Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Days 12 and 13

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 12: San Vicente to Serdio    5 miles 
1 October 2017 (Today would be Rachel's 35th birthday.)

San Vicente in the distance (on the left side), next to where the river meets the sea. 
The next morning I did not have to leave the hotel until noon. (Usually we have to be out of the albergues by 8:00 or 8:30.) Again, I thought about how lucky I was to have shelter and decided to dedicate this day as well to being grateful for the shelter I found last night.

October is here and many, many calabazas are found in home gardens. 

We pilgrims are pleased to see the yellow arrows wherever we can find them.
And after only 7.7 kilometers, I came to this lovely albergue in Serdio.
The hospitera here loved my trensas (braids, which I mostly wear all the time now). See that weeping willow? Some young peregrinos climbed it in the evening and were singing!
After leaving my pack at the albergue I walked back down the road to eat at the local taberna. I did not recognize anything on the menu, but I ordered the fabada with a questioning look at the tavern owner. He kissed his fingers so I trusted him. And it turned out to be beans cooked with smoked salt pork—much like our family has created it for generations--except they add chorizo and blood sausage. It was still a taste of home…

Fabada (in front) followed by steak fillet and potatoes and all the wine I could drink
from that bottle.  Add
postre (dessert) after that and you have a recipe for siesta!
The menu del dia, which is a common practice here and which I had also encountered in Peru, is a set menu, sometimes with lots of choices, sometimes with only one or two. You get a first (primero) and second (secundo) course, wine, and dessert for a set price—here it is between 9 and 14 euros. This one was 10 euros and included the bottle of wine! I am a very cheap drunk so I only had 2 glasses. But with the fabada, the steak filet and potatoes, cold lemon custard, bread, and wine, I had only one choice—return to the albergue for a siesta!

I would later learn that Asturias is famous for its fabada and I was able to try it several more times, but none of the others measured up to this one in the little village of Serdio on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.

Day 13: Serdio to Columbres  5.5 miles
2 October 2017 

The small things I see along my camino slow me down quite a bit, but it is worthwhile
to stop and enjoy them, even if takes me two months to get to Santiago!
Black cows enjoying lunch at a cafe with a view of the peregrina passing by.
The last two days intentionally been short ones and I will try to take a rest day tomorrow. A tendon in the back of my knee is hurting—probably from the abuse it suffered two days ago. Rest is the best cure. The albergue in Columbres is the answer. Some will not allow us to stay two nights, but this one does.
Welcome to Columbres. My albergue for two nights is the blue building in the distance.
In the evening, for the first time in months, I was able to take advantage of the limited wi-fi here to call my friend Emily. I had not talked with her in months!! It was so nice to touch base.

A funny thing about my two-day stay in Columbres. On my first night there were four other people in the six-bed room. All could speak English (a rare experience lately—I am often the only native English speaker in a room). We had some lovely chats. The next night, my roommates were three Spanish men who came in very late stinking of beer accompanied by their dog who, otherwise well-behaved, was led with a large chain that clanked every time he moved during the night. On top of that, one man had about the most annoying snore I have ever heard. I got up and got out early!

I have now walked 122 miles to the Compostela de Santiago


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte – Day 11

Cóbreces to San Vicente     Not quite 20 miles 
30 September 2017
This is a rather lengthy post, but it has an interesting ending which relates to the purpose of my Caminoto reflect on the things in my life for which I am grateful.
Leaving Cóbreces.  Can you spot the yellow arrow? Pilgrims are
always on the lookout for the yellow arrows. Remember this.
I had thought that since it was raining a little as I left the Cóbreces monastery, and because I planned for it to be a short day, and because it is easy to think about being grateful for shelter, that is what I would choose today—to think about how much gratitude I have for the shelter in my life.

The foggy valley near Cóbreces.
The day started fine, if a bit rainy, and the kilometers to Comillas—my short-day destination—melted away. I arrived in the quaint coastal tourist destination by noon and I decided to go on to the next town with an albergue. I had been told that the large albergue (another name for hostel) in San Vicente was closed, but I was armed with the names of two albergues in Santa Marina and La Revilla which were just before San Vicente.

Not quite 320 miles to Santiago!
As I approached the two or three buildings that marked the village of Santa Anna, I was doing fine—only two kilometers to go and I would still be stopping early—by about 3:30. I thought about how I would get a chance to catch up on blog posts and get to talk to Ben and Rebecca.

After I had walked for about an hour past Santa Anna, I was cussing my guidebook. I know I walk slowly, but surely it was more like 4 or 5 kilometers to Santa Mariña! And now I was starting to flag a bit. “Oh well,” I told myself, “the hostel (shelter) would be that much more appreciated.”

