Astorga, Spain to Santiago de Compostela

22-05-08 Thursday – Astorga to Villafranca del Bierzo
7 hrs 15 min 11.8 Av. 86kms Total 2228kms

Woke up at 06:00 but fell out of bed at 06:30 and on the road by 07:15, the earliest so far.
We got out of town easy enough but still managed to get on the wrong road at this small but very picturesque village of Castrillo de los Polvazares, (more name than village really) but it  was not our fault this time bad signs. So just before this village one needs to turn left to stay on the Le-142, and about 300m or so later turn right following the Comino signs.
The climbing started right after this right turn, not steep but a steady climb.
One just has to follow the Le-142 all the way. The scenery is very beautiful as one would expect in any mountains, and the Cabrera Mountains are no exception. The real climbing didn’t begin until the village of Rabanal del Camino, where the grade got a bit steeper. And it got even steeper near the top after the village of Foncebadon. One thing we were happy about was the weather.
We got to Cruz de Ferro and we felt great, it was the highest point of the tour, and it was also a very emotional moment for us. As the story goes, Cruz de Ferro is the place where people lay a stone that they have carried from home along the Camino. The stone representing the sins that ones done in his/hers life.
Now that is supposed to be the meaning but unfortunately like many other things it has become a circus, with bus loads of people getting off a few kms before the top walking up to the Cruz de Ferro, picking up a stone and taking it a few meters up the hill. Now that in itself was not all that bad but we saw this jerk on a motor bike ride up the hill for a few pictures. That really got to us and some pilgrims that we were sharing bench with got angry and after yelling at this asshole, he got down and back to his group removed his helmet and instead of seeing a teenager, he looked to be in his 50’s. Now that was real sad, seeing someone his age, belittle or cheapen a moment that people have cycled and walked hundreds/thousands of kms to visit.
After the fiasco, we continued on to the abandoned village of Manjarin and over another small climb before the fantastic downhill through a couple small villages and on to Ponferrada. Now this downhill was very steep and we would have hated to climb up. We had to stop several times not only to take pictures but to rest our hands from griping the breaks so tight. But the views were much better than the uphill.
In Ponferrada we stopped at the tourist office to get some information about camping’s and were told there is one near Villafranca del Bierzo about 25kms further along the Camino.
So after several dragging hills (at the end of the day), we found the camping, and what a shit hole it was. The grass was knee high in places only one tent with a motorbike was there and they had several large dogs walking around free, and to all this it started to rain hard. We went into the bar/reception and had a cup of coffee and thought about our situation for about 30 seconds, changed into our rain gear and got the hell out of there.
We rode a few kms back onto the main road and into Villafranca and found another tourist office where we got a good tip on a nice Hostel that was clean and reasonably priced. It was the right decision to leave the bad camping as the rain got even worst later that evening.
After washing up, we walked to the center of town for a pizza and a bottle of local wine. Needless to say we sloped good that night.

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The very new looking old village of Castrillo.

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Looking back at Astorga before the climbing began.

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Stopped for coffee in the village of Rabanal. From here on the real climbing began.

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Soon the real climbing begins.

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We’ve been seeing more and more of these signs.

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Monique in her element.

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A panorama of the area. Follow the road back and Rabanal is behind the hill on the left. Click to view larger.

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It was very cold on this hill but the excitement of reaching Cruz de Ferro made it bearable.

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Nearing the top. Click to view larger.

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Just left the stone that I carried all the way from home next to the cross.

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Monique left her stone next to the cross also.

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Stunning views from above. Click to view larger.

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Need to get down there.

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Going through the village of El Acebo de San Miquel.

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Great downhill ride. Click to view larger.

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Crossing the Rio Meruelo and the old Molinaseca Bridge. Also the Iglesia de San Nicolas on the right.

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Castill de los Templarios.

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Castillo de los Templarios.

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Old church in Ponferrada.

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Once in a while we came across a nice statue on what seemed to be a roundabout.

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The undulating road before Villafranca.

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Looking South from the N-Vl. The weather is moving in. Click to view larger.

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Finally made it to Villafranca. And the rain has come.

