San Pedro de Atacama

 

9-12-2019

We arrived in Calama and tried to stretch. Overnight bus rides aren’t our favorite things, but at least we got some sleep on this one. While we had a bus ticket all the way to San Pedro de Atacama, there was no car rentals there. Calama was as closest car rental place as you could get to San Pedro and it was still 100km away. Normally we would bus around to the sites and not drive, but San Pedro is a very touristy and remote place. The buses greatly restrict where and when you can go to places which results in a crush of people. If you have a vehicle, you can visit locations that the busses don’t go and/or times when the other people are not there.

              Calama is one of the driest cities on Earth. 150,000 people working in and around one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world.

              The bus station was in the middle of Calama, but the (cheapest) car rental was outside of town. A taxi and a 15-minute ride dropped us off at the Mitta car rental place. Most people renting vehicles go for pickup trucks, but we went for the cheapest sub-compact we could get. We ended up with a brand-new hatchback.

              100 km later, we pull into our airbnb. Laura had opted for a nicer place as we would be staying for nine days around my birthday. It was a secure set of bungalows with a courtyard. Each bungalow had a rooftop patio, kitchenette, tiny living room, and breakfast delivered.

              **As a side note for any who haven’t heard of or been to San Pedro de Atacama or the Atacama Desert, it is a beautiful and dry place. Sheltered by the Andean Mountains, the Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth. Some places there have NEVER HAD RECORDED RAINFALL.  I am talking dry.

              The harshly dry climate and high elevation (2407 m / 7900 ft) draws astronomers and sight seers from around the world. Pools of extremely salty water, volcanic regions, salt flats, and strange animals are a few of the many attractions.

              After dropping off our luggage, we hopped in the car and went to see Pukará de Quitor which is just outside of town. It is an interesting pre-Columbian archaeological site with many kilometers of trails. It was a nice way to stretch our legs and get some fresh air after the bus and car drive.

              We wondered the town in search of ATMs (our Airbnb decided they would prefer cash). After maxing out our daily withdrawal rate from the three functional ATMs, we had dinner and looked for tours and sites to visit.

 

              10-12-2019

 

Well rested from sleep in a real bed, we hopped in our car and motored to the nearby Valle d la Luna. The aptly named “Valley of the Moon” is an interesting grouping of geological features, hiking trails, and mining relics. You need to check in at the visitor’s center and pay a small fee. There was also limited windows when you could enter the park, so check ahead if you are going.

              We stopped for a few hikes in the loose dry soil. On one hike we came across thousands of bees living in hundreds of holes in the ground. Despite the complete lack of water, plants, and other insects, these black bees (possibly Centris nigerrima) were active and thriving on one trail. We walked the trail through the swarms of them without any interaction. A few lay dead or dying on the ground, but none paid us any attention.

              We walked among salt mines and abandoned mining equipment in on area. Several crumbling structures made of salt and dirt dotted the area. By the size and layout, I would guess they were for sleeping and possibly storage of salt that was ready for transport. Nowhere could water or vegetation be seen. It was an extremely stark kind of beauty.

             

 

5-12-2019 Copiapó, Chile

 

Copiapó is a dusty and largely skippable town. We had scheduled four days here thinking the city would have more to offer than it did. Most of the tours were extremely expensive and the museums closed.

We found that they local discoteca was inconveniently close to our hostel room window and the window was the only source of cool air. Sounds of late-night car alarms and drunken arguments regaled us for our four nights there. 

We started booking our next leg immediately. Over dinner and beer at the hostel, we enjoyed chatting with our hosts. They were nice folks that tended to have workers stay at their hostel more than tourists. 

 

6-12-2019 We took a local bus to Caldera and then a taxi to Bahia Inglesa. Caldera is a fishing town with a fish market on the pier and a museum at the head of the pier. The museum was closed when we were there, but the pier was hopping with the smell of fish, fishermen, and all of the wildlife that sought to get an easy meal.

After a quick ride to Bahia Inglesa we walked the more touristy beach and had lunch at a local restaurant. 

A beautiful woman on a beautiful beach.
La playa

After lunch, we wondered the town before reversed our route and returned to our noisy hostel.

funky house at 129 Alto del Carmen

7-12-2019 Deciding to get a little exercise, we decided to hike the nearby high point of Cerro de la Cruz. We found a well-maintained trail to the cross on the summit and the remains of a radio(?) station. A few locals were videoing something at the cross. We hiked along the ridgeline for a mile or so to check out what there was to see.  It turns out, not much. Lots of extremely dry hills and a few wondering trails.

cross on the hill 

After the hike we found a nice restaurant called Juljardan.

