11:00 AM on the 20th of July in the Spanish highlands probably looks like you would expect: Clear blue skies, a sweltering sun, dusty earth and vegetation straining to stay green. What might take you by surprise is the sudden appearance of clouds, like an ocean, from beneath you.
Of course the picture gives little justice but the wispy sea stretched right to the horizon; only the tallest peaks were pressing through. I had only seen similar views from an aeroplanes window.
A few kilometers on, the mountain road turned left and descended into the cloud.
The temperature change was immediate and refreshing, a cool mist. As my momentum picked up the cloud thickened, and the moisture in the air pulled the heat from my skin. The air grew colder the faster I went and when I (finally) emerged from under the clouds, shorts and a t-shirt seemed a poor choice of clothing.
Less than three hours later it was like nothing had happened and I was once again happy with my choice of outfit as I searched for somewhere to wait out the afternoon heat.
Some shade with a view of a lake felt like the right place.
On the bike later that evening I took pause at a shell-shaped water fountain and felt very grateful for finding the Camino, with all of the amenities and its interesting addition to the trip. Sometimes the unexpected things are the best.
The next day was the 21st of July, which made it my birthday!
I turned 26 and it was my first birthday away from home. I treated myself to pancakes at breakfast and picked up a bottle of bourbon, which I may have opened shortly afterwards…
I decided today would be a short day on the bike. I would cycle into the next town and look for a B&B or hotel as a gift to myself. A night on a mattress sounded like a perfect treat.
What I didn’t bank on was the hills that led to the next town. Though after a beer and another bourbon the cycling suddenly wasn’t so bad! I arrived in the town of Palas de Rei, found myself a hotel and sat under a tree with a whole watermelon while I waited to check-in.
I ate a lot of watermelon.
The rest of my birthday was spent drinking whiskey and cola, exploring the town, eating pizza and enjoying a shower with no time limit. My hotel room, although cosy and clean, was rather stuffy. The one large window opened out onto a covered roof terrace, so there was little chance of a breeze. Couple that with a lack of A/C and it made for quite the humid stay.
Once the whiskey had worn off, I woke up. Although it was cooler at 3:30 AM I had little chance of getting back to sleep again. Making the most of an unplanned early start I was showered, packed up, fed and on the bike before 8:30 (the after effects of the bourbon were a hindrance I’ll be honest).
It took a while for me to find my pace as I fought off the early stages of a hangover, but once the blood began to flow I was a man on a mission. No matter how many hills and climbs were thrown at me, by midday I had covered 40 miles (65 KM) and I was at a campsite on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela. I had completed the Camino!
I even took time to admire the commemorative monuments to the Knights Templar that used to protect the Pilgrims on their way to Santiago.
Now I could allow my hangover to do its worst whilst I set up camp and performed the laborious task of hand-washing laundry.
Tomorrow I would take a rest day and venture into the city before making a push to the coast and then south into Portugal!