In Galicia we visit the four Rías Bajas and take a trip to Santiago de Compostela to find out more about the sustainability aspects of hiking.

Cape Finisterre (ESP) – Islas Cíes (ESP)

Exploring Finisterre

Judging by the weather the non-stop trip from Santander to Finisterre was worth it. Grey skies have made way for a strong autumn sun. It’s warm enough to have breakfast outside. We can hardly believe that it’s already late November.

In shorts and t-shirts we kayak from our anchorage to the fishing harbour. The village is located close to the eponymous Cape, which we reach half an hour later on foot. An impressive lighthouse stands on the slope of the rock at 183m above sea level. For centuries this has been an important landmark for seafarers. And not just for them. In front of the lighthouse is a milestone marking “0.00 kilometres” next to a yellow St. James shell on a blue background. It is considered the end of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim’s route, or St. James Way. And indeed, some of the other visitors of the Cape are hikers who celebrate the end of their long walk to the Cape.

Back in Finisterre we stock up on groceries from the local supermarket and return to our kayak. It’s more than a mile to paddle back to the boat with a strong headwind. The trip turns into a heavy paddling workout. Exhausted and wet we climb back on board. In the last hour of sunlight we dry up and relax in the cockpit while enjoying drinks and tapas until the sun sets behind the Cape.

Ría de Muros

The first Ría – Spanish for bay – we come across on our way south is the Ría de Muros. It is a sea estuary surrounded by mountains. Apart from some fishermen we are alone on the water. Yet we have to pay close attention. “Viveros”, floating shellfish farms, are all around us. As are buoys and jerry cans that mark fishing gear. They are unlit and held together by floating lines, which can get wrapped around our rudder or propeller. It makes it hazardous to sail here without daylight or on autopilot.

After only a few hours we drop our anchor in San Francisco bay, close to a small village named Louro. Contrary to its American namesake, it is deserted. How to get to Muros from here? Our app “” – a tip from fellow sailors on SY Zanzibar– is of great help. It shows our position and all the roads and hiking trails offline. This way we find an almost abandoned road that turns out to be much safer and quieter than the main road to Muros. It also offers stunning views over the Ría. When we reach the outskirts of town we encounter traditional houses with fruit and vegetable gardens. Some people still seem to live off the land here.

The town’s sea front is bustling. The weekly Friday street market is on, a tip from our friend Juliette. We hunt for Spanish specialties and soon find fresh fruit, such as kaki and mango, the local cheese (Arzua) and Galician bread. Delicious! We also inspect the harbour, as we plan to seek shelter here for some days while heavy winds are expected. We don’t think our anchorage provides enough shelter and sail to the marina the next day. We stay three nights, explore every corner of the town and go on a daytrip to Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela

To plan our trip to the capital of Galicia we consult, a very handy website that lists all travel options between two cities. The direct bus turns out to be our best option. The road takes us along the other villages of the bay and across the “Rio Tambre” river via an ancient one-way stone-arched bridge. Two hours later we arrive in Santiago de Compostela, Europe’s unofficial hiking capital. Throughout history pilgrims have hiked here from all over the continent. Their main goal was to visit the burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James. His remains reputedly lie within the impressive cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. We wonder what motivates people today to complete the “Camino de Santiago”, Europe’s most famous long-distance hiking trail? The answers we get are quite diverse, but a few stand out. “Just to get away from it all”, “time for some reflection”, “the physical challenge”, “to re-connect with myself, others and nature” we hear from the hikers we encounter in town.

These personal comments point towards a deeper layer to hiking, one that is relevant for sustainability. By moving slowly and step by step, a new perspective on the environment emerges. Impressions and encounters along the way lead to new ways of looking at life, nature, community and material things. Hiking is per definition a CO2 neutral way of transportation, and hikers are keen to minimize their material use and waste. Every kilo that you don’t put in your backpack you don’t have to carry. Hiking as a sustainable solution? We surely think so!

Back in Muros, the storm has abated. Yet when we are ready to leave the next day, there’s not a breath of wind. So we pick some fresh mussels, clean them, cook them and make a fish soup in our high-pressure cooking pot on our electric furnace. In the afternoon a light breeze picks up, so we sail back to our San Francisco anchorage. The next day the NE wind increases further, excellent weather to sail towards the next Ría.