23-05-08 Friday – Villafranca del Bierzo to Samos
5 hrs 45 min 11.6 Av. 67kms Total 2295kms

Woke up at 06:00 fell out of our very comfortable bed at 06:30 hurried to get out only to find out the reception did not open until 08:00. So we walked over to the nearest bar for some coffee and that’s when we saw that last night’s rain was just the beginning of a low front (the size of Spain) that just moved in from the Atlantic and we knew then that today would be hell to pay going over the second highest pass of our tour at 1337m.
This morning though it was drizzling and after our coffee it had stopped so we got underway relatively dry. We rode along the N-Vl which ran next to the A-6 along this small valley between wooded hills. We passed through several small villages along the way but not really climbing yet.
The weather held out until the village of Las Herrerias when the first shower of the day came down and where it just so happened to be where the real climbing began. The going got tough from here all the way to the top of the first section of the climb at Pto de Pedrafita do Cebreiro at 1099m.  where we had to turn off the N-Vl and onto the the LU-633 heading WSW.
As soon as we got some supplies at Pedrafita and got on the LU-633 the tough climb began with many sections over 10%.  It was all going relatively good until just before the village of Linares when the real storm blew in with gale force winds and ice cold rain in our faces. It was extremely difficult to ride with our heads tilted sideways trying to keep the rain off our eyes and keep the bikes up. We fought our way to the nearest shop/bar that we sought to get some shelter and wait out the worst of the storm. By now we were soaked through and through, even with 2 t-shirts, sweater, windbreakers and rain jackets on. The only parts that were a bit dry were our heads, that were covered with the bandanas, helmets and shower caps over that.
When it did slow down some we continued on to the second summit at Alto do Cebreiro at 1300m. It continued raining on and off, lighter now, more like a heavy drizzle, until just before the third summit at Alto do San Rogue, 1270m. where it came down again real hard but this time there was no place to hide so we just put our heads down and pushed on to the fourth and final climb. The Alto do Poio at 1335m. is the second highest pass or the tour but with this atrocious weather it felt a lot tougher. We could see the clouds going over the road at speed and hoped that it would not be as bad going down but we were wrong.
The views going downhill were very nice even in these conditions. But half way down it started to rain hard again with gale force winds which forced us to take cover under some trees for a while, our brakes were beginning to fail now and we could not chance going faster than 20kph, and when it slowed a bit we continued down to the village of Triacastela. We thought about stopping here but we knew that we were still too high up so we continued on. And that’s when another downpour began, I mean it came down by the bucket with visibility down to about 10m and nowhere to hide. We were glad it did not last long and when we reached the village of Samos we decided that this was it, we had the worst day of cycling “EVER” of all our tours.
We were drenched, shivering cold and just felt miserable.
The first Hostel was fully booked, but they recommended a Hotel on the other side of the village which turned out to be the best Hotel we’ve stayed in on the whole tour. Hotel A Veiga, Samos, Galicia, (Google it), its priced well, very clean, super friendly hosts, great kitchen and the beer is cheap. If you are near this area we highly recommended you stay here.
As soon as we got into our room we decided we needed a day to recuperate from this extremely tough day. After a long hot shower we went to the bar soaked up some beers before we went to the hotel restaurant and ordered two “large” steaks which we wolfed down and went back to our room.
We slept good that night.

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Leaving Villafranca early in the morning. The old bridge is over the Rio Burbia.

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Monique talking to two Spaniards, we met them several times during the Camino and one last time in Santiago.

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Looking back at our Hotel (tall white building) on the right side.

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We did not know yet what the weather had in store for us.

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And now the A-6 is on the right of us. The mouth of the tunnel can just be seen.

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That’s the A-6 again. The storm can just be seen moving in.

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The climbing has begun. From here we could see the road ahead, center of picture.

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Looking back down. This picture was taken just before the first shower of the day.

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The A-6 again this time below us, just before Pto de Pedrafita do Cebreiro at 1099m.

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Just turned off the N-Vl and onto the LU-633. The real climbing begins now. The next 37kms will be torture.

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Even with this foul weather the views were still stunning. Click to view larger.

20080523035Feeling happy to have made it so high up.

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The second summit of the day.

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And the third. By this time the weather front has moved in.

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The statue tell the story.

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On the way to the last summit of the day. Click to view larger.

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Even in this terrible weather Monique is still smiling.

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Another weather front moving in.

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The clouds were blowing over the road. Click to view larger.

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Traditional hut.

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Panorama taken from in-between the showers. Click to view larger.

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Just before Samos another front moved in, by this time we weren’t smiling much. Just wanted to get off this mountain 🙂

24-05-08 Saturday – Samos
Rest day.

Today we didn’t do anything. After checking out the free laundry service of the hotel, (yes you read correct “FREE”) we took a walk through this tiny village before we retired to a nice and long siesta and waited for the kitchen to open for our diner.
And again the dinner did not disappoint, we had the pilgrims menu at 9 euros, and we had to force ourselves to finish, again great kitchen.
Tomorrow we have a longish day before our final destination of Santiago de Compostela. We just hope the weather improves a little.