During the day, I thought about how grateful I am in my life to never have had to worry about whether I would have a roof over my head and a warm (usually warm) bed at night. Of course, I have occasionally slept in the elements—by choice. But I have never worried that the cold might go on forever. And thus my gratitude. Not everyone in the world has such luxury. 

When I arrived at the next intersection, it was NOTHING like the guidebook described—NOTHING! I kept looking for the yellow Camino arrows, then at the highway signs at the intersection roundabout, then at my guidebook. Where in the hell was I???

After much studying, I figured out that I had taken a wrong turn right after Santa Anna and the intersection where I was standing was off the guidebook’s map. I sat down on the grass in the middle of the roundabout and as the cars circled me, I ate a snack, tried not to cry, and figured out what to do. Since I was “off line,” I could not consult Google maps, so I had to guess whether it would be shorter to go back or to take another way back. I chose “the other way” and later discovered it was the right decision. At least this busy highway had a shoulder on the left side of the road.

Even though I was really beginning to flag,
I was able to notice beautiful things along the way.
After about an hour, mostly walking uphill, I got back to the vicinity of Santa Mariña. But I could not find the Santa Mariñalbergue and the streets were like a ghost town. (Later I would learn that the Santa Mariña albergue was actually in another town—not in Santa Mariña!) I did see a sign for another albergue one kilometer away—back the way I had just traveled

Now, “flagging” was a nice word for how I was feeling. My calves were burning with every step—I had been on pavement all day for over 14 miles carrying about 20 pounds. After walking back the one kilometer, I found that albergue to be closed. I asked a woman who lived at the albergue about the Llambes albergue (the other one I had heard about from pilgrims who had recently stayed there) and she disgustedly waved back toward Santa Marina saying it was two kilometers away. So back I went again. I now found some people there and asked about Llambes. One person “knew” and gave me specific directions that were very clear and I repeated them back to him: Go to the next street, turn right, and then left at the next street and go down until the street ends and the albergue would be on my right.

OK, off I went. All I found were street lamps that looked like they came directly out of Narnia and empty fields and a road that ended with an electric fence across it, and lots of cows and pampas grass. The road circled around on itself and back I walked to the highway (yet again!)

Okay…time to bite the bullet and go on to San Vicente. I was so tired, but I could not sit down because when I got back up my hips and legs and feet went into shock. It was now 6:30 pm and it was about now that I remembered that today’s gratitude was for shelter...


Was tonight to be the first time in my life that I would sleep in the elements without choosing to do so? I eyed an old open milking shelter as a possibility, but I had two hours until dark. So...I crossed the long bridge into San Vicente.

I decided to check the Albergue de Peregrinos just to make sure it was closed, but it was hard to find. I encountered two other peregrinos who were staying in a hotel and they offered to help me find it since they spoke Spanish and English well. We kept getting conflicting directions, but we finally found it way UP the hill by the church. The woman helped me by pushing on my backpack when we climbed hills and we laughed! It amazed me that I still had some laughter inside me.

Yes…the albergue was closed for fumigation. Ohthat pestilence of the Caminobed bugs! (But, at that point, it would have been tempting to stay there anyway.)

I had the name of a pension from my guidebook. I would have to bite my frugal bullet and spend over 25 Euros for the night. My fellow pilgrims helped me find the pension in the middle of town and we hugged goodbye and wished each other “Buen Camino!”  

I stepped inside the pension. Delicious aromas from the kitchen assailed me. Alas, the pension was full. The host directed me to another place, but my brain was too tired to translate what she was saying. I had seen signs for other hotels and trudged to the first one 100 meters down the road. It was 55 Euros for the night. I was just too stubborn for that. 

“Lo siento,” I said, “Es demasiado.” (I’m sorry, it is too much.) The clerk kindly indicated the next hotel—another 700 meters. 

It, too, looked expensive from a distance, and in the dark I started looking for likely sites to curl up in my sleeping bag and hope for the best—that is, no rain. But what did I have to lose? 

I walked in...

When the clerk said “30 Euros,” I took it without blinking. In a flash, I had my own private double bed en suite with a BATHTUB! A bathtub AND hot water!

How my circumstances changed in so short a time—and mainly because, in reality, I could afford to spend 30 Euros to soak my muscles in hot water and to NOT sleep outside with cows.

How do I summon up enough gratitude for that? I don’t know, but I think it will be a while before I choose to be grateful for having enough to eat.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Days 8, 9, and 10

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 exerpt from my journal entries at the end of each day's post.

