June 11th_12th 2017 – Santiago to Ponferrada – If Galicia is the Wild West of Spain, then Santiago is Dodge City and it was time to get out of Dodge

When I visited the Somme in 2015, the Thiepval Monument was covered in scaffolding as it was getting scrubbed up prior to the Centenary Commemorations in 2016. In a similar fashion, the one time I visit the the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago, it too is covered in scaffolding. But if anything, the scaffolding actually improves the appearance of he cathedral by adding a bit of colour. Dare I say it but St. James cathedral is one of the ugliest buildings I have ever come across and from the outside looks more like a prison than a place of worship. Apparently, it is much nicer on the inside but as the queue to get in the door was over an hour long, so I didn’t get to see. The town was swamped by tourists continuously getting lost as there are no signposts anywhere. The souvenirs were more than double what you would pay in other tourist destinations like Lourdes. There is no charm to the place; it’s just one big tourist trap and the dodgiest city I have ever been to. There was only one solution and that was to get out of Dodge.

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Total cycled Sunday June the 11th from Santiago to Sarria – 125 km (includes 2,300 m of climbing). Total so far – 2,205 km. I got up Sunday morning with only one thought on my mind ; to get as far away from Santiago as possible. I ended up cycling and climbing more than any other day ever on the Tour de Travoy.

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Myself and Travoy leaving Camping As Cancelas in Santiago. Boy, was  I glad to be leaving Santiago. A Frenchman on a moped kindly offered to take a photo of me as I was leaving the campsite. He nailed the shot first time and I didn’t even have to crop the photo like I have to with many of my own shots.

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The rocky road to Santiago.  On the way out of Santiago, I passed by hundreds of pilgrims and tourists making their way into the city.

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Pilgrim on the road into Santiago with a trailer. Most of the pilgrims making their way towards Santiago were carrying rucksacks or backpacks. But I spotted one guy with a trailer just like myself. I don’t understand why more hikers don’t tow a trailer rather than carrying a heavy rucksack. This trailer looks like a golf-bag trolley that has been adapted to make it more suitable for hiking. Notice how this pilgrim has fitted 2 water bottle cages to it. Interestingly, he has 2 ski poles with him so he may have started out walking with a rucksack before then deciding to invest in a trailer.

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Abandoned building near Santiago. The outskirts of Santiago are very run down and full of abandoned buildings. There is no sign of St. James Cathedral in the distance and instead any pilgrims approaching Santiago pass by empty and abandoned buildings like the one n the photo above. Not the sort of image you ever see in a Camino brochure.

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Christmas lights in Arriba on the outskirts of Santiago. Eventhough it was the middle of June, the Christmas lights were still up in the Santiago suburb of Arriba. I noticed the same thing on Friday in the suburbs of A Coruna. It must be a Galician tradition to leave the Christmas lights up all year round. Or maybe the locals are too lazy to take them down when Christmas is over.

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Pilgrims walking and cycling towards Santiago. On the way from Santiago to Sarria, I must have passed maybe 5,000 pilgrims all headed the other way. On average, I passed someone every 10 seconds whenever my route coincided with the official hiking route. In places, such as near Arzua which is 30 km from Santiago, I was passing someone every 2 seconds. It was a constant stream of people, some taking their time others walking more purposefully, all heading towards Santiago. It reminded me of the news on TV from the summer of 2015 when almost every evening the main story was Syrian refugees and other nationalities making their way along main roads and motorways towards Europe. That is the only way I can describe it and it was as if these people were fleeing a war or some other major conflict and hoping to seek refuge in Santiago

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Crossing the Minho river at Portomarin. The Minho river is an incredible sight and no wonder why most pilgrims who walk from Sarria to Santiago list is as their favorite highlight during their Camino. The Minho river flows from here at Portomarin to Ouresnse and then along the Spanish – Portuguese border to the sea at Caminha. While crossing the Minho river to most people is a highlight of their Camino, to me it was incredibly sad. For it was at the mouth of this river that Danny Sheehy had died the day before. It was Danny Sheehy who built the boat that featured in the TG4 documentary, Camino na tSaile and who was partly the inspiration for my own Camino from Dublin to Santiago. Danny and 3 other rowers, including Liam O’Maonlai from the Hothouse Flowers, were attempting to row their currach from A Coruna to Africa when it got into difficulty at the mouth of the Minho river and capsized. All 4 rowers were rescued from the water but Danny died soon afterwards from the shock. Apparently Danny loved Galicia and had often completed the Camino from Sarria and elsewhere. So he would have crossed over this river and gazed at the view never ever thinking that one day, this same river would result in his death.

