Friday, September 11, 2015. Raise a glass today . . . the 14th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. And I spend the morning walking to, and exploring, a replica of the Caves of Altamira, near Santillana del Mar. Ria and I walk there and back, laughing that it feels like a long walk, but if it were part of the actual Camino, it would just be a short spit. Perspective is interesting.
We can’t actually see the real caves and the original cave drawings, because the hoards of people who visited during the 20th century nearly destroyed the site, just by their very presence. Now the Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are protected, and what a visitor sees is a reproduction of parts of the caves and the drawings, as well as a nearly overwhelming amount of information about primitive peoples and their ways of living.
Very intriguing, but as with any museum, more than two hours is enough for me, I’m embarrassed to say. We walk back to Santillana del Mar, grab lunch and our backpacks, which we’ve stored in the dining room of the Casa Octavio owner, and find our way to the yellow arrows and out of town. A very late start, already nearly 3:00, but we don’t have so far to go. We pass the local Albergue de Peregrinos, which is closed to get rid of a bed bug problem. Good for the hospitaleros there. I’ve encountered no bed bugs, and if albergues would be as responsible as this one (for the most part they are), no one would ever see one little bug. No bugs, and no blisters at all, I might add. My Keens and my 1000 Mile Fusion Socks are serving me very well.
We also pass the inviting food shops, including a chocolate shop displaying this poster on its stone face:
The day is again bright and sunny, and though the temperature isn’t too high, walking under all that uncloudy sky makes it seem like it’s the desert. But it surely doesn’t look like the desert. Lots of cows and open fields, as well as the forested walkways I’ve come to love.
When I get to El Pino, just on the early edge of Cóbreces, I am delighted to see a very nice, apparently very new, small albergue. The owner lives in the house on the main level, and there is a kitchen and big eating table just as I walk into the place. Rooms are upstairs, two of the, with three sets of bunks in one room and two flat beds with a bunk in the other. Ria and I have requested “flat beds”, if possible, so the owner shows us to that room. We are the only ones here at the moment, but later two more couples come, all Spanish speakers, and they are given the other room. Something to be said for being the “old ones”, though Ria is nearly 20 years younger than I am.
We walk into town to the grocery store and put together the fixings for a dinner. Tomatoes, roasted red peppers, good cheese, bread of course, and pasta, onions, garlic, etc. We will eat “in” tonight, and Ria wants to cook. I’ll prepare the appetizers and open the bottle of wine.
Saturday, September 12, 2015. I am up entirely too late trying to get caught up with my writing (and am still a week behind as I type this), but in the morning, our hostess has breakfast for us at 7:30 so it’s out of bed, get packed up again, and be ready to head out after eating. Yogurt, bread, cafe con leche. No eggs 😦 But this has been a wonderful place to stay, and I would give it very high ratings in the scheme of albergues.
And we are off. We walk together for awhile, only because Ria stops to make boot adjustments, to check the route, etc., but finally we go our fast and slower ways, knowing we will meet at the Albergue in San Vicente de la Barquera, about 22 km away. My longest day so far on this much more challenging camino.
Red church and blue church (no photo of this one) are standing tall on my left as I walk through the town and out toward the countryside for awhile.
Another day of part coastal walks with beautiful views and an enormous gathering of shore birds and seagulls down below me about 3 km out of Cóbreces, but also of way too much road walking.
The asphalt is not fun on feet, and walking against the traffic rather than on a path is pretty grueling after a few hours. Fortunately, the cloud cover gives a big chunk of heat/sun rellief. I stop for lunch in Comillas, another beach/medieval little city, and continue toward my goal for the day.
My friend Larry, whom I met last year, has been e-mailing me his whereabouts here and there, but I haven’t heard from him lately. Last I knew, he was in Castro Urdiales long before I was, with another friend we both met two years ago. I wonder whether I’ll run into him at some point. When I get a couple days down the road, I’ll write to him again to see where he is. He visited us in Fort Collins in July, and Neil enjoyed meeting him, as did my son-in-law, Justin, who happened to be in the Fort that day. Larry is enjoying his “drifter” status, having been widowed three years ago, and is taking his time on this Camino. I have no such luxury at this point, and still haven’t gotten my head around just what “my Camino” will look like this time, though I’m more relaxed about the walking and occasional bussing, especially when I’m joined by others who need to or want to cut down some of the kilometers they will walk. Ria is probably two hours ahead of me by now.
