“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”Miguel Cervantes
Day 23. The Primitivo
Today, I believe, was the defining stage of the Primitivo. The Camino rose from 600m to 1130m rising above the tree line to some reveal some magnificent views. I took the Hospitales route which is recommended in good weather and for most of the day I had great weather. It was a magnificent day and although a bit different from what I expected, it made this whole adventure a rewarding experience.
I took a lot of pictures but it was hard to capture the colors and depth and breathtaking panoramas. As I started out, there was one pilgrim ahead of me. He had a good pace and although I approached him a few times he was soon off into his own world. He did not want to chitchat which was fine with me. I bumped into a few people going the other way.
There were some forest fires last April that swept through the area I passed through today , as attested to by a lot of black trees. However, the vegetation is coming back and the locals expect the trees will too.
What goes up must come down and the trail eventually led down from 1120m to 850m. I began hearing thunder and noticed dark clouds ahead. Today the rain caught up with me and I pulled on my handy Hefty bag, and soon found a chapel with a convenient portico sheltering several pilgrims. After half an hour it cleared up and we were on our way. I going to stay in Berducedo. I thought I had a private room booked but the fellow who attended me said, no, this is an alberge. I didn’t mention that I have stayed at many alberges that also had private rooms. I asked if I could rent a towel. No, he reminded me, this is an alberge. I resigned myself to doing the communal thing, but was not happy with the guys surly attitude. The pins and needles sticking at odd places in his face did not help me feel welcome. Long story short, I found a room in the next village and grabbed my gear and hiked another hour and found a very pleasant place where I am sitting with a glass of wine writing this post.
I must mention one other person I met. She is a French girl traveling solo (from Paris) who does not stay in alberges. She spends the night in a sleeping bag in the fields, in a tent if rain threatens. She would not let me take her picture. She wants to go to Senegal next. Draw your own conclusions.
Day 22. Listen to your body
I spoke of signs in a recent post. Well here is one I saw on the wall of the alberge I stayed at yesterday.
Me: Hmmm! A transport service.
Left foot: Yay!!!
Right foot: Woo hoo!!!
Me: Whoa! Doesn’t mean I’m going to use it.
Left foot: Why not? We are tired of carrying your backpack.
Right foot: Yeah, we wanna break.
Me: Look here now! A pilgrim must carry his backpack. It’s part of the deal.
Left foot: Oh really? And where is that written down?
Me: You wouldn’t understand. It’s like staying in the alberges with a bunch of other people. Like having shell hanging on your backpack. Like using poles, for goodness sake!
Right foot: Well you don’t do any of that. You don’t even collect stamps! Your just a phony-grino!
Me: I am not! I want to to find strength in weariness and shoulder the load for all who cannot walk the Camino!
Left foot: Oh for heaven’s sake! Listen, you’ve got a 20 mile hike and your rucksack is full of a bunch of stuff you don’t even use!
Right foot: OK, OK, stop! We are going to take a vote. I vote for TaxiCamino
Left foot: Me too!
Both knees: We vote for TaxiCamino, too!
Lower Back Pain: I’ll take a part of that vote.
Crick in the neck: Hey, I’m in too! That’s 6 to your 1!
Me: OK! I hear you! But if they lose my backpack I am going to be really angry!
Entire Body: breaks into Alleluiah chorus.
No doubt, today was a long walk. Twenty miles without a backpack but a lot of up and down. It started out great, I was cruising – my sassy feet had wings! But the last 5 kilometers felt interminable. Thunder was rumbling at my back, the wind began to blow cold, and the raindrops started pelting down about a kilometer from Casa Herminia, my stop for the night. I departed at 8 am and arrived at 5 pm. Without any breaks because if you don’t stop when you see one of the few bars along the way, you don’t eat or drink! And my feet? Funny you should ask:
Day 21. Sight for sore feet
Salas, today’s destination, is a happy little town. It was a shorter walk than average, just under 13 miles and the Alberge Valle de Nonaya where I am staying is clean and tidy. I have my own room but I share a bathroom and kitchen area with three other rooms. I was first to arrive so I had a clean shower to myself. Then I did my laundry, consisting of my shirt and underwear along with another shirt and hung it outside the window where there was a clothesline handily installed. After completing my chores, I laid down for about 30 minutes with my feet raised on a pillow. Although short, the trail had some steep and often rocky ups and downs and my feet were complaining about the abuse I was putting them through. But I try to get a 30-minute decompression every day.
