Saturday, May 28, 2016

Guardian Angels along "The Way" (el Camino del Norte)

A steep almost vertical ascent took us out of Villaviciosa up into the clouds above the city and surrounding pasturelands after passing the split in the trail that separates the Camino Del Norte from the Camino Primitivo. We had decided to continue along the Del Norte and complete it in its entirety.

The weather report this morning had forecast widespread thunderstorms but right then it was hot. 

Along the way we met a peregrino from Hamburg and somehow he kept passing us without knowing how he had fallen behind us, so he decided that we must be wearing invisible cloaks. Up the hill we toiled seeing many day hikers walking down the hill towards us and we wondered where they had all come from.

 Finally we reached the top with spectacular views of the Picos de Europas in the distance and there was the answer to our question! A bus had taken a full load of day walkers to the top of the hill and it looked as though they were then going to walk down and be picked up somewhere.... but we were merely assuming this.

Down we plummeted to the valley floor on the other side and saw the man from Hamburg sitting at a table outside of the only tavern in the village. Upon joining him, he offered us a slice of cheese and jam he had bought from a monastery, produced by the monks. Both tasted delicious. The locals were drinking Asturian cider outside and pouring it from great heights from the bottle into the glass which is supposed to bring out the aroma. 

While we enjoyed our refreshments a man arrived on horseback and laughed heartily when his horse dropped a big load right next to the table where his friends were sitting drinking, and then trotted off again.

Just as we left the village to ascend the next hill out of town, the heavens opened up. Fortunately we already had our pack rain covers on and trekking umbrellas at hand but the rain became a torrential downpour with intense thunder and lightening and we managed to place our Frogg Togg rain ponchos on just in time. Onwards we walked through the crazy storm, keeping fairly warm and dry except for the bottom half of our legs while our shoes became soaked. This continued for about 10km into the outskirts of the city of Gijon where the man from Hamburg met up with us again and we chatted for another few kilometers. Presently we came across an Albergue but it was only 3:45pm and too early to stop, can you guess who we met here? Yes... the Austrians who gleefully greeted us along with Cavi the Spaniard. It was so much fun to see them again. 
Once we arrived at the Gijon beach front, the rain stopped and we enjoyed a late afternoon stroll along San Lorenzo Playa. 
Time was marching on and we had nowhere to stay. 

It became evident that there were no opportunities for camping anytime soon. We thought that we'd better find a room somewhere and subsequently realized that the entire town was booked out due to some kind of dance competition, expo and festival that was on this weekend. 

Not knowing what to do, we walked past a laundromat and thought that if we at least had clean dry clothes life would be bearable. While doing the laundry I checked online to see if there were any rooms in the hotel across the street but it was fully booked. I walked over there anyway to use the bathroom and just asked the receptionist on the off chance if there were any rooms. She was amazingly friendly and said that she had a "sort of" room, one that was in a little cubby hole area, tiny with no windows and kindly showed it to me. It was perfect and half the price! We got the last room in town. That's the type of experience that makes one exclaim that you have a guardian angel! Comfy, warm, dry and safe on a rainy night after 20 miles/ 32km, enjoying a glass of Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon and watching the 
European Champions League match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Mucho gracias.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Villaviciosa (el Camino del Norte)

Camping at Sauces la Playa ( willow tree Beach) was very peaceful.

 The German duo had decided to take a zero as their legs and feet were injured from all the road hiking. About thirty minutes into the hike we stopped at a local Spaniard's house for coffee with a group of other hikers. It was a great authentic experience to enjoy a morning joe at a native person's home.

 Many of the homes in Asturias have grain storage houses adjacent to their homes called a hórreo,  built in wood or stone, raised from the ground by pillars to avoid the access of rodents. Ventilation is facilitated by the slits in its walls. 

Another home in the village must have belonged to an artist as many of the walls had beautiful murals painted on them.

Spectacular ocean views and cliff hugging off-road trails were the order of the morning.

After a lunch overlooking a broad beach we experienced many, many mind numbing paved miles inland again, through villages that barely seemed alive. We did come through one town however and were surprised to find another open church, only the second so far along the entire trail.

I am puzzled and surprised at the number of seemingly abandoned houses and even newer looking housing developments which are all shuttered up and obviously not lived in by the hundreds. It may be a sign of an economic downturn in the region. A boom followed by a bust coupled with the presence of empty seasonal vacation homes.
An enjoyable aspect of the trail is the abundance of flowers, including wild daisies, lilies and roses.

At about 5:30 in the afternoon we came across a full Albergue and there were the Austrians! Sitting around a big table outside were also many others we had met. 

