When Marc Gasch suggested to meet for a Gravel trip in Galicia, my colleague at Sherpa Project, Pablo Castro, and I knew what we had to do. There are few places in the world that give you the chance to feel like a pilgrim for a couple of days, setting out from one of the most famous places in the world: the Obradoiro square in Santiago de Compostela, with the aim of reaching and exploring the Costa da Morte, the Roman "Finis Terrae," a fascinating location from the earliest of times, and where many pilgrims end their journey.
COSTA DA MORTE, SPAIN
GRAVEL PILGRIMAGE EXPERIENCE IN GALICIA
Words by Guti Martin. Pictures and video by Marc Gasch
THE FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
Organising a bike trip is really like a recipe. You need several ingredients and they must all blend into one aim: for the dish to be perfect. Maybe I'm getting old, but every time an opportunity like this knocks on my door I try to make it an unforgettable experience that remains fixed in my retina and that I can later share with friends and family. Galicia is a perfect destination for Gravel. Its people, cultural and natural heritage, and cuisine are guarantees that an adventure like this one is going to be a success. The travel companions are fundamental; the main ingredient from my point of view.
On this occasion we were of a group of five top-notch guys: Marc Gasch is our spiritual guide, one of Europe's Gravel gurus, a fan of minimalism when it comes to packing the travel gear, the One Man Band who can solve any technical or logistic problem and who does magic with his cameras and spy drone, or “jaivota” [Galician for "seagull"] in sailor slang. Pablo Castro is my colleague at Sherpa Project. His skills at reading and understanding the terrain and designing a biking itinerary never let us down. With an inborn bike-riding ability, his relationship with the Exploro was love at first sight, and we had a hard time convincing him to give it back at the end of our journey. Juan Otero is in charge of marketing for Bikemotiv, the distributor of 3T and other brands in Spain, where ROTOR components stands out above the rest. He's a great guy; the perfect companion who adapts to any situation. The only hitch was that his family got upset because they couldn't join him on this trip, but that's another story. Lorenzo is a personal friend of Marc's, AKA Pazos by his friends (you'll only get this if you've watched the Spanish movie “Airbag”). He was key for setting the rhythm of the trip. He always has a smile on his face and he's also a foodie. At the end of the day, if Lorenzo is happy, it's enough for us to know we were on the right track. Guti Martín, that's me. I enjoy the opportunities life has to offer and I work doing what I enjoy. I'm restless, creative, always want to try new things and take full advantage of all the bike tourism world has to offer.
If to all of the above we add the choice of unique lodging that we were able to enjoy each day, thanks to my friend Ignacio Fernández for having done the paperwork, and to the exceptional weather for that time of year, all that was left to be done was let the dish cook slowly over low heat.
STAGE 1: Santiago de
Starting our journey at one of the main pilgrimage destinations chosen
by thousands of pilgrims every year was a very special moment. While Pablo sang
the praises of the Exploro bike to a large group of tourists and shared black and
white biking stories, the rest of us pedalled away down the cobbled streets of
the old quarter towards the city outskirts, following the course of the Sarela
river.The itinerary is perfectly well signposted and you don't need a GPS. The
famous yellow arrow and the official Way of St. James signalling enable you to
follow the route without the risk of getting lost.The first 90kms of this first stage provide all types of terrain where a
Gravel bike can hold its own: technical trails, forest trails, nature trails,
tarmac tracks, urban areas, a perfect mix of uphills and downhills where you
build up kilometres and fatigue without even realising it.
After several kilometres of hearing nothing other than Marc and Lorenzo
demanding “snack time”, like little kids who want to eat all the time, we
decided to stop at a small bar to indulge in a typical home-made chorizo
sandwich and a beer, except for Juan Otero who, as a shareholder for the
Coca-Cola Company has a contract that prohibits him from drinking anything
other than the world's most famous American syrup.We passed through towns such as Ponte Maceira, Negreira, Dumbría,
crossing livestock breeding areas, until we caught our first glimpse of the
Costa da Morte. A never-ending downhill slope led us to Cee and Corcubion, the first
fishing villages, before travelling the last few kilometres to Cape Fisterra.
Located 138 metres above sea level, its geographical position and an amazing
sunsets led the Roman general Decimus Junius Brutus to believe that this was
actually the place where the sun died.I think this place has left its mark on us forever, granting us the
chance to enjoy one of the most spectacular sunsets on earth. We were all
filled by the sensation that there is nothing else... everyone except for Marc,
that is, who engaged in flying his drone and communicating with the fishing
boats that left the port to begin their day out at sea.
In 1888, right next to the lighthouse, a building was erected as the
headquarters for the navy surveillance. It was renovated in 1999 and
reconverted into a lodge. Having the chance to sleep in such a unique place
with only 5 rooms was the perfect gift to end our first stage. We all enjoyed
VIP rooms, with hot tub included, except for Pablo, who as the young cabin boy
had to sleep in the “punishment chamber,” which was tiny, but very cosy as he
himself described it.
