Camino Primitivo, Day 8

Walked from: Cádavo Baleira

Walked to: Castroverde

Distance: 8km

When: 19 October 2019

(Image: leaving Castroverde)

It’s rained a lot so far on this trip. And that’s ok – I’m English, I have the wet weather gear. But there was something about hiking 31km in pissing down (yes, that’s the technically accurate meteorological term) rain that simply didn’t appeal. So after walking for just two hours, I bailed in Castroverde, the one town before my originally intended destination of Lugo where I knew I could get accommodation.

(Image: view from my hotel room)

I sought out a €20 hotel room with the world’s smallest shower but an excellently functioning radiator, and basically hung out in my warm, dry room all day reading, seeing the latest horrors of the Brexit debacle unfold in front of me on social media, and watching, for the umpteenth time, the finally two Harry Potter films. Not a day lost – I noticed certain clear parallels between the forces of good and evil in J K Rowling’s magical world and what’s happening in my own county right now, and I’ve started calling the current Prime Minister of the UK Voldemort. Whatever gets you through, eh?

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Camino Primitivo, Day 7

Walked from: A Fonsagrada

Walked to: Cádavo Baleira

Distance: 26.3km

When: 18 October 2019

I’ve had the most extraordinarily interesting, rain-filled, mist-shrouded day. Things started off pretty much as normal; I left at around 8.15am and it was still as dark as night outside, everything coated with a damp, misty sheen. Throughout the day, it rained, then it stopped, then it started again – the layers of clothing kept changing to adapt to the weather. I passed through a lot of undulating woodland paths; the greens of the moss-coated stone walls, the beige and red shades of the many mushrooms, the scent of the pine trees all especially vivid on this dark, dank day. A hilariously muddy downhill after the one point of obvious historical interest on today’s route (a solitary building on top of a hill at Montouto that had been a pilgrim hospital from the 1300s until the early 1900s) was rewarded with a hot chocolate and a cafe full of increasingly familiar, friendly faces. So far, so normal. And then I met Claire and Wraith.

Claire and Wraith are the people that put the extraordinary into my day. Originally from the south west of England, they moved to this tiny corner of Galicia four years ago to live off grid in a village some 20 minutes walk from the Camino route, on the stretch between Paradavella and A Lastra. I met them as they were out walking their dog – they were chatting to the one other English person I’ve met so far on the Primitivo. It transpires that he was the first, and I was the second, English person they had ever met doing this walk. Words tumbled out of their mouths, such was their enthusiasm at talking to native English speakers. Stephen, the English man, continued on his way. I walked a couple of kilometres off route to take up their invitation of a hot drink and the opportunity to see their home and the land they were farming. We sat for several hours, me firing off questions about how they came to be here, how they live, the local community. Theirs is not my story to tell, and I don’t think I have the capacity to cope with the physical toil and hardship I perceive them to deal with on a daily basis. But, with no farming or construction experience whatsoever, they have made a life for themselves in this valley, a place full of hardy Galicians where electricity arrived for the first time in 1995. And I tell you what, they seemed very happy. It was a huge pleasure to meet them.

I arrived in Cádavo Baleira hours after I’d expected to, half prepared for all the hostels to be full – everyone I had met was walking to this small town today. But I was in luck – my fellow peregrinos (as those walking the Camino are called) had largely headed for the private albergue in town. There were just four of us staying, two in each dorm, and as the sole woman, I had a bathroom to myself. Content with my accommodation choice for the night, I headed to the local shop for a $1.50 bottle of red wine, sharing it over a chat with an inspirational man from Denmark who spends much of his year walking the trails I dream of. Today’s Camino showed me – in the clearest possible ways – that there are many more options in life than the path most travelled.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 6

