Santiago de Compostela: Hotel San Martin Pinario


A deluxe room in Hotel San Martin Pinario [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

A New York friend recently embarked on the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago with her family which reminded me fondly of my own camino in 2013 which comprised the last 100km of the French Way (starting from Sarria in Galicia, Northern Spain). What really triggered a happy memory was the fact that one of the hotels they stayed in was the lovely Hotel San Martin Pinario, which I also had the pleasure to stay in albeit just for one night.

Located right in the heart of Santiago de Compostela, the magnificent looking hotel is conveniently sited directly across the famous Cathedral of Santiago, which is why it is also extremely popular with camino pilgrims.  A former monastery, the interiors of the building was given a thorough modern contemporary makeover whilst most of the traditional brick and wood structures were restored. Take the dining hall for instance -with its old-time high ceiling and wooden panelings intact, it looks almost like the Great Hall in Hogwarts seen in the Harry Potter movies.

The rooms’ styling is minimalistic yet filled with modern-day amenities bar a TV. As you see in the picture above, it has the look of a well maintained monk’s room of old. My room was small but functional for just one night. The hotel is highly popular because of its history and especially its proximity to the Cathedral, so advanced booking is highly recommended if you’d like to stay more nights here.


Cathedral de Santiago – Hotel San Martin Pinario is just a stone’s throw away on the right [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

Hopefully, I can embark on the Way of St James again sometime in future. In the meantime, I have tons of lovely memories of my 2013 camino.

If you are interested in information of what the 100km trip from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela comprises, just click here or on the Camino de Santiago header under the masthead of this blog. Hopefully, there will be some facts and tips that would prove useful if you plan to embark on the Camino de Santiago anytime soon. Buen Camino! 🙂

#TBTuesday – Buen Camino: Best Beer in Galicia!

L1040775If you know about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, you would know that July is the dedicated month of St James,with July 25 denoted as St James Day. One of Jesus’ disciples, St James the Elder is believed to have been buried at a spot in a city in the north of Spain called Santiago de Compostela in the province of Galicia where now stands the famed Cathedral de Compostela. Every year, thousands of people from all walks of life would trek hundreds of kilometres – between 850km (the longest route starting from France)  to 100km (the least you must walk to get an official certificate to declare you are indeed a “pilgrim” – over mountains, hill and valleys, towards Santiago. July, though, is the month where it really gets packed and crowded with pilgrims since, you know, it’s the month of St James!
20130917_141720I embarked on Mi Camino in the merry month of September 2013 ‘cos I wanted AC weather to walk in. All my adventures I have chronicled in my previous postings under the “Camino de Santiago” category. On the month of St James 2014 however, I would just like to pay tribute to one of the best beers I have ever tasted and which is found in the beautiful Spanish province of Galicia – Estrella Galicia! A light lager with a fine balance of malts and hops that is refreshing and only slightly gassy, it was one of the things that truly made my day every time I partake of it then! (Next to finishing the daily trek every day, ie, of course!) It is often served chilled from the bottle or from tap, and it goes well with practically everything!

Fine beer in a bottle is hard to come by. That’s why I’m so glad that locally, I can now get Estrella Galicia at Joe The Grocer (Mandarin Galleria, not sure about the Dempsey branch). Spanish tapas and Galician beer for St James Day, SET! (Or, as we say it here in Singapore, ON AH!)



Cathedral de Santiago: A Sight for Sore Feet

L1040999September 20, Santiago de Compostela – For many pilgrims who embarked on the Camino de Santiago or The Way of St James, the Cathedral of Santiago – where the tomb of St James the Elder, the disciple of Jesus who was the son of Zebedee and brother of John, lies – is truly a sight for sore eyes, or more aptly, sore feet. Whether you took the longest route (some 800km starting from France) or the last 100km from Sarria, you will be deliriously happy to see the sight of the Roman Catholic church, as it is not only regarded as a masterpiece of Romansque art with Gothic and Baroque touches, it ultimately announces that you have completed your camino…
L1050099There’s supposedly a couple of rituals that pilgrims  do when they enter the Cathedral – hug a statue of St James and a particular pillar, touch  the tomb of St James, etc. Regret to say, I didn’t do any of those as I was awed by the architecture and decor alone.
L1050028The basilica is huge and is actually shaped like a cross. Besides the impressive pulpit centrepiece, a number of galleries lined the sides of the pews and back of the altar, many depicting the life of Christ. An architectural marvel to look out for is the Portico de la Gloria which framed on the side entrances. Comprising three arches, the columns that act as its bases bear intricate cravings depicting  Christ after the crucifixion and  the 4 apostles who wrote the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

L1040975 copySWINGING GOOD TIMES: Arguably, the main highlight at the Cathedral is the Botafumeiro ritual. After seeing this breathtaking ceremony in actor-director Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way, it was one of the reasons that made me embarked on Mi Camino. Take note that this ritual is not performed at every mass and there’s no schedule to refer to. According to my guide Jesus, the church is requested by the city tourism bureau to perform it regularly at the Friday 7.30pm evening mass. Which is why our tour agency arranged for us to reach Santiago on a Friday. So thank God for that cos I missed it at the noon Mass but was able to catch it that evening. I would advise you to sit on the pews that flanked the pulpit. The monks (above) would be pulling the humongous incense burner – one of the largest in the world and weighing some 80kg, mind you – with the help of a giant pulley fixed at the dome of the roof and it will swing sideways above the side pews. Let me tell you as the incense fragrance fell over me as the Botafumeiro swung above the left pews, it’s an uplifting experience like no other. The ceremony lasts about 15 minutes, and is the only time you can take pictures or video as that is prohibited during Mass services. Here’s a video I took of the breathtaking ceremony…

