Friday, November 24, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Day 18

 Note: This is a camino of gratitude for me. Each day, I choose something I am grateful for in my life and think and journal about it throughout the day. I will share an excerpt from my journal entries at the end of each days post. 

La Isla to Villaviciosa  12.8 miles
8 October 2017 

The days are feeling more fall-like with cooler days and nights, but fair weather is holding and it is quite comfortable for hiking. At least once a day I come across bursts of orange in fields and gardens, reminding me of home.

In the mid-afternoon, I got what would be my last look at the ocean before turning south. I would not see salt water and pounding waves again until I finished my Camino a month from now.

I walked through the little town of Sabrayo and a man was sorting through apples in the back of a truck. He handed me one and I sat down on a bench to eat it—tart and crunchy—just right. 

As I approached Villaviciosa, a reasonable size city and my stop for the night, I came upon advertising posters for private albergues. These are different from the municipal albergues in several ways. Municipal albergues tend to have more basic amenities, only dormitories (no private rooms), and they rarely have internet access. They are generally much cheaper, some even asking for just a donation. Only peregrinos are allowed to stay in municipal albergues and they can only stay one night. They usually run on a first-come/first served principle and rarely allow reservations. The privately-owned albergues can run the gamut from very basic and/or not so clean to quite, comfortable, even hotel-like and most offer private rooms as well as dormitory beds. They are generally more expensive, starting at about 10 euros. These prividos, as they are called, allow anyone to stay and you can stay as long as you wish. Reservations are usually accepted.
The advertisement for 
the albergue I would 
choose in Villaviciosa.

As the peregrino approaches some of the larger towns and cities, s/he comes across competing advertising for the prividos. If I have not already made my mind up about where to stay, I often use my tablet to take photos of the posters for the more interesting-looking accommodations. That makes it easier to find them once I am in town and to decide which one to choose. The main things I look for are: prices, kitchen, wi-fi, and nice photos (although sometimes those are misleading, believe me!) 

Villaviciosa is in the heart of cider country here in Asturias
cider and apples are everywhere. On the outskirts of town I noticed this huge orchard. In the background beyond it cideries line the highway.

I was tired and ready to lay down my pack, but as I started to cross the town plaza, I uttered an uncontrollable “Ohhhh!” and stopped dead in my tracks when I came upon this serenely-meaningful sculpture celebrating the versatile fruit.

I found the entrance to Albergue El Congreso right off the town square and walked up some stairs to the first-floor reception (Remember, in almost all countries outside the US, the first floor is what we call the second floor. So, if you are given a room on the second floor, you have two flights of stairs to climb at the end of a long day with a pack on your back.)

The receptionist was very welcoming and the old paneled living room and hallways felt warm and comfortable. She did have beds in a 4-bed dormitory for 12 euros a night. But when I told her I would be staying at least two nights, she offered me a private room en suite for 18 euros/night and I took it. Even though it was on the second floor, it was wonderful to have space to myself, no one snoring through the night, no one waking me in the mornings, and a BATHTUB!

Later, in the restaurant next door, I ordered cider to drink and fabada. You may remember that I had fabada, an Asturian specialty, for the first time back in Serdio. It is a kind of bean stew made from fava beans, smoked salt pork, chorizo, and blood sausage. I loved it so much that order it just about every chance I get now.

Fabada and cider. Notice the small amount of cider
in the glass! 
I was astounded when my waiter very solemnly poured a small amount of cider from several feet above the glass, so that the liquid hit the rim. Most went in, but a significant amount fell on the floor, which apparently is mopped at the end of the night. 
Solemnity is an important part
of the cider-pouring ritual in
Asturias. I 
suspect that part of
the reason for 
this is that it must
take quite a bit 
of concentration
to have the cider 
hit the edge
of the glass just so. 
I was flabbergasted and had no idea what I was to do with ¾-inch of cider in such a big glass. Was it like wine, and should I taste it and give the waiter the nod that it was okay and then he would fill my glass? Was I supposed to drink it down like whiskey shots? I sipped it little by little, savoring each mouthful. I realized later that the waiter was keeping an eye on me. As soon as the glass was empty, he immediately refilled—but only about ¾-inch each time! So now I decided that I was supposed to savor it. Only later, when I had the chance to look up Spanish cider etiquette on the internet, would I learn that I was supposed to drink the cider all in one go for each pouring—like a whiskey shot—not sip it.
Oh well…
The next day, I took a rest day and an opportunity to catch up on some work. I am working on a book layout for a client as I travel and every once in a while, I need to find accommodations that provide wi-fi (which the Spanish people pronounce “wee-fee”) and the option to stay more than one night. This also gives my body, especially my poor hips, the chance to recuperate. 