Walked from: Castro

Walked to: A Fonsagrada

Distance: 19.1km

When: 17 October 2019

I was prepared for most things on this trip: that the weather would probably be bad; that there would be a lot of hills; that I would end up eating a lot of bread, despite promising myself I wouldn’t. All those things have turned out to be true, and it’s been fine – although my bathroom scales may tell me another story when I return. What I honestly wasn’t prepared for was how much Spanish I’d be speaking. Bear with me here; I know that statement sounds odd – I DO remember what country I’m in. I can speak (terrible, error-strewn, mainly present tense) Spanish, and have a good line in check-in and food/booze purchasing phrases. But on my other four Camino trips, full of people from across the world, English has always ended up being the dominant language. Not this time. This time I’ve met and walked with lots of lovely, and very (very) patient Spaniards who have had their poor ears mangled by my mis-conjugations. As I explained to a new Camino friend yesterday, an Italian woman who speaks five languages fluently, my confidence to speak far outweighs my ability to do so… an issue that goes back many years, and in all honesty doesn’t just apply to my lack of mastery of an Iberian language…

Anyway, all the listening and speaking – and thinking about listening and speaking – I’ve been doing led me to take refuge in a hotel room of my very own this afternoon. A little mini-break from my holiday, chilling in the small town of A Fonsagrada, where legend has it St James turned the local fountain’s water into milk (hence the name of the town), and where rather more reliable historical sources indicate there was a Roman presence a mere 17 centuries ago. It’s also in Galicia (the beating culinary heart of Spain) – I left Asturias behind after two rainy hours of walking this morning. And I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that the rain stopped / the sun came out as I crossed the frontier between the two provinces. The rain DID stop shortly before I crossed, having peed it down for several hours. And the sun did ‘sort of’ come out. For a bit. In places. But it was chilly, and the lure of my warm hotel room has been strong this afternoon: I’ve had my 30 euros worth, that’s for sure. Last of the big spenders, that’s me!

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Camino Primitivo, Day 5

Walked from: Berducedo

Walked to: Albergue Juvenil, Castro

Distance: 23.8km

When: 16 October 2019

In a run of luck I know can’t last, but which I am nonetheless grateful for, I yet again got to my hostel this afternoon just as the weather turned. I’m writing this snug on the top bunk of my rather lovely albergue in the Asturian hamlet of Castro, listening to the wind and rain do a climatic tango with one another on the other side of the window. The jury is out on which one is winning, but they both seem to be doing well.

Today’s walk was really all about one location – the reservoir at Salime (Embalse de Salime) which I spent much of the morning descending towards, and a couple of hours walking away from. It’s a haunted-looking location – the abandoned buildings that line the hillside above the dam have a sadness about them, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the community that would have lived there, where they went and how they felt about having their valley flooded in the name of progress. Wikipedia tells me that over 100 workers died during the dam and reservoir’s construction, which eventually opened in 1954 after the UK broke a UN embargo against Franco’s Spain by supplying the turbines and generators it needed.

The reservoir itself looks beautiful from a distance, appearing just as the light was perfect and the surrounding hillsides at their most impressive. Pine woods and chestnut trees fill the local landscape, the forest paths frequented by fat, black slugs, almost as big as bananas (but, you know, less yellow…), making their slow, slithering journeys from goodness knows where to who know what.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 4

Walked from: Campiello

Walked to: Berducedo

Distance: 29.6km

When: 15 October 2019

My guide book warns that the ‘Hospitales’ route I walked today is one of the most demanding days of any on the many caminos that crisscross Europe, bound for Santiago de Compostela. It’s often shrouded in mist, in which case you’re urged to take the alternative, easier route (which still sounded quite challenging, based on the stories of the people I met this evening). Oh, and there’s no facilities on the way, except for a bar some 3.5km before the end which turned out not to exist. I spent those last 3,500 metres plaintively muttering ‘pub, pub, pub’ to Rosa, the good humoured young German woman who I hiked much of the day with. Whatever gets you through, eh?

Anyway, my luck was very much ‘in’ today. Thomas, a German man I’ve been hiking with, noticed I’d left my rain jacket behind and carried it with him until he caught up with me. He saved me the extra hour of walking that would have been involved in going back to retrieve it and is officially my hero of the day, and possibly for the whole trip. Rosa lent me one of her sticks for the steep decent after Puerto del Palo, which was a huge help – think I may need to rethink my ‘no stick’ strategy. The visibility was excellent. The rain stayed away until the final kilometre or so. And the views were abso-bloody-lutely spectacular, new vistas opening up in all directions with every new crest climbed. The skies got in on the act, determined to compete with the landscape in putting on a show we wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Wind aside – and boy did it blow; it was safe, but a few more miles an hour and it wouldn’t have been – it was perfect conditions for experiencing an extraordinary route. The Cordillera Cantábrica is stunning. Come. But make sure you bring wet weather gear… and a sense of humour.