Then it was off to the bar for my arrival beer. As I was sorting through the day’s photographs, a gentleman I had seen early that morning departing Grado walked by. We greeted each other and he sat down to join me for a beer. His name is Takaya and he is a classical guitar performer and instructor but has lately taken to playing the Portuguese guitar accompanying Fado singers. In case you had forgotten, fado is a form of music popular in Portugal characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics infused with a sentiment of resignation, fate and melancholy. Fado has become very popular in Japan. Takaya told me a beautiful Portuguese Fado singer asked him to play a Portuguese guitar and he could not refuse.
Takaya has chalked up seven Caminos. He told me about the Ohendo walk around Shikoku island, over 1000 km long and visiting 88 temples. He has not attempted that one yet, because it is so close to home.
The Primitivo family is coming together after only two days. Many of us are on the same schedule and we crisscross each other through the day.
Day 20. First day of the Primitivo
Are you a believer in signs? Do you think there are messages in your dreams? Do you look to the zodiac for guidance? Or is this all superstition and nonsense? Consider this: As I left my hotel in Oviedo this morning, I walked by some golden beads lying on the sidewalk. Reminded me of Mardi Gras beads so I kept walking. But the glitter stayed in my mind and I returned and picked them up. It was a rosary, and not a plastic one but some kind of solid metal. I thought, “I was meant to pick up this rosary and take it with me to Santiago.” As I walked on, though, other thoughts came to mind. This was a very nice rosary and someone was probably stressing out and praying to find it. I turned around again and went into a coffee shop across from where I found the beads and gave the rosary to the waitress. What do you make of that? At the very least, I hope, good karma!
On the way out of town I noticed a chapel with door open. I walked in, hoping to sit for a few minutes of peaceful contemplation. Instead, I found that the Mass had just started. I sat there until it was over, and a little longer listening to the nuns singing songs whose melodys were vaguely familiar.
The day started out chilly and foggy. By the time I was well on my way, it was warming up but the sky remained clouded over – perfect hiking weather for me. There were several coffee bars and restaurants along the way. Most of the trails were wooded, rural dirt or stone paths; a small portion was asphalt and even less on busy roads. by the time I reached the first day’s destination, Grado, it was bright, sunny and hot.
I actually went down (total descent: 620m, or 2000’) more than I went up (total ascent: 470m, or 1550’). But that will change tomorrow. The scenery is beautiful and it is so green! Lots of cattle and sheep and horses.
By the way, and Lisa will be interested in this, I have been seeing a lot of hórreos since entering Asturias. We saw a lot of them in Galicia last year. Most are very old structures but here in Asturias there are a lot of new ones. They were originally designed to hold grain and other crops and keep the varmints out. You can see the flat rocks on top of the legs which little critters cannot negotiate. Now, it looks like they are used for other purposes, including grandmas house.
Today I made it to Oviedo, or Uvieu in the Asturian language, the capital of the Principality of Asturias and the “official” starting point of the Camino Primitivo.
The Umayyad invasion of the Iberian peninsula began in 711 and by the end of the decade, they controlled most of the peninsula. Pelagius (Pelayo) was a Hispano-Visigothic nobleman who established the Kingdom of Austrias in 718 and is credited with initiating the Reconquista when he attacked and defeated an Arab-Berber army at the Battle of Covadonga. He is thus considered the forefather of all future Iberian monarchies, including those of Castile, Leon and Portugal. The culmination of the Reconquista would not come until the united kingdoms of Isabelle I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon defeated the last moorish stronghold, the Nasrid in Granada in 1492.
