Long-time client Jim Collora recently returned from BikeTours.com Camino de Santiago: From Porto to Santiago de Compostela.
Take a look at their travel log, complete with first-hand COVID-19 traveling tips.
Elizabeth Loera and I cycled with our Cumbres Travel tour guide, Javier Bartolome on the Camino de Santiago Portuguese Way from August 7, 2021 through August 13, 2021.
We each carried a pilgrim passport, a necessity if you want to get a Compostela: two stamps for each day on the Camino to document the starting and ending dates and points and proof the pilgrim has in fact traveled the full distance of the Camino.
We had most of the day on August 7 to explore Porto, Portugal. The waterfront on the River Duor has many attractions and to get there we took the funicular railway from the top of the river bank. We took the “Six Bridges” boat ride (about an hour) which gives a great perspective of both the north and south river banks of the River Douro. Afterward, we headed to the Port Wine tasting room and enjoyed several samples of Port Wine. The proprietor pulled out a bottle of 29 year old Port wine and gave us samples to try. I became a Port wine aficionado right there.
Later, we met Javier back at the Moove Hotel Central and headed out to dinner. Bacalao (cod fish) is one of the more popular dishes in this region of Portugal, but we enjoyed a varied diet comprising many fish, beef, pork, and chicken.
This was a very long day of cycling (66 km), though the elevation gain was only 400 m. As we cycled close to the sea, we encountered sand dunes, some of which had obscured the cycle path and required walking the bicycles.
In Barcelos, we learned the legend and the importance of the cockerel. There are images and statues of cockerels everywhere, reflecting the legend that St. James saved a pilgrim wrongly accused of a crime from being hanged and the judge, sneering at the story, encountered his roasted cockerel coming back to life and jumping off the table in front of him. Barcelos is a very pretty town.
This was a relatively short day of cycling (35 k) with an elevation gain of 308 m. The town of Ponte de Lima is very pretty and situated along the River Lima. The bridge across the river built by the Romans is very impressive with a church (St Antonio de Torre Velha) situated on the North bank.
Though the cycling distance was just 38 km, the elevation gain was over 700 m and we encountered “undulations” in the terrain– this means there were quite a few hills to climb. The central part of Valenca lies within the walls of a 12th Century fortification. The ramparts from which the soldiers fired cannons across the River Mino to protect against any attacks from Spain are still visible.
We began the day by cycling across the River Minos which separates Portugal and Spain. After the bridge crossing, we cycled up several hills to reach Pontevedra. The last 10 km are all downhill and the total distance today was 55 km with an elevation gain of 760 m.
The distance is 41 km with an elevation gain of 477 m. We passed through the town of Caldas de Rei and washed our hands in the hot springs that flow naturally from the underground rocks.
In Padron, we visited the Church of St. James and observed the Roman stone. Legend has it that the boat carrying the remains of St. James was moored before the remains were taken into the town of Santiago. The church itself is very beautiful and Liz and I were invited to walk up to the altar and photograph the Roman stone. Outside the church, we listened to a joyful group of young pilgrims singing hymns before they took the final steps on the Camino to walk into Santiago.
Though the distance was just 25 km and the elevation gain 395 m, it still took us until about noon to make the final push into Santiago. We were scheduled to take the COVID test (required to board our flights to Madrid and the US over the following two days) at a clinic (Eurofins Megalab) located on the outskirts of Santiago. The cost of the COVID test was 85 euro with results guaranteed to be returned by email and text message within 24 hours.
We learned that the procedure to obtain a Compostela involves downloading an app onto one’s iPhone, then receiving an assigned number from the administrative office. Once your number comes up, you are allowed to enter the office and present your pilgrim passport where it is examined in detail in order to obtain the Compostela.
In the flurry of activity involved in getting our Compostelas and checking out from the hotel we belatedly realized at noon that our COVID test results had not been delivered to us from the clinic. Elizabeth made many calls to the phone number given on our COVID test document, and finally made a connection with someone (an angel!) who could help us. I could not help in this process since I do not speak Spanish. Rather, I sat on the patio some distance from Elizabeth with the thought in mind “Liz has this; she will come up with something,” and indeed she did! In retrospect, it would have been wise to take the COVID test on Thursday (three days before our flights to the US), giving a full workday as opposed to a weekend day to receive the results.
COVID Tests before departure
Most countries allow three days to obtain the COVID test before entry to the country. However, some, such as Germany, require that the test be performed no more than two days in advance of entry.
Elizabeth and I elected to get pre-travel COVID tests at the Carbon Health facility located at the San Diego Airport. The address of the facility is 2357 Airlane Road San Diego, CA 92101. Phone (619) 268-5576.
Carbon Health returned our test results promptly the following morning.
Cycle tour on the Camino de Santiago Portuguese Way
We had anticipated and trained for this cycle tour for over two years due to the inability to travel to Europe during the pandemic in 2020. Elizabeth and I found that our training was sufficient to handle most of the challenges of this tour, however, we had to walk the bikes up a few of the hills and also deal with the climate conditions in Portugal and Spain in the month of August which were quite hot.
On two occasions, we jumped in the van (a taxi) to surmount a hill that would have taken too much time to climb given the climate conditions on that particular day.
We encountered hundreds of pilgrims walking and cycling toward Santiago de Compostela on the Camino during our tour. To a person, they were polite and respectful of the other pilgrims on the road and there were no disputes.
We found that it is important to bring sufficient European currency when you travel to Portugal and Spain since it is difficult to find ATMs in most of the cities and villages on The Camino. I suggest that each traveler bring around 1,000 euros to cover meals and incidentals, though you probably will not need that much.
All of the hotels which Cumbres Travel arranged were comfortable without being overly luxurious. The hotel staff were helpful and polite. On two occasions (in Portugal) it was necessary to take the rapid COVID test before finalizing our admittance to the hotel. Though inconvenient, there were no problems in taking the test or quickly presenting the results of the test.
The tour arrangements allow one piece of luggage to be transferred from city to city each day for each traveler. Since I had a second piece of luggage I was charged 100 euros in total for it to be transported.
Fellow travelers (Pilgrims)
The lines of pilgrims in Santiago for the Pilgrim Masses were very long and we ran out of time to attend on Saturday (Day 8). In retrospect, it would have been good to allow an extra day at the end of the tour to assure being able to attend a Pilgrim Mass and visit the Cathedral.
Cumbres Travel and Javier Bartolome handled this cycle tour in a very professional and competent manner. We could not have asked for a finer tour guide than Javier, who proved to be very attentive to the cyclists, focused on the safety of the cyclists at all times, and knowledgeable of the route, the historical and scenic attractions, and the history of the area.
Learn more about the tour