Camino del Norte – Food on the trail

We interrupt this hikinglogue on the Camino del Norte to discuss food on the trail.

Meat and cheese

The meals available on the Camino are very heavy on the meat and cheese. This makes sense since the area is full of farms raising cattle, sheep and goats.

Much of the meat is processed into chorizo (Spanish sausage), bacon, and bologna. Every area has a special way of curing its meat and making cheeses. Cured meats and cheeses stay for a long time, which is most important when you have bars and cafes with a small clientele.

Asturian bean soup

The best way to enjoy cured meats is Asturia bean soup. They take fava beans, potatoes, kale and boil it with ham, chorizo and blood pudding. I tried not to think about the fat content and concentrated on the healthy beans.

But it is really “Asturian”; once we crossed the bridge into Galicia, the soup disappeared from the menu.

Since I’ve been back home, I made my version of Asturia bean soup with chicken – less fatty and still good.

In these small villages, getting fresh fruit and vegetables is a challenge. The picture at the top of this post was taken at a large food hall in a big city. In the small supermarkets, we ended up buying what looked fresh and eatable – apples one day, bananas that hadn’t gotten too soft, another day, kiwifruit that wasn’t rock hard.

Ensalata mixta

But our go-to for vegetables was ensalata mixta, mixed salad.

Unlike most salads in the U.S., the salad wasn’t tossed but laid out on a large plate: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sometimes shaved carrots and beets, half of a boiled egg and some canned tuna fish. You sprinkle olive oil and white vinegar and you have a meal. Once we discovered that ensalata mixta was a constant in cafes, I must have eaten one almost every day.

It’s wasn’t easy to cook in hostels. On the Camino Frances, you see lovely pictures of groups gathering around a communal table, cooking together. Here, the hostels were small, and most didn’t have more than a microwave.

Group dinner

You never knew what the facilities were going to be, so it didn’t seem worth carrying groceries from a far-away market only to find that the “kitchen” was a microwave and two cups. Still, we ended up cooking twice.

Here, we were in a town with several markets. After checking out the hostel kitchen, we went to the supermarket to buy dinner supplies and invited everyone around. The others took care of the wine and doing the dishes – a fair exchange.

No discussion of Northern Spanish food would be complete without mentioning (praising) Spanish tortillas (or omelette). It was ubiquitous for lunch in many cafes because it stays fresh for a couple of  days. You order a piece and they heat it up for you.

Spanish tortilla

Spanish tortillas  is not related to the Mexican tortilla we know in the U.S. It’s potatoes covered in egg batter cooked in a large cast-iron pan.

Each cafe makes it differently. Some are mostly potatoes with just enough egg batter to hold it together. Others have lots of egg and little potatoes and even a few pieces of sweet peppers.

We watched one man cook a tortilla, cover the pan with a large plate, and flip it at just the right moment. If you flip it when it’s still soft, you would get a gooey mess on the stove. That’s why I’m not going to try to make that at home.

Santiago cake

Once in Galicia, every place had Santiago cake. Very simple – almond flour, sugar, eggs and orange zest. It’s even gluten free. The cake is supposed to date from the middle ages.  If I get a springform pan, I might try to make it.

This picture shows individual tarts. Usually, it’s packaged as a big round cake that the server cuts in wedges.

That’s a cake I could eat every day – and I did.

Camino del Norte – Asturias (Continued)

Split in trail

On the Camino del Norte, still in wild Asturias.

The villages are small and many are deserted. It’s difficult to find an open cafe before 11 am, because they cater to locals and not to Peregrinos that might or might not decide to stop there.

By now, Beth and I are walking separately; she is so much faster than me.

We walk out of the albergue together, stay together until we decide that we’re on the right trail and she takes off. At the end of the day, we meet up again at the next lodging.

So sensible. We should have done this from the start.

But I bump into her at a cafe in Soto de Luna and we share a coffee together. This is the last place for drinks before we get to Cadavedo, our destination for the evening.

Trail above the sea

Look at the sign above. The bottom sign is pointing correctly to the left.