They all said hello and waved Shaka signs at us but we hiked on arriving in Villaviciosa later that evening and found a private room at Cafe del Sol, a dive of a place, which is also a hostel but  very clean, only 20 Euros in total. We checked the corners of the beds for bedbugs before we accepted the room.
From this city you can continue along the Camino Del Norte or branch off to the Camino Primitivo. We've decided to stay on the Del Norte where we'll send you more posts from "the way".

Halfway there! (el Camino del Norte)

Our clothes were still damp in the dry room this morning but we didn't want to make a fuss, so we packed them into plastic bags thinking we could find a laundromat with a dryer somewhere along the way. Bidding Jesus a warm farewell, we hiked the 1.5 km to Llanes which was the actual big town we thought we had reached the night before, and walked around for awhile trying to find a clothes dryer to no avail.

Something we've noticed along the way is that people get early morning pan (bread) delivery to their doorstep.

Llanes is another picturesque seaside town, with lots of boats, colorful houses and a vibrant city center.

Onwards the Camino took us through the  village of Poo 

and then back towards the ocean past another abandoned monastery at St Antolin beside a large pebbled beach. 

The sun had come out at this point and we needed a pack break, so the decision was made to have a picnic and dry out our tent and clothes by laying them out in the hot sun.

While everything dried out, Josh and I enjoyed avocado and cheese sandwiches washed down with fruit juice. It seemed to me that my hiker hunger had arrived in force today as I am totally ravenous.

It was a long 20 miles/32km plus 
today as we walked at a fairly descent pace to get to our destination of the day at 414km/ 259 miles along el Camino Del Norte. One of the historical bridges along the way today was built in medieval times.

 We've actually hiked a longer distance than the 414km, due to taking the wrong trail in the beginning and then having to backtrack.
I'm really enjoying the colorful houses in this province. The Italian Stallion waved at us as we passed by an Albergue, he had stopped for the day as he was experiencing painful shin splints. The way we always meet up with him is a real representation of the rabbit and the tortoise.

It amazes me how different each province is, although they also have many similarities too.

Once we arrived in Rhibadasella we were greeted with gorgeous little terraced veranda gardens and then going down into the city square, we were amazed to find the first open church on the entire journey: Iglesia Mary Magdalene.

We had missed the city information office by five minutes. I must add that these tourist information offices have been the most friendly, helpful and amazing places along the Camino except for the woman working at the office in Loredo who was awful and extremely sarcastic.
We had met two German guys along the way today and they had mentioned a campsite 3km outside of Ribadasella and we planned to make it there by nightfall. They told us how difficult it had been for them to find a bed in an Albergue at the end of a long day of walking and sometimes they would have to keep hiking until the next village or two to find one. It made us feel really glad to have our tent with us.

 Nowhere in town could we buy anything to eat except pinchos and we were sick of them, so we opted to go to a grocery store and buy fresh food instead, having salad tortilla wraps with fruit and juice for supper which felt like a good choice. We found a table outside a closed restaurant and decided to eat our dinner there but midway through dinner, the restaurant opened and we were told to leave immediately in a rather rude manner.
Nevertheless, our tent is up in a nice little campground. We've showered and I'm lying on my "mother of comfort" Big Agnes mattress which truly lives up to its name. 
Good night from the Camino.

Best thing in the backpack: 2 tea towels I threw in at the last moment to be used as shower towels. They double up as clavicle pads to reduce the pain from our pack straps. We both have one painful clavicle and placing a small towel under the shoulder strap works miracles!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Welcome to Paulina's Pension (el Camino del Norte)

Upon leaving the closed down monastery grounds early, we beelined out of Serdio.

 The hike pleasantly meandered along a river and once again we were exposed to a reference to Hawaii at a Stand Up Paddle school on the banks of a river. A sign pointing in a direction saying "Hawaii 12,399 km" was displayed along with pointing arrows to many other destinations.

After a couple of hours we saw the Austrians up ahead in Unquera and we gleefully greeted each other again. Standing with them was a Spanish man named something like "Cavi" and we learned from him at a coffee shop that a caboleta is a flaky chocolate covered pastry otherwise known as a necktie. Neither of us was sure where the Asturian border was and we were both delighted when after crossing the bridge over the River Deva that we were already in Asturias. 

There was an immediate noticeable difference in everything in this new province, ranging from the house styles which were now noticeably more colorful, to the people, who came across differently. The first part of the walk was along an ancient Roman road. After stopping off at the first Albergue that we came across to get a stamp in our Credential we passed a bus load of school children about to go on a white water rafting trip, all standing in line with their life jackets and wetsuits on.

