• Theresa Fersch

Made it to Santiago! 15 Miles Up Hill


Last night after my evening nap, I woke up absolutely ravenous. I tore the kitchen apart looking for anything edible but unlike every single house we’ve stayed in, this one had nothing. Brian found a pizza place open at 7pm so we went there for first dinner. We order two large pizzas, polished them off and walked to the other tapas place for Dinner 2. We ran into the fun women we met earlier today and told them to meet us at the bar when they were done doing laundry but we found out that restaurant was closed for the night. We decided since we were getting up at 6 the next morning, we should just go to bed. I was disappointed I didn’t get to hang out with those women though. Being with the guys is fun but I like meeting other like minded people and it would be nice to hang out with some women for a change.

In the morning, we ate the pastries we bought from the bakery down the street the night before. We didn’t want to run the risk of not finding food on a day when we have a big push. That said, about 30 minutes into our hike out of Padron, we found a cafe. The guys ordered second breakfast and I had coffee. It was very dark and very cool but it wasn’t pouring for the first time in a few days. 

At breakfast we were talking about how we do NOT understand why Europeans are not fatter than Americans and Australians. I thought it was because they eat smaller portions and don’t eat a lot of processed food but that is 100% wrong. I have NEVER had more chocolate, carbs, and sugar in me life! When they serve you a cup of coffee, it comes with free cake, muffins, and chocolate and TWO massive packets of sugar. There is junk food, chips, chocolate bars and ice cream served on the regular at every single cafe. I don’t get it. 

We walked along a road for about 4 kilometers. It wasn’t the actual Camino but it cut off some of the winding the trail would otherwise take us through and since it was rainy and dark for the first two hours, we didn’t really care.

We had only walked another hour when we passed another cafe. I was good to keep going but Vegemite wanted to stop. Looking at our map, I noticed we have a larger climb than we’ve had in a while. It looked unassuming at first but I noticed the scale of the map was different from previous pages in my guidebook. I told the guys I want to stop right before we start climbing so I can eat again beforehand.

At that stop, the poor guy working behind the counter was a little overwhelmed making cups and cups of coffee and espresso. When I asked for croissants with ham and cheese he got really frustrated and tossed our plates and silverware on the counter before making them and returned to making coffee. I don’t know what he mumbled in Spanish but I knew if I waited there patiently we would eventually serve us.

As I walked alone mostly today and climbed hills, I thought of all random things that I’ve thought about along the way but haven’t mentioned here yet. For example, this morning as I was climbing a hill, whenever I would start to get irritated with the incline, I would just think to myself, “whatever. At least my feet are dry today”. Yesterday I got a blister in the last mile but it was very small, it pierced itself, and it has not bothered me yet today.

On another random note, with all of the ham and bacon I am eating through Spain, and all of the territory I have crossed in this country, I have never seen a single pig. This tells me that they are probably not slaughtered in the most human conditions and are probably all harvested somewhere in some massive factory. I’m not surprised though considering how the dogs are treated here. are probably not slaughtered in the most humane conditions and are probably all harvesting somewhere in some massive factory. I’m not surprised though considering how the dogs are treated here. I had a hard time walking through the industrial area this morning as I saw dogs behind chain link fences living in parking lots, outside, at night, in the cold, in the rain, with no shelter, no love or attention, etc. I hate it. They bark and snarl and seem so vicious which I guess is the point but if you know dog body language, you’ll notice that they’re actually begging for attention. I passed a German shepherd that at first glance looked so ferocious but I could tell he was was starved for affection. I placed my palm up on the fence (I didn’t stick my fingers in the cage!) and the dog thrust his body up against the fence. He just wanted me to pet him! I pushed my fingers through the cage and pet his back as best I could. He leaned into me hard and wagged his tail. When I finally walked on, he chased me down the yard barking and snarling. Poor baby. It broke my heart. 

While I am on the subject of negative things that I have not talked about yet but I also don’t want to forget as part of my journey is that some jack ass has taken it upon him or herself to write “no feminism, no abortion, no homosexuality!” on nearly every Camino sign. I think someone along the route is also now covering up the words with big hearts instead. Either way, I hate vandalism. 