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Travoy at the campsite in Sarria. When I arrived at the campsite in Sarria, the gates were open but there was only one campervan in the whole campsite. It looked very strange as I expected the campsite to be very busy as Sarria is the traditional starting point for any hikers doing the Camino. It was only the next morning that I spotted the campsite closed signs. Even though the campsite was officially closed, the power points still worked and so did the toilets. It was all very strange almost like stumbling upon the Marie Celeste of campsites.

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Total cycled Mon June 12th from Sarria to Ponferrada – 85 km (includes 1,700 m of climbing). Total so far – 2,285 km. I woke up Monday morning with only one thought on my mind; to get even further away from Santiago.

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Camino statue near Samos. Galicia is lovely in places and on the Camino Frances route in particular, you pass by loads of statues and monuments depicting pilgrims in times gone by.

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Monastery in Samos. This monastery was huge and it continues to offer lodging to pilgrims passing by.

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Rest area for weary pilgrims near Samos. The rock in this picture looks like a petrified log that has been cut through with a chainsaw.

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Sign saying 7% gradient for the next 5 km. When I saw this sign, I did a double-take thinking the sign can’t be right; this is not the Pyrenees. The sign was right and it took me an hour to grind my way up the next 5 km.

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View from near the top of the climb looking down at Tricastella. The climb of Alto do Poio from Tricastella is 18 km long and is a climb of 2 halves. The first half is steep averaging 6% while the 2nd half is more or less flat averaging only 2%.

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New highest point on the 2017 Tour de Travoy. At 1,335 the Alto do Poio was 600 m higher than my preivious high point, the Porta de Ganidoira near Viveiro in northern Galicia.

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Omar Ruiz-Diaz, who has been cycling the world on and off since 1991. I thought I was doing well to climb Alto do Poio with just the one trailer, well this guy managed to climb it with 2. Both trailers and his bike weigh 85 kg which is almost double the weight of my own combination of bike and trailer of around 45 kg.

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Selfie with Omar. This was my first selfie on the Tour de Travoy and one I will never forget. It was lovely to meet such a laid back and cheerful personality and to do so at the top of one of the iconic climbs on the Camino made it extra special. It felt a bit like Livingstone and Stanley meeting one another at Victoria Falls. My encounter with Omar really made my day after what had been a tough week-end.

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2 cyclists making their way up to Alto do Poio.  Myself and Omar were sat at the cafe for over an hour discussing our travels and watching as the pilgrims trickled past. One group in particular caught our eye; two women, a man and a child of about 4 or 5. Omar thought they were Chinese but in hindsight, they may have been Japanese. They were wearing bamboo hats that you often see on Japanese rice farmers. Nearly all the pilgrims are white and either American or European. So to see a group of Asian pilgrims was very unusual. But what was even more extraordinary about the scene was that the man was pushing the child in a wheelchair. I have no idea if the child was handicapped but he probably was as the wheelchair looked like one you would see in a hospital. All I could think off was the poor child. They still had 300 km to go to Santiago and were heading west towards the setting sun and there was no shade on the wheelchair. The forecast was for 30 degrees later that afternoon and it just seemed torture to force a handicapped child to sit in such a heatwave with barely any shade. The man who was pushing the wheelchair was stooped over and he looked very uncomfortable. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t got a big push-chair as they all come with sun-shades. They are also not as low down as a wheelchair and thus easier to push and some even have suspension for the rocky paths. If people want to do the Camino and endure the hardship, that is fine as that is their own choice. But to force a child to come along too and endure the heat and the bumpy rocky path in a wheelchair is beyond cruel. I hope to God they weren’t taking the child to Santiago in order for him or her to be cured as that is just madness. Both myself and Omar have came across all sorts on our travels but we were both shocked at what we had just witnessed. We just sat there almost beyond words at what was unfolding before our eyes just 20 yards away. Neither myself or Omar took any photos but the image in my mind of the man determinedly pushing the child up Alto do Poio as the 2 women shuffled along just behind him is one I will never forget.

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Sign for the province of Leon. Soon after passing through the town of Pedrafita, I crossed over the boundary between Galicia and Castilla y Leon. It was only now that I had left Galicia and was about 200 km away from Santiago that I could begin to relax and I took it easy for the rest of the evening. Not that I had any other choice as the sun was burning bright and the temperature was well above 30 degrees.

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Villafranca de Berzo tunnel near Ponferrada. This tunnel was almost 1 km long and it was so much cooler inside it than out in the sun. The afternoon was the hottest so far on the Tour de Travoy and the temperature reached over 35 degrees. When I arrived at the campsite, the first thing the receptionist said was “mucho calor”. It means “too much heat” and it was a phrase I kept repeating for the next 10 days.

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