The Camino Primitivo is said to be the first pilgrimage to Santiago. The Spanish King Alfonso II walked from the Asturian Kingdom’s then capital, Oviedo, in the 9th century after hearing that the remains of St James the Apostle had been discovered in Compostela. There is also a Marian pilgrimage between Oviedo and Covadonga (GR-105, in case you are interested).
I was planning to take a break in Oviedo, rest my feet, perhaps mail some of the extra cargo I am carrying ahead, make some advance lodging reservations and generally prepare for the subidas and bajadas that are coming up. But why waste time? So I embark tomorrow in the footsteps of Alfonso.
Ultreia y Suseia!
Day 18. The Tree
I slept good last night and took my time setting off on the trail. Just outside of Villaviciosa, the Camino bifurcates, with the North fork heading to Gijon, the other to Oviedo and the Primitivo.
Early during the planning for this trip I read about the monastery of San Salvador de Valdedios about 5 miles outside of the village of vice and today I looked forward to visiting it. I hiked through some beautiful countryside. Who would not want to live in the Valley of God, I thought.
When I arrived, I noticed the gates were closed. I walked up to a notice board with the schedule. Should open between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. I read further. Cerrado Lunes. I must admit I was upset, as though it has been closed intentionally so I could not see it. In a bit of a funk, I left and began a nearly 500 meter climb. By the time I reached the top, I had forgotten about the monastery! Not too long after, I stopped by a coffee bar and found Oliver from Germany. He had been 60/40 on doing the Primitivo. “I am 100% now!” he told me. Mimi and Martine from France were lunching at the same spot. They had also attempted to visit the monastery. “Don’t schedule anything for Monday in Spain!” advised Martine.
I relaxed for a while after Oliver and the two ladies set off. I thought about the monastery and realized that missing the visit there was really of no consequence. Instead, I had a good training session for the climbs to come. Then I, too, set off. It had been very hot before the lunch stop, but now a mountain-born breeze swept the valleys. Still, I began to feel tired, but kept pushing myself along country roads. It was as though the previous day’s marathon had taken a lot out of me.
With about an hour left to go before reaching my casa rural for the night, I was walking along a wooded path and a bench appeared. My tired body was drawn to it and I was unstrapping my backpack as I neared it. I plopped down and heaved a sigh of exhaustion. Without looking around, my eyes focused on a tree directly across from me. I stared at the tree for a long time.
My tiredness disappeared. I took a long draught of water, made myself comfortable on the bench and removed my glasses. Apart from that morning at the beach, I had not stopped long enough to relax and meditate. And now I did. This was something I had planned to do as well. The gates to meditation were not locked. They were wide open and they swallowed me up.
Day 17. A little help from my friends
Last night I was faced with a major decision. The coastal trek with its ups and downs, and trying to keep pace with Steve from Montana and Collette from New Zealand, had left me too tired to consider the options: a short walk to Colunga or a much longer trek to Villaviciosa. So I decided to sleep on it. I awoke and showered and packed my bags, still not deciding, but in a positive mood. I went down to the lobby hoping I could get a cup of coffee. “Are you 307?” asked the night manager. “Oh, my room number! Yes, I am 307.” “Well, I have laid out breakfast for you.” And so he had: there were honeydews and croissants and boiled eggs and cheeses and more. And a coffee machine that produced a very good cafe con leche, which, when augmented with a cortado, made the perfect eye opener for me. Having supped on olives the night before, I ate a bigger breakfast than usual.
Most pilgrims collect “sellos”, or stamps, along the Camino. Instead, I am collecting “dichos”, or sayings from different people along the Camino. When I asked Adrian, the night manager, to write something for me, he was pleased to comply. Adrian told me that life can be compared to an hourglass. We live on the top of all the sand that has seeped through the neck of the timepiece, representing the past. Our present life is the falling sand. We cannot see from where we are how much sand is left on top, or our future. It may be a few grains or a beach full. He took my “pilgrim’s passport” and drew an hourglass with the inscription: “We do not know what lies ahead; enjoy every day.” He was nearly forty years old (he looked about thirty!) and had been working in the hotel business since he was eighteen, doing everything except making the beds. He had recently bought a van to travel around in, which was his dream. Adrian is a madrileño, but when I assumed that made him a “gato”, he corrected me: gatos are the offspring of parents who are both madrileños and his mother and father were not born in Madrid.
