Walking the Camino - Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Walking the Camino - Portomarin to Palas de Rei

Peregrinos with Rain Ponchos Leave Portomarin
Peregrinos with Rain Ponchos Leave Portomarin. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The walking leg of the Camino de Santiago from Portomarín to Palas de Rei is usually done in a single day. It is 24.8 kilometers (15.4 miles) according to John Brierley's guidebook. I elected to do my Camino "the easy way" and split it into two days of 11 kilometers each (7 miles). I started with two days of walking from Sarria to Portomarín.

My room in Portomarín was at the Hotel Villajardin. The breakfast was exactly what I enjoy when I'm in Europe, although larger than a typical breakfast in Spain. They set out two slices of ham and slice of cheese, four small slices of bread, a packaged sweet bread and soft cheese, orange juice and coffee.  My stomach was fine with this after the upset I had the previous day, thank heavens.

There was an increasing chance of rain through the morning, but at 8 am it was still dry. I put on my usual rain jacket and put my new Camino poncho into my day pack.

Camino Rain Gear

Camino Rain Poncho
Camino Rain Poncho. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I am used to walking in rain for two hours or more. I've walked several rainy half marathons with wind-driven "sideways rain" for hours. At home, I wear waterproof rain jackets that are breathable. But when rain is heavy, a long poncho can drain the water off better so it doesn't end up soaking your pants and shoes.

I bought this rain poncho in Santiago at a gift shop for five or six euros. It is built with extra volume at the back to cover your backpack. Because I am short, it reached almost to the ground in back.

The sleeves had elastic at the wrist and were long enough that I could cover my hands entirely with them while using my trekking poles. This kept my hands warm and dry and the straps of my poles dry. This is a much better design for me than ponchos with open sleeves.

This poncho worked great, although it was torn after three days and I disposed of it on my last day when there was no threat of rain.

I also brought along rain pants but I only wore them once, to walk from my hotel to find a restaurant during a downpour. Veteran pilgrims are divided on whether to use a rain jacket/rain pants or a rain poncho. And then there are those who love umbrellas (which I rarely saw when walking the Camino).

Camino - Pilgrim on Horseback

Pilgrim on Horseback - Camino de Santiago
Pilgrim on Horseback - Camino de Santiago. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I headed out of Portomarin at 8 a.m. I spoke with three peregrinas from Davis, California. They envied my giant rain parka. They used the Caminoways.com itinerary I was following but booked their own lodgings.

The hill out of town is on a lovely wooded path, but a good climb. It started raining a bit, but it never rained enough to get my shoes wet.

There were many more walkers out on the route. There were a couple of tour buses parked along the way who were supporting walking groups from Korea. One pilgrim on horseback passed me. He was the only horse pilgrim I saw during my days on the Camino.

The path was varied with countryside, woods and cows. While my guidebook warned we’d be walking alongside a road, it seemed like that was minimal, and almost always we were on a separate small gravel path. There was steady climbing broken by some level and downhill grades. I didn't find it difficult, but if you hadn't trained for hills and distance, you would be feeling it.

The Camino markers lied about the distance, I put in at least three kilometers (1.8 miles) from town before the markers started going down from 88K. I'm not complaining, it was a nice walking day, but at least two miles longer than billed.

The midpoint for my walking day was at Gonzar after two hours of walking. I stopped at the cafe and had a coffee and bought a banana. The Korean groups contributed to a line of 20 women for the restroom, and the line didn’t get any shorter in the half hour I dawdled there. Luckily I didn’t really need it, so I continued without waiting for the restroom.


Castromaior Ruins
Castromaior Ruins. Wendy Bumgardner ©

A kilometer or two past Gonzar is a detour to Castromaior, the ruins of an Iron Age castle occupied from the 4th century B.C. to the first century A.D. It was abandoned at the beginning of the Roman conquest of Spain.

It is a 400 meter (quarter mile) detour to get to it and then another 400 meters to rejoin the Camino. I was the only person who headed off on the detour. I was careful as I didn't want to injure myself there and not be discovered for awhile.

The ruins were interesting. There was an interpretive sign in languages including English, with a map of the ruins. The base of the walls, dual moats, and outlines of many rooms were evident.

I was alerted to this site by the book, A Survival Guide to the Camino de Santiago in Galicia by Jeffery Barrera. I loved his guide throughout and used it on my iPhone Kindle app as I walked.

It was well worth the detour, especially since the Camino was just following the road at that point.  One of my purposes of doing lower mileage each day was to enjoy such detours.

Ventas de Neron

Sheep at Ventas de Neron, Spain
Sheep at Ventas de Neron, Spain. Wendy Bumgardner ©

From Castromaior, I rejoined the Camino and continued on up for another few kilometers, with no rain.

