Stephen Baker

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Spain: sidestepping the avalanche of Santiago pilgrims

October 12, 2019General

After a baptism in Manzanares El Real, north of Madrid

I've been going to Spain since I was 16. I try to go at least every other year, and take some kind of strenuous trip with my lifelong friend there. Back in 2011, we biked the last 200 miles on the pilgrimage "camino de Santiago." Since then, spurred by movies, books, and social media, throngs of new pilgrims have been making their way to Santiago. It's on millions of people's bucket list.

This is the scourge of Europe. It not really fair for me, as a tourist, to criticize everyone else for crowding into my idyll. But that's the long and short of it. The goal, increasingly, is to search out the spots that still feel like Spain, where people lead their normal lives. So on the first leg of my trip--10 days through the south with my wife--we avoided Granada and Cordoba, and instead went to Caceres and Cadiz. 


After a wedding in Caceres

After that trip, I went northwest with my Spanish friend, to Galicia. We hiked along a gorgeous coastal trail called "O Camino dos Faros," or the Lighthouse Way. People in these small fishing villages realized that they could turn the goat-herds trails along their coast into an attraction, one that would generate business for hotels, restaurants, and a handful of taxis. 

By the time we rolled in, in late September, traffic along the trail was sparse. Not that I'm complaining! In our first full day of hiking, we came across only two other parties, one German, the other Italian. 



Off the coast near Malpica

The maps of this northwest stretch of coast feature stars for every recorded shipwreck. There's a veritable constellation of them, and you can understand why when you walk high above the raging ocean slamming against the rocks. It's known as the Costa da Morte, Galician for Coast of Death. It's anyone's guess if if that brand sparks tourism.

Galicia, originally settled by Celts, feels a bit like Ireland, and has a similar climate. On day three of our hike the rains came, and according to our weather apps, they were going to stick around for a while. So we drove east, for sunnier weather. The nice thing about Spain is that you can go virtually anywhere, find beauty and eat and drink royally.

We toured the province of Ourense, and got lost in the woods near a town called Parada de Sil. Later we hiked around an ancient Roman gold mining operations, Las Medulas, whose denuded mountains look like imports from Utah or New Mexico.




Las Medulas

We eventually made our way to Leon, where we'd started our bike pilgrimage eight years earlier.

Cathedral Square in Leon


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