in reverse from Santiago to Irun.

The walk out of the city was unspectacular. I spent the morning slowly climbing towards the airport. By the time I arrived at the airport I started to see pilgrims coming in the other direction. In fact I saw as many people that day as I had in the whole of the Via de la Plata. Although I was struggling with the rain I made a point to wish everyone a ‘Buen Camino’ as I was patently aware of how hard those last few miles are on the legs and mind.

Around midday I sought refuge in a hut and ate a packet of biscuits whilst I watched a local civil servant collecting rubbish from the side of the road. He seemed to be oblivious to the rain, he was used to it I guess. After what seemed like an age, and biblical levels of rainfall, I finally arrived in the village of Arzúa. As I checked into the Albergue I struggled to understand how the pair in front weren’t wet through like me. Later I overheard the man booking a taxi for the next day!

The next morning I had a filling breakfast in a local bakery and set off into the woods. After ten kilometres I stopped in the village of Boimorto for another coffee. I was soaked again. It took me over an hour to finish that drink and muster the strength to carry on. Despite the drizzle, it was worth it as that evening I would be staying in a recently reformed monastery in the village of Sobrado. The setting was sensational and although I do not have a religious bone in my body I am grateful for the legacy of buildings at my disposal.

I made the most of the facilities, in particular the washing machine, which was long overdue. It was so nice to be able to put on freshly laundered clothes for the first time in months. It was still raining when I woke up the next morning. I managed to leave by convincing myself that the volume of rain was exacerbated by the network of ancient guttering that seemed to discharge all of the water into the courtyard where the dormitory was located. I was wrong!

At least the start of the walk was easy. The morning was spent circumnavigating a reservoir. However things changed dramatically as I turned into a narrow trail that looked (and smelt) like it had recently been used to transport a herd of cows. The stench was incredible and my feet were wet through. This was made worse by the fact that the monastery had no heating and my boots were still damp from the day before.

Walking forty kilometres with wet feet meant that I had blisters again. This time on my right heel. Although I was used to the pain, it made walking uncomfortable and I was struggling to plant my foot flat. This then creates pain in other parts of your leg! The last five kilometres were horrific but at least the rain had died down.

The next day I was up early and on the road by day break. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn and found myself in a farmer’s yard. Here I encountered the scariest dog of the trip so far, and the first to show no fear of my walking sticks. I was out of there in a flash. Thankfully the walking was easy and I only had to do twenty kilometres. When I arrived I cooked a massive pasta dinner and stuffed my face, it was Christmas Eve after all!

I woke up on Christmas Day alone but I did not feel sad. If I’m honest I have always found this time of the year incredibly stressful and I was grateful for the peace. I ate twelve chocolate covered sponge cakes for breakfast and headed out into the drizzle. I had decided to follow the road until Abadín where I would look for a place to eat lunch. As it was Christmas I treated myself to a Menú and at a whopping €15 I wasn’t disappointed. This said, I probably shouldn’t have drunk the whole bottle of wine as I still had another fifteen kilometres to go.

After leaving the village I spent the rest of the day descending into a vast valley. It was me and the cows. No one else was mad enough to be out in this weather. I enjoyed the numbing feeling of the wine more than the inevitable sobering that came later! As night was drawing in I finally arrived in Mondañedo where I checked in to the Albergue and set myself up for the evening. Well that’s what I thought. After an hour a lovely guy from Switzerland turned up. He was followed shortly after by what I can only describe as a tramp. He had vomit all over his beard, and stank to high heaven. I told you Christmas alone wasn’t so bad!

5 thoughts on “Week 17: Mi Vuelta a España”

  1. Just been on a 1 hour circuit through fields and by a river, in Cumbria………..horizontal rain and fecking cold wind gave me numb cheeks. 1 hour. Your mental strength is amazing mate, to be n those kinds of wet and cold conditions day after day, and to keep going. Think about you a lot, even if not in touch so much.

  2. Lost for words. Amazing to see you get up and walk face first into the conditions. It’s cold and wet here in Northern Ireland so I try to manage getting up by 10.30 then find a good spot on the sofa and settle in for the day. I would love to say I would get more enjoyment from doing what you are achieving but as you know, uphill is a struggle, but in the rain. I consider as a friend your doing this walk for me and with that am behind you every step of the way

  3. 12 chocolate sponge cakes, eleven bowls of lentils, ten days of rain … and a freezing night in a monastery! The 12 days of Christmas – don’t know how you’re doing it. :))


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