The Road to Santiago.

October 30, 2004

Photo of Tapia Beach.
Tapia Beach

Tapia de Casariego to Ribadeo

The wind got stronger and stronger as a storm raged through the night. Rain pelted the roof and windows and I could hear the waves pound the cliffs just a few yards away. It reminded me of home during a storm coming from the northeast. Nor’Easters usually last for about three days; I wondered how long this one would last. There was no way that I was going to walk through a storm like this. If I wouldn’t be allowed to stay here an extra day, I would take a bus to Ribadeo.

Well, when I awoke, the wind was gone and the surf, while still churning, was less violent. The storm had passed and the rain was reduced to occasional sprinkles. While the weather wasn’t going to be pleasant, it certainly wouldn’t be bad enough to inhibit walking to Ribadeo. So, I repacked my mochila, straightened up the albergue, and headed to town to look for a cup of coffee. As I left, I went around to the side of the building and tossed in the keys as Marie José had instructed.

Photo of monument dedicated to the Heroes of '98.
Heroes of '98

Passing the main plaza, I noticed a monument which piqued my interest. It was a relief, carved in brass, depicting ships in a harbor. In the upper left corner was a bust of a naval officer. The inscription translates as, “To Fernando Villaamil and the heroes of Santiago, Cuba (July 3, 1898) who, in the unequal battle with the Yankee squadron, obeying the mandate of the fatherland, lost their lives at sea and some of them have the ocean for their sepulcher.”

The incident refers to one of the decisive battles of the Spanish – American War. The war was the last gasp of the Spanish Empire and its 500 years of hegemony and world influence. A result of the war was Cuban independence, the annexation of Guam and Puerto Rico into U.S. territory, and U.S. domination of the Philippine Archipelago. The end of the Spanish Empire marked the beginning of U.S. participation on the world political stage — the beginning of the American Century.

In town, I stopped at a cafeteria for breakfast. Since my glucose reading was 96 mg/dl (same as normal people!!), I indulged myself with a pastel de almendras (almond pastry) with my café con leche. Almonds are quite common in Spain and are used in all sorts of recipes, from desserts, to sauces, to soup. The pastries are exquisite and it’s a drag that I have to walk 10 to 15 miles a day to be able to eat one!

As I left Tapia de Casariego, I was in a very good mood. I walked along a broad promenade that was being laid down in anticipation of the spring tourist season. This place was perfect — beautiful beaches around a small fishing village. I promised myself that I would return.

About an hour later, my shoulders were sore. My pack wasn’t riding right and the left harness was cutting into me. I kept trying to adjust the strap but nothing changed — it didn’t move. I bounced on my heels in order for the pack to ride upward while I pulled the strap downward. But as I did, I heard a snapping noise and the pack lurched to my right. I lost control and it fell to the ground. Examination showed that the left strap had worn thin from friction with the harness and finally gave way. Fortunately, I had a spare in my pack, which I dug out and jury-rigged as a replacement. As I knelt on the side of the road with half of my pack on the ground, a light drizzle began to fall. I thank my lucky stars that I had the foresight to be prepared with the spare strap. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.

Another hour later, the light drizzle soon changed to a heavier rain. I told myself that I would stop for coffee at the next available place. But before I had the opportunity to do so, I had to make a strategic decision. Do I take the direct route to Ribadeo over the high bridge or do I take the long route around the estuary? I would have to cross the river Eo at the town of Vegadeo and then return to Ribadeo on the other side of the estuary. This was not like the earlier case of crossing a narrow river on a low railroad bridge, but rather crossing a wide bay high up on a 700-meter-long bridge.

Photo of Puente dos Santos.
Puente dos Santos

The normal route went across the bridge. Other pilgrims have done it many times. But I’m not an ordinary pilgrim. I’m one with a fear of heights. I don’t like to cross the Mystic River bridge to Boston, even when I’m in my car. But the long way around the estuary would mean at least an additional six hours — six hours in the rain.

So, I took the road most traveled. Once I chose the direct route to Ribadeo, I was walking along the edge of a limited access highway. There was no opportunity to turn off for a cup of coffee. My first chance to leave the highway was the last chance before the bridge — the exit to the town of Figueras. I decided to go to the town and check out the bridge. If I chickened out, I could take a bus to the other side. However, after a few inquiries in the village, I learned that there was no bus stop or train station. Figueras was a port town. Fishing and boat repairs were the two main industries. I don’t think that the town even had a hotel.

In the local bar, I was assured that the bridge was not too dangerous for a pedestrian. After a couple cups of coffee and a brief rest, I put my pack on and reluctantly headed back up the hill to the bridge. Luckily for me, the rain had stopped and the wind reduced to a light breeze.

The people at the bar were right. I could see a few pedestrians walking across the bridge. On each side of the long span, there was a four-foot pedestrian walkway. To prevent a fall into the abyss was a five-foot railing and to prevent stepping into the traffic was a three-foot guardrail.

In spite of its design, I still wasn’t convinced of the bridge’s safety. It took all the courage I could summon up to cross that bridge. As I walked along, I hugged the inner guardrail and looked straight ahead. A huge sign on the opposite side welcomed me to the Autonomous Community of Galicia. I was crossing the last frontier onto the last leg of my trip! I was now only about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from Santiago.

Photo of Ribadeo Harbor.
Ribadeo Harbor

Off to my left, high on the hill over looking the River Eo and it’s expansive harbor and estuary, was the city of Ribadeo (a contraction of riba de eo).

But out of the corner of my right eye, in the grassy outskirts, I saw a strange looking building that was vaguely familiar. On the banks close to the river, in the lee of some oak trees, was what looked like a bunker with windows. And even more strange was that the “roof” had a gradual slope with a railing about it — a scenic look out. It was then that I realized that I had seen the building in my guidebook. It was the albergue — my refuge for tonight!

Photo of Albergue de Ribadeo.
Albergue de Ribadeo
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