More injuries on this one, as I listen to people talk about their blisters, their knee problems, strained or sprained ankles, etc. Some have decided to pack it in and go home. At least I’m still on the trail! And at the edge of the road, down in the valley below me, is an interesting sight. Something like Clematis, with blue flowers, is growing wild, covering the growth below me. Not only that, but it reaches up to grasp the low branches of the trees above me, creating a long, dense carpet and wallpaper. Just gorgeous.
I arrive at the bridge to San Vicente de la Barquera, and am grateful the threat of rain has only been that . . . a threat. My directions for the Albergue read “up the hill”, but the whole town is built on a hill and it’s already been over nine hours since I left the nice El Pino albergue this morning. The walk across the bridge IS lovely, so I breathe it in.
Once I’m on the city-side, I begin to walk up the first hill, and the yellow arrows half-way up seem to point me to a left-hill. Some men nod and point confirmation, and I ask, “Albergue o Camino?” They say “Albergue” so I climb to the top of the hill and there is no albergue in sight. A hotel reception person sadly smiles and points me back down THIS hill and up the next. I shake my head and begin my descent.
Going up the next hill, I ask two people and get two different responsees, but both say “next to the church”. Climb climb and it begins to drizzle. No point in digging out my poncho now. I’m already soaking wet from exertion. I call the Albergue to ask for clearer directions, and the hospitalero says, “Just next to the church.” I see people dressed up, coming out of Saturday evening mass at . . . the church . . . at the VERY top of this hill.
Finally I arrive, and I’m pretty crabby, but I know I cannot be crabby to these volunteers who work so hard for us. Julien introduces himself, pulls up a chair for me, and shows me the form I need to fill out. Then to my bunk in a VERY tight bunk room, and then to the spacious kitchen and eating area. But of course the stores are closed and I have no groceries in my pack. Maybe I’ll just go to bed.
But then Ria, who has greeted me with congratulations for walking so far today, coughing all the way, has met a German man, Johann, and a German young woman, Adriana, and she wants me to go to dinner with them. She says there might be another woman with them, and who knows? Julien has given them a recommendation for a restaurant only a few streets down (down, get it . . . this is so high that EVERYTHING is down), so I sigh and grumble to myself and follow them.
As it happens, this will be a sort of turning point in some ways, though I don’t know it yet. The restaurant has SOUP! I’ve been craving soup for my cough, and here it is. Johann and Adriana sit with us and soon we are joined by a man who is solo, Matthé, a Belgiun walker. And then we hear a laugh I will never forget, and Adriana says, “Oh, that’s the other woman, Erika!” She calls down to Erika and another burst of laughter wafts up to our second floor table.
So now we have six. Three Germans, two Belgians and an American (me). The conversation starts in German, until Adriana asks if I understand much German. I say, “Not a word.” I want to add “and I’m tired so I don’t care whether I can understand” but she switches to English, as do the others. Of course the Belgians can speak Flemish, French, Dutch, German AND English, putting almost all Americans to shame.
Erika is the most exuberant person I’ve met yet on this trail, or almost every, when I think about it. If her laugh weren’t so charming, I’d want to put a bag over her head, because she bursts out laughing with nearly every response she makes.
She tells us she has a pretty bad knee problem, and had been pushing herself to go 30 km per day, at the additional urging of some man who happened to be walking with her. But she ended up earlier today on the beach in Comillas in tears because she was in so much pain, and some “senior walkers” invited her to go more slowly with them. She says she also met a very nice man on that beach who comforted her for a few minutes. We all encourage her to listen to her body, and not some guy who doesn’t have her best interests at heart.
Then I can barely keep my eyes open so I excuse myself, pay my part of the bill, and walk back to the albergue. Get into my sleep sack, wrap my jacket across my eyes and go to sleep. 8:30. Crash.