Around noon I arrived at Ventas de Neron, which is the top of the hill. It has only two cafes/albergues and my destination was one of them, Bar y Albergue O'Cruceiro. The sheep grazing in the pasture between the cafes jaunted over to greet me. I don't know what treats they expected, so I must have disappointed them.

This is the site of a battle in 820 between Christian King Alfonso II of Asturias and the Islamic forces of the Emirate of Cordoba. Alfonso won, and it was during his reign that the tomb of St. James was discovered in what became Santiago de Compostela and the pilgrimage walks began.

Albergue O Cruceiro Ventas de Neron

Private Room at Albergue O Cruceiro in Ventas de Neron
Private Room at Albergue O Cruceiro in Ventas de Neron. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Bar y Albergue O Cruceiro in Ventas de Neron was the only albergue where I was booked to stay. I had a private room with private bathroom and shower. The bed was about the size of a double bed, and towels were provided. The albergue has two such private rooms.

They have other rooms that sleep four people, available for 10 euros per person. I noted that the people staying in those rooms kept their boots outside the room in the hallway.

Note that the bed has a metal frame. It is recommended that you only stay in rooms with metal frame beds as those are better for repelling bed bugs. I always placed my bag away from the bed and never put my pack on the bed. I checked the mattresses for any sign of bed bugs whenever I arrived at my room.

The bar/cafe was busy with pilgrims stopping but the owners were happy to see me and let me into my private room. My bag was already there. I got the WiFi password and ordered a serrano ham bocadito and water for lunch.

All along the Camino, I had WiFi access at lodgings but it was always very slow and frustrating to use. Sometimes you could connect, other times it faded out. I managed to post photos and email eventually each day, but it was never reliable.

Caldo Gallego

Caldo Gallego
Caldo Gallego. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I had the caldo gallego soup for dinner with good bread. A guidebook says it's the best you could get on the camino. It was fine and the bread was great. The soup is made with the leaves of the tall kale seen growing in gardens along the camino, or with turnip greens.

My Fitbit Zip said I walked over 22,000 steps on this day. This would be the midpoint for the usual walking day to Palas de Rei. The next day I logged 21,500 steps.

Breakfast was coffee, a packaged pastry and canned orange juice. This was the least homestyle and skimpiest breakfast I had on the Camino. But they gave me a free large water which I used to fill my Camelbak Scout's hydration bladder. I drink more when I walk with a hydration pack sipper tube than if I have to get a water bottle out of my pack.

Stone Crosses on the Camino

Camino de Santiago - Stone Cross at Os Lameiros
Camino de Santiago - Stone Cross at Os Lameiros. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I headed out of Ventas de Neron at dawn (8 am) and I spied cows grazing in the pastures. There were also burned areas next to the one-lane country road. I saw evidence of forest/grass fires that had burned near the Camino throughout this day.

The route followed the one-lane country road, past pastures and a couple of old stone crosses. The stone cross in the photo dates from 1670 and this face of it has a pieta of Mary.

My Dark Sky app said 5% chance of rain, so I wore my raincoat and put the rain cover on my pack. But after a few minutes the drizzle turned to light rain so I stopped and put on the rain poncho, which would cover my pack and pants better than the jacket and rain cover.

I thought I needed a bungee cord to stow the poncho after using it and realized the clothes drying cord I had was in fact a bungee cord, so I brought it along.

It was cold to start and my hands were cold until I put on the poncho. The elastic sleeves covered them and I could still use the walking poles - perfect! That warmed my hands up. I was very happy that I had a poncho that had full-length sleeves with elastic, rather than an open-arm design.

After 80 minutes I stopped at a cafe for a coffee. I always order the cafe Americano, which still arrives as a very small and strong cup of coffee. The cafe stop is also a chance to stamp my credencial, use the restroom, and readjust what I am wearing.

Water Fountains on the Camino

Camino - Water Fountain
Camino - Water Fountain. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You will see water fountains in many places along the Camino and in towns. These are safe to use to fill your water bottle unless they have a sign indicating "non-potable." Often you will see a sign that says the water is potable.

I loved this water fountain and the sign on the right that reads, "Yo soy el Camino, y la Verdad, y la Vida. (Jesus)" This is the Bible quote, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life."

If you don't trust the water supply, you can always buy bottled water at markets in towns or in the bars and cafes. A bottle of water is usually one euro at a bar or cafe and you can get a big bottle for less than that at a market.

