Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 14. Santiago de Compostela a Madrid

Oh sadness. Today in the morning we returned the bikes and felt somewhat empty not pushing our noble steeds up the streets of Santiago. To reduce my sadness let me reflect on what it involved:

Time: We figured it took us 9 days of actual travel. In retrospect, it would have been better to plan 11 days; one to take a break mid way, and the other to travel to the coast at the end of the trip.

Equipment: We rented the bikes from TourNRide in Santiago, and the bikes they provided were excellent. Have them provide panniers, helmets, and pedals, but bring your own seats. They provide basic tools and one spare tube. The small levers to change a tune were of plastic and pretty useless, so make sure to bring metal ones.

Gear: Thanks to Norma and Evan we brought only the bare essentials and at times it seemed too much. The list included:
- Boots, which you will be wearing. Don’t use biking shoes. You will be walking a third of the time, uphill and on slippery slopes, so you will need good hiking soles.
- A small sleeping bag because some hostels don’t have blankets
- A small towel
- Two biking shirts (not three, not four, but two). All biking stuff is made of synthetic materials that dry pretty fast (or not if it is a cold and dreary day). One of the two you are wearing at any given time, and that is true of all items below.
- One camelback backpack (priceless!)
- Two biking shorts (the ones with padding in the butt)
- One pair of long pants
- One pair of shorts
- Two pairs of undershorts
- Two pairs of biking socks
- Two long-sleeve shirts
- One felt vest
- One rain jacket and pants
- One pair biking gloves
- One pair wool gloves (some mornings are really cold)
- One pair biking leg warmers
- One pair biking arm warmers
- Toiletries
- Small bag of clothes soap (you will have to wash every day)
- Camera and charger, and USB memory stick for backup
- iPod and charger (my trusty travel companion, but optional)
- Computer and charger (optional, but otherwise you would not be getting my updates)
- Sun block
- Dark glasses
- Money (lots of money!)

Planning: Damn the planning! Go with the flow and seek shelter wherever the night catches you. It is part of the fun. No need to bring GPS, maps, or travel books; just follow the yellow arrows.

Company: It is absolutely necessary to have a super companion, like Raúl. Look for someone who is stout of heart, good natured, intelligent, curious, lover of good food, tuned into nature, optimist, and not a complainer. Remember, El Camino is not a destination, but a quest, and to get the most of it you want an akin soul by your side. I am reminded of the words of a song from my youth, who advised “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.”

Both Raúl and I are amazed at the fact that we completed such a long way without mishap. Think about it. 550 km is like biking from Mexico to Guadalajara, San Francisco to Los Angeles, or Frankfurt to Paris!

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and after a walking visit to Santiago, which is a lovely city, we took a taxi to the airport, boarded the plane to Madrid, and were back in the real world. We came to the house of Maria Eugenia and Juan, Raúl packed his bags, and I walked him to the metro, where he left for the airport and Barcelona. He is a good friend, and I look forward to our next adventure (we are toying with the idea of a trek to the Himalayas sometime in the next couple of years).

I had some money burning a hole in my pants, so I wandered to Puerta del Sol, the tourist center of Madrid, and performed the last ritual by going into El Corte Inglés to buy the poem El Cantar del Mío Cid, and a pan to make tortilla española (I plan to poison my daughter with it when I get home).

When Juan came home, around 8:30 pm, we took a stroll down to the Rio Manzanares and the newly improved river park, and then went for tapas into a tiny neighborhood bar, El Delfín. The owners, Paco and Carmen, are old friends of Juan, and elbow to elbow in the crowded small place we enjoyed tapas of Callos a la Madrileña, Caracoles en Caldillo, and Braised Lamb Livers. Oh, how I am going to miss the good Spanish food.

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