LIKE A MONASTERY: Our last hotel for our tour was the truly magnificent Hotel San Martin Pinario which was literally a stone’s throw away from the cathedral – it faces the side door on the west (if I’m not mistaken). It was a former monastery that has been given a ultra modern contemporary makeover for the interiors although the ancient brick structure is maintained which adds to the hotel’s grandeur. The room is immaculate with the look of a monk’s room maintained (above right) except of course it’s now filled with modern-day amenities bar a TV. Highly recommended if you intend to spend a few days in the Old Town which you should.

L1040953THE LAST SUPPER: “The tour ends with dinner tonight with me at the hotel – The Last Supper with Jesus so to speak!” quipped my tour guide – whose name is pronounced Hey-Zeus – who relished making this statement at the end of every tour he makes. *roll eyes* Our last meal with the affable chap took place in this huge dining hall with long dining tables (below) which won’t look out of a place in a Harry Potter movie as tour mate Sandra said, “It looks like the hall in Hogwarts!” as she took pictures for her daughter. Food though was oddly underwhelming  although we have no complaints about the free-flowing wine.

One fun bit occurred when this  huge tour group which we suspected was Polish started singing at the the top of their voices after their dinner. Not to be outdone, our Irish ladies demanded that we stand up and sing something too. What resulted was individual talent-show-offing time such as Barbara’s Mary singing a blinder with Barbra Streisand’s ‘Summertime”; Sorcha’s Mary reciting a poem; and the group of seven who also has a Mary in their midst, sang an Irish ditty. Jessica and her sister Mary managed to get out of it, as did Americans Bob and Clare, and Jesus. I sang a Chinese nursery rhyme which went down well cos I didn’t realise it has the same tune as a French ditty. One good thing of singing in a “foreign” language is that no one knows whether you are doing it right or not. Well Phil and gang, if you are reading this, it’s actually “Three Little Mice” and not “Three Little Tigers”! *yuk yuk*

L1040981Well, that concludes Mi Camino Flashback. Will I ever embark on the camino again? “Hell, no!” I told most of them that night. But 2 months after, the urge of covering another route is getting stronger. The Finisterre Way, the only camino that begins from Santiago de Compostela and ends on the cliffs of Finisterre, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is mighty attractive. If there’s ever a next time, I will spread it over 10 days.

Meanwhile, for those who are considering or are already on The Way – Buen Camino!

Mi Camino Flashback: Day 6 – The Cathedral, The Cert & The End!

imageSept 20, Armenal to Santiago de Compostela (14km): It’s D-Day today. The last stretch before we enter the city where our final pit stop, the Cathedral of Santiago, stands. The goal of most pilgrims is to reach the city by noon in time for The Pilgrims’ Mass. To do that, one would have to be up real early (like 5am) if you are staying at Armenal the night before.


DARK KNIGHTS: Let me tell you it was still super dark at 0700 hrs after breakfast! We stayed at Hotel Armenal – the first on our tour that felt like a proper full service hotel – and  the Camino is just beside the restaurant. Joanna London joined us from her hotel which was located quite a distance away. Everyone had their torches on and as we walked up the hill slope, we looked like miners trotting up a dark tunnel, a truly surreal sight! I of course felt behind the rest soon after but it was stimulating to walk with just a tiny bright spot in front of you. Amazingly, a few people managed to find a small fruit stand that offers a stamp for the passport! My guide Jesus I swear can see in the dark (above left). He kept track of me every 50m or so without the need of a torchlight! By 0800 it was getting brighter and it was nice to see clearly what the fragrant trees look like. You also get a blissful kick seeing the orange sky slowly turning blue and that you are on holiday while people in the cars on the highways that you see once you get off the hill are busy rushing to work….

It’s more cityscape in the final lap to Santiago understandably. Our first pit stop at San Paulo, next to a big church under renovation, about 4km away was closed so we had to drag on to Lavacolla (above right) another 2 to 3 km away before I could have my first rest.
imageHILLS OF SIGHTS: As in previous days, Jesus went on ahead while I carried on at my own pace. Proud of myself as I made good time and managed to make it to the next pit stop, a camping site at San Marcos 5km away, in just 1.5hrs. Thereafter it took me just 30 minutes to reach Monte de Goto or the Hill of Joy where a giant monument in honour of Pope John Paul II aka The Pilgrim Pope’s visit in 1993 stands aloft on the hilltop (above ). Now, it was about 1100hrs when I reached here. IF I had just continued walked on, I’d had made it to the noontime Mass. On time at the finish line for the very first time on Mi Camino but noooooo…
image…I had to go check out these two statutes depicting pilgrims waving deliriously upon seeing Santiago on top of a small hill that was practically a mile away (top of page and above). The good thing is they are impressive and where they stand offers a panoramic view of Santiago and the first glimpse of the Cathedral located in the heart of the city. Still, it was clear I was probably the only pilgrim who made the detour. Enough! Santiago here I come!

