Most pilgrims walk west to Santiago de Compostela… we flew. Early. 3:45AM wake-up call early. It seemed like a good idea when I booked it.
Fortunately my boys are seasoned somnambulists… able to pack up, transfer to the car and fall fast asleep without the swing of a pocket watch. I sleep-drive safely to the airport; we arrive on-time and we get round up into the Ryan Air pen for the 90 minute airborne cattle drive across Spain to Galicia. The transfer to our HomeExchange flat is uneventful, and there our hosts Suso and Maria are waiting in welcome.
And what a delightful welcome it is! We are the first guests in their beautifully remodeled 3rd floor flat, on the edge of old town with warm south views across Santiago’s ample green space to its new City of Culture development. They’ve stocked the fridge and larder with local organic goodies, and our boys instantly take to their son Aland, who comes armed with a playstation and basketball. The boys head off for hoops outside and in, and we get tips and local lore from Suso and Maria.
The Galician capital punches above its weight: from Easter thru fall throngs of Camino de Santiago pilgrims makes it feel big, but full-timers tip the scales below 100,000… smaller than Boca Raton or San Mateo. Our flat sits just off St. James Way – the main Camino path – and over the course of the day the town swells with backpacks, hiking staffs and friendly but scruffy hikers of all ages. In the afternoon I lure the family out to explore the old town and make an obligatory tour of Santiago’s massive cathedral; after Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia it feels like a brooding South American church. The town is pleasant but the kids are tired, so we retire to the comfortable flat for dinner, homework and sleep.
Monday we head for the Atlantic. Galicia sits on southern Oregonian latitudes, and as we wind west from Santiago across pristine, garbage and billboard-free highways, the similarities accumulate. On each west coast the jet stream pushes ocean breezes onshore, the evergreens lean east, and locals still live of the fishermen’s catch. But the mighty Pacific and North American plates collide more aggressively in Oregon, where cliffs are steeper and the beaches sandier, while Iberia’s rivers run longer, creating “Rías Baixas” – estuary inlets rich in sea life and aquatic recreation.
We might need to double-down on this magnificent coast, so I elect to visit it early in our Galician stay to ensure time for a second visit. On our host’s recommendation we prefer Illa de Arousa (Arousa Island) for its easy causeway access and a recreation options on the sheltered east shore. But today must be unusual as the winds are onshore, buffeting the sheltered harbor and pushing a few workaday locals to the Atlantic side. As usual we’re ahead of the tourist crowds and find most of the island sleeping in, so we shelter in the northern headlands. There we find abandoned beaches and an explosion of colors and textures, a bounty for Sue’s lens:
By mid-day the locals have risen and begin filing into the cafes and bars. Sue’s sought seafood, and judging by the incoming boats this is a Pulpa town. Indeed! We feast on Polbo á feira – “fair octopus” – lovingly boiled octopus sprinkled with sea salt, paprika and olive oil… it’s delicious. We order an extra serving of the crusty sourdough to soak up the sauce. And Alberino to wash it down. Hard to keep the pounds off in Spain…
Fat and happy, we need to walk it off so head to the southern headland’s Espacio Natural De O Carreirón. The wind has died and now we pine for shade… and find it in the pines. It’s too hot to really explore the coast, and the Atlantic is too cold to swim in, so we cheat back into our Golf for air conditioning and a drive to the nearby fishing town of Pontevedra.
It’s even hotter there, so I parked Sue and boys in an air-conditioned gelato cafe, complete a lap of the sleeping old town, pick up groceries and return to Santiago where its… hot. Sue and the boys hide inside while this Californian ventures into the sun in search of a bike and a haircut. The bike is available but the barbers are not, so my peluqueria visit will wait a day.