This trail sign is as clear as day – hikers to the left – that’s the Camino. As I make the left turn to follow the Camino marker, a cyclist yells out:

“No Camino – Mal” and zips by.

Who is he and why does he think I’m going to listen to him? Follow the signs, not the locals, and he’s probably a visitor as well.

I start climbing on a good trail until I reach a plateau. The trail follows a gas pipeline, so it’s very clear. The view on the right, see the top photo, is magnificent.

But there’s no one here. All those young German hikers should have passed me by now. Beth, I assume, is way ahead.

I’m almost up to the transmission towers when the trail takes an unexpected right into a field. It’s so deserted up here that there aren’t even any cows, just evidence of cows. It’s starting to rain. I’m at 2,200 feet – I carry an altimeter – up from sea level. But I’m still on the trail, as evidenced by fresh concrete posts.

Finally the trail goes down, down, down to sea level. I have no idea where I’m going to end up but at least there might be some people. And there are. But I’m so eager to find someone that here I lose the trail through a cluster of houses. A woman sets me straight but I still have a couple of kilometers to Cadavedo, my destination.

Emanuel

I get in at 5pm. Beth, who’s been wonderful, grabbed me a bed in one of only two hostels in the village.

This is where we meet Emanuel, a very religious Italian from Palermo. His pack looks huge and he’s carrying his food bag in front. But he makes it work.

This is his eighth Camino. On this trip, he started in Lourdes and will go to Santiago, then on the Portuguese Way to Fatima. WOW!

That evening, I reread the guidebook.

It said that the mountain route was not recommended because it was poorly maintained and signposted. That’s old information – the trail is just long, steep and deserted. Beth took the other route.

A few more days of walking and we have no trouble figuring out where Asturias ends and Galicia begins. We walk on a huge bridge over the Ribadeo Rio.

Bridge into Ribadeo

Welcome to Galicia, our last principality.

We’re getting closer to Santiago.

Camino del Norte – Into Asturias

We’re still on the Camino del Norte in Northern Spain. Are you still with me?

Steel town

It was obvious when the trail left Cantabria and entered Asturias; there was a river and a large sign welcoming us to the Principality of Asturias. At this time, we had walked for miles and were facing a long climb up to Colombres and into a huge hostel.

We faced a large closed building and nothing else in the village. Nothing to do but to continue into the next town.

You can do all the research you want but never confuse the map with the territory or in this case information on the web with reality. You can’t be so exhausted that you can’t move on, if needed.

Horreo

After that hiccup, Asturias turned out to be a cultural oasis of farms, large, working towns as well as many deserted villages. This is where we first learned about horreos. Since the “h” is silent in Spanish, that’s pronounced like the Oreo cookie.

Hórreos are granaries found in Northern Spain.

As you can be see in the photo to the left, the wooden buildings are raised off the ground by stone pillars, so that mice and other vermin don’t get in. Nowadays, many horreos have been turned into living spaces. Smaller ones are built as decoration. These buildings are very common in Asturias and in Galicia.

Trail split

Asturias is also where the Camino del Norte splits. Turn left and you leave the Norte to walk the Camino Primitivo.

Stay straight and you continue on the Norte, which is what Beth and I did.

You can discuss the merits of either decision all you want. I wanted to stay on the Norte to say that I had walked the Norte, put it on my hiking resume, and cross it off my life list of trails.

The trail took us to Gijon, or Xixon in the Asturian language. Unlike the Basque country, this is the only time I saw a word in the Asturian language, an Iberian romance language.

Best of all, the trail took us to Aviles, a working steel town like in Flashdance.

Steel manufacturing is long gone from the area. But a river walk is lined with large, wonderful steel sculptures. Some hikers complained that the approach to the city was very industrial. Well, industry is part of life, one hopes, and part of the culture.

Pedro Menendez

Aviles is also the birthplace of Pedro Menendez, the conquistador who founded St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States.

Since I know St. Augustine mostly through national parks, this is the home of Castillo San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monument.

I had written extensively about both units in Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, so it was exciting to me to see the connection with the real live city in Spain.