Another noticeable feature along this portion of the trail were the presence of numerous shrines which we think are dedicated to the memory of people who had died along their pilgrimage. 

We also saw a little snake sunning itself along the path.

The "Wise Pilgrim " app took us along an alternative coastal route to gorgeous cliffs and sea caves with large and powerful blow holes which weren't blowing today as the sea was very calm. 

The trail which was thankfully now "off-road" snaked along the coast, across a lovely river towards Llanes, our destination for the day. 

Zigzagging up and down a hill with sweeping views of the gorgeous coastline below, we wound down the hill into what we thought was Llanes with weary feet and 20 miles completed for the day. 

Meandering through the village, we saw an attractive looking exterior of a Pension (which is in- between a hostel and a hotel) with a zesty elderly Spanish woman with a flair for the dramatic, sitting in front of "Paulina's Pension". This was of course Paulina herself and she was delighted when we declared that we would like to stay in her establishment for the night. Her son, Jesus, who could speak a little bit of English was incredibly kind and hospitable, doing our laundry for no extra charge and hanging it out over the street clothesline from the second floor to dry. Later, he moved the laundry to an inside clothesline situated in a "drying room", promising us that everything would be dry by morning.

Due to the fact that dinner only starts at 8-9 pm anywhere along the northern coastal belt, we bought some pan to make sandwiches with from the local small supermarket along with a bottle of Reserve Spanish red wine which was delicious. Eccentric and wonderful Paulina joined us and we tried to converse with her even though none of us could understand each other. She insisted that I write in her guest book in Spanish and when I said I couldn't she pretended to whack me with her crutch followed by loud cackling of laughter. I proceeded to write her a thank you note in Espanol with the help of "google translate" and I could tell that she absolutely loved us as she hugged me and gave me kisses. So adorable! With this we went to bed feeling very welcome and warm under a mountain of blankets at  Paulina's Pension in Cue, Asturias.

Ciguenza to Serdio: Almost through Cantabria (el Camino del Norte)

Giving thanks for a safe and sheltered night, we left the tiny village of Ciguenza, walking past the signs indicating the historic buildings lining the Main Street including the abandoned, falling to ruin monastery across the road from the church that we took shelter at. Incidentally the entrance door to the church has a figurine of St James on his white horse with a sword, depicting the legend of the vision that appeared to a soldier when Spain was being invaded by the Moors, of St James on such a horse which ultimately as the story goes, led to military victory.
Our next big destination was Cobreces, 10km/6 miles away. 

A pleasant hike ensued taking us through the sleepy town where the only store open at that time of the morning was the panaderia (bakery) where we bought two delicious freshly baked pan (bread) and juice which we enjoyed eating once we reached the ocean at Playa Luana while observing a bulldozer reconstructing the beach front in preparation for the summer vacationers who would be there soon. 

Well fed and with more energy our feet took us along el Camino to beautiful Comillas, a bustling touristy town which was a change from the sleepy villages we were constantly going through where we pretty much only saw elderly people most of the time.

On arrival in Comillas there was a yellow Camino arrow sign pointing in what looked like the wrong direction, to the left and away from the town before we even entered it. 

An angel appeared out of the blue (a middle aged woman who told us not to go that way) and escorted us to point us in the right direction and then accompanied us further, going well out of her way to the tourism information Office. She made sure that we were not going to get lost and after thanking her, she left. I could not believe her kindness and how she went out of her way for us who were complete strangers, and she did all of that limping with an injured knee. 

Another 12.3 km took us to San Vicente De La Barquera, another bigger, quaint town set on the banks of a large river mouth where we ate a pizza and rested our weary feet. 

Once we got on our way again we came across a church which actually had something going on: a funeral which seemed to be attended by the entire village. 

All the while the Picos de Europas are getting closer and closer. Along the way today we met peregrinos from Belgium, Canada, Australia and the Italian Stallion  who had been bombing serious miles fast, actually came strolling into San Vicente after us. He enjoys leisurely down time in towns and is a super friendly
person, referring to us collectively as "Hawaii". Josh is also called "Yosh" and had been asked whether he is a "Jogi when he was spotted sitting cross legged... So funny!

Just before Serdio we spotted two beautiful young deer dart across the road and we've seen numerous large hawks flying around.

It seemed that the locals in Serdio were speaking Cantabrian and not Spanish and we discovered that the Monastery Albergue was shut down. Everything was locked and bolted and no one was there. We backtracked to a private Pension down the road and it was expensive, so the decision was made to camp behind the abandoned Albergue. Just as we crawled into it, the rain started and we're hoping that nobody tries to evict us from the grounds.

Tomorrow we enter the next province of Asturias.