CITY OF JOY: Here’s a warning. People will probably tell you that it’s just 5km to the Cathedral from Monte de Goto. Let me tell you, and my tour mates will back me up, it’s a much longer route than that. After a long and winding down slope from the hill, you will enter the city of Santiago de Compostela which although isn’t exactly New York City, is still a bustling self-contained capital of the province of Galicia. And the Cathedral, located in the Old Town – is literally on the other side of town, and the distance is probably at least 8 to 10km! This is where the bronze scallop shells on the cement pavements really come in handy. As well as any resident here who probably get asked for directions to the church by gazillions of pilgrims every day, year on end! So just carry on walking and try to be at peace cos you will notice that your emotions just seem to tense up in a city unlike when one is in the laidback countryside…
L1040864ST JAMES, AHOY!: I was literally walking in circles when I arrived in the Old Town as it’s really like the old Medieval towns you see in those King Arthur and Joan of Arc movies, majestic but very maze-like. There was no time to sight-see as all I want to do was to reach the Cathedral de Santiago. I’d long gave up on the noon Mass. By the time I saw the beautiful sight pictured above, it was already 1pm but still, I thanked God ‘cos I’ve completed my 100km Camino de Santiago! Blisters and all! Woo-hoo!
L1040874The church with its Gothic design is truly awesome, both inside and out. The Mass had ended by the time I went in in search of my tour mates to have lunch together. Thank goodness, there’s an evening Mass every Friday and the botafumeiro ritual will be performed then as well, was so afraid that I would missed it! Once assembled, Jesus took us all to the Town Office where a long queue was snaking up a two-storey building to get our Certificate of Accomplishment to prove that we have at least completed 100km of the Camino de Santiago. 🙂wpid-20130920_171259.jpgSEAL OF APPROVAL: Here’s the cert which now hang proudly on my wall next to my computer at home. The cool 1euro scroll holder on the left – which Irish tour mate Barbara kindly paid for me –  is practically the only thing that the Office sells to raise funds to serve thousands of pilgrims who arrive every day. I don’t think I have ever been that thrilled to receive a cert in my entire life. By golly by the grace of God, I did it!

Next up: The awesome hotel that was once a monastery, the stunning Cathedral and its amazing botafumeiro ceremony, and last but by no means least, The Last Supper with Jesus…

Mi Camino Flashback: Day 5 – Good Company Keeps You Going, Cabs Help Much Too…

DSC_1246Sept 19, Arzua to Armenal (23km): Just one more day to reach Santiago de Compostela and my tour group finally got the chance to take a group shot: 13 Irish, two Americans and one cute Singaporean. In the past 2 decades, I’ve grown accustomed  to travelling overseas on my own and enjoying it. For Mi Camino however, I’m glad I made the decision to go with a tour group rather than winging it on my own. I was blessed to get a cool, fun group of walking enthusiasts who showered support and encouragement by the truckloads, without which I doubt I would carried on walking till the end. As we started out from Arzua, ex-teacher Sorcha said to me, “I’m really impressed by your spirit. Despite your problems with pain and all, you just kept on going.” Aw shucks. I’m not that brave. I just hate losing to myself…

L1040751IT’S TOO DARN HOT:  Though slopes are less  steep towards Santiago de Compostela, it’s not exactly a breeze for me. Country tracks are still rough while tarred roads are tough on the feet as well. Despite bursting my blisters – yes, I finally succumbed to that method – my feet were hurting quite a bit. Didn’t help that it was rather hot for a mid-September day and there were no decent thick bushes along first 5km to take a pee either. Thank God then for the roadside cafe which actually had a signboard saying, “Ask for toilet!” It cost 50 euro cents but it was worth it.

L1040747TALK THE WALK: I discovered that singing songs that I can’t remember the lyrics to help me not think of the pain shooting from my feet. Speaking to Jesus (the guide) when not gasping for breath after a steep slope also helps. After our first pitstop at Calzada, a very long and rough brownish  stretch of track was made easier when one of Jesus’ fellow tour guides, an elderly Irish gent with a wicked sense of humour, chatted with us along with his companions till they decided to move on ahead.

Soon I was on my own as Jesus walked ahead as well. I continued at my slow pace, taking in the greens of Galicia. The pines were beginning to show autumn colours, there were still rows and rows of corn, and for the first time, we started to see lots of flowering blooms of every size and colour on the route (pictured below).

TALK THE WALK II: By the time I caught up with Jesus at our 2nd pitstop at Salceda and way past noon, I’d decided that I was going to cab back for the rest of the journey. Jesus, as usual, exclaimed “but we’re almost there!” Not. There was another 11km or so to go and I know I won’t make it till dinner time and I wanted to rest well before the big day tomorrow. Still, Jesus managed to coax me to trek on to our lunch point another 5km away and I reluctantly agreed. Physically I was fine, it was just the pain from the lower back downwards that was killing me.

After a quick stop to the nearby Farmicia (my new best friend) for yet another supply of Compeed blister plasters – they are arguably the top money makers in Galicia, next to Galicia beer and cheese! – off we went. Soon after, we were caught up by the London trio of Joanna, Graham and Penny. As Joanna and Jesus walked on ahead, Graham and Penny kindly accompanied me at my pace and we had a good conversation going  talking about everything about London to Singapore which made my pain easier to bear, bless them. One thing they couldn’t help was the hot weather which I swore was about 30C! “Graham, the one from Singapore is saying it’s too hot!” quipped Penny at one point, when I kept complaining about it for the umpteenth time!
GALICIAN GRUB: At our lunch stop at Empalme, after walking 15km, I waved the white flag. I was awfully tired and drained. Jesus promised to call me a cab after lunch and I heartily ordered a Galician beer, a Spanish hamburger and stole his tasty basil-laced French fries. We discussed interesting topics such as the Spanish economy, employment rate and how much Jesus could make if he works in Madrid instead.