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Statue of a pilgrim in Samos.

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Concello de Samos.

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Mosteiro de Samos, is one of the oldest in Spain.

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Another view of the monastery.

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Many informative plaques all around.

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Old chapel. Click to view larger.

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We were forced to walk around with flip flops, our shoes were drying in the room.

25-05-08 Sunday – Samos to Castaneda
7 hrs 12.2 Av. 85kms Total 2380kms

Woke up at 07:00 and were on the road by 08:00. We had our coffee paid our bill and were on our way pretty quick.
The sun was out on this clear morning and we felt pretty good after the rest day. But I must say it was real cold, looking back it was not such a good idea to send back the winter gloves as our hands were frozen.
The road was very scenic and there was quite a bit of mist in the valleys below. And after a few small hills we were heading downhill into Sarria and a very thick cold fog. In the center of town we found an open bakery and got some supplies before we started the climb back out of this valley.
The climbing was OK but we knew there was a very long climb coming up after Portomarin of over 350m with the first km at over 10%.
Now there were many small hills before but it went very smooth, especially in the morning.
The area around Portomarin is very nice indeed and cycling along the LU-633 was great. After Portomarin the long awaited big hill came and went, we were really worried about nothing it was hard but doable.
Just before Palas de Rei we got on the N547 which was smooth but the rolling hills did not stop. We continued on this road for a while and as the day wore on the weather began to close in again.
We stopped in the town of Melide and looked for a Hostel but the only place we saw looked rough so we continued on. Now so far we have been following the Camino route from the book by Clemens Sweerman, and the route he has chosen turned off the N547 at Melide but we decided to stay on the N547 all the way to Santiago.
After Boente there is this nasty climb to Castaneda and that’s where we saw this other touring couple walking towards what looked like a B&B so we stopped and asked them and sure enough we found out they stayed here before and when the owner showed up she said she had a free room. WOW we felt lucky to have found this because as soon as we got inside it started to rain again,  we had a tough day and were not sure if there were anything else ahead.
Later on while having this (I’ll try to be nice here) ok meal, we had a nice chat with our new friends Thomas and Lidia from Germany. They are just a couple like-minded people who love to tour.
We hope to run into them again in the future.

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Heading out of Samos on the LU-633, very early in the morning.

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Looking all nice and fresh after a great rest day.

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And a picture of the long early morning shadow.

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Cold and clear morning and the mist is still down in the valleys. Click to view larger.

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Heading to Sarria with some thick fog banks.

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Panoramic view of the Rio Loio near Portomarin. Click to view larger.

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Finally on the bridge over the Rio Loio, from the picture before.

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Great views.

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Looking back at the bridge we crossed over the Rio Loio.

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Portomarin.

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Old structure we think was for drying crops.

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Cresting another hill.

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We first met this guy in Astorga, and we saw him a couple of times always ahead of us, bloody cheat 🙂

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Heaving diner with Thomas and Lidia, the nice like minded couple we met near Castaneda.

26-05-08 Monday – Castaneda to Santiago de Compostela
4 hrs 11.8 Av. 47 kms Grand total 2427kms.

Woke up at 07:00 and had breakfast with the Thomas and Lidia before we got back on the road. By the time we got underway it started to rain again and it rained and rained and rained all the bloody 47kms to Santiago.
There were also many long and dragging hills along the N547 which made this last day or our tour real trying. About 20kms into the ride we stopped for a couple omelets and some coffee before we continued on and we ran into this two Spanish guys we’ve seen several time before along the route. Unfortunately they don’t know a word of English so the conversation was minimal.
Just after the airport in the outskirts of Santiago the sky opened up again and it came down by the bucket full. We were getting quite fed up with this damn weather by now, it’s not like we wished for sunshine but just to be dry, we only had a few kilometers to go.
We rode into the center and made a bee line for the Cathedral for the traditional photo’s before looking for a place to stay.
We checked out a few Hostels but either they were too far from the center, too expensive, didn’t want cyclists (no place for the bike’s) or didn’t have own shower.
After a couple hours searching we came across this place, not the cleanest but it clicked most of the boxes, 5 min. walk from the center, decent bar right next door and reasonably priced €40 per night which we thought very good considering the location.
After taking care of business we went into the center to get information on the best way to get to Porto, and also find out where Soeters is, that’s the company that we will send our bikes back home with. Having taken care of all that it was time for a Doner kabab and a few beers.
While walking around town we heard somebody screaming “Bon Camino” and when we looked we saw one of the Spanish guys hanging out of a taxi waving at us, those guys also seemed happy to have made it.
We seen many people that we’ve met on the road on our way here and it was nice seeing them again and just saying a hello.
It was also very nice just to sit back in the evening over a couple beers near our room and talk about our experiences of this difficult but also very rewarding tour.

