5/29/17 – 13km/8.1mi from Nueva to Ribadesella.
Despite starting off early at 7am hoping to knock out 18 miles before an afternoon rain forecast hit, we found ourselves pummeled by rain around mid-morning. It hit when we were on dirt farm paths that became massive mud puddles. There were no dry or covered places to change wet socks or clothes, so we wound up walking a solid 8 miles from Nueva to Ribadesello before being able to take any shelter. We arrived at a cafe/bar and with our clothes and shoes wet, spirits a bit down, and with an all-day rain forecast, we decided to stop for the day.
We could have kept going, but our planned destination, La Isla, was another 10.5 miles away and walking that far with wet shoes is just asking for foot problems. We’ve got nearly 30 days to go still! The Camino is a marathon and we decided to play it safe, stay the day, and dry our shoes out. David also rightly said that IF you have the time to spare – and we all do – it’s not worth walking in bad conditions just to get further. We’re here to enjoy the trek, not to struggle and risk foot Armageddon. So we posted up in Ribadesello, did some necessary grocery and sundry shopping, and then made an absolutely fantastic dinner that left us all stuffed, but also fueled up for a massive 24-mile day tomorrow.
Before the rainstorm, we did come up to a village that had a beautiful wall of hand-painted stones about the Camino. Whether painted by kids or adults, each one was great and together they were incredible. There were a lot with inspirational messages as well – it was a real treat! In addition, we passed a horse that, the moment we saw him, we called him “Fabio Horse.” The photo has to be seen to be believed. I will eventually sound like a broken record, but these daily treasures are what make a good journey an unforgettable one.
5/28/17 – 18km/11.2 from Llanes to Nueva, with nice easy strolling.
We got a slightly late start today as we planned, because we wanted to take advantage of the local laundromat to wash and dry clothes. Every day, most of us hand wash the clothes we wore that day. It can take time, but I learned a trick on an old Camino forum: get in the shower with your clothes on and get some soap on them. Then, trample them under your feet while showering, then hand wash to rinse. It works great in a pinch, but sometimes having all of your clothes machine-clean is a nice feeling.
Otherwise it was a relaxing and nice 4 hour hike into Nueva, but there was one critical highlight: we walked through a town named “Poo.” No, I didn’t misspell that. The name of the town is actually, literally, “Poo!” As you might imagine, we had some fun with photos. The hotel we stayed in Nueva, Hotel Luna del Valle was awesome. Every room was individually decorated, every room had really interesting wood pieces, leather carvings, and I find myself continually interested and impressed by Spanish craftsmanship. The people that work there are awesome, and the prices are great. It’s definitely worth coming to this place.
Besides that, we all had a huge dinner at the “Barrel House Cidery” where we ate all kinds of meatz. There’s a lot of good food on this Camino, but you’d be surprised how much more protein we need than we’re getting. David and I wound up ordering dishes that neither really wanted, but that the other liked… and that led to us haggling contentiously to make a trade. We jokingly called it the ART OF THE DEAL! We eventually arrived at a mutually acceptable agreement on a pork for pork swap. Good times.
5/27/17 – 39.9km/24.8mi from Serdio to Llanes, with about 760m/2493ft of climbing on several steep ascents.
Man, today was a doozy. We all woke up at 5:30 or 6:00am, so we could make it to Bar Gloria for an earrrrrly morning breakfast before beginning a long 25mi trudge in the hope to arrive in Llanes by 5pm before some rain we saw in the forecast. The day started off pleasant enough, with forest paths and a few nice bridges – including one at the end of Unquera that officially marked our departure from the province of Cantabria and entry into Asturias. After a steep climb into beautiful Colombres, we descended towards Pendueles where we broke for a great lunch.
After that we still had 8 miles to go, but it was on a lovely path, with views of forests, farmland, and the sea. There were some points where it totally looked like we were in the Shire! As the miles wore on, everybody’s feet, knees, and muscles got very tired. At some point we wound up on a crazy high and undulating path that went alongside a golf course. One might’ve thought it was a nice path, but it was after we had already walked about 20 miles, so we were beat. And, we could clearly see our destination, Llanes, down below us in the wrong direction from where we were walking. I wished at that point that I had a hang glider. Or that there was a big escalator. On the plus side, views of the town were great. We got in fairly exhausted, had some quick food, and most of us called it an early night after dinner and a short walk. Too bad, as Saturday evenings in Spain so far have been really lively – but we just didn’t have the juice. We’re planning a few somewhat shorter days coming up, so that’ll be a relief for everyone’s aching bones!