Cafe Stop and Meeting Other Pilgrims

Cafe Break on the Camino Meeting Other Pilgrims
Cafe Break on the Camino Meeting Other Pilgrims. Wendy Bumgardner ©

About a mile farther I passed the albergue/cafe that has giant ant sculptures in Portos (kilometer 71). Just past it is another cafe with a lovely meditation garden. I decided I needed the restroom again, plus I needed to get a sello stamp in my pilgrim's passport.

I bought a canned sports drink, used the restroom and went outside to sit down under cover. A couple from Northern Ireland, John and Bridget, had also just stopped and they invited me to join them. They started the Camino a town before Sarria. We had a merry chat for a half hour as the sun broke out and the rain stopped.

I enjoyed meeting people and the Camino spirit where everyone is sharing the experience.

Camino Walking to Palas de Rei

Camino Near Palas de Rei
Camino Near Palas de Rei. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I stowed the rain poncho, attaching it to my Camelbak Scout pack with the bungee/clothes cord. That freed up space in my pack. I continued onward the remaining three miles. The route had rolling hills and was very pleasant walking.

I entered the outskirts of Palas de Rei, which translates as "palace of the king." The town dates to Roman times and In the 8th Century it was the reputed home of Witiza, the last Visigoth king in the area. But there is no palace or old town area as it was completely remade in a spurt of urban renewal 40 years ago.

I stopped at a cafe as I entered town, needing the restroom and ready for lunch. It was a pulperia, specializing in braised octopus, but I asked for the caldo gallego. It arrived in a large tureen with 4 large slices of the dense local bread, definitely a great lunch on a rainy day. I ate all of the soup and half of the bread.

Mass at San Tirso in Palas de Rei

Church of San Tirso, Palas de Rei
Church of San Tirso, Palas de Rei. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I went on to the church of San Tirso (St. Thyrsus) and a feast day Mass service had just begun. I looked it up later and it was the Feast of the Holy Cross, which isn't a holy day of obligation in the United States.

I sat in the back of church and attended. It was filled with local people and just a few pilgrims. It was a pleasant end to my walking day to attend Mass with the townspeople. The church also has an evening pilgrim mass each day. I got a sello stamp in my credencial at the end of mass.

I lit a candle, which is a Catholic tradition. Churches always have rows of small votive candles, often placed in front of statues of the patron saint of the church or a statue of Mary. For a small fee, you light a candle while praying. It is a tangible symbol of your prayer, and it adds to the ambiance of the church. I enjoy lighting a candle with my prayer for safety on my journey and the health of my family and friends. It's a way to make a small donation to the church.

Along the way, I also encountered electric votive lights. These were coin-op - put your coins in the slots and it lit up a number of electric candles to match your donation. I prefer real flame.

Buying a Shell to Carry for Denise Thiem

Memorial Shell for Camino Walker Denise Thiem
Memorial Shell for Camino Walker Denise Thiem. Wendy Bumgardner &opy 2015

Peregrinos carry a scallop shell on their pack to identify as a pilgrim. In olden days, it was presented to pilgrims as proof that they had completed their journey at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Today's peregrinos wear one on their pack throughout their walk. I received my shell at a Shell Ceremony the month before my journey, from my local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino.

The body of missing American pilgrim Denise Thiem had just been discovered and an arrest made. The Pilgrim House in Santiago suggested that peregrinos buy a second shell and carry it to Santiago to use in a memorial for Denise. Throughout the day I took photos to show my family and friends that you are rarely alone walking this section of the Camino. I believe it is safe for a woman to walk the Camino solo.

In Palas de Rei, I found a sports shop that had a display of shells in the window. I bought the shell to carry for Denise. I also bought a royal blue tech tee shirt with a Camino insignia for myself.

Casa Rurale - A Parada das Bestas

Room - A Parada das Bestas
Room - A Parada das Bestas. Wendy Bumgardner ©

My room for the night was at a casa rurale eight kilometers outside of town, A Parada das Bestas. I hailed a taxi near the main bus stop, a little disappointed I wouldn't be staying in town amongst more pilgrims.

But when I arrived at the enchanting 18th-Century farmhouse and saw my adorable room with stone walls and shuttered windows, I loved it. The grounds were lovely to stroll and they had an outdoor oven area set up to relax and read.

I did my laundry with the Scrubba and hung the laundry up to dry as the sun came out.

The Parada das Bestas is known for its food. I joined two Australian gals and a Brit for dinner. I had shrimp-stuffed red peppers for first dish, pork tenderloin with potatoes gratin for second, and a great flan for dessert. It was an excellent meal, quite a cut above usual Camino meals.

Breakfast was also great, with wonderful coffee, the usual thick toasted bread but with butter and a lingonberry-like compote or marmalade, and some sweet bread products and good orange juice. The four of us shared a cab back to Palas de Rei.

Next: Into the Storm - Palas de Rei to Arzua

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