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On the very wet N547

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Even with the rain we still smiled. Click to view larger.

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Yet another camino post.

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We just wished it wasn’t raining all day.

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Our goal is in sight.

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Made it and Monique’s smile says it all.

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A large picture our bike posing in front of this very beautiful cathedral. Click to view larger.

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With all the hardships we endured, it was an emotional time for both of us.

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Panorama of the Ayuntamiento de Santiago de Compostela taken from the steps of the Cathedral. Click to view larger.

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And the new weather front has moved in.

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Had to take shelter from this deluge.

27-05-08 Tuesday – Santiago de Compostela

Well we slept in this morning, fell out of bed around 10(ish) got some coffee, unloaded the bikes and a few other items at Soeters to be sent back home and just walked around town playing tourist.
We were planning to head for Finisterre, but time and the weather did not allow. Also we thought an extra day to visit Porto would be much better than Finisterre.
We feel it was the right choice as later the sky opened up again and it started to rain heavily.
We went back to the Cathedral for the special noon mass they hold for the pilgrims, and it was a very emotional experience for us and we think all the pilgrims should check out.
After the mass everyone greeted each other, shook hands and hugged.
A perfect finish to our tour.

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The special service they hold every day.

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We were too late yesterday.

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Tour of Santiago de Compostela. Click to view larger.

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Tour of Santiago de Compostela. Click to view larger.

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Tour of Santiago de Compostela. Click to view larger.

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Tour of Santiago de Compostela. Click to view larger.

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Tour of Santiago de Compostela.

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Finishing off the tour and an emotional day with with some cold ones.

28-05-08 Wednesday

Santiago de Compostela to Porto.

Today was a day of traveling. We took the cab to the bus station got a couple tickets to Porto laid back and enjoyed the ride.
The bus stopped at the airport in Porto and we went inside and asked about a B&B nearby. Sure enough there was one not 100m away. Clean, cheap and 50m from the metro that went to the center of town.
A perfect place to spend an extra day, visit Porto and be close to the airport.
Again today even being in the bus the weather was horrible with heavy showers coming every couple hours.

29-05-08 Thursday – Porto

Played the tourist today, got on the metro and headed for the center. I must say the metro here is very clean and efficient. It was a very fast ride into town.
We walked around a bit a took plenty of pictures. We found Porto to be cheap but also very dirty and we’ve seen it after several days of rain which isn’t good. We couldn’t imagine it being 35c, probably not a very good experience.
Later we found the river and also the very high bridge over it, took a few more pictures before this new storm blew with great speed and ferocity which forced everyone indoors.
When it slowed a bit we got out, climbed to the top of the bridge for some pictures and slowly headed back to our room.
We only got out for something to eat and when we returned another real ferocious storm blew in. We just hoped it would clear by morning so we could have a smooth flight home.

Following are some pictures of Porto, enjoy 🙂

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Click to view larger.

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Click to view larger.

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30-05-08 Friday

Porto to Brussels

Got up slowly this morning and made our way to the airport. We had a couple hours to kill so we just read the papers and had coffee.
This was our best tour so far. It has been the longest tour for us and we rode through France and Spain, two of the countries we truly love. We met people from all over the world and stay in contact with a few.
Riding the Camino to Santiago de Compostela is a ride we highly recommend to anyone that rides a bike. And we take our hats off to all those who walk it.
It has been a very nice vacation and a great experience, one that we will always remember.

Epilogue

01/06/2008

We have made it, 2500kms!
It was a fantastic tour and a great experience, toped off with a very emotional ending at the daily mass for the pilgrims in the Santiago cathedral. What a perfect finish.
Along the way we met many people from all over the world who were touring, and some very brave and adventurous who were walking the Comino.
We have cycled the nice paths along the Mass river, experienced the arrogance and indifference of the French drivers while getting into the city of Orleans in a heavy rain storm, seen some beautiful castles along the Loire river, rode through endless pine forests in France, seen the beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic ocean, sweated over the tough climbs in the mountains of Spain and endured a nasty storm going over the very tough last climb of the tour after Villafranca.
We were amazed at how many people were doing the Comino but was also disappointed at how some were acting like clowns at the Cruz de Ferro, not realizing how many hardships these people have endured to get there, very shameful.
But we will not allow the few jerks to spoil what was a fantastic tour and would recommend it to anyone who has the time to do it, religious or not.

Tailwinds, George and Monique