L1040788HAVE CAB WILL TRAVEL: After lunch, Jesus walked on, whilst I waited for the cab. One thing great about Spain is that there is free Wi Fi practically in every retail outlet which was great as I get to whatapps my friends back in Singapore. I also waved to every pilgrim cyclist who passed by. Cyclists have to travel at least 200km to get the certificate at the end. My two cab rides covered some 14km. As our starting point Sarria is actually 111km away from Santiago, I had already resolved to walk round the Santiago Cathedral 3 times when I get there to make up for the 3km short fall. I had no regrets cos I know my body need to rest before the trek into Santiago which demands a very early 6.30am start in order to reach there by noon. I doubt I will make it by noon but by the Grace of God, I just want to get there in one piece…

Mi Camino Flashback: Day 4 – Me Time with the Big Man Upstairs

L1040714Sept 18 – Melide to Arzua (13km): What a difference a day makes. One day killer blisters made me wished I’d never embarked on the Camino de Santiago; the next day, with my sore feet snugly fitted in a comfy, open-toed pair of  Teva sandals, I was a whole new person ready to take on hail and brimstone on the Camino. Okay, not that dramatic. I was just happy to be able to continue my Santiago de Compostela journey with much less pain. After much rest and a good night’s sleep, coupled with a good breakfast of coffee and a delicious garlic croissant, I was truly in good spirits on Day 4.


KINDRED SPIRITS: I had told guide Jesus to go ahead and leave me on my own as I couldn’t get lost even if I tried with all the yellow arrows. Just 100m down though, I was joined by the dark-haired, red-coated girl I waved to yesterday. Joanna is from London and I thanked her for not being Irish! (No offence, Irish tour mates!) Travelling solo and unguided, she revealed that she recognised me as when she started her 100km from Sarria, the first people she saw was Jesus and me! What’s more, we shared the same tour agency too, CaminoWays. Cool connections!

Our first stamp stop was this lovely 19th century Santa Maria de Melide church (above left), whose priest was dressed in layman clothes and enthusiastically explaining the decor to all visitors (pity I don’t understand Spanish!) Later on, Joanna introduced the English couple she made friends with, Graham and Penny – yea, more English people! – who told me that they visited  Singapore before and found our famed Changi Prison Museum, which tells of the Japanese  Occupation of Singapore during WWII, moving. I totally agree.

ME TIME WITH GOD: After the trio went ahead, I had a good two hours walking on my own. The weather was extremely beautiful, bright but not hot, and the routes were much flatter and lined with beautiful huge trees. You feel safe everywhere on the camino, even while walking alone. I made time to observe His Glory in the nature around me and it was really blissful just being able to walk and talk with God, thanking him for all things in life (blisters and all). It was probably the most enjoyable part of Mi Camino. At one point, I asked myself: “Would I rather walk in pain on the Camino or deal with unreasonable and ungrateful clients at the office?” After picking the former in a split second, my 50+ km journey thereafter was frankly a breeze…

SELLO MEANS STAMP: During a scenic forest stretch, I had to cross a small stream via a slippery-looking rock bridge. Praise God that despite my non-grip sandals, I managed to make it to the other side safely. That’s when I came across a guy (above left) selling camino souvenirs such as tee-shirts, scarves and bags. He has a “sello” sign and I didn’t realise then it meant “stamp” and not “seller”. Later, Jesus explained that because of his prosthetic leg, this chap would donate 10% of his sales to a fund that helps others who need prosthetic legs. I regretted not buying anything upon knowing his story, so if anyone of you reading this chanced upon the chap, please buy something from him, thanks. Also look for sello signs like at this unmanned fruit stall (above right). Just stamp  your passport, leave a donation, pick up a fruit and be on your way.
BRIGHT BLUE SKIES: When I reached the first stop Boente, I caught up with a few others including Jesus and Jacintha who was fussing with her hat. After a nice cup of cappuccino, and all my blisters re-plastered, I continued with Jesus in tow and got to see green grapes on roadside vines (above left) and the nearby Santiago Church which offers free bookmarks and whose priest shook hands with every visitor asking them where they are from. You will also get to see a lot of cows – the brown ones are those that provide milk for the fine cheese that Arzue is famous for.

L1040722A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: At our lunch stop at Ribadiso de Abaixo, a solid Gothic medieval bridge (above) and tour mates Phil, Mary I and Annette greeted us. “We soaked our feet in the river!” yelled Phil. Alas, I only had time for lunch at this beautiful village. The last 3km was mainly on tarred tracks through residential areas.  I learnt to change layers fast on the road with a backpack on as we experienced quick weather changes – rainy one minute, hot sun the next! I had more me time too as Jesus had to go ahead when some tour mates had problems at our next hotel. I carried on singing, whistling, and praying while I walked. Still, it was a great sigh of relief to finally see the Arzua town sign!
20130918_144926HAT’S OFF FOR JACINTHA: Upon arriving at Hotel Pension El Retiro, tour mates having lunch gave me a rousing applause, the sweet suds. I then had probably the best meal on the trip – a cold glass of Estrella Galicia beer and a sumptuous plate of fried chicken drumlets. Yum!

