It stopped me in my tracks. It smelled like God himself in this street. I was walking down Rúa da Raiña in Santiago de Compostela. My legs were still hurting from completing 5 full days on the Camino. Bradley was going to the bus station to buy us tickets back to Madrid that same day. I was going back to Pensión Ramos to pack our things and shower before check-out time. In these dark Camino times, I became undoubtedly addicted to showers. Real showers.
Our pensión was truly great. I recommend it if you want to stay near the cathedral. It is on Rúa da Raiña, which is the short, narrow street parallel to the more famous Rúa du Franco. You will get a nice room with a bathroom for 40€. It is noisy at night; however, if you just arrived there from the Camino, you’ll fall right asleep. I was excited about this street because Rick Steves recommended a few places here in his book – Spain 2015. I was on the hunt for the famous “locals” bar: O Gato Negro.
He said it is one of the few places that still serves the traditional wine in ceramic cups. He also wrote this is a place frequented by locals (though I would say it is hard to believe judging by the crowd of tourists waiting for it to open). We could not make it because of time. If you do visit, tell me how you like it!
A funny anecdote upon our arrival in Santiago: We strolled down the streets up to the cathedral, stopping at every albergue asking for a bed. But there were no beds. Every single place was booked, and I truly believed we would sleep in the street. The pain, the tiredness, the lioness hunger took away from the experience of arriving to the cathedral (which is also under some massive construction work). Pilgrims laid down in front of it. I am not sure if this is a tradition, or they’re just flat out exhausted. Music played in the square. A big crowd of children cheered as they arrived from their journey. “Oh, they didn’t walk the whole time.” Bradley said. “They look too refreshed.” I nodded.
Bed. Food. Bed. Food. Bed. Food. Bed. Food. Bed. Food. Nothing else mattered. “Would you like a room for tonight, with a kitchen, and bathroom? It’s a flat.” A lady approached us. “40€“. It was perfect. She signaled another lady, and we followed her. The woman got on her phone, and began speaking Gallego (the Spanish dialect in Galicia, very similar to Portuguese). I began to feel uncomfortable. “Put your phone away. And tie this to your backpack,” Bradley said signaling to my walking stick. I quickly did so. “I want your hands free just in case we need to run.” So he felt it, too. The weird vibe. “Brad, I am uncomfortable,” I whispered. It all looked so strange. The way we were approached, the great deal, following this lady on her phone…We would go up to the flat with her…I would have to take off my backpack, and pay her in cash…I had too much cash in one place. Even if nothing bad happened right then, I would not feel comfortable leaving our backpacks in the flat to explore the city. I worried about Bradley’s things because he is a true backpacker. Everything he currently owns was inside his backpack. “Tell her we want to stay closer to the cathedral.” I whispered. “Discúlpe, señora? No vamos a tomar la habitación. Está muy lejos,” Bradley said firmly but kindly once we arrived to the weird building where we were instructed to wait so we could go through a store…She had signaled someone else. There were sketchy men hanging outside this “store”. Her eyes widened with a fearful expression as we walked away. And just like that, we were on our own again. Too many times have I ignored my intuition and paid the painful price. Not this time. Maybe this lady was an angel, but we did not stick around to find out if our gut-feeling was wrong.
As a semi-experienced traveler, my most important advice is: always, always, always follow your gut. If the little voice in your head suddenly roars for you to get out of a place: GET OUT. Don’t ever apologize for looking out for your safety. Minutes later, we checked into our lovely Pensión Ramos.
For dinner we decided to go tapas hopping on Rúa du Franco. This street caters to tourists, and you will find all kinds of delightful tapas to eat! My favorite dish had to be the thin eggplants slices, baked with honey, and melted goat cheese poured on top. We also had the famous octopus for the third time since we started the Camino. In my opinion, the octopus served in the small towns was better than the one we had in Santiago. But it is still a must-have wherever you end up in Galicia. The dish is simply served with olive oil and paprika. You eat it with wooden toothpicks, never with a fork.
The next day was the day I actually smelled God. It was a spiritual experience to walk down Rúa da Raiña, and feel the need to WhatsAppp Bradley my location. The name: Maria Castaña. The menu: written in Gallego. Location: discrete (hole-in-the-wall style). Prices: NICE! Oh yes. Our last supper would be in Maria Castaña if only because this whole trip was A Pilgrimage after all, and the smell of this place moved my soul. So we did it. And we ordered like 5 dishes, and the traditional red wine: mencia. The wine was so good. It had a strong grape flavor. The food was so good. We giggled, and discussed the flavors like it was the meaning of life. Sharing the last piece became a Samaritan’s good deed. Take a look at my not so great pictures (camera broke, but my iPod did its best to capture it for you):
We gladly rode the bus for 9 hours back to Madrid. Sitting down felt like a privilege after the Camino. There is one little thing we did not do in Santiago, though. We might have skipped the Cathedral. The tiredness and hunger of the first day made us forget, and when it came down to the time-crunch the second day, Bradley gave me no choice. “It might be worth checking out one food place or the cathedral before I get there. Because we may not have a lot of time,” he texted while in line to get bus tickets. And then I smelled Maria Castaña, and it was like someone else made the choice for me. Someone important, like The Lord. I guess we never really finished the Camino, then (a reason to return!). But not all stories have “a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” – Gilda Radner