Views aside, the route also takes in the ruins of a number of medieval ‘hospitals’, where the hardy pilgrims of old would stay when they were walking to Santiago de Compostela some 800 year ago. One, Fanfarón, had a roof, providing some much needed shelter from the howling wind while we quickly wolfed down lunch. It was an altogether more relaxing experience this evening, sitting in the hostel post-hot shower, talking about adventures past and planned, and sharing my bottle of €1.15 ‘no label’ wine. I’m living the high life in altitude, if not attitude!

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Camino Primitivo, Day 3

Walked from: Bodenaya

Walked to: Campiello

Distance: 23.km

When: 14 October 2019

I left the hostel (albergue) reluctantly this morning; it had been such a fun, cozy night and the weather forecast for today didn’t bode well. Luckily, the aforementioned forecast seems as unreliable in the north of Spain as it is at home in England, and I found myself whispering to Lee, a friendly Korean man who I walked with after lunch, that I was grateful for that.

It did rain eventually, making for a wet final 2-3km, but by then I was so buoyed by the sheer bloody brilliance of the day’s scenery and a wonderfully random encounter we’d just had with a farmer that it didn’t matter a jot. Lee listened patiently as I kept exclaiming about the landscape (I even clapped it at one point) and we had the sort of interesting – at least for me – cultural exchange about our respective countries that underlines how important travel is.

About 4km before the end we had just finished a descent along a rocky, moss-lined, stone-walled footpath when we were accosted, in the politest possible way, by a farmer in the hamlet of Villaluz, and asked if we wanted a sello (stamp) for our pilgrim passports. ‘Of course!’, said I. So he plucked a white flower from his garden, placed it on my backpack and led us to a small shack that abutted his cow shed, producing his stamp and ink pad with a flourish. It was a Camino first for me – farmers are usually pretty taciturn, but Jouimo was friendly, spoke some English AND gave me a second flower on the way out of his farm – Lee got a sprig of mint, for a mojito! Sadly, about two minutes later the wind picked up, the rain arrived and my beautiful flowers flew away. Another Camino friend told me she passed them on her way, but for a brief moment in time, I was living the 60s flower power dream, albeit in quick-dry clothes.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 2

Camino Primativo, Day 2

Walked from: San Juan de Villapañada

Walked to: Bodenaya

Distance: 24.6km

When: 13 October 2019

(Image: dawn with a hint of rainbow!)

Another evening, another out of the way hamlet to call home for the night. And what a lovely, welcoming home the Alburgue de Peregrinos in Bodenaya is – its friendly hosts and cozy atmosphere make it an especially nice place to shelter from the rain that is currently pouring from the sky.

(Image: traditional grain store as the day dawns)

Today’s walk undulated its way through the hills of the Cordilla Cantabrica – there were lots of forest paths (alternating between heading steeply up AND down), a handful of tiny villages, and cafes to stop in at at both Cornellana (very nice tortilla sandwich… I’m not going to be losing any weight on this trip) and Salas. And although there was a bit of light rain from time to time, it was mainly dry. The people who arrived at the hostel after me have a different tale to tell. I had 10 minutes of heavy rain at the end. Some of them were walking in it for hours (as I expect to tomorrow).

(Image: double rainbow on the approach to Cornellana)

The countryside I passed through today was lovely, even though the dull day didn’t make for good photos. But the morning… what a magical start to the day. It was 7.30am and still dark when I left – which would explain why I wandered into a farmyard at one point. The dogs quickly let me know I shouldn’t be there, and I reversed direction, heading uphill as the dawn began to break. The colours were spectacular – and within the hour I was in rainbow heaven – for about 30 minutes, variants of them seemed to fill the huge skies of Asturias.

(Image: approaching Bodenaya)

I’ve had the nicest of evenings at the hostel, talking with the incredibly welcoming hosts and my new Camino friends as we ate our communal meal. We’re representing Spain, Germany, Korea, Japan, Italy and England tonight, but our similarities far outweigh any differences. The people you meet on Camino are the greatest pleasure of all – and it’s the element, along with the weather, that you can’t plan. The Camino (as the saying goes) provides.

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