Here’s a funny story. As we were eating, I turned to Jacintha and asked, “BTW, did you leave your hat on a milestone?” Startled, she admitted she did and Jesus and I had a laugh telling everyone how shocked we were to find Jac’s recognisable hat on a milestone and wondered if she left it there, lost it, or did something happened to her. A flustered Jac just wanted to know what did we do with it. “Oh thank God!” she cried when we said we left it where it was, amid bellows of laughter from the rest. And thank God indeed cos Jac had used her hat to represent “sins and misgivings” etc, just like what most other pilgrims would do with stones, pebbles or shoes!

Lesson to be learnt on the Camino: Never pick up any item from milestones or you might just get burdened with someone else’s sins!

Mi Camino Flashback: Day 3 – The Agony of De-Feet…

L1040576My pain threshold is rather high. Ask my masseur or reflexologist. “Pain or not?” they always ask as they knead with great strength onto my pressure points. “Of course pain. But I won’t scream till it’s REALLY pain,” is my usual reply. For someone who suffers from lower back pain (leading to sciatica) and other body aches due to the digital age, chronic pain is something I’ve grown accustomed to. Indeed it would take a severely unbearable pain to make me yelp like a hound dog. Which brings me to Day 3 of Mi Camino…

Sept 17, Palas de Rei to Melide (15km): At 15km, today should be a breeze… Well, it started bright enough. Despite two heavily plastered feet covering 5 huge blisters, it was a miracle alone that I could insert me trotters into my hiking shoes. (Which on hindsight was probably a mistake – should have gone with open-toe sandals.)


TEA BAG LADY: Tour mate Katherine (far left in pink) and I were the first to reach the hotel’s dining hall for breakfast. Katherine is a special agent. Though pots of tea were available, her group of 7 friends prefers branded tea and Katherine is the guardian of the tea bag stash. Whenever someone needs one, all they have to do was to approach Tea Bag Kat to collect it from her. Certainly not a woman to mess with!

TOWN SIGHTS: As you weave in and out of Palas de Rei, you’ll find old and modern buildings with interesting sculptures at nooks and corners. One common yet unique structure you’ll see at almost every farmhouse is the “corn shed” (below right) – some centuries old, while others modern-looking. To get a pilgrim stamp, check out the rustic San Tirso Church (below left).
BLISTERING AGONY: A couple of downhill slopes, rocky and sandy, proved to be my undoing. My blistered left little toe was now super sore, as were the other blisters on my feet. I only realised how slow I was when I took 3 hrs to travel 6km to Casanova! With another 9km to go, I would not reach our destination Melide by noon but a good 4-5 hrs later . Urgh!!

My agony was lighten somewhat when a solo Irish trekker asked to join me and my guide Jesus for a short while. When we remarked that we have met a lot of Irish, she said Irish Customs had told her that there were 3,000 of them on the Camino as we speak! As she was a nurse, we discussed “to poke or not to poke blisters”. Jesus says he does, while we ladies say no in case of infection. It’s definitely a subject for continuous debate.

I don’t remember much of the scenery after this. All I could remember is having to find a rock to sit on and check my miserable toes, and the nice people who stopped to ask if I were fine and offered their sympathies when they heard it was blisters. There was the German blond lady with a huge smile, two brunette American ladies with giggly voices, and this goateed Caucasian guy who claimed he was from Singapore. I’m still amazed that the latter could recognised my Singaporean accent despite my screaming through clenched teeth!
L1040604A MARYTR BE, YOU NEED NOT: By this time, I had already decided that I was not going to be a superhero and asked Jesus if he could call me a cab at our next stop Casa Rural. As providence would have it, there was a taxi sign just off the cafe which flanked a residential stretch. Hallelujah! I was now walking in my socks cos I can’t get my feet back into my shoes.

After a quick bite, Jesus decided to walk on while I waited for the cab with a wavy-haired – yes, you guessed it – Irish lass named Mo who had badly twisted her ankle the day before. In the cab, Mo said she had planned to walk the camino, party in Ibiza, before going to London for a power meeting. She thought she could walk off the strain but it got worse. “I wasn’t planning to be a marytr anyway,” she attested.  We reached my Melide hotel, Carlos 96, in no time which caused Mo to quip, “You could have walked,” before quickly adding with a laugh, “I’m kidding!” I waved goodbye as she went on to Arzua another 13km away.


NO PAIN NO GAIN: At the hotel, after a good soak in the bathtub, I proceeded to re-bandage all my blisters. I’m not going to show you the graphic pictures but basically I lost my entire toe nail on my little left toe and half the skin on the little right toe. The rest I left them be hoping they will subside on their own.

Though I was downcast about not being able to complete today’s trek by foot, coming back early allowed me to do two things which I didn’t get to do in the first two days – having drinks with my tour mates and touring the town we are in. About 2pm, I joined Jesus, Jacintha, Sorcha (“Irish for Sarah”, I was told) and Mary (3rd of four) in the hotel bar. Sorcha sweetly bought me a beer for “making it to the hotel”, bless her. With nice cold beer and free potato salad, we discussed everything under the sun including tourism and the myths of the scallop shells. The American ladies from the morning arrived at the same hotel and I teasingly greeted them with a “Haha, beat you!” to which Mary III retorted with a laugh, “That was mean!”