Today’s take was actually quite lovely from a weather perspective.

This morning was very cold and foggy and I considered putting on my long sleeve shirt but decided against it because I knew we would do some climbing today. I’m so glad I didn’t change because around 1130 this morning, for the first time in nearly 10 days, the sun came out. It felt so warm and wonderful and eventually I had to take my coat off for the first time in several days. I was excited at the idea that perhaps we would not have to wear our rain gear when we get our pictures in front of the famous cathedral in Santiago.

Although the weather was beautiful today, I found a hike difficult. It was mostly uphill and we hiked a solid 15 miles which is more than we have been doing. We hiked a 15 mile day on day 3 which was also very hard because it was the beginning of my trip, and I was less conditioned. But that hike was very flat and this one was definitely not. As other pilgrim slowly passed me, I was pushing through my normal foot pain, I could feel myself working on a blister on my left foot and I was relieved that my tendinitis had gone away because I struggled to imagine having to deal with all those sources of pain at the same time.

Eventually Vegimite was out of sight and even Brian moved on without me. As I was pushing up a steep hill, a man greeted me from across the street and in Spanish told me there was a café one block over. I told him that my husband was ahead of me and I had to keep up with him. The man was very agitated but wished me a Buen Camino. I feel bad for the cafes only one block off of the Camino. The cafes on the trail are busier than they can handle. But only 200 feet off the trail, I would imagine those cafés could easily go out of business because a pilgrim refuses to walk that far off the trail for food and drink.

That said, when we were mostly through town and no cafes were open, Brian and I did veer off course about 25 meters to a restaurant. It had started to rain again and I had been walking for over 2 hours without a break. We thought Vegemite was going to stop in this town but he must have continued on and he didn’t respond to my text. The waitress was pushing beer hard but then didn’t come around to ask for our orders for a long time. Brian was getting antsy but I was enjoying the downtime. There was still one more big push and several kilometers left in our trip. I planned to eat a lot. 

We ordered SO much food and since it took so long to get the waitresses attention we ordered it all at once. We got salads, sandwiches, fries, cheesecake, juice, and water. I was stuffed! Brian on the other hand, did not enjoy his food. He commented that he doesn’t think Spanish people order salads often as the lettuce was very old and the salad itself was very bland.

 In the meantime, Vegemite texted that he was almost to Santiago and would wait for us so we could all enter town together. Brian and I tossed some money on the table and started rolling towards our final town!

As we walked sportily towards Santiago, we ran into a gentleman from Venezuela who had three days to hike as much of the Camino as possible and was then going to catch a flight to Boston for several days. He explained that this was his ninth Camino. It was good to talk to him but after he passed us, Brian and I talked about how it’s strange that a man from a country that politically is not doing well and where the majority of people have no food or medicine, can travel the world. It’s possible he has an occupation that is supported by the regime, it maybe he is part of the regime himself, but either way, it is very possible we just met one very corrupt man. Perhaps that’s why he’s on his ninth road to redemption. Many people hike the Camino seeking forgiveness.

As we neared the top of the hill, we looked to the east and we saw what we believe are the three spires of the Santiago Cathedral. We were so close!Bt the time we got to Vegemite, Brian was in a lot of pain. He got some very serious nerve damage in his foot on the Appalachian Trail and I suspect one day he will need surgery but I understand why he’s putting it off as long as possible. But he told me today, he thinks this will probably be his last long-distance hike. Part of me was very sad and part of me was very relieved. These hikes are very rewarding but also very difficult. Sometimes we envy people who sit on the beach and drink Mai Tais  on vacation and are perfectly content with that.