Adrián had treated me so well that I had nearly made my mind up to do the long walk to Villaviciosa. But I wasn’t quite there yet. I left the hotel, walked down to the seaside promenade and headed west. An older gentleman came walking the other way and wished me “Buen Camino!” I acknowledged with a nod, but as I walked past I called out to him. I thanked him for being the first person to give that greeting this morning. We chatted. His voice grew serious and he told me he had a gift for me. He opened his palm and gave me a memento which meant so much to me that I could not quite fathom it. I told him it must be very special to him. After all, he carried it in his hand as he walked. “A gift, if it is to have any meaning, must be difficult to part with,” he said. “And bring pleasure to both the giver and the receiver.” We chatted a bit more, then, with a fumbling of goodbyes, we parted ways. I knew then that I was going to Villaviciosa.
Today I did not stray from the yellow brick road. The trail to Colunga teased with a few more approaches near the coast, but afterwards the Camino led inland and the scenery changed. The countryside got hillier and the paths often led through forested green canopies.
Today I stay on the official Way,
And yes, TS, it’s many steps before I rest.
Time to walk, save the talk
for another day.
It might seem it’s a dream
but it’s time to pray
So I sing, the words ring,
And drift away
And so I stay on the official Way
And yes, confess, it’s time to rest.
And here I sit in the Trébede bar in Villaviciosa writing my post, with 25 miles logged, further than I have ever walked in one day! And why not come here? The name itself is intriguing, meaning “vicious village”, or perhaps, more aptly, “vice-ridden town”, but an old name, because there is not much sign of of sin in this town. Little kids run around, grandparents show off the grandkids, couples, old and young, hold hands, glancing at each other with what can only be described as love. And somewhere in Ribadesella, an old gentleman named Jose Luis, known to his friends as Pepe, sits, without a treasure he once held close, I suppose, for many years. I imagine him thinking of a stranger he met, and feeling comforted, knowing his gift is in good and appreciative hands.
Vete en paz.
Day 16. A rather coastal day
You should have received your notice about Day 15. It got stuck in the ether. Lo siento!
There was no breakfast at The Old Seaman Bed and Breakfast this morning, at least not before 0900, so I guess I should be thankful for the bed. I left Celorio a bit later than I expected but was soon on my way, passing by a couple of beaches and then, just before reaching the A-8, I passed by the monastery of St Antolín.
Despairing of finding a cafe bar, I stopped to eat a tangerine and a banana for breakfast while overlooking a beach on the A-8. I continued on and bumped into Steve from Montana and Collette from New Zealand. They were walking the wrong way and told me they were heading back to a turn-off onto a coastal trail. “Wanna go with us?” “Sure!” And off we went, at a pace rather faster than my normal plod, to follow a trail Steve had found on Gronze, one of the apps used by peregrinos as well as other hikers. There are many apps for the Camino, including Buen Camino which I use. Peter used Wikiloc to find trails. Steve’s discovery of a coastal trail did not appear on my Buen Camino app until much later in the day’s trek.
I accompanied Steve to the Playa de las Cuevas. Here we parted ways. I wanted to have another banana and tangerine and take a break. After resting, I headed off to the Bufones de Pria, more blowholes where the air roared from crevasses connected to the sea. As with yesterday, the tide was too low to see the blowholes geysering.
I followed the coast nearly all the way to my destination: Ribadesella, another beach town on the north coast of Spain. Most visitors go to the south coast for more reliable hot summers, but the rugged north coast is beautiful, reminding me of the difference between northern and southern California. I will close out with a couple of the many photos I took.
Day 15. Week 3 begins
I left La Franca early this morning and took the E-9 trail as an alternative to the “official” Camino which runs along the country roads. Instead, the E-9 took me along the coast through farmland and cow pastures. Last night’s rain did not make the trail any worse for wear.
