Primitivo Stage 6: A Fonsagrada to O Cádavo

The guide book is read the same way as a home inspection report – if you feel good about the day then you gloss over words like steep, treacherous, swamp and canibal; if you are wretched it all sounds wretched. So perhaps I read the guide with rose tinted glasses. It was supposed to be short, about 21km, and flattish. It was more like 27 with almost 1000m of climbing. We started out late at 0930 as have not been sleeping well and so were in late with the extra 1.5 hours of walking that was not anticipated. 

Strava link
It was cool sunny morning with only enough wind to intermittently move the blades of the omnipresent windmills. By afternoon the cool went and we got a little cooked as we left the shady trails and walked more exposed paths. The bars were well spaced and today’s best bar in Spain had enormous and good chorizo bocadillos and sangria at 4€ a litre. Added bonus a very cute little dog that made friends with Diana. 

As it warmed up two additional well placed bars provided Radler and shade. We always run into the Irish group of 2 couples and a plus one as well as our Danish friend Niels. We always seem to meet them in the last hour at the last bar. 

Into Lugo tomorrow after a long mostly downhill stage followed by a rest day and then last push to Santiago expecting to arrive Sunday. 


Primitivo Stage 5: Grandas de Salime to A Fonsagrada or death to the matrimonial pillow

We are not sure that they are called matrimonial pillows but they are often on the beds they call matrimonial (about 2/3 size of a queen). It is an evil device that runs full width of the bed that the happy couple get to wrestle for control of throughout the night. Individual pillows on large beds are cheered when discovered in our rooms. Nobody really wins with these diabolical devices. When I rule Spain they will be outlawed and all burned by decree. We just don’t much like them. 

So we got up a bit slowly this morning after fighting to a draw over the pillow all night. There was breakfast in the hotel with multiple coffees – but not quite enough. Walked out into a much cooler and windier day. Rain overnight had reduced the humidity to a more comfortable level. Weather very variable so never felt “just right” all day and clothes were put on and off, zippers and hoods up and down, buffs adjusted etc continuously. 

The trail had a long climb up O Acebo to a ridge peppered with windmills that provided a view of all the windmills that were scattered on all the high points in every direction. We also noted the wind that howled and proved that these windmill placements were not random. Walking not very hard otherwise although the advice to stay to the road was heard the geographic reference was not uploaded and was discovered with our shoes. 

We passed from Asturia to Galicia at top of O Acebo. Both sides of border look like extracts from Martha Stewart’s “3000 things you can make from slate” book. 

Strava link

The bars were few but well spaced. The fifth day walking in a row made us feel pretty worn out but not sore. The hotel is pretty basic but they made a nice charcuterie plate and a hearty dinner. 

Diana has made friends with all the dogs in O Fonsagrada and they run up to get attention. Nice lift after tiring day. 

Primitivo Stage 4: Berducedo to Grandas de Salime

The guide book is a liar. The descent was long and not too steep after being sold as treacherous and the climb was long but of reasonable grade and not hard. There was no bar in La Mesa! Why publish the thing if it’s a god damn liar. A little grumpy from being under caffeinated? Maybe. 

Strava link

Weather was warm, humid and a little overcast but mostly pleasant. We had a brief sharp climb to a ridge with many wind turbines and then a long drop into a valley to a hydroelectric dam followed by a long climb up to Grandas de Salime. Only about 21 km with about 1000 m of elevation gain trail was mostly dirt and tree covered with many switchbacks on the down and up. 

We were unsupplied by bars for 4.5 hours and this made me feel a bit like Shackleton – even prisoners don’t go an hour in Spain without being offered refreshments.

The dam has that certain Brutalism that only concrete of a certain age can convey. Strangely ornamental pieces of art were also present – a concrete lookout in shape of a whale’s mouth. Sculptures embossed onto the walls of the machinaty buildings. These looked out of place with the purely utilitarian look provided by the concrete and the abandoned workers quarters and concrete works. The walls of the restaurant where we had dinner tonight were adorned with images of 65 meter mural that is inside the turbine room at the dam and an illustration by the artist made for the owner by the artist. 

Dam art information Cool stuff!

We had lunch at a hotel just above the dam. Just a sandwich and 6€ of most expensive ice cream in free world. Who said entrepreneurship/banditry was dead in Spain. It’s more surprising how little we are gouged by bars and restaurants that it’s a shame to bring it up. Often just too tired to bitch to the gougers but always happy to be extra appreciative for kindness. 

Lunched with two Irish couples and our Danish friend from yesterday. 

Niel’s blog – in Danish but chrome will translate
He was suffering today but was going on a bit further to Castro to a well reviewed Auberge for compensatory hospitality for a rather inhospitable experience last night. 

