Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (22.2 kilometers, felt like 22.2 except for a very flat stretch of open and empty road after the sun came out)
We awake to a different Pontevedra this morning. Last night, we walked through gray granite and stone canyons, brightened only by the logos and signage of commerce and colorful storefront pitches for their wares, and the occasional art installation. And graffiti, ambitious graffiti murals in fluorescent colors.
But otherwise, a gray city fostering teeming waves of pedestrian life along traffic-free streets.
Now, in the morning gloom, the rain and the streetlamps have washed everything with a shimmering amber sheen. A neon art project sings like an aria to the skies above. The pulsing cherry-sherbert lighting on a plaza fountain vibrates with a force unfelt in daytime.
A different, more-haunting Pontevedra in the early morning rain:
Where we meandered yesterday, we now walked purposefully with backpacks and slickers on. Where we darted among flowing clots of tourists and locals, we now own the streets.
The Peregrinos are setting out for the day, searching for yellow arrows in the dark, seeking clues to how we might exit Pontevedra, a city we are honestly loath to leave. Up and down the many empty corridors in Pontevedra‘s Old Town, you can feel the ghosts if you walk slow enough.
Starting in the dark is the new normal but today’s 22 kilometers requires an early start. The rain ended mostly by 7 a.m., and made for a cool day of walking.
Pontevedra quickly gives way to a canopied forest trail:
As we slowly walk north, we can feel the season changing over to Autumn: The light drizzle, the crispness in the air, the changing colors of the forest, the wilting of seasonal flowers, pumpkins on withered vines, the harvesting of grapes and corn, the freshly-fallen leaves carpeting the ground, chestnuts are dropping to the ground and popping open their furry coats.
People here are still guided by the seasons. An old man gathers wood in the forest, a couple hoe a small plot of rich dark soil together, a homeowner trims back his bushes, his young son stacks chopped wood neatly under a canopy, an aging grandmother pushes a wheelbarrow filled with grapes down a country lane.
All around us, people are meeting the needs of the season and preparing for winter. We are walking between chapters of a book written ages ago. The characters change, sometimes their tools — but the story is basically the same as it has been for centuries.
People say today’s walk from Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis is the least-interesting segment of the pilgrimage to Santiago, though one of the longer ones.
Maybe we have been spoiled.
All too soon, the forest depletes and the land flattens out and civilization intrudes. So you look for different forms of beauty along the way:
Central Portugal and Spain have offered us daily feasts for the senses. Medieval cities, villages, churches, and bridges. Forested pathways that have been trodden for hundreds of years by Galicians, conquering Romans, presumptuous French soldiers, farmers, and pilgrims. Breugalian landscapes of the countryside make one ache for the skills to paint — and the time. Even the hilly trails are challenging enough to allow for a little personal feeling of triumph over nature in a technological world.
Now, we face a little more of the same. At 22.2 kilometers, this Camino segment lacks the challenging hills, the forest canopy, the stunning vistas, the rich moments of solitude. Oh, it has a little of all that — with intrusive industrial sounds, tightrope-thin highway and train corridors, and more pilgrims than we’ve encountered in the past several days combined.
There is beauty to be found here if you slow down and open your senses, your eyes, your heart, and your mind. I begin to understand what it means to walk mindfully through the forest.
But the end is near for us, too. You can feel it among the Peregrinos. We are all feeling the gravitational pull of Santiago de Compostela. The pace is quickening. Already, I’ve heard people making plans for next year!
Along the route, my pace matches up with a small group of young Germans and we fall into easy chatter. Eric is the most congenial. He asks about my hiking shoes — they are Flexis from Mexico. He is wearing running shoes.
“I have great hiking shoes at home, several pairs, because we are always hiking. But I listened to my friend who said this would be so easy.”
“And has it?” I asked.
“I paid for it on the coastal section in Portugal. These shoes gave me blisters. But they are ok now. It is just a different way of walking.”
Eric asks the usual questions – where are you from, why are you here, how is it going? And have we met before?
To that, I can answer “sort of.”
During our several days in Porto before starting the Camino, I noticed Eric and Klaus, one of his hiking companions, sorting through hats at a portable kiosk on the Santa Catarina pedestrian mall.
They’d caught my eye because it was such a caricature — two Germans trying on Tyrolean-like fedoras and complimenting each other’s appearance. Honestly, I recognized the hats before I recognized the hikers. But that sort of blew Eric’s mind.
They were all young and strong and, soon enough, left me to my solitude. But two days later, in Padron, their group was at the same auberge as us. Eric showed me the transportation app that he used for booking buses and trains and it proved quite useful later on.
The view of Caldas de Reis as you enter across the Ponte Romano over the River Umia:
Caldas de Reis was an intriguing mix of vacant storefronts and intriguing pockets of beauty. It is marked by the convergence of two rivers, the Bermana and the Umia. There are little streams that branch off and enable small linear parks and dramatic bridges to accent the town.
The guidebooks boast of its centuries-old spas built around thermal waters that gush at a constant 40 degrees. While that sounds fabulous for tired pilgrim feet, we so no evidence of them.
We booked a private room and shared bathroom for the night. A treat after all this communal sharing of space. It was again, a fairly new boutique hotel and the other room in our suite was empty so … private bathroom! The staff is even doing our laundry for us.
I was eager to backtrack to the waterfront Taberna O’Munio which we’d spotted when first entering the town over the Ponte Romano. I had visions of sitting at an outdoor table with an icy cold Estrella Galicia beer and count the ripples as the Umia rolled by.
Not surprisingly, I get directionally confused, a popular theme with me on a Camino that seems to be mostly a straight south-to-north line. We ended up at the very comfortable 5 Jotas tavern where I am introduced to the Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial, which spoils me as a beer drinker for the rest of our journey.
I also ordered the Hamburguesa de Argentina which had so many different meats stacked atop each other that I lost count. Don’t order it unless you are very very serious about eating.