MELIDE: Thereafter, I  walked into town to check out the sights. Praise God I was able to walk comfortably in my Teva sandals. Attractions here include a 7th century church (above left) which looks stunning against a clear blue sky and next to it is reportedly the oldest cross in Galicia dating from the 14th Century. A town of 14,000 people,  Melide is self-contained with shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants including a famous one that serves octopus. (My tour mates didn’t like it though.) Most shops however observed siesta from 2-5pm.

Along the way, it was a thrill to wave at people  whom you recognised from the camino. These include the German lady and her walking companions and a curly-haired brunette in a red coat whom I would get to know better the next day.

It was then back to the hotel to blog and have a nap before dinner. A friend whatapps to tell me not to be so downhearted but to remember that taking a cab is also making use of God’s providence. If not, I may not get to enjoy my rare afternoon activities. Always look at the glass half full, rather than half empty. Alrighty then…

1. If you have pain of any kind while walking, sing or talk to fellow trekkers as it help to forget the pain albeit for a short while.
2. Bring along sandals or slippers in case your feet get too swollen to wear hiking shoes or even track shoes. And thick socks.
3. “Worst case scenario, there’s always taxis, m’am,” which was what my tour agency told me before I arrived in Spain which helps a lot. Cabs are available in every town – you just need to know the number and have a working phone. Fares ranged between 7-10 euros for distances between 5-10km (and also depending which town the cab is coming from).

Mi Camino Flashback: Day 2 – The Luck of 13 Irish Women

L1040488Sept 16, Portomarin to Palas de Rei (25km): “You’re so far away from home!” echoed almost every Irish person I met on the Camino de Santiago after I told them I hailed from Singapore. And believe you me there are HUNDREDS of Irish people on the Camino at any one time! I had 13 in my tour group alone! (Plus one American couple whom I suspect have Irish blood in them..) Just throw a scallop shell at any direction and I guarantee it will hit an Irish pilgrim…

No matter what time you start out on The Way, a good breakfast helps…

20130916_070526CAMINO BREAKFAST: On the first night, our guide Jesus already informed us that breakfast in Galicia is simple: bread (hard rock buns to be exact) with condiments, croissant or cake, slices of ham and cheese, coffee/tea and juice. Certain hotels served buffet-style and in which case you will have more choices like cereals and fruits. It’s not fancy but it’s decent.



LONG & UPHILL PATHS: Today’s route has long stretches of roads which means – thank God – lots of flat ground. But that doesn’t mean there’s no steep slopes. No sirree. The moment we crossed the mighty Rio Mino at Portomarin, a very steep long stretch of hill slope awaited us (far left). All I can say is at least it was in shady woodlands. Even so, it was a chilly cold misty morning and I kinda regret not bringing my gloves or heat pads. But it’s still bearable and anyway I was soon sweating as I inched my way to the top where we finally see soothing tree-lined views of the countryside (pictured top). Along the way, you will also see a lot of crosses tributes (above right). Leaving stones or other items especially at the foot of crosses or top of milestones is a pilgrim ritual. Others would leave notes, messages, photos of loves ones as a form of a tribute or another.


For someone born and bred in a concrete jungle, and loves travelling to big cities, the Spanish countryside was really an eye-opener for me. One moment it’s green and dewy, with the lovely smell of pine, the next it’s like a twilight zone as a thick coat of mist covered the highways and the trees.  Jesus the guide is a native of Santiago de Compostela. As a hospitality graduate, it’s no qualms for him to trek 100km to and fro 3x a month to guide people from around the world  – “But so far, mostly Irish,” he quipped – to his beloved birthplace. His quest right now is how to get pilgrims to stay longer in Santiago as most would leave after attending the mass at the Cathedral de Santiago. His mission, I told him, is to set up enticing 3D2N stay-overs at Santiago. He’s working on it. *thumbs-up*

PIT-STOP PASSAGES: As there was much distance to cover, our first stop didn’t come along till 8km later at Gonzar. While queuing for the toilet, chatted with a lady who’s Irish (surprise, surprise) who explained that the weather is warmer here than Ireland in September and hence walking enthusiasts like her flocked to Galicia. Other than that, she wasn’t quite sure why there’s so many of them here in Spain! Lunch at Casa Molar in Vendas de Naron is another 5km away but at least I had the chance to bite into a truly awesome Jamon sandwich and delicious cold can of Coke. Even a slight rain didn’t dampen my spirit until we turned the corner and there lies a super steep hill, tarred and paved with pebbles. Lord have mercy…

L1040530AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS: At Ligonde 4km down, look out for this cross (above).  I learnt about the pilgrim stone ritual from Emilio Estevez’s stirring movie “The Way”. The stone is to represent your sins or problems that you would like God to wipe away forever. Of cos you can actually do this anywhere but since it was a camino ritual I wanted to do it. So, when we arrived at the iconic 17th century stone cross that represents the life and death of Jesus (the Christ, not the guide), I placed my two pebbles from Singapore at the foot, said a prayer and offered thanksgiving to the Lord. It’s all good.