We had our last, and best, Asturian dinner with great bean stew and much animal protein. We had a nice chat with a 70 year old (looked 55) Catalonian at the adjacent table. 

rudimentary lathe

Camino Primitivo Stage 3: Campeillo to Berducedo via the Hospitales Route

This is the queen stage of this Camino route. Hard climbing, brutal descending rewarded with epic 360 degree views of the Asturian mountains and countryside. The weather was perfect cool and foggy for the first part of climb and then perfectly clear as we walked along the top of the range (seemed like several tops as you finished one thinking there was nothing higher only to see the next hill). 

We set off after a very hearty breakfast of the best toast and butter ever created and the largest (nearly North American sized) cafe con leche. Casa Herminia may be a commercial enterprise rather than spiritual way point but she knows breakfast!  We breakfasted with a Danish fellow Niels-Christian who we had met last night and met up with him in the bar in Borres. He was a little concerned about walking alone on the Hospitales route if the fog failed to clear so we decided to walk together. He was good company and despite suffering from bad shin splints kept a steady pace all day. He started on 19 April in Irun (by coincidence I read his blog through google translate after seeing a link on the Camino Forums). 

Strava link
About 2 hours in the choice to take this route over a similar better serviced route was confirmed as correct as the fog lifted and landscape presented itself. Really memorable walking. The Italian couple we had dinner with were a little ahead of us all day and at one point unfurled a string of Tibetan prayer flags along the barrier. They were very earnest with the process and we took opportunity to reflect about an absent friend who has been in my thoughts. 

The hard climbing gave way to more climbing and we lunched on gummy bears, fruit and chocolate bars. We had not brought enough water – only 3 litres despite many warnings- and the day heated up and it dwindled. It counts as hardship on the Camino to be more than an hour from a bar st any point and this route had us about 6-7 hours between bars or any source of water. 

We descended almost all we had climbed in a steep 1.5 km stretch that would have been extraordinarily treacherous if the weather had been wet.  About 20km were done but still had 3 hours of walking and 2 hours before a bar. At the top of a steep muddy hill in a town of 20 is the best bar in Spain (today’s edition). A cereveza con limon  never tasted better.  My guide had said that there was a bar in Lago and as we entered the town a couple of older Spanish guys were throwing off packs and making noises they they were kaput. Diana says she never seen guys move so fast as when I yelled down from the bar that it was open. 

I was pretty ready to pack it in at Lago and do cab ride of shame but Nils and Diana mocked my weakness and we did. the short, flat and shady walk into Berducedo. Our hotel had a private Alburgue in the ground floor and 7 rooms upstairs and was “hosted” by a very overwhelmed proprietor who disappeared with my passport and was never seen on premises again – there is wifi downstairs but we have none up and I have no cellular coverage – makes me a bit twitchy. 

The town is packed with pilgrims as three different stages can end up here and while there are 4 pilgrim hostels they are all small with 10 to 20 beds each. Herminia, our hostess last night in Campeillo, would put all these guys out of business. Dinner was pretty poor but elevated by our being hungry. It was also a multicultural  affair with Diana speaking French with Claude from Dijon, and Danish, German, and Poles speaking English at the other end. 

We don’t know when breakfast is served and I don’t have my passport – I haven’t paid for room do imagine we will see our hostess before we leave. 

Feet good. Morale high. Short stage (a steep descent) tomorrow. 

looks like hell
feels. good

Primitivo Stage 2: Salas to Campeillo 

We were in Salas last night and really enjoyed this little town. We had dinner with a German engineer from Hanover named Olaf – walking the second half of his Norte/Primitivo combo that he started last year. He is an experienced hiker having walked a 600 km trail from Oslo to  Trondheim and several long walks in northern England. He was a bit lonely as he speaks little Spanish,French or Italian and all he had encountered in his first 3 days were people who only spoke those languages. 

We had met him early during the day and bumped into him throughout the day and ended up in same hotel. He was good company and enjoyed the opportunity to talk – even in his second language. 

We set out from Salas around 0730 after a breakfast at Cafe Luciania – where Luciania packed us a little snack unsolicited- very nice gesture that helped with long day of walking. 

Strava link
We walked about 33 km with about 1000m of gain. It was cool and misty to start and never got too warm. Walking was pretty easy and trail was mostly dirt, gravel and a bit of mud. Mud can be a problem but tee are three days without rain so things were trending to dryer rather than wetter. Long 5 km steady climb out of Salas and then we walked along a ridge on one side of a green valley below a endless line up of wind turbines. Not hard walking day. Tomorrow will be. 

Arrived at Casa Herminia – a budding empire of involved in housing, feeding, and supplying pilgrims – really lovely is spot. Apparently her bid to vertically integrate pilgrim care is viewed dimly by her countrymen – at the rate she is growing she may end up running the country. 

Had dinner with 4 other pilgrims – a German civil servant, a French doctor and an Italian couple from Milan. It was a good mix as not enough of one language group to partner off. Dinner was absurdly good Asturian stew (potatoes, greens, beans, and meat), chicken soup, salad and braised oxtail. This place had a dormitory as well as a number of hotel rooms so gave us first communal dinner with other pilgrims. Nice experience. 