I walked for about 5 miles before I found a coffee shop. It is high on a bluff overlooking the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs. In fact, I became so mesmerized by the view that I sit here now, sipping on my second cup of coffee, writing this post. It reminds me of the time I went on my first Camino, or escapade, when I was eleven years old: I ran away from home with my reluctant buddy, Doug Varland, and we hiked along the beach for hours before the search parties sent out by frantic parents found us. And just in time because the wolves, unseen but lurking in the hillsides nearby, were starting to take note of us. I was not really running away from anything; I was traveling towards a magical place that existed in my imagination. It is an ever-changing place that I am still journeying towards.
The next highlight along the way were the Bufones, or blowholes. At high tide, they say water spouts can spray up to 20 meters high. I went by there at low-ish tide. There was only a faint spray of mist, but it sounded like a freight train as air blasted out of the rocky gullies. I stayed on the E-9 until just before Llanes when I lost the trail and ended up on a bicycle trail. Just as well because it was there I met Ziggy, a 73 year old German who told me he was doing his last Camino. Ten years earlier, a job that kept him desk-bound, along with smoking and drinking too much left him overweight and partially paralyzed in his legs. He started walking through the forests near his home and worked up enough strength and stamina that he tried the Camino Francés. He has since walked all the Caminos, including some more than once, including the Norte, on which he was making his farewell tour. “Everything has changed,” he told me. “The routes, the buildings, the people. Even our beliefs have changed.” I wished him well. I know he was hoping this final run would never end.
Llanes, and Po, the following village, were pretty hip places with chic bars and restaurants catering to well-heeled tourists. I was hoping Celorio, where I am spending the night at “The Old Seaman” inn, would be similar. It was not to be. But there is a bar next door and I am having beer and a mix of peanuts and corn nuts for dinner.
Day 14. Changing Gears
I am sitting in my little casita, a rural cabin in the tiny crossroad of La Franca, but I might as well be in Thailand or Singapore during a tropical downpour kicked off with lightning and thunder. I am glad I am not out hiking in the deluge, but it is a good sign. This is, after all, the end of Week 2 on the Camino, and a time for changing gears. First, my walking companion Peter is by now in safe harbor in Solana Beach. Walking solo puts one in a very different mindset. For example, I no longer book rooms days ahead, but instead the day of. I have more time to myself, which I am putting into the mental preparation for the Primitivo. The Norte has ascents of 300-500 meters. The Primitivo has ascents of 600-900 meters. The Norte is along the coast with plenty of lodging, food and other facilities. The Primitivo has a few alberges strategically located every 15 or so miles. But I paint a bleak picture. It will be challenging but exhilarating. The ascents and especially the descents will be tough, but the vistas and the people will be amazing.
Before continuing, it is time for congratulations: to my sister Colleen whose birthday is May 15 and to Jack whose birthday is tomorrow, May 26. And to all you others who may be celebrating: be safe and responsible. Okay, have a little fun, too!
Today I had an earlier start and the arrows led me through nice countryside and eventually to the coast at Oyambre beach, then inland for a bit, until I got close to San Vicente de La Barquera. There, a long and wide sandy beach opened up. I notice ed a pilgrim leave the waymarked trail and go down to the beach and remove his sandals. It was Oliver, a German from near Düsseldorf who smokes too much, but I followed go down, took off my shoes and socks and walked half a mile along the beach.
We walked into San Vicente and spotted the bus station. Bus stations always have good coffee so we stopped for a while. Oliver went into town in search of smokes while I worked on where to spend the night. Then it was back on the trail which led through some nice forested areas.
The sun was shining the whole day and after an 18-mile day, I reached my casita in La Franca. The last portion of the trail I hiked with a Frenchman who spoke English but no Spanish. He was with an American who was trying to learn Spanish. So they made an interesting pair. The American is on a one year visa to live in Spain, where he plans to move. He is checking out all the different regions of Spain