I took a break mid-morning for cake and cafe con leche at the nearby pasteleria, some journal-writing, and to walk around town a bit. 

Interesting logo on an abandoned cidery. 
I am close to half done with my pilgrimage. Tomorrow I start on the Primitivo portion of the Camino de Santiago. The Primitivo splits from the del Norte trail just south of Villaviciosa. I will be doing a lot of climbing for the next week or two and expect some great scenery in the mountains.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Day 17

 Note: This is a camino of gratitude for me. Each day, I choose something I am grateful for in my life and think and journal about it throughout the day. I will  share an excerpt from my journal entries at the end of each days post. 

Day 17: Ribadesella to La Isla  10.5 miles
7 October 2017 

In the morning, the Camino took me along Ribadesilla’s promenade and then through apartment-lined streets into the countryside. The beach was beautiful, but very developed—Asturian-style mansions were built along the waterfront more than a century ago and they have been well maintained.

By noon I was approaching the sweet village of La Vega.  

The village was special enough just in itself…narrow cobbled streets, stone houses…exactly what you would think of for a traditional village in Spain. But imagine my surprise when I came upon these trompe l'oeil paintings! A local artist created these life-like works on the walls of his house.

I have not been able to learn the artist’s name, but here is a self-portrait of him, looking out of a window, as if to say, “What are you taking photos of?”

I could have stayed here for a couple hours studying all the details, but that would not get me to the next albergue.

And as I left the village, I encountered a new kind of structure, a horreo (pronounced “oreo” like the cookie, but remember to roll th“r’s”). Horreos are used like root cellarsto keep vegetables and grains through the winter. They are almost always built from chestnut, which slowly turns black making them look like they have been burnt. (For this reason, at first, I wondered if they were used for smoking meat.) They are built up off the ground with a large flat stone between the pedestals and the floor to keep rodents from climbing in. These little buildings would become more and more plentiful as I continued deeper into Asturias. Nowadays, some have been converted into bedrooms and are rented out via AirBnB for a hefty price.

I ended my day looking for the albergue in the almost-dead village of La Isla. No matter where I turned, I could not find the usual waymarks. Finally, some locals on the street escorted me to Angelita’s house. She is the hospitera. You must go to her house first to register and then on to the albergue, which is about six blocks away. It turns out that she is well-known on the Camino del Norte: A small woman who makes sure each line of the registration page is filled out correctly. When you first meet her, you might feel like she is impatient and a little grouchy, but it is not long before you realize she is just expecting you to understand Spanish. (And, after all, shouldn’t we be trying a little harder?) In reality, I believe she has the softest heart for the albergue and the peregrinos that come through, tired and ready for a warm bed.

Four more peregrinos arrived right behind me, so Angelita sat us at a table and we passed the registration book around, helping each other decipher the form.

The cost for the albergue bed in La Isla is 5 euros. On the Camino, I usually felt that this was not nearly enough to charge and I would add 3-5 euros as an additional donativo since I could easily afford it. For me it is important that these little municipal albergues are available and that they stay open for future peregrinos, like me. Until now, the extra gratuity was always gratefully accepted—but not by Angelita—oh no! A stickler for the rules, she was not about to take a cent more than the requested 5 euros!

Then we were directed to the albergue. I should have taken photos!! I got a single bed—no top bunk! The kitchen was well-equipped and easy to use, AND there was a free washing machine (a rarity). I was soooo glad I had not done my wash by hand in that grimy lavadora in Ribadesilla last night. The machine even spun the clothes out so well that they were dry on the line by morning! Such little luxuries cannot be taken for granted on the Camino.