Ría de Arousa

To get to the Ría de Arousa, we first need to sail out of the Ria de Muros back to the Atlantic Ocean. Although this can be tough with westerly winds, today it’s smooth sailing with NE and a light swell. We are headed for Cambados. The sunny weather isn’t here to stay, as another low-pressure area is heading our way. Cambados seems to have a well-sheltered anchorage with good holding grounds. As we make our way to this small ancient town, we learn that they are the champions of the “viveros” here. Hundreds and hundreds of them. In a way they make navigation to Cambados easy, as we can just follow the corridor they left between them. The anchorage is shallow but it’s neap tide so we can anchor relatively close to town. Except for the many fishing boats heading back and forth to the port nearby, we’re also alone on this large anchorage.

The next morning starts with rain and it just doesn’t stop. The wind picks up to 20-25 knots and starts in W, than turns SW, S, SE, E and in the evening NE. All in one day. The Bracknell weather charts and Windy gribfile animations accurately predicted this effect of the centre of a low-pressure area coming almost directly over our heads. The anchor holds fine during this tour de force, reinforcing our trust in the anchoring gear. The wood stove keeps us warm and we spend the day “cocooning”: reading, writing and cooking.

Fortunately the nice weather returns quickly and we look forward to stretching our legs. When the sun comes out again the next morning we jump into the kayak to explore Cambados. From the fishing port we hike to the town with its long waterfront and historic centre. After our lunch of enormous and delicious “bocadillos” (Spanish sandwiches) we are energized for an extra long hike around town and up the hill that overlooks the entire bay. To our right and left and behind us our vineyards where the famous local “Albariño” is grown. The grapes are all gone, but the yellow and red leaves create a colourful sight.

Ría de Pontevedra

In the next Ría, the Ría de Pontevedra, Combarro is supposed to be a highlight. As we enter this Ría we find ourselves in the middle of a fleet of sailing yachts. The local yacht club is having a race. We do our best to stay out of their way and are happy to see some other sailors again. When we reach the Combarro anchorage at the end of the Ría not much later, we’re again the only visiting yacht.

Despite the industrial plant and harbour in Marin at the opposite side of the Ría, Combarro is a charming little town. The old fishing houses and Christian symbols on “Rua do Mar” still remind visitors of the religious fishing community that lived here once upon a time. Nowadays, the old town is a tourist attraction. Shops and restaurants line the street and the houses are well maintained. We enjoy the tranquillity on this off-season day and after a hike through the surrounding forest we treat ourselves to some delicious Spanish seafood and paella in one of the cosy restaurants. It faces the bay, so we have a great view of Luci at the anchorage.

Ría de Vigo

With a sunny weather forecast for the next few days we leave early for the “Islas Cíes”. These three Atlantic islands are located at the entrance of the most southern Ría, the Ría de Vigo. They have national park status, and a permit is needed for yachts to anchor. Thanks to our friend Mirjam, who helped with the admin, we got one via e-mail. According to The Guardian, the beaches here are some of the most beautiful in the world. When we drop the anchor we can’t believe our eyes. Crystal clear blue water, long white sandy beaches, pine forests and steep mountains surround us. We paddle to the beach to explore this bounty paradise. We are the only yacht on the anchorage, the camping is closed and the ferry stopped running a month ago, so we have the islands for ourselves! We follow the trails and hike to the main lighthouse “Faro Cies” on the middle island “Isla do Faro”. What a magnificent viewpoint! We can see the Rías we visited and even Cape Finisterre. Back on the boat we realize how lucky we are to have such weather in this season. While enjoying drinks and tapas in our shorts and t-shirts, we take in the beauty around us. Apparently in summertime over 50 yachts can be anchored at the islands and ferry tourists run around with selfy sticks, resulting in busy hiking trails full beaches.

The next day we explore the northern island “Isla do Monte Agudo” which is connected to “Isla do Faro” by a man-made dam on the Atlantic side and the sandy beach on the Ría de Vigo side. Seeing all the plastic trash on the beautiful beach, we can’t help ourselves but to clean it up. It feels like paying a little bit back for having enjoyed such natural beauty. The kayak is filled with two large garbage bags when we paddle back to the boat.

We stay a night in nearby Baiona for groceries and other supplies, and sort all the waste we collected on the beach in the marina’s recycling station. During our morning run around the fort we see the beautiful “Islas Cíes” in the distance. We decide to go back. This time we anchor at the southern Island “Isla de San Martiño”. Again there is lots of sun and no other boats. The beach is also spectacular (and more so after another clean-up). We see some closed homes, but can’t find any hiking trails. It seems that this island is truly for wildlife only. The afternoon sun is warm enough to convince us to jump into the water. Our first swim since Sweden in July. If it hadn’t been for family and friends reminding us that they’re celebrating Sinterklaas, we would not have believed it’s already December. When there is a too-good-to-let-go easterly breeze, we leave this paradise in the late evening and set sail for Portugal.

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