8-12-2019 It was our last day in Copiapó. We left our bags with most of our stuff with the hostel and roamed the town. I had purchased dog treats and had been enjoying handing them out until a guy aggressively pan-handled me.  We also had trash thrown at us twice!  The first was a trying to get us to buy him lunch and a water bottle. The second was pretty obviously high and repeatedly licking his fingers and until he decided to be mad at us and throw an apple at us.  As late evening rolled around, we picked up our stuff and went to the bus station. We caught the overnight bus to Calama, Chile. It was good to get out of Copiapó and on our way to San Pedro de Atacama.

La Serena, Chile is a regional capital. A pretty place with beaches and access to one of the many “Poor Man’s Galapagos” scattered around South America.  We got off the bus at the bus station and walked along the highway for a block or three to our turn and then along the boarded up mall. Recent protests had reduced the hours and appearance of the mall to a gated and condemned structure. As a throwback to our childhood and a huge bit of humor, we found a vandalized Chuck E. Cheese. Someone managed to put a red paint splash on his head. 1. A f*cking Chuck E. Cheese in South America!!! 2. It looked like a Deadmou5 cover art.

 We eventually found our apartment for the next few day and it was far better than we expected.

1-12-2019 We only had a few days and only one worked for a tour of the Poor Man’s Galapagos (AKA Isla Choros) and the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. Due to the protests, we were not allowed to land on the island, but we could see most of the island and animals from the water, so we proceeded with the trip.  An 830 AM pickup was followed by a bus ride to a gas station for coffee and breakfast. We got coffee and fed the street dogs. After the brief stop, we made our way into the countryside. Desert landscapes were dotted with the sight of guanacos and cacti. The bus pulled off on the shoulder of the road and we were directed to get out to see the foxes. There was about 20 zorro chillas or  small gray foxes. They appeared to expect handouts from motorists, but we didn’t humor them. The foxes were very photogenic.

After a few dozen photos, we funneled back into the van to finish our trip to the beach. From there, we took a boat to sea.

Fun on the surf

We couldn’t land at the island, but we could cruise around it. A dolphin was sighted on the way out, but I missed it.  As we got closer to the island, we started seeing Lobo Marinos (sea lions), and sea birds.

Sea birds or the set of King Kong
Sea Birds
No fishing allowed in the preserve, but you can rest the Tetanus Cruiser in the calm waters.
Lobo Marinos!
Lobo Marinos

Pelicans soon became visible and as we rounded the point, Humboldt penguins and more sea lions started appearing.

cormaran lile ancund
Humboldt penguins
Humboldt penguins

The captain of the boat pulled in close to one tiny bay to get a better look at a group of penguins when someone spotted a sea otter!

You ought to see the sea otter!

It was smaller than I thought it would be… maybe 18 inches (45cm) long. After risking our lives for a while close to shore in the breakers, the captain backed us out of the waves. We cruised further up the coastline looking at Humboldt penguins, when someone spotted a whale.

Fin whale

The boat instantly went into whale mode. The motor revved and we took to the deep water. Our crew called to other captains to let them know a whale was about. We got close several times and it was identified as a fin whale. The second largest whale in the world. As we lost sight of the whale, another boat called out that their motor was dead and they needed a tow. Our boat rendered assistance.  The trip back was slow, but the other passengers, crew, and captain were happy to have a safe trip back.

Tow tow tow your boat!

Back on land we stopped at restaurant for lunch at a little restaurant and then a long ride back to our Air BnB.

 

03-12-2019 We walked around La Serena. The museum and Japanese Gardens were closed due to the manifestaciónes. We walked through parks and viewed the statues that had their eyes painted red to  warn of what the Carabineros  did to protestors and those that stood up. As of Nov 22, 2019, 222 eye injuries had been reported at the hands of the police.

The view from our Air BnB
La Serena’s beach
Light house Faro Monumental
Mural 
El negro matapaco saýs “For everyone everything!”
A sleeping Matapaco. Many street dogs are given bandanas to signify that they are owned or cared for and have dignity.

