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.

 

Camino del Norte – Cantabria

A couple of days after Bilboa on the Camino del Norte, we moved into the Principality of Cantabria. I expected a large sign – Leaving the Basque Country, Welcome to Cantabria – just like “Welcome to North Carolina” but nothing. When we stopped seeing signs in two languages and noticed that the government shield had changed, we were in Cantabria.

Now tapas are called “pinchos”. We left the Basque country and many of the ‘x’ in words have disappeared.

Castro-Urdiales

We walked into Castro-Urdiales via the coastal route. This tourist town is hopping on a Sunday morning, with people in cafes, on the beach and on the boardwalk.

Cantabria is where we start to make long-distance friends, i.e. other hikers who will be walking long distances, maybe the whole trail like us.

The first was Pavel and Lenka, brother and sister from the Czech Republic. They were surprised that we knew enough not to refer to their country as Czechoslovakia.

“You folks split in 1993,” I said.

Pavel and Lenka

Lenka had spent two years learning Spanish for this trip and she was fluent. After we walked out of Castro, an old man approached the four us and tried to get us to take a different route.

Even Lenka couldn’t understand why he wanted us to do that.

Did he want to send us to his preferred lodging?

I didn’t understand why the other three hikers spent so much time worrying about what he had to say.

I walked away from the group and said “Let’s follow the markers, not the locals.” Soon, we found a wonderful pension – and it was on the trail.

No discussion of the Camino del Norte is complete without mentioning Father Ernesto’s hostel at Guemes.

This isn’t just a hostel; this is a large estate owned and managed by Father Ernesto and an army of volunteers. They serve three meals a day to pilgrims. The complex has a library, a common room and ermita where you can sit and reflect on your life.

Father Ernesto, now 80-years old, has served all over the world. His collection of slides covers the walls and ceiling of his study. Many guidebooks call this place the best hostel on the Norte. We’ll see.

The scenery is magnificent. The snowcapped mountains of the range south of us belong to Picos de Europa National Park. But we walk along the beach. See the picture at the top of the post.

My feet hurt. Cantabria has a lot of road walking. I understand that my feet will hurt for the rest of the trip. Everyone always say Walk your own Camino and I am.

I will cover my feet with pads, Compeed (European blister protection – look it up), Band-aids, duct tape, and walk through the pain, with the pain, and trying to ignore the pain.

Cantabria is also where I realize that I’m no longer interested in doing long-distance hiking between two sets of trees. I want to see people, culture, other ways of life and foods.

I loved Cantabria.