October 26, 2015
La Caridad to Ribadeo, 16 miles
Today’s destination, Ribadeo, isn’t just any old city on the Camino del Norte. It’s the point where we leave Asturias and enter Galicia, the region of Spain that’s home to Santiago de Compostela. Every pilgrim, no matter which of the many Caminos they are walking and no matter where they started, ends up walking through Galicia, and by crossing into it, we would start the final leg of our journey.
And then there’s the bridge….
To enter Galicia, peregrinos walking the Norte cross the Puente de los Santos Bridge, 612 meters long, high above the Ría de Ribadeo.
Ever since I’d learned about that bridge weeks ago, I had envisioned us striding across it triumphantly, ready to start the last stage and bring it home.
Unfortunately, before we could parade across Puente de los Santos today, we were going to have to convince ourselves to leave the shelter of the covered bus stop and retrace our steps back to the Camino.
To back up a bit, today was our last day on the Spanish coast, and the Camino cruelly took us nowhere near it (SO unjust), but we learned about a short side trip that would allow us one last glimpse of the ocean.
And the trip was worth it. The trail took us through a beautiful pastoral landscape and afforded some gorgeous views of the water.
Unfortunately, we walked for over an hour before realizing that we had somehow missed a key sign for returning to the Camino, thus going several miles out of our way. To make matters worse, it started to rain heavily right as we were having this realization, so we took shelter in a covered bus stop and debated what to do next. We had already walked over seven miles and we were both in pain (my foot, Dale’s shoulder); now we were so far off from the Camino that we would have to hike several extra miles just to get back on the path to Ribadeo. Argh. We sat there at the bus stop, pondering what to do, our eyes and thoughts repeatedly straying to the bus schedule posted on the wall. We were sorely tempted to bus the last miles to Ribadeo. It was easy to justify to ourselves—we’d given it our best shot, hadn’t we? It’s not like we hadn’t tried to walk the whole way.
But then there was the Puente de los Santos Bridge and those visions of skipping across it. I’m serious. This was a sincere image in my head, and a strong motivator. And the idea of crossing that bridge by bus instead of foot was just plain cheesy.
We fortified ourselves with nuts, M&M’s, and ibuprofen and then studied the maps. Dale figured out a route along backroads that would return us to the Camino eventually. Fortuitously, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I’d like to think that the universe was rewarding us for not taking the easy way out.
It took an hour or more of winding and wending our way through quiet countryside and small villages, but we eventually found our way back to the Camino. At that point, we probably had five miles left to hike, and unfortunately the ibuprofen was wearing off and we were both hurting again. But instead of indulging the dark thoughts that crept in (thoughts such as, “Lay down and die, sucker; you’ll never finish this godforsaken endeavor”), we both gritted our teeth, bore down on the pain, and said, “Screw you.” And later, when we started seeing lightening, and Dale told me, “I need you to move,” I did just that, picking up the pace more than I thought I’d be capable of, and we gradually covered the miles.
Finally, finally we saw a sign that said, “Ribadeo, 1 kilometer.” And there was the bridge.
Instead of sprinting, we hobbled, and since I never learned the metric system I also underestimated just how long 612 kilometers actually is (kinda long), but crossing the Puente de los Santos was a triumphant moment nonetheless. And the cherry on the top was seeing this sign once we were off the bridge and crossing under the highway to reach the albergue:
We had started the Camino in San Sebastian on October 1, and look how much we’d covered! We had actually walked a lot more than 492 kilometers because the Camino takes a very circuitous route from church to church and village to village. Pretty cool.
Tomorrow we start our walk through Galicia, and in 7 or 8 days, we will reach Santiago. And whether we stroll, sprint, or hobble into Santiago, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we finish this crazy, wonderful adventure.