04-12-2019 In the morning, we packed up and took a bus ride to Copiapó. We are now approximately 800 km (500 miles) from Santiago. This is the regional capital and the site of infamous  2010 Copiapó mine accident that trapped 33 miners.

12-11-2019

 

After less than two weeks at our home in Colorado, we boarded a plane heading to Santiago, Chile. We had already been to its namesake, so we hoped we were ready for another Santiago. Concerns about the riots and civil unrest troubled our thoughts, but didn’t stop us from getting to Denver at 7 AM.  As we drove down, our flight was delayed by an hour.  By the time we arrived at our layover in Toronto (I know Toronto…why is it cheaper to head north first??) the flight from Toronto to Santiago was delayed and would keep getting delayed until it was more than 2 hours late leaving.  The airport was packed with people sleeping, pacing, and staring blankly at a wall…. It was after midnight and the flight was going to take more than 10 hours to get us to Chile. 

Several movies and meals later, we landed in Santiago. The luggage delivery system broke, so we had an hour to wake up from our stupor but without coffee.  The airport for Santiago is way out of town, and we knew we would be not thinking clearly, so had arranged with the Esquela Bellavista Spanish for a ride to our homestay. At the last minute, the school also put Laura and me in the same homestay while we took 2 weeks of Spanish class.

Santiago from a hill
Negro Matapaco- the patron saint of Chile’s resistance movement. 
Abe Lincoln re-faced

Santiago gave me the initial impression of being in Phoenix or southern California.  The city is sprawling and dry. The mountains and hills in the distance are dry and mostly covered with low shrubs and desert plants.  After settling in and getting a chance to meet our host Edel, went out to explore the area close to our homestay. 

Since we arrived a few days before class started, we had time to tour around the city and checkout some museums, parks, and other sights.  We started our first full day in Chile by walking the ~3 kilometers to the school. This helped us figure out how hard it was to navigate and timing for going to school, but it also got us downtown so we could look around.  The area close to the school was impacted greatly by the recent manifestacíons. Street lights were torn down or off. Graffiti marred walls, statues, and pavement. Windows and doors were frequently boarded up or armored with metal roofing and steel. Spray painted tributes to the Negro Matopaca could be found scattered around different walls. Traffic was even more chaotic than most areas as drivers were determining who’s turn it was by how anger they got. We made our way down to the tourist information building near the Plaza de Armas. The employee there told us that in addition to the manifestacíons, several government employee groups were on strike. We had notice trash piling up, but it hadn’t clicked until then. The strikes had shut down several of the local museums and parks. Luckily for us Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Museum of Pre-Columbian Art) and Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) were both open. We decided to visit the Museum of Memory.

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is a museum dedicated to remembering the Chileans that fought and some died to overthrow the dictatorship that took over Chile by military and police coup in 1973. It catalogs the numerous human rights violations, torture, murders, and general horrors that were inflicted on Chileans by the dictatorship in hopes that remembering will help prevent it from happening again. It was sobering to see the violence inflicted on people and to read about those that were murdered and their bodies dumped. More than 400 Chilenos were tied to train rails and dumped in the ocean in an attempt to hide their deaths.  While the topics were deep and disturbing, it was important for us to understand the backstory for the recent riots.

              That evening we went with our host to a vigil for those killed and blinded in the recent manifestacíons. It was a quiet and somber affair with candles and music.

 

            Over the next few days, we took a walking tour of downtown, we climbed up the hill made in 1919 to Castillo Heldalgo, and sampled a few good IPAs. Castillo Heldalgo is an interesting set of structures, walls, and lookouts made to resemble an old castle or lookout set in the middle of old town Santiago. It is worth the climb to see the city from a vantage.

The big chair on San Cristóbal 

           The next morning we decided to walk to and then climb to the statue of the virgin on San Cristόbal hill. It is a pleasant hike/walk up mostly paved road and/or trail depending on route to the summit. For the less physical, you can ride a tram to near the summit.  Along the way, a nearly endless stream of walkers, cyclists, dogs, and rollerblade riders. The crowds reminded me of the people you see on hikes like Camelback (Phoenix, AZ) or Angel’s Landing (UT). Some are just there for fun and not really feeling that they are doing *something*, others treat it as if they are climbing Everest.  It is always strange to me to see the different groups meshing and being so different.