5/26/17 – 22.5km/14mi from Comillas,to Serdió, with at least 400m/1310ft of climbing on steady rolling hills
Another relatively short day today – we saw a forecast for afternoon rain, so we figured to stop either at Serdio if it was raining, or trek another 6mi to Colombres, if it was clear. It was really a lovely exit from Comillas past some grand buildings (including a brilliant Gaudí building that no photo can do justice), rivers, and then into farms in the countryside as we approached the sea again. After a short stop in beautiful San Vicente de la Barquera, we continued on for another few hours through more hills and farms until we reached Serdio. With some of the crew wanting to stick around, we decided to keep it short today, and have a longer day to Llanes tomorrow. We got there early – around 1:30, whereas on longer days, we usually get in by 4:30, or even 5:00.
I saw one interesting thing when I checked in to the hostel we stayed at today – The check-in form asked everybody their reasons for doing the Camino. A lot of us put “adventure,” “spiritual,” “fun.” But somebody who stayed there yesterday put down “amor” (love). I wish that dreamer the very best!! Anyway, the early arrival gave us enough time to wash up, hang clothes, and go have an awesome lunch (seriously, Bar Gloria, the only joint in Serdio, makes some of the best “quick” hot food we’ve had on the Camino). After that I finally got the Kamino Krew playing some of the games! We played Pass the Pigs, with a buy-in, and Serrina won the day. Then Katharina won a tight session of Guillotine. Finally, Wooju smoked the competition in Blink (but she hasn’t played me yet!).
Knowing it’ll be a long day tomorrow, we all went to bed fairly early. Arriving at your destination early really allows you to unwind and prepare your body for the next day.
Day 15, 5/25/17 – 22.9km/14.2mi from Santillana Del Mar to Comillas, with rolling hills throughout the day.
Unlike yesterday’s suburban and industrial road journey, today started and ended in great medieval towns with beautiful architecture. While we mostly walked on roads it was often through farms and nice villages. I saw a couple things I found interesting, including the machines that make the huge plastic-wrapped bales of hay we see at every farm, and a few fun signs – for example a “beware of dog” sign that featured a dog biting someone’s bottom! Most of these signs we’d seen so far just had cute-looking dogs
After arriving in Comillas a few of us headed straight for the beach where the cold water wasn’t just “healing,” it was refreshing after a hot sunny day. A little bit of post-hiking yoga and I was ready for eatin’ and winin’! When I did the Camino in 2014, folks took to calling me “Señor Vino.” I’d say he hasn’t disappeared – just mellowed with age. Before going to bed, we got together for a little singalong, and had an absolute blast. The first week of this journey was a real physical test, and this second week has just as long days and plenty of difficult stretches, but it has been truly enjoyable with the merry band we’ve cobbled together!
5/24/17 – 38.6km/24mi(!!!) from Santander, to Santillana del Mar
Santander was gorgeous, but the suburbs that we had to exit through were nothing to talk about. We went under some bridges, along some roads, and also passed what appeared to be a nuclear power plant. To cross a river that one could only walk across on a relatively dangerous rail bridge, we stopped in a lil’ town called “Boo” and hopped onto a train for about 2 minutes. This means that while David and I walked the entire Camino Frances in 2014, in just 2 weeks we’ve already been “boaterinos,” “buserinos,” “trainerinos” (peregrinos/pilgrims who take the train). What’s next? Donkey? However, Santillana Del Mar is one of Spain’s most prominent and well-preserved medieval towns. It was full of package-tour tourists in the afternoon and evening, and while it was busy it was still a beautiful atmosphere.
On another note, so far on the trail, we’ve been having fun with town names. Not everyone speaks Spanish, and fewer still do it with the right accent. So sometimes place names get butchered. Sometimes just for fun while we’re talking amongst ourselves, and sometimes by mistake when someone mispronounces at the wrong time. Some examples: Orio – Oreo (that one was a gimmie); Zarautz – Zarathustra; Markina-Xemein – Marky Mark; Munitibar – Multibar, Minotaur; Guernica – Gattaca; Lezama – Lasagna; Bilbao – Bilbo Baggins, Rocky Bilboa; Islares – La Isla Bonita, Israel; Santander – Santa’s Bear. You gotta find a way to have a few laughs on these long journeys!
5/22-23/17 – 21.4km/13.3mi from Guemes to Santander, and then a “day off” in Santander
The trail today went north from Guemes to the coast, where the path hugged the edge of a cliff and gave us marvelous views throughout the day. While we’ve all been seeing each other daily, today you could say we joined with the Las Vegas crew and our Magnificent Seven became a Terrific Ten. Great conversations through rolling hills and lovely ocean vistas. We then had a 2 mile walk along the Somo beach, which is opposite Santander Bay, where some of us took our shoes off, walked in the sand, and felt the healing power of the cold ocean water after a long day’s walk. After a nice beer and lunch stop in Somo, we caught a ferry across the bay into Santander, where we planned to have a rest day the next day. Knowing we wouldn’t have to wake up at 530am to hit the road, we broke out the wine, had an amazing Italian dinner, and made merry!