When we got to the restaurant where Vegemite was waiting for us, he was all geared up and ready to go. We barely broke stride and kept going. Just about 100 yards from Kilometer Zero, we stopped in a pastry shop so the guys could get a snack to go and Brian could use the rest room. I took the moment to sit on the floor and rest. We wanted to make sure we were all comfortable when we finally got to the square. the pastry shop was AMAZING! I wasn’t going to get anything since I had cheesecake for lunch but the guys said I should get something so we could celebrate with snacks. I got a layered vanilla and strawberry square which looked delicious but when she handed it to me on a thin layer of paper and I asked for a box, she said they didn’t have any! “I can’t walk to Santiago carrying a piece of cake!”so I wrapped it in the paper knowing it would get destroyed and Brian carefully placed it in the tiny bag his treat came in. 

Santiago was bustling with people. As we approached the square, I noticed we were entering from the opposite side of the cathedral as I did for the Camino Frances. I wasn’t expecting it but seeing that cathedral again was breathtaking for a few reasons. First, when I arrived in Santiago four years ago, the building was under serious restoration and the entire front Of the building was obstructed by scaffolding and they put up giant images of the cathedral. Today, the building was fully restored and visible. It was magnificent! Every little details, the statues of St. James, the intricate artwork, the massive windows, it was all there. 

The other reason seeing that cathedral took me breath away is I realized the last time I saw it, I was a very different person and when I gazed up at it last time, I had no idea that moment marked Minute One of a long painful process of self discovery. All well worth it if course but I was struck powerfully by the fact that my last Camino required FOUR years of processing and in the same year I finally came to terms with the self growth the first Camino bestowed onto me, I returned for another dose...dear God if this adventure was as disruptive as the last! “Don’t worry” I told myself. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t get as much out of this hike.” Lol. It’s strange how that’s actually a relief. My first Camino was earth shattering and shaped who I am as an adult and for that, it will always be the most important event in my young life. But that kind of shaping as an individual requires a great deal of work and is tremendously difficult. I don’t think I’d have the energy to go through something like that again. 

The three of us took lots of pictures of each other in front of the Camino and basked in our victory for a bit. Eventually, we moved away from the cathedral to let the other pilgrims coming in enjoy their moment and we went to our Airbnb which was only one block from the square and were greeted by the young beautiful owner. I joked to Brian that he better wear earplugs tonight because people arrive in Santiago every day of the year and every night, people party like it’s the best day of their life.

After showers and a nap we headed out to celebrate! We went to several bars in the area and thanks to Brian’s amazing ability to decipher online reviews, he found us a bar that locals frequent. Pub Modus Vivendi  is actually an ancient underground building converted into a hip bar. As we drank the night away, I texted all my Camino family from my previous journey and it was wonderful to catch up with them. 

When we returned to our Airbnb, which by the way was four floors and did a number on our already sore thighs from all the climbing we did today, we didn’t feel like going to bed. I joked that since it’s nighttime and no one was around, we should get a picture of us in front of the cathedral with our unicorn onsies. The guys jumped on the idea! As I put my costume on I got really nervous that people would think we were mocking the camino. “Guys were going to get arrested! I can’t go to jail in this!!” But they were determined. They marched out of the house and towards the cathedral. Of course, suddenly there were people EVERYWHERE! I was so self conscious at first but people responded so positively! They were all celebrating and they all wanted to have fun. At first people were sneaking pictures of us but soon they would ask us to pose in a selfie with them. It was so much fun. We ran into this very drunk Italian couple who insisted on taking us to another bar and buying us a drink. We started walking with them but they were so drunk they lost interest as they huffed up the hill. So soon we found ourselves alone in the middle of town with our costumes on! People kept smiling and taking our picture. I wanted to get a drink since we were right in front of the bar but the guys said their suits were actually too tight to sit in!

So we wandered back to our hotel and called it a night around 12:30am. In the morning, we will go to the pilgrim’s office and get our Compostela before Vegemite heads to Berlin and Brian and I catch a flight to Paris.

I’m going to continue to blog until I head home so if you’d like to hear about us getting our Compostelas, my reflection of my second Camino, and our time in Paris, please join me! Also, some of you messaged me with interest in poling. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to receive my photos from an underwater pole shoot I did in August! I’ll post a few of them here. 

Thanks so much for the interest and for all your supportive messages along my journey! They mean the world to me! 






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