ARE WE THERE YET?: Our last stop was at a cafe famous for its giant ant sculptures (their stamp is cute too with a row of ants!) Here we caught up with a few  group members and I also discovered I had accumulated 5 giant blisters on my feet…

What happened next was arguably the longest 5km of my life. We had already covered 20km over 8 hours, and I was utterly shacked. “How close are we?” “Quite close” is Jesus’ standard answer which I’ve long learnt that it meant “it could be if you walk faster…” Not with the blisters which were now truly hurting. It didn’t help also that I didn’t take a loo break at our last stop and there was no decent bushes for me to pop into.

Hours ticked by before I was about to demand for a taxi when Jesus called out, “Congrats! We’re here!” Hotel La Canaba, a log cabin-styled hotel, was located on the fringe of Palas de Rei and hence I thought we were still a long way off. Utterly relieved was an understatement…

L1040561At the lobby, tour mates who were already having their second bottle of wine, gave me a rousing welcome from the balcony, bless them. “You made it!” Thank you thank you, barely really, I muttered with a strained smile. I was so tired I didn’t join them despite loving wine just as much but hit the bed immediately after a quick shower…

WHAT MATTERS IS: Later on, tour mate Phil (short for Philomena) told me that she had sent my blog posting of my tough first day to her daughter in Ireland who felt for my pain. She text her mum saying, “(Marguerita) will make it! How could she not when she has the luck of 13 Irish women with her?” Well, if you put it that way. How could I not indeed? Here’s to the next 52 km then!

Mi Camino Flashback: Day 1 – At Your Own Pace, Carry On

L1040388Sept 15, Sarria to Portomarin (23km):  “Are you able to walk 25km a day, m’am?” asked the tour agency politely. Think so. I can brisk-walk 5-6km easily in an hour. I have gone hours on end pacing floors and floors of a shopping mall. I’d spent 7-8 hrs walking around Orlando theme parks a-okay. So yes, 25k a day is not a problem, I said…

…BIG MISTAKE. It totally escaped the unfit sud that I am that the Spanish countryside may just be filled with undulating landscapes filled with steep slopes of all kinds. Technically I can walk 25km a day – but a rough countryside is a different story. On hindsight, I should have embark on a 10-day Camino, and walk at a leisurely pace of 10km a day instead. Looking back, it’s by the grace of God that I managed to do it in 6 days and survived!

UPS & DOWNS: On Day 1, it didn’t take me long that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. The moment we kicked off from our hotel at 0745, the first route consist of a staggering long, steep flight of stairs. By the time I get to the top of it, I was totally out of breath. “Remember the sights!” I told myself. So as I huffed and puffed, I dragged my Leica to shoot the panoramic view of Sarria and the quaint 13th century Magdalena Monastery (above right).

L1040385Downhill was another story . Barely after the steep climb, came a steep downhill slope paved with loose pebbles (above). It’s easier on the lungs but not for a creaking knee that threaten to snap with every step. And with hiking shoes that is not totally broken in, what happens next is that your poor little piggies crashed against hard leather as you gingerly make your way down praying you won’t slip. In a word, it hurt. Like hell.

Throughout the trek ,I only have problems with the steep slopes (“Who doesn’t?”, quipped my guide Jesus) – whether it’s paved with pebbles, rocks, sand or tar. I couldn’t move faster on those, so I try and make up when on flat ground. It’s not a race I reminded myself, I just want to complete Mi Camino in one piece…


PIT-STOPS & SELLO: Thank goodness that along the route you will find resting places such as cafes, restaurants, or albergues (dorm -like hostels). This is  where one can find the stamps ( or “sello” in Spanish) that one needs for the pilgrim passport or pick up a pilgrim scallop shell (above right). At our first stop at a cafe at Barbedelo, I caught up with two tour mates, sister duo Jacintha and Mary (one of four Marys) and found out I’m already an hour behind. The cheery ladies (2 of 13 Irish ladies on my tour) advised me to go at my own pace. After being assured by Jesus that I’m not holding up the rest, I walked at a pace I’m comfortable with and start having a longer look at the lovely scenery, unique centuries-old churches, and farm animals such as the cows and horses.


GRUB & GROG: F&B throughout Galicia is good and reasonably priced. At our second stop at Ferreiros (13 km in), a meal of sausage, egg and wedges and two Cokes cost less than 5 euros; a 3 -course pilgrim set lunch cost just 9.90 euros. Coffee, from expresso to cappuccino, is great and the best beer is Estella Galicia, light and refreshing. Some albergues like the one above left left chairs and drinks out front without anyone tending, and any pilgrim is welcome to buy the drinks and have a rest before moving on, bless them…

FELLOW PILGRIMS: As we approached the tail end, two things kept me going – the thought of a nice hotel bed and shower, and everyone greeting you with a Buen Camino. One pilgrim who caught my eye was this smiley girl in purple with two pairs of hiking shoes hanging on her haversack. She walked with a spring in her feet and then minutes later I found her sitting on a stone wall (above right) and sketching in a book. A day later we would meet her again and learnt that she’s a new Zealander named Kiri (“but everyone calls me Kiwi!”) and she had been travelling more than 200km from Santiago. Friendly and chirpy, certainly one of the bright and shining stars on The Milky Way!