STAGE 2: Cabo Fisterra-Sanctuary of A Virxe da Barca
After fulfilling our mission as lighthouse keepers and following our pilgrim spirit, we were ready for a new stage that took us all along the coast to the town of Muxía. There the sea reigns supreme. Its cliffs and enormous beaches such as Mar de Fóra, O Rostro, or Lires made it clear to us that we were in a magical place whose name and legend do not fully reflect all that it has to offer. The first few kilometres are a mild way of making enemies out of your companions. After a long climb to leave the Fisterra lighthouse, having to carry the bike for 20 minutes was the ideal finishing stroke to wake from a pleasant slumber. Lorenzo decided that that day he was taking the lead and together with Juan Otero they both set off on an alternative route to the beach of Nemiña. Basic rule: “if you don't follow the guide you'll only look good if you reach your destination before everybody else.” Beginner's luck.
After a light lunch, which included veal cheeks and a “real tomato” salad, dessert and shots included, we got back on our gravel bikes and set off to Cape Touriñan. During the second half of the day we enjoyed a wheelies master class offered by Juan Otero who showed us how fun the Exploro can be if you set your mind to it (I don't recommend certain practices unless you're an expert). We quickly covered the final kilometres to get the “perfect light” that Marc insisted on every day. The Sanctuary of A Virxe da Barca appeared before us after rambling down the streets of Muxía. After the terrible fire that took place some years ago when it was hit by lightning, it was refurbished and is now a must-see.
Before getting to the hotel, Pablo made us cover a few extra metres that were worthwhile because we visited one of those places that do not go unnoticed and that become fixed in your retina: the last two surviving traditional conger eel dryers in Europe. Looking more like a tailor-made artistic performance, they stand right next to the sea, a basic ally in their processing. If you want to taste conger eel, every Good Friday during Easter, Muxía celebrates the Conger Eel Festival, where you can try this fish prepared in a variety of ways.We went back to the city centre to the small charming hotel of “A de Loló”, with a modern design and excellent customer service. At dinner we were surprised by a “digital menu” showing real photos of each dish. A “haute cuisine” menu that once again made our efforts worthwhile.
STAGE 3: Muxía-Laxe
Our budget was not enough to get 3 days in a row of good weather. To honour its fame, Galicia gave us the typical day of drenching rain, cold and seaside wind to face a stage that is close to perfection in Gravel trip terms. From the port of Muxía and after being immortalised by Marc's camera as 21st century explorers, we pedalled towards Camariñas. At a glance it would seem that this first stretch is a simple procedure, but travelling across the ria to get to Cape Vilán took us over 3 hours, even though we did stop to get our strength back at the small fishing port of Camariñas, at a small tapas bar.
Rolling down the coast listening to the sea beating the rocks, feeling cold and wet, gave this part of the stage an epic touch.Standing 100 metres above sea level, Cape Vilán was Spain's first electric lighthouse. When reaching this place and seeing its size, you understand the romantic side of the lighthouse keeper's job. The old vapour lighthouse, whose remains still survive, was replaced by this work of engineering that houses a museum, which we strongly recommend you visit.From here, the word perfection once again enters our minds when a dirt road leads us to the place known as the British Cemetery, in honour of the British Armada that shipwrecked several times in this area at the end of the 19th century. It is a sacred place that commemorates those who died at sea, which, as sailors say, gives you a lot, but when it takes, it does so tragically.
Camelle was our next stop. In this fishing town's port, next to the breakwater built a few years ago, we saw the remains of a singular house in the rocks where “Manfred the Man” lived. A hermit-artist linked to this town since he arrived in 1962, he became an all-round artist with a very special vision of the world. He died heartbroken after experiencing first-hand the consequences of the black tide caused by the shipwrecking of the Prestige oil tanker next to the Galician coast in November 2002. A visit to the museum that tells the story of this character is highly recommendable and crucial for understanding a man who became an icon of that environmental catastrophe.
Along a very sandy singletrack that happened to be flooded back then and several stretches of wooden walkways, we crossed the beaches of Traba and Soesto before setting off on the final and hardest climb to Laxe. Juan, Lorenzo and Pablo took it personally, while Marc and I took some pictures and planned a surfing and paddleboard trip with our vans as soon as we have some free time; “we're so naïve.”You never forget your Boy Scout days and I got busy lighting up the chimney at the country lodge “A Torre de Laxe,” where we enjoyed an improvised snack consisting of a potato omelette made with fresh eggs prepared by the owner when she saw our hungry faces. It was the last dinner of the journey and once again we enjoyed a five-star menu with products from the sea and from the land, topped up with a shot of herb liqueur for the final toast.
Back to the base camp
On Sunday morning we took a taxi back to Santiago straight to the Hotel Monumento San Francisco to pack our bikes and pick up all the material that the expedition leader had made us leave behind, following his minimalist philosophy of “less is more.”Juan went back to Madrid because he had a 6-hour journey. Lorenzo and Marc's flight left in the afternoon, so Pablo and I improvised a short tour: Platerías square, Quintana square, visited the cathedral, embraced the Apostle to thank him for his protection and also asked him to recommend a good place for tapas dining. We followed his advice and tried a couple of places while we recalled a number of anecdotes from the journey. Marc told us about his upcoming plans for the project “XPDTN3” and we lay the groundwork for our 2018 trip… which looks great...
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