18-11-2019 – The first day of class went well, but not easy. I enjoyed it more than the class we took in Spain. It helped that Jannis, a German fellow with a Chilean wife, was in the class. He made me feel like I wasn’t the dumbest person on Earth. To give him credit, he was taking Spanish with instructors that spoke English as a backup. So he had had to translate from German to English to Spanish…I could barely do Spanish to English. He was a super nice guy. A young father learning Spanish, since he was immigrating to Chile, and trying to get a job in his profession as a chef.

              The next day was still tough and a bit stressful. I went for a run after class and that helped immensely. It is always nice to use old good habits to deal with the stress of new places and languages.

              The next few days we did class and then did the after school activity. We walked the Italian district (Burrow de Italia), talked and learned some history in the conversation group, and toured various local neighborhoods. One Friday evening, I took off while Laura did the study group and traveled by bus, train, and foot to a sporting goods store on the far side of town. After I got back, we had a beer and planned our route north out of Santiago.  While huddled around a laptop and trying to decide the best towns and sights to see, our desk started to shake. We were getting a minor earthquake (terremoto but not the drink). Our host candidly informed us that this earthquake was only a tremor.

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             On Saturday, we took a bus to Valparaiso. After walking the wrong way, towards the poor and run down area, we found our way to the area where street art and good food rule. We rode the funicular or ascensore up the hill. An ascensore is an odd elevator meets escalator contraption. You ride up a steep slope in a gondola on rails. This took us quickly up the hill to a lookout and then narrow streets. On our walk a woman gave us a flyer for a restaurant. We checked a few restaurants as we wondered the street art and murals and ended up trying out the one from the flyer. It was very good. Many courses, with a pisco sour included, and nice presentation. We found out that the restaurant had only been open a few days. After a large lunch, we walked back to the bus station and made our way back to Santiago. A nice day and a good test of buses in Chile.

          

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   For Sunday, we had scheduled a wine tasting through the school and several students were going. Since the pickup point was in downtown, we walked down early and had pizza and helado in Barrio de Italia (Little Italy) before catching the van to the winery.  The group was fun, but the tour was poorly planned and it ended up being in English instead of Spanish.

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              The week progressed with class and Spanish extracurricular activities after. Tuesday’s activity was a tour of a famous cemetery. By the time we made it to the cemetery, half the group had left. The instructor kept going and pointing out famous gravesites for 5 hours. By the time we made it back to the host family’s house, I was done. I wanted to eat and be left alone, but there was a birthday party and lots of Spanish speaking family members about.  My Spanish isn’t great in the best of situations, but after an extended day of it, I wanted nothing but to hide in my room, have a beer, and watch a mindless program.

              The last day of class was nice. Beer, pesto salad, apple pie, and saparpilla at the going away/graduation fiesta. Afterwards, we prepared for traveling north by bus to La Serena.

 

 

25-1-2019 Granada, Spain

Some bad food was haunting me and a neighbor came home drunk and loud at 3 AM, so we played it low-key for the day.  The following day we had plans for a hike.

Up early and ready to roll. We headed to Monachil by bus to hike the Cahorros de Monachil loop.  The trail starts out just a walk along a river bank, dodging trees and trying not to slip in the mud. After a kilometer or 2, you cross a series of 4 or 5 hanging bridges. The last bridge is about 50 meters long and crosses a deep gorge.  It would have been more interesting and fun if it wasn’t an Instagram moment for so many. The bridge had a 4 person limit and everyone walking across it needed to spend forever getting every angle possible. A group of school kids took 30 minutes and they had already been there when we arrived at the bridge. If you need to get a photo, please be quick.

 

                After the last bridge, we came to the narrows. The narrows are a long concrete walkway on one side of the river.  It is narrow and frequently you need to duck (or crawl in one place) as you go up an increasingly narrow and overhung passage until it is a tunnel. A few people got overly concerned or claustrophobic. Large metal rings were set into the rock to give hiker a means to hang onto the side when the path got too narrow or the crawling got tough.

                After the narrows, the trail loops back onto the hill on the left and the terrain dries out. We walked through orchards, some abandoned, bee keeping, some grazing animals, and a small crowd of college kids. 

                Back in the town of Monachil, we discovered that the return bus didn’t come for another hour or two, so we hustled a mile uphill to catch it at a different bus stop. We ended up catching it as it pulled into the stop and made the return trip in style.

                The next morning, we were greeted with the most polite motorcycle rally that I have ever seen. They lined up politely, they didn’t make a lot of noise, and they helped out a guy whose bike died before the rally could take off.

