Sadly, we were to wake the following morning, not to festivities, a special church service, or parades through the streets. On the evening of the previous day, 24 July, there had been a horrendous train crash with many losing their lives. It transpired that the train had taken a corner too quickly and caused it to flip over.
We did not know this until the following morning when we were watching the television in the restaurant and realized that something horrific had taken place. We made our way into the city in light rain. The streets were deserted, and few shops were open. A complete contrast to the previous day, it came as no surprise to learn that all festivities to celebrate St James’ Day had been cancelled. While this was a fitting tribute to those who had lost their lives, it seemed a little harsh as at least 10,000 people had flocked to Santiago to take part in the festivities.
In total shock at this unexpected turn of events, and against our better judgment, we decided it was time to go home ourselves. The magic and uniqueness of the trip has been temporarily lost.
We did stay in Santiago for another two days because we could not organize shipping of the bikes as all the shops had closed temporarily in light of the tragedy. Once opened again, we enquired at a bike shop if they could arrange for our bikes to be transported back to the UK. After spending a further night at Monto do Gozo, we packed our panniers and headed back into Santiago.
Here we found a private room and spent the early part of the evening listening to melodious music being played just outside our window by a solo artist with a guitar – it matched our downhearted mood. The next day we bought two cheap backpacks for our belongings before taking the bikes and panniers to the shop for shipping back to home. Then we boarded the first of three trains, averting our eyes as we passed the earlier crash-site and sat back to help our minds and bodies heal over the next 36 hours and silently send our heartfelt sympathies to the families of those who had been killed in the train crash.
As the train gathered speed we both found it cathartic to sit quietly and reflect on the wonderful sights and sounds we had encountered over the past few weeks. Looking out of the window, we were being transported through regions that we had been riding through only a few days before. Under the iron bridge near Astorga, through vine-filled fields, wind mills grinding silently in the distance. So many memories came flooding back.
The first train stopped in Henday (just over the border between Spain and France) in the early evening. We boarded the second train (after a hurried bite to eat) to Paris and tried to get some sleep, although both still filled with thoughts of the sights and sounds we had experienced. Finally, still dressed in the our cycling longs and jackets – which had kept us warm on the train – we reached the terminal for the Channel Tunnel and our final train. Preparing to board this last train, I handed my passport over to a customs officer who grinned broadly (I didn’t know customs officers could do that) and said in a strong British voice “well, you’re not trying to conceal yourself are you” – I was wearing my high-vis yellow jacket used to keep me warm.