Being out in the Galician “wilderness” for the last three days has meant being distant from modern forms of communication, especially Cyber-cafés and Locutorios. But the traverse across the misty moisty lands of the north of Spain have proved more than a retreat from the ‘civilising effects’ of modern living. It has been another world, where the donkey is still a beast of burden, and a scythe is still wielded to cut the long grass.
Oviedo to Almuña 75m
I’ve never been charged so little for a bed for the night! The pilgrim albergue in Oviedo had almost every bed filled, with a lively mix of walkers and cyclists, not surprising when they were only charging a mere 3 euros for a bed. The economy of the Camino brings Spaniards out in their droves to travel the ancient byways. They can walk or cycle the length and breadth of their own country, and rest their heads on a pillow for the night (and have a shower) at less than an overnight camping fee.
The north of Spain was living up to its not-so-hard won reputation: cloud and mist have dominated the meteorology for
several days, the sun has been noticeable by its absence, but I find the heavy misty moisty atmosphere a magical backdrop as I look at the seascapes to my right and the towering Picos de Europa to my left. These weather patterns are certainly saving me several pennies on sun cream!
Then I hit the ‘north Cornwall-like’ ascents and descents of what the locals call “una costa muy accidentada” (a very rugged, indented coastline). No sooner had I climbed out of a deep river valley, but I was dropping down to the next, only to then have to laboriously climb out of that, and so on. In the space of couple of hours I had experienced the heights and depths of 12-15 such valleys, until I got to the point where I was screaming in my head at the sheer injustice to be visited with all of this at the end of a long day in the saddle. But, of course, as all things do, they eventually came to an end…………….. and I smiled when I saw the lure of a bit of flat in front of me.
To brighten up my recovery period from all this, I passed a couple of lads, Quepa and Roque, who were towing a trailer
carrying a surfboard. Before I could ask them “what on earth are you people doing with all this kit” I noticed that Quepa was carrying a little micro-camera, and he told me I was being filmed while I quizzed them. They revealed they were cycling the Camino del Norte and surfing all the best beaches en route. I told them I had been warned to look out for mad people travelling the Camino and, pointing to themselves, they proudly said “That’s us!” They then showed me on a GPS some of the beaches they were going to surf that afternoon. To meet people like these, you just have to travel the Camino…….you won’t meet them driving up the M6.
Almuña to Lourenzá 64m
This was a day for unearthing some of the Celtic traces here in the history of north Spain. I was initially convinced that most of the fortified “castros” were of Celtic origin, but I was left with some doubts after listening to a few local experts explain that the Celts were only one of several ethnic groups to settle in the area. My 10 kms diversion off the Camino, however, was well worth it. The Castro de Coaña is a carefully dug site that shows the structure of a tight community safely ensconced on high ground, and benefiting from luxuries such as baths and community areas long before the Romans invaded the Iberian peninsula.
As I climbed back up to the Camino, I stopped to chat to this smallholder who was wielding a scythe with consummate ease to cut the long grass around his property. When I complimented him on living on such a fine spot with splendid views across the valley, he looked at it somewhat bemused, shrugged his shoulders and said: “Pues lo tenemos todos los días, y ya estamos acostumbrados” (it’s there all the time and we hardly notice it). That made me think: does this sometimes happen to people who achieve the house of their dreams……………?
Then as I passed through a town, a man shouted at me: “Has llegado primero” (you’ve come in first!).
When I asked where my prize was, he told me to go to the Town Hall where they would give me a ‘chorizo’. I jokingly told him the Town Hall might be full of ‘chorizos’ (slang term also meaning ‘scoundrels and cheats’), he then came out with a current favourite description doing the rounds: “No hay suficiente pan para comer todos los chorizos en España” (there’s not enough bread for eating all the ‘chorizos’ in Spain). It doesn’t quite work in translation, but I’m sure you get the gist of it.
At the albergue that evening in Lourenzá, a German couple who had cycled all the way from Germany, not only impressed me with their journey statistics (33 days to cover 2,300kms), but 1,500 kms had been done with his bike’s downtube completely severed. Instead of doing the normal thing (ie. throw the bike away and buy a new one) he had done a series of repairs using ring-clips
to hold the frame together, and he was determined to get to Santiago on the strength of his Heath Robinson experimentations. As I write this, I have just met them in Santiago and they have made it.
Lourenzá to Miraz 52m
A brief stop in Mondoñedo revealed the Spanish equivalent of the Bakewell pudding. This larger than life gentleman took an idea for a tart, set up the production machinery and took out a kind of patent, or ‘denominación de origen’ on this recipe and had it franchised out under strict control. All I can say that its filling has something called “angel’s hair” (which I think is based on marrow or pumpkin) and it is absolutely delicious. It certainly put a few miles into the legs for the rest of the morning.
The albergue at Miraz was a wondrous discovery after spending a few hours wandering the small country lanes trying to find the way. My map for this stretch was totally inadequate in its detail, but I had caught up
with María José again (met in Llanés along with Igor) who had a better map, and we eventually stumbled on towards the tiny village of Miraz. (But more of that in the next post).
At one point, feeling totally lost, we stopped to ask a family party in a garden the way, and no sooner had they answered our questions but we found ourselves invited to join them in
the remains of their lunch, which consisted of “empanadas” (Galician tuna tart) “churrasco” (barbecued beef ribs) followed by cakes and “ensaimada” (Majorcan pastry). For half an hour we were feasted by this wonderful family party, and it was hard to leave their friendly company. They had drawn in these passing pilgrims and shared their table with us. That doesn’t happen up the M6 either!
At Miraz, we were only about 95 kms from our goal, so tomorrow had to be the run into Santiago.