L1040450PORTOMARIN: The Medieval Arch Bridge  (above) is one of the most enduring sights I’ve ever seen. It means the end is near!! (Hallelujah!) Well, we still had to walk across that long bridge, climb another flight of steps (a shout-out to Macho Pilgrim who hi-fived me at the top for making it alive!) and walk a short mile to our Hotel Villajardin, which praise God has simple but clean comfy rooms, with good food and free Wi-Fi. It’s also just a street away from the town centre where you will find the other attraction, St Nicholas Church, and a host of eateries and shops selling  souvenirs, walking sticks and travel necessities. Upon arriving at 1530, I learnt from another Irish tour mate Mary (second of four) that I was merely an hour behind the last of them. The main thing, she said, was that I made it. Yes! 🙂


1. Hiking shoes – According to Mary II, she went through 10 pairs before breaking-in the perfect pair;
2. Weak Knees – Bring knee guards, athlete tape (either Western or TCM types) for support; and muscle cream for massage; walking stick will be a big help, even a branch or staff;

Mi Camino Flashback: The Arrival at SCQ-Sarria


It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure. Quite possibly the first-and-last-time too, but then again, I have absolutely no regrets of embarking on the Camino de Santiago. Also known as The Way of St James, the Milky Way, the Jacobean Way or The Strange Road to Santiago, its a pilgrimage trail that runs through the Galicia province northwestern Spain, leading to Santiago de Compostela wherein lies the Cathedral of Santiago, where legend has it the remains of one of Jesus’ disciples, St James, are buried.

These days, the route doesn’t just attract pilgrims on a religious or spiritual journey, but is also popular with walking groups, hikers and backpacking enthusiasts from all over the world. At any one time, there will be thousands of people walking on the camino, famously marked by yellow arrows and scallop symbols, at different times and sections (depending on which route you take, it runs from 15km-650km, and there is no one route that is more important or less significant). Mi Camino was, I felt, a calling from God to make time to walk with Him, away from a big city. How physically difficult it was going to be for me, He seemed to have left that out on purpose but I digress. The one thing that every pilgrim, religious, spiritual or otherwise, will take from the Camino de Santiago is the unconditional fellowship and camaraderie between people of all races, of all nations…

From 14 to 20 Sept 2013, I walked the last 100km from Sarria to Santiago, ‘cos it’s the shortest distance that enables you to receive a Certificate of Accomplishment. Well, I’m proud to say that I managed to get that but not without lots of pain and humbling moments. Here’s my adventure in detail in hope that it will proved useful to others who may want to embark on it…


Sept 14, Santiago de Compostela-Sarria: This was what greeted me at the only cafe at the Santiago de Compostela airport, before my guide Jesus (pronounced Hey-Zeus and a cutie at that) from, an Ireland-based tour agency that specialises in Camino tours, came and greeted me. I’m now a pampered traveller. Thanks be to God that I have reached a point in my life where I need not budget my travel spending to the last cent but is able to pay for certain comfort and convenience. As it was my first time in Spain, I didn’t want to risk wasting time checking for things in an unknown place. I chose a pre-paid tour that will collect me at the Santiago airport, sent me to Sarria (111km and a 2-hr bus ride away), provide me with meals (breakfast and dinner), book all my hotels for me (7-8 on this trip alone) and collect my luggage from hotel to hotel. There are travellers who just have the agency booked the hotels for them. There are B&Bs and dorm-like places known as albergues available.

L1040366Most people start their trek first thing in the morning, so it’s best to arrive at your hotel the day before and just before dinner. The Spanish have their dinner late at 8pm. So arriving at Santiago in the early afternoon will have you arriving in good time at Sarria before dinner and have a good rest before the trek next day. (If you have a late arrival, some people stop over at Armenal, 15km from Santiago, before travelling on to Sarria or elsewhere.)

Hotel Oca was our Sarria hotel and for a one-night stay, it’s okay but if you could find another hotel elsewhere, I would recommend that. The room was spacious and relatively clean, as was the bathroom, but the bedcover and mattress were rather worn. The hotel also doesn’t have a restaurant so we trotted just a short distance down the road amidst a woods area to a restaurant called Carta de Vino that served decent food and good wine.


Well, our First Supper with Jesus went deliciously well (hee, hee). Spanish portions are huge and they love serving big huge crunchy bread with either butter or olive oil as starters. I felt bad not being able to finish my pasta starter and main course stewed beef with potato wedges but the portion were really huge. And did I mention the wine is good?

20130914_211351After the meal, some members of our 17-strong group went to a outdoors/camping store just a street away to get some last-minute necessities. FYI, the tap water in Galicia is safe to drink, so I didn’t spend much on bottled water. What I spent most on during my 7-day trek is – wait for this – Compeed blister plasters. Trust me, you will need a lot of these.

Here’s a list of must-haves if you are embarking on the Camino de Santiago in September:

1.  Hiking shoes that are truly broken-in – as in they are “moulded” to the shape of your feet “broken in”
2.  Hiking sandals – in case your hiking shoes ain’t that broken in, these will save your life and your camino
3. Blister plasters – you will have blisters. There are pharmacies in every town but best to have a or two stack with you
4. Hiking pants (long) – unless you live in cold countries, the mornings can be rather cold for those who live in the Tropics (12-14C). Even when the sun comes out, it can be chilly at parts so make sure you have long pants (not jeans) as well as bermudas
5. Walking stick – no matter how young you are, you will find this useful. Those with creaky knees, you should have one, if not two
6. Water bottle – though there are pubs and eateries along the way, occasionally there are long stretches without. So be prepared with water
7. Ventolin Inhaler – especially if you have asthma like me. Those steep slopes, road or hill, I warn you, are killers…

This list is by no way comprehensive. Will add on in the other Mi Camino posts… 🙂