An early-morning pilgrim selfie in Melide.
Today was Holy Thursday – or Maundy Thursday as we call it in the UK, and we’re finally hitting our stride.
Having said that, today was definitely the hardest so far, not because of distance but because of heat and lots of climbs and descents. We set our alarm for 6.30, and quietly made our way out of the cosy Pensión Eirexe: our favourite on the Camino due to the friendly hospitaleros, cleanliness, comfort, and value for money. Sadly, the only bar in Airexe was closed, although they had promised they’d be open from 7 o’clock (“Spanish 7 o’clock,” said Carlos ruefully to a fellow waiting pilgrim). So we decided to leave without breakfast. We helped ourselves to a stamp in our credenciales from the desk in reception in our accommodation, filled our bottles from the spring, and set off with the moon still in the sky.
Some of the crosses and cruceiros we’ve seen along the way.
In the next place over the hill, Portos, the bar was also closed, and the lack of coffee and tostadas was starting to affect both our moods. We carried on to Lestedo where a stone cottage, a turismo rural called Rectoral de Lestedo, was opening for the day and the attendant let us in. We ate looking out over the hills and with another stamp we were off and out. From Lestedo it was less than 5km to the next larger town on the map, Palas de Rei. Walking into town after 2 days in the countryside was a welcome return to civilisation as I desperately wanted to go to a pharmacy both for some aftersun lotion and for a remedy for some (umm) digestive troubles I was having. I was able to find both pretty quickly and in small backpack-friendly packages, thanks to the helpful pharmacist (hurrah!). We grabbed another coffee at a bar and I was also able to replace my lost fleece (new word: polar) for €7 in a dedicated Camino shop, although most of the businesses in town were closed as Maundy Thursday is a public holiday in Spain.
Today was the first day without mist, and it really started to get hot at about 11am. As Palas de Rei is a stopping point in a lot of Camino guides, we saw crowds of pilgrims for the first time since we were in Portomarín. By the time we reached San Xiao do Camiño -the prettiest Camino village we saw during the whole time in Galicia – the heat was really starting to become oppressive as there was little shade. I grabbed a refresco in a bar, we looked at the church (locked), took pictures, and pushed on.
San Xiao do Camiño.
Rural Galicia – also taken in San Xiao do Camiño.
By the time we arrived in loverboy namesake Casanova just over 2.5km uphill later, we were both glad to sit down in the shade. There were a couple of bars and we just went to the first one. We each had a delicious bocadillo de tortilla de queso (cheese omelette sandwich) and an Estrella Galicia, and I took my boots off (blessed relief!). Opposite us and sitting next to one of the charming rustic elevated Galician granaries a couple of young girls, clearly not pilgrims, were having an animated, emotional conversation which culminated in an intense phonecall to a third party.
The rustic granaries in this style are only found in Galicia, although I remember seeing vaguely similar things in Astrurias and Cantabria. They are known as hórreos and they became emblematic of our Camino for me.
A typical Galician hórreo (photo credit).
The walk was just as hard after lunch – lots of climbing and descending a gravelly track, although in the afternoon we mainly had the Camino to ourselves. The hardest part, without a doubt, was the industrial estate which we had to walk through on the outskirts of Melide. It was all concrete, filled with memorials to dead pilgrims who expired walking the same route not so long ago, and with zero shade. It was all a bit much. Luckily I’d started dipping my buff in water every time we saw a stream or water source, and putting it back on sopping wet. It would dry again within 45 minutes, but would keep me significantly cooler during that time.
I stopped talking for the last 5km. It was too much effort. Once we reached Furelos, only 2km short of Melide, I slumped by a wall in the shade. Carlos said afterwards that he didn’t think I was going to make it to Melide, but of course I was. I just needed a moment.
In Melide we had our least favourite accommodation of the Camino – the Albergue Privado Orois. It was clean -and we had our own bathroom, always a bonus- but sterile and although it was recommended in our guidebook (the generally very helpful El Camino de Santiago en tu mochila) it wasn’t really a pilgrim place. Lots of people seemed to be looking for a cheap room so they could make the most of the Easter holiday and drunken partygoers kept us awake all night.
If my first impressions of Melide were bad, I quickly revised them. Outside of the shabbyish modern part, Melide has a truly beautiful casco viejo. As we approached the church, they were preparing for mass but a lady at the door instantly recognised us as pilgrims by our dishevelled appearance and plastered toes. She stamped our credenciales and as we left the church we heard gentle singing. It turned out that local women were singing in a parish building for Maundy Thursday, and maybe it was because I was exhausted after walking all day in the sun, but tears came to my eyes listening to it. It was lovely. We took an outdoor seat in a bar so we could listen – I sampled the local wine, albariño.
Parroquía de S. Pedro de Melide.
Melide also offered an exceptional dinner at the Pulpeira Ezequiel, which the guidebook said had an almost legendary status on the Camino. It seems they were right (order the tarta de queso!) and as we entered the communal tables were packed with pilgrims. We sat next to a couple of German girls, and I had my first conversation in English for several days (I’ve been keeping my Spanish-only promise, but it seemed rude to refuse to speak English to friendly non-Spanish speakers).
We went for an orujo nightcap by the church in the old town, and then off to bed.