Let’s see:
Ribasedellia albergue: Not welcoming, no kitchen, no useable washing area, packs stored downstairs, 20 euros! (To give them credit—the space was bright and airy and they did provide bed linens.)
La Isla albergue: Sweet hospitera, great kitchen, FREE washing machine, packs handy under our beds, some single beds, 5 euros! (We did have to use our own sleeping bags, which we are all used to doing.)

Which would you choose?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Camino del Santiago del Norte: Day 16

 Note: This is a camino of gratitude for me. Each day, I choose something I am grateful for in my life and think and journal about it throughout the day. I will share an excerpt from my journal entries at the end of each day's post.

Day 16: Villahormes to Ribadesella   10 miles
6 October 2017 

The albergue last night felt a bit strange to me for some reason. I think it had to do with the village it was in. It was a decent size village, but not one bar or restaurant for eating and no grocery stores (which are all called “supermercados” here even if they are very small). I went out walking around about 7:30 when most Spanish towns come to life, and despite cars in driveways and obviously lived-in homes, there was no one about…it was like a ghost town.  The albergue had a few items to purchase—but mostly it was sweets and soft drinks. Luckily, I had a few things with me to fix my own dinner.

At first, I thought I would be the only peregrino in the albergue, but five French men showed up about dusk. They chattered all evening, apparently going over their plans for the next day. None spoke any Spanish, and only one spoke any English at all, so we were not able to visit with each other very much.

But today was to be one of wonder. I would be slowed down quite a bit by many simple sights along the way. It is amazing that I made 10 miles by day’s end.

Early in the morning, I came across these whimsical windows, which was the beginning of a colorful day:

 Support for pilgrims can be found almost every day. Sometimes it is hard to find the yellow arrows that are our waymarks on the Camino, but then there are also times when you cannot mistake which way to go:

A bit later, I rounded a corner in a small village and encountered this colorful rock wall that must have been a project for art students. I enjoyed the interlude to study the images up close.

Even the nearby garbage bins and electricity cabinets were decorated!

A bit farther on, I found someone had decorated his mason bee and bird houses with Camino shell symbols.

I crossed over a medieval bridge dedicated to pilgrims:

And a bit later came upon a fountain dating from medieval times from which many pilgrims have quenched their thirst. Unfortunately, although the water was still flowing, it was not guaranteed to be potable. 

At one point, I spent WAY too much time watching bees fill their pollen pockets so full they could barely fly.

When I finally walked into Ribadesella, I really felt like I had found the quintessential Spanish city—with narrow streets decked out with artwork and flowers. The “Escalera de Colores” (Colorful Staircase) was a public art project in which anyone could paint a step and write a sentence, to create a “splash of joy and give people something to reflect on.”

The albergue in Ribadesilla was in a huge mansion right on the beach. It was a beautiful hostel—light, majestic, and airy. But from the moment a pilgrim walked in the door, it was apparent that the hostel did not really welcome pilgrims. The first thing the receptionist said was that this was a hostel, not a pilgrim albergue. We were welcome to stay, but first had to read a list of regulations. For example, our backpacks could not be taken into our rooms, but would be stored in a room outside. There was no place to prepare food. Although the rest of the hostel was spotlessly clean, when I went into the room set aside to wash clothes it was absolutely filthy and a rat scurried down a hole as I opened the door. Also, the price was the most I would pay for a dorm bed on the Camino: 20 euros. On the plus side, there were real sheets and blankets on the beds! And the view of the beach in front was spectacular!

This was the first of several “surfer hostels” I would encounter. (They cater to surfers and tourists visiting the beach.) However, no others discouraged pilgrims the way this one did.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Days 14 and 15

 Note: This is a camino of gratitude for me. Each day, I choose something I am grateful for in my life and think and journal about it throughout the day. I will share an excerpt from my journal entries at the end of each day's post.

Day 14: Columbres to Playa de Poo   17 miles
4 October 2017 

This was a LONG day, but I got my reward in the end!

Also, it was a beautiful day full of so many different sites that is was hard to record them all.
Lovely solitary beach along the coast.
There have been several times when the Camino takes me under freeways spanning gorges. As I walked among these behemoth legs, I wondered what it must have been like for those dwelling in this little farmhouse when the freeway was being built.