                On our last day in Granada, we visited the baths and a couple of old Muslim homes. The tile, architecture, and wood work was very pretty.

                The next 24 hours are a blur. We caught a noon bus to Madrid. After a lovely hour in the Madrid bus station, we caught the 7 PM bus to Paris. This was probably the worst bus ride I have had (including the 4 months in South America). It started with a broken seat that wanted me to recline. At 11 PM, we stopped and picked up a family. The man smelled like someone distilled body odor and then soaked it in rotting garlic. He would pace the isle with his arms up from his seat in the back to the poor person stuck next to his wife and infant. Eventually he was allowed to take the seat next to his wife and the smell centralized there. Around 2 AM we had a rest stop at a bar. I wasted a Euro on a bottle of water from a machine that was broken.  Around 1:30 PM, we rolled into the Paris bus station. The restroom in the Paris bus station is the worst I have seen on 3 continents. I walked in and decided I would need to shower in bleach if I used it. The floor was a pool of urine and the sink looked like it had doubled as a toilet more than once since its last cleaning.  Welcome to Paris.

                A few train rides and a long walk brought us to our Airbnb. Our room for the night touted that it was a 7 minute ride to the airport, but they didn’t say that there is ZERO public transportation and taxis charge a large extra fee as it isn’t in Paris, but a weird neighboring town. The only option was hitchhiking or my first attempt at using Uber.  The other issue is that the Airbnb host owned the only restaurant in town. So pizza it was for our dinner in Paris.

                The next morning, my newly created Uber account provided for a quick arrival to the terminal. Oh, and if your Airbnb host tells you that you don’t need the extra couple of hours before an international flight, they are an imbecile.  We had ignored the supposed wisdom and were grateful for the extra time to navigate the long lines and still have time for a huge cup of coffee.

                In Detroit we had a long layover (thanks to United Airlines rescheduling us to add several hours), so we drink a big beer and ate an America style cheeseburger. United’s gift compounded into arriving home at 2 AM on November 1st.  Our dogs and bed have never been better.

17-10-2019

After walking and moving daily for about a month and a half, one gets a bit tired of having laundry hanging everywhere, eating random foods that will fit into the leftover spaces in your backpack, and the mental stress of figuring out when and where you will sleep the following day. We HAD planned to visit Morocco after completing the Camino. We HAD planned to walk to Finnisterre after the Camino. We HAD planned to do more…but plans change. We wanted to slow down the race and visit a place more than a few hours. So we spent one more day in Santiago de Compostela with friends and then took the slow train to Porto, Portugal.

Porto started out annoying and struggled to get better. We couldn’t find lockers to store our packs until the boardinghouse opened up, it was raining, and the Mercado Bom Sucesso  was relocated/closed for remodeling. We did manage to find a locker at a different train station and then walk in the rain to the São Beato train station to enjoy its beautiful blue tiled walls and ceiling. The murals are old (1905 – 1916) and depict scenes from the Battle of Valdevez (1140) and the Conquest of Ceuta (1415).

We also tried to visit the Lello & Irmão bookstore , but we had failed to procure tickets for the bookstore made famous by J.K. Rowling. The lines were long even in the rain.

Along the way, we sampled an IPA from Lavare Brewing.  It was the best beer we had in Porto.

From there we walked to temporary location of the Mercado Bom Sucesso to get some cheese and fruit. We collected our bags and checked into the boarding house. Friends told us of a few places to visit and porto makers to sample. The easiest way seemed to be through a “Yellow Bus” package. We got a tour by boat, double decker bus, a porto maker tour, and few other random things.

The Yellow Bus tour started badly. The email said that you could start anytime and you just met at a local monument. There was nothing but tourists at the monument. A long call to the package organizer made it evident that they weren’t able to reach to the bus company. Temperaments were short when on the way to the train station we spotted a sign for the same tour. A conversation with the business owner helped us locate a random signpost to stand near to catch the next bus. What a pain. The boat tour and the port tour were good despite the sound system crapping out on the boat and only 3 samples of port (I mean come on!).

If it had rained earlier, it dumped the following day. The cleaning staff knocked on our room to tell us it was raining in the hall. Water was sluicing down the walls, dripping out of electrical fixtures, and forming a small lake on the floor. We decided to go to lunch instead of risking death by electrocution. The slopped street out front was a raging river. I stepped in a shallow spot and it caused the water to leap up my leg and fill my shoe. We found a close restaurant and ate.