We have 27 km big climbing day tomorrow on “Hospitales Route”. Weather looks great and we have stocked up with food as we will be about 6 hours between towns through middle of day. 

Primitivo Stage 1: Grado to Salas

Back to walking today after a couple of days rest in Oviedo. Oviedo rest disturbed by awful drain stink in otherwise great apartment. Sadly any amount of drain stink ruins an apartment. First poor customer service event of our trip as the reception clerk could not find her way to seeing drain stink as a problem within her purview. We needed the laundry bad enough to live with it – range hood vent on full blast for 2 days and all windows open to Oviedo’s famous (ish) Cider Alley. 

When you are living on Sidra Blvd there is not a lot of quiet. I think there are about 10 places we have visited so far where we would rather have spent a rest day than Oviedo. It’s probably unfair to compare. There was a impressive cathedral with lots of relics in the holy chamber – towel used to clean the body after crucifixion, part of John the Baptist’s forehead etc etc. but we were not enchanted. 

We took the bus out of Oviedo to Grado this morning to avoid a half day of urban sprawl.  We missed out stop and bus driver beckoned us back on and drove us back 3 blocks to meet the Camino route. 

It was a fabulous day of walking. The weather was perfect and This part of Asturia is really lovely. Not enough green in a typical colour palette to accommodate the rolling hills and farmland. 

Strava link

Di was having some stomach trouble so we kept the pace slow with lots of breaks and she was a trooper and we finished up a shortish day of walking in Salas around 1600. Quaffed a can each of Radler (our official drink of the Camino- German invention of beer and lemon soda available in cans and on tap). Hotel is very rustic with a central courtyard and all rooms surround and a part of a castle attached. Very Roman sort of set up. 

The local people are very friendly along this route. The route today was away from major motorways and had lots of dirt track and dedicated trail. About 700 meters of climbing but much of it early in day when it is easier not to resent. Much of day was in sight of the construction of a major new highway with huge bridges, tunnels, and overpasses. Work has resumed  after what appears a few years of being stopped – although the intensity of the work is pretty slight compared to the size of the task. 

Will post pictures when I have Wifi. 

The route, so far, has few pilgrims but is pretty well signed. We are hoping that we get 10 more days like today. 

Stage 11: Ribadesella to Colunga 

Wet, muddy and slippery but cool, comfortable and short. We had a lively discussion on the need to have a coffee plan in place including recce and confirmation of Horas de abierto. Some feedback provided energetically on need to offer advice prior to events rather the retrospectively.  It helped pass the time as we walked through pretty wet morning. I rattled the doors of each public washroom as we walked down the promenade of the playa de Ribadesella. It’s a beach lined by huge ostentatious homes built by men who had made fortunes in cotton, tobacco and sugar in the New World. 

Strava link
We had walke the other side of Harbour last night and it really fabulous esplanade lined by guys fishing and couples promenading. It was a lovely evening. 

I realized what pissed me off about lunch yesterday was not that it was so crappy and expensive but that it was clear to both of us in the first 30 seconds we were in there that it was not what we were looking for but that I felt obliged to stay and not pick up my stuff and leave. Life’s too short and presents hard options – leaving somewhere that you don’t want to be is not one of these hard choices just get up and go – what could be easier. 

So the “camino provides” moment came a couple of times today. Once upon discovery of an unlocked WC at a campground when walking on was not an option. Second we were a couple of hours into walk without coffee or breakfast and quite wet from rain and as entering Playa de Vega (Tofino soon) a young fellow having a coffee on his back porch yelled out a jolly Hola! to us. I walked on but Diana asked if he was open – mistaking his porch for a cafe – and he invited us up for coffee. He was from Pittsburgh and was visiting this beach with his French wife that he met while running an organic vineyard in the Okanagan. The house was a soon to be Refugio for pilgrims being opened by a Frenchwoman Marina who had had a second career walking the Norte with at risk French and German youth. 

It felt very serendipitous. They were very kind. Made our day. 

We arrived in small town for elevensies to find the Japanese couple and lady we have been bumping into every couple of days for the past few weeks. It’s weird you keep seeing the same people over and over – albeit very briefly and randomly- and others doing the same trail you see once and never again. 

We arrived in Colunga in time to check in to a lovely inn and go have a real menu dia with hearty bean Asturian stew ( a version of the hearty bean stew from Cantabria and Pais de Vasco) , a schnitzel of breathtaking proportions and a bottle of local plonk at a great price. Followed by a food coma siesta. 

Short day tomorrow. Walk to Villavicasio this ending our Norte and then short bus to Oviedo for a couple of days off before starting the Primitivo. Have loved this north coast of Spain and hope we find our way back again.