Day 8: Santander—Boo de Pielagos   8.5 miles
27 September 2017

Today’s walk was not terribly memorable…the first part was a bit of a slog over pavement and through the suburban and industrial area of Santander. 
The streets near the center of Santander had a lot of character and many
pedestrian malls, but as you leave the city, it is not so picturesque.
Along the way, I saw this concrete wall that looks like it is knitted! 

I ended the day at my favorite albergue to date! I could not believe how nice this place was! Lots of room to spread out in the kitchen/dining room, the upstairs patio right off our room, or the outdoor downstairs patio. 

Blankets AND towels were provided (that is very unusual in many albergues) and the showers are nice and hot. 

A nice touch in new, or recently remodeled, albergues is a shelf and electric outlets
right next to your bed for charging devices. Wi-fi and charging opportunities
are the first thing the modern pilgrim looks for upon arriving--well, after the shower.
Breakfast was included and my dinner of a giant salad topped with an incredible goat cheese and a glass of red wine was only an additional 7 euros. The hospitality here in this little town of Boo de Pielagos (pronounced BO) is phenomenal. I took part in our communal meal with people from Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

Earlier in the day, two of the women from Italy and Spain broke into a beautiful rendition of “O Solo Mio,” as I scrubbed my clothes in the outdoor laundry. I felt like I was in a movie! 

Of course, there was a resident cat, curled up by the front door.

Day 9: Boo de Pielagos—Santillana   11.7 miles
28 September 2017

Street art near the Boo train station.

I was so surprised when I arrived in the little town of Santillana. I came around the corner to enter the town from behind the church and found the streets full of tourists and gift shops! The town has preserved its medieval flavor—with cobblestone streets and all stone buildings. Busloads of people come to see replicas of Paleolithic cave paintings from the nearby Altamira Caves, which are closed to visitors. 

As I was standing in front of the church trying to get my bearings to find the albergue and a place to eat, an American tourist came up and asked, “Are you a pilgrim?”

“Yes,” I said. I was a bit distracted because it was nearly 4:00 and if I did not find a restaurant soon, they would all close and I would have to wait until after 8:00 to eat. 

“You are my first pilgrim,” he exclaimed.

“Well,” I replied, “there are a lot of us.” We laughed. 

Can I take your photo, he asked, “...here, in front of the church?

He was one of many from a cruise ship and his guide had told the group about the Camino de Santiago and pilgrims. He took me over to the table to meet his fellow travelers—all from the US. They asked some questions and then I had to get some food before the bar closed for the afternoon. Before they left, I encouraged them to consider doing a pilgrimage. It turned out that he had grown up in Seattle near the University District!

The next day, any time a tour bus passed me on the highway, I imagined the guide telling the passengers, And if you look quickly over to your left, you will see a modern pilgrim walking to Santiago.

Later that evening, a local English teacher came over to the albergue where I was staying. Our host had told him that an American was staying there and the teacher asked if I  would let some of his kids interview me in English about being a pilgrim. The only rule was that I was only to speak English—this was an English assignment. They were darling kids—about 13 or 14 years old. They all shook my hand and asked really great questions in their strongly accented English. And then they took selfies of us all together.

Between those two incidents, I felt like I had had my 15 minutes of fame on the Camino!

Day 10: Santillana—Cóbreces   8 miles
29 September 2017

My lunchtime view on the way to Cóbreces
This walk was made “shorter” by the appearance of a young German woman who accompanied me more than half way. We laughed and talked and I walked a little faster than my usual pace, so I arrived here in record time—for me anyway.

I was admiring the colorful cathedral and taking photos. Then I turned around and saw this Monument to the Peregrinos. I was completely unprepared for my emotional response when I saw it. What do you think?

I stayed in the albergue run by the Cisterian (Trappist) Monastery that is next door to the church. The church is an earthy red and the monastery sky blue.
Above: The Cisterian Monastery.
Below: The sparse, but comfortable albergue.

There were only 5 pilgrims in this albergue that holds 30—a French couple, and Italian couple, and me. The accommodations were sparse, but clean, and the showers are HOT!

At 9:00 pm, we were invited to take part in the evening offices of Completas (in English: Compline) in the Monastery. These prayers signify the closing of the working day. Since I am not Catholic, I did not know what to expect, but it was a serene half-hour of sung and chanted prayers—very calming, even if I could not understand most of the words. 