When I was in the UK, it was sometimes hard to find a public water fountain to replenish my bottle, but here, I rarely have to carry a lot of water with me. Many small villages in Spain have these water fountains, and sometimes naturally flowing spring water.

In peaceful Andrin I came across a sweet restaurant where I ordered one of my Spanish favorites: Ensalada mixta, a salad with tuna, eggs, blanched asparagus, olives, tomato. It makes a light lunch so that I can continue walking afterwards.

Next to the restaurant was the old village fountain where the women still sometimes come to do their washing. The men say that they really come to habla, bla, bla…

See the sign near the ceiling with a dog with a  line through him? Many of these washing areas prohibit the washing of dogs and cars! I guess children are fair game.

What??? Near the end of the day I walked alongside a golf course. I am not sure that this sign would do any good. By the time you hear the ball, it has probably already bonked you!

After 17 miles, I reached my albergue for the night in Playa de Poo (pronounced PO). It was a bit off the Camino path and I had to ask directions. No wonder I could not find it, I had to go through a very narrow alley that brought me out near the beach. This is actually one of many surfer hostels you find along the coast, but this one also caters to pilgrims. 

David, the hospitero, greeted me warmly, and unlike in most albergues who begin the registration process right away, he said, “First things first…Sit down. Would you like tea? Café? He asked where I was from, how my day was and I felt like he was truly interested. I ended up in a room of four beds by myself. It is a good time of year to be traveling here. Most pilgrims, surfers, and vacationers have left, but the hostels are mostly still open, so you aren’t stuffed in a room with 5 or more other travelers.

This albergue had so much character. There was a large back yard including an area for chickens. In the morning, I got fresh eggs from those chickens, along with freshly made jams (including fig jam from their fig tree!), and homemade cake.

This lovely home had little alcoves for relaxing. I wished that I had taken my rest day here, but the next day I had to move on. This and the albergue at Boo (pronounced BO) are my two favorites so far.  Boo and Poo!
On one of the albergue walls

Day 15: Playa de Poo to Villahormes    7 miles
5 October 2017 

In the morning, it was raining mist, but I wanted to walk down to see the beach and I was so glad that I did, for several reasons.

At first, I was alone and was astounded that the sandy beach and the accompanying cliffs and caves that ran alongside and about a kilometer up the the river that flows into the Bay of Biscay here. The tide was out, so the river meandered through the sandy canyon bottom. Later that day, I would encounter more of these kinds of beaches, which I called alluvial beaches, although I am not sure that is an accurate term.

I walked a ways upstream and then back down to the ocean. A small tractor with a wagon, and then two much larger ones were grinding their way to the tide lines. The small tractor was accompanied by a man who manually forked red seaweed into the wagon bed. But the large ones backed right down into the waves and then seined seaweed dragging it up onto the beach in huge rolls. I assumed it was for fertilizer, but later learned that it is sold to companies who extract agar-agar from it. 

My topic of gratitude for the day was “for perseverance.” It was appropriate, because, for some reason, I felt tired most of the day. I just wanted to lie down and take nap. At one point finally gave myself a shot of sugar in my tea thermos. (I normally drink my tea black.) It either worked or was a great placebo—at least until I burned it off. For part of the day perseverance and/or sugar was all that kept me going.

I was well into Asturias now and would be for a couple weeks. One thing you find in Asturias is an architecture that is characterized by bright, yet somewhat rich earthy colors. Some of the homes are quite striking. In front of the homes you usually find a couple palm trees. 

This style came from the many Asturian people who made their fortunes with plantations in the Caribbean in the 16th Century. When they came home, they built large mansions similar to the ones they had left behind complete with two palm trees flanking the front, to remind them of their second homes. As time went by, even middle-class families copied the style. As I passed many of these homes—even the modest ones, I could not help but feel saddened by the fact that  these fortunes were made on the backs of slaves in the sugar fields. But, I reminded myself, this was no different from the many antebellum homes we have in the southeast US.

Today, another kind of town fountain in the plaza at ­­­­­­Naves, where I stopped for café con leche.