Then we woke up nice and late, I took a stroll along the marina, folks did some shopping for needed supplies, we checked out the Santander Cathedral, beach, and the Magdalena castle. Then we had a great Mexican dinner cooked by Team Vegas, and gave a bittersweet goodbye to Joe, who had been the spiritual glue of our little group so far.
5/21/17 – 32.5km/20.2mi from Laredo to Guemes with relatively flat walking except for one steep climb on a cliff nestled between two beautiful beaches.
The trail today was lovely but long, and there were points where the sun was baking us on the road as we walked. We walked a few miles along the beach from Laredo, and caught a boat across the Laredo bay to Santoña. We then continued a few miles more until we hit the beach there, climbed up the cliff I mentioned, and then walked a few miles more into Noja. After a nice lunch, we had a long and hot slog for the next six hours.
But everything, truly everything, was worth it when we arrived at the albergue we stayed in tonight. La Cabaña Del Abuelo Peuto is owned and run by Ernesto, a man who has led a fascinating and long life of traveling, of spirituality, of learning, and of service – giving of himself to others. I’m sure we all get caught up in materialism every now and then, but when I hear people like him talk, I think of how much I’d like to be like that. On top of that, the entire place was beautiful. It had a great lawn where Joe and I did nearly 30 minutes of yoga after an eight hour hike, and instead of being difficult, it was freeing and relaxing. The place had an amazing dinner, and we got to listen to Ernesto’s great stories. I even got my new friends to join in on some of the games I’d brought along. I can think of no better hostel, hotel, or albergue I’ve stayed in, on any walking trail I’ve ever done, that is better than this one – facilities, ambience, atmosphere, everything. Do the Camino Del Norte, and come to this place. You won’t regret it.
Another small treasure I found at Ernesto’s place was a little laminated sheet that I found at Ernesto’s place showing some of the common points of many of the world’s religions. Say and believe what you will, but it only solidified my belief that the best lessons of every religion are the same: they try to teach us to be better, and to treat others well.
Day 10, 5/20/17 – 29.2km/14.7mi from Islares to Laredo with relatively flat walking.
We woke up to driving rain and thought we had another slushy grey day in front of us. We all prepared for the worst! But just as the weather report predicted, things cleared up quickly, and the rest of the day was perfect – not too hot, not too cold, and just the right amount of sunny. After stopping for a morning coffee, we decided to take an alternate trail that basically follows highway, instead of going into the forest – where those without hiking poles were concerned that terrain might be dangerous and slippery. So basically the rest of the day was walking along roads and highways. Nice but not stunning scenery, until we arrived and the gorgeous seaside city of Laredo. The view from above it takes your breath away. We stayed in a parochial albergue called Casa de la Trinidad, run by the nuns of the convent of the same name, and ran into plenty of trail friends in town, including team Vegas – Serrina, Courtney, and Victoria.
After arriving, Joe and I went to the beach, did about 20 minutes of yoga, and swam for another 20 minutes. Takes a bit to get used to that frigid water but it is one of the best feelings ever! Then, Keith, Wooju, Katharina, David and I cooked an amazing Greek-themed dinner. A few of us attended the convent’s evening service, and then went to a few local bars to observe Saturday Spanish nightlife before turning in. Hard to believe we’ve already done 10 days!
5/19/17 – 29.2km/18.2mi from Pobeña to Islares, with mostly flat walking save for a few hills.
In all the ways that yesterday was miserable, today was wonderful. We had mostly sunny skies and phenomenal views at every turn. Each day so far, I’ve felt that our photos don’t do this magnificent trip enough justice. The day started with the “stairs of doom” out of Pobeña, which brought us to a stunning cliffside walk that continued for a few miles. We stopped for lunch and to check out the lovely 13th century church and lighthouse/castle in the beautiful city of Castro-Urdiales after a local gentleman met us along the way and kindly guided us in on the “good path” into town. I love how welcoming people are of us peregrinos, even in bigger towns and cities.
We then continued about another two hours through some very beautiful farms, until we reached Islares, where we stayed at a campground for the night. Campgrounds in Spain appear to be large complexes with great facilities! While we stayed in tents, they were plenty warm, and the showers were hot. After a short meditation session and a (frigid) swim on a secluded beach nearby, our group had some wine, played ping-pong (I told you, these campgrounds are great!), and we celebrated well!