I am quite far behind in my blog posts. I apologize for that. Internet access is spotty on the Camino del Norte, but I will do my best to continue to keep you updated. I promise more indepth stories in the future!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Days 5, 6, and 7

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 exerpt from my journal entries at the end of each day's post.

Day 5: Sañtona—Noja   5.25 miles
24 September 2017

With a bit of a tear, I left Sañtona. It is a lovely little town and I hope to come back someday—if for no other reason than to sample more tapas! 

Today’s walk was across a lovely beach full of surfers taking advantage of the huge breakers. Then a climb over a steep hill, which, I had read would be somewhat dangerous. It wasn’t so much, but I did have to pay attention to how I made my way across it. On the Camino, we pilgrims are always on the lookout for waymarks, which are mostly yellow arrows (fletchas amarillas) to keep us on the right path. On this rock trail, which I sometimes had to climb over, someone had painted an arrow pointing straight up—as if I was planning to fall down the side of the steep hill!

Then I had a view of another lovely beach at low tide and some interesting rocks where I ate my lunch. The second beach was over 3 miles long! 

I felt very incongruous walking with a full pack among the Sunday beach-goers in their suits and bikinis. I took off my shoes and joined them in the promenade.

Day 6: Noja—Guemes  9.3 miles
25 September 2017

I got rained on a bit on the way to Guemes, but at least I never got cold and the sun returned in time for me to sit down and eat my lunch. 

The Guemes albergue has quite a reputation for its beauty and hospitality. It was a place that is communally supported. They feed you dinner and breakfast and the accommodations are comfortable. 

I actually got to sleep in 
a non-bunk bed! 

It is difficult to explain, but I left in the morning feeling like the hospitality was a bit forced—like it was expected that everyone would be amazed at how wonderful it is.  Not everyone leaves feeling this way, so perhaps it was only my perspective. It may be that part of my problem was that there were over 70 pilgrims in residence that night—that is a lot for an albergue on the del Norte.

Day 7: Guemes—Santander  10 miles
26 September 2017

This sign was the beginning of my seventh day. I have quite a few days to go! I am walking slowly and not covering as many miles each day as I had expected I would be by this time. This is especially true when I am walking along the coast—there are so many places where I just have to stop and study the water hitting the rocks... 

...or watch people learning to surf

I see many pilgrims only for one or two days and then they are way ahead of me. 

But I realize more and more each day that THIS is my Camino and I must do it in my own way. And if I am dispacio (slow), then maybe that is my way. I met two pilgrims that said they were doing the Camino Escargo (at a snail’s pace). I have to relate to that! But I do believe they have passed me up as well…

I am quite far behind in my blog posts. I apologize for that. Internet access is spotty on the Camino del Norte, but I will do my best to continue to keep you updated. I promise more indepth stories in the future!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Camino de Santiago del Norte: Day 4 and First Rest/Work Day

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 exerpt from my journal entries at the end of each day's post.
Day 4: Liendo to Santoña  – 6.9  miles
22 September 2017

This was a lovely and interesting day’s walk, shorter than the last two days. In the early morning I walked up and over a cliff to a lovely view of the seaside town of Laredo. Entering the city through the old gate was magical. At the end of the promenade I walked out onto the beach to catch the ferry to Santoña.

Laredo is below me. We walked all the way along the seashore way out
to that point to catch the ferry. 

Entering Laredo
You catch the ferry right on the beach!

Rest and Work Day in Santoña 
23 September 2017
Occasionally I have to stop for a day to rest my bones and to catch up on the work I do while traveling: designing book interiors for clients back home. Right now I am working on a hiking book. How appropriate! I feel so grateful that I can do this work from just about anywhere in the world!
I fell in love with this town across the bay from Laredo. I was lucky. This was a fiesta weekend in Laredo and I walked through the town on Friday early afternoon before the festivities started and thus avoided all the weekend crowds. Instead I had a room on the second floor of the albergue with a tiny balcony overlooking the plaza of Santoña. The families gather here in the evenings, especially on the weekends, and the chatter that I hear below late into the night reminds me that I am definitely not at home. The chatter provides a comfortable backdrop to my sleep for some reason.

The food here was stupendous—really amazing! For 11 Euros, a friend and I got the menu del dia at the restaurant next door (2 courses, a pitcher of wine, and dessert). My grilled red tuna was absolutely divine and it was followed by a dessert that was like just the custard part of cheesecake. We both had to take a siesta after that. 

Both evenings in Santoña , Marieanne (from Germany) and I visited an excellent tapas bar. The food was a work of art. It was so hard to decide what to try and they had different things each night. 

How, you ask, was I able to eat anything after that full lunch?

I managed...