After enjoying the rain in Porto, we decided to aim for a dryer and sunnier Madrid.  We went to a favorite of all dirt-bag backpackers, the long distance bus station. Where local bus stations have people trying to get to work or a market, long distance bus stations have people trying to figure out how indoor plumbing works and how to beg for change in 5 or 10 languages. We chose ALSA as they had cheap tickets across Europe. The bus company didn’t label the stall for which our bus would appear, but the bus did require exact change to use the restroom. That should have been disclosed before reaching cruising speeds.

Using a variety of guides, websites, black magic, and rumors, we wondered the streets of Madrid. We tried no less than 4 times to get churros and chocolate sauce, but each time we failed. Once at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés, we waited in circus line only to flub the order and get bland churros and coffee. Unless you want to wait in line again, you just leave. The churros didn’t even have cinnamon and sugar on them…disgusting. Another time we waited for 15 – 20 minutes at a restaurant in a park but the wait staff pointedly ignored us. After that I started to understand that we are cursed.

On 22-10-19, we ditched Madrid for Granada. A four hour bus ride brought a warmer climate and a nicer city. We got a great spot in the downtown and started enjoying the smaller and older feel of Granada. On our second day in Granada, we walked to the Alhambra. Since we didn’t plan (where’s the fun in planning 6 months out?!?!) we couldn’t get the much coveted Palace tickets, but we did get the Alhambra Gardens and “Generalife” tickets for the next morning.

We wondered the castle and grounds for the day. The Muslim architecture and gardens were interesting. Great pains had been taken to channel water to the gardens and buildings via ingenious methods. The castles had formidable walls and fortifications. Together, it helped Granada endure to be the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Only hunger finally drove us to leave the lush gardens. We dined on Mexican food for dinner. It was OK, but expensive.

The following day we wanted to learn more about Flamenco dancing. I can’t be sure if it was someone’s sense of humor, the only available museum space in the region, or just coincidence, but the Flamenco exhibit is in the Torture Museum AKA “Palacio de los Olvidados” . The exhibits bounced back and forth between the various types of music that fused into modern Flamenco and how the Inquisition used various methods to torture people (mostly suspected Jews and Muslims) into either confessing, death, or both. The top floor had a display of photos to add to the WTF aspect of the whole place. In the evening, we went to a Flamenco show. The show was impressive. The dancers can really stomp their feet.

 

It is the eleventh of October and the sun is taking its sweet time getting up in the morning. We started at 715 AM out of the Hostel in Miraz. We had gotten up early, but Laura found a bedbug in her bed and it was still full of blood. We mention it to our roommates… Diane says that her friend got bedbugs from the hostel in Baamonde. AAAUUUUUGGGHHHH!!! Instantly your mind goes through how to rid yourself of these nasty beasts. We had treated all of our clothes, packs, and Cocoon sleeping bag liners with permethrin any bug spray. We hope that it kept the bugs to a minimum and kills the remainder, but heat and/or laundering is the best way to rid yourself of them. By the time we make the town of Sabrado, we have plans to wash and dry all of the clothes and gear we can.

Despite the low spirits and general bad mood the bedbugs impart, we trek on through the dark, eventually passing our friends on a dark hill around 8 AM. The sun creeps up around 830AM, but coffee elude us. An albergue/hostel on the way is supposed to have a café, but when we approach it, we can see that they are closed- maybe for the season. We hopped up on a stone wall and ate some cookies and random snacks from our pack while watching farm animals walk around and the albergue owners get in their car and drive off.

After a long uphill and on one of the last hills of the entire Camino we came to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It was first noticeable by the large number of dogs and cats roaming around and then more forcefully by the smell. They kept lots of chickens, turkeys, and who knows what other animals. The place was a bit of a mess of random outbuildings, but, lo and behold, there are two fellow Camino walkers drinking coffee and eating toasted bread. Apparently the farm operates a “café” as a side business. If you can get past the farm smell, the instant coffee and toast with jam wasn’t bad. As we ate, Diane and Patrick joined us.

I don’t recall anything about the night in Sabrado other than doing several loads of laundry and baking it in as much heat as I thought the fabrics could handle. 

We started at 7 AM with clean clothes and hope that the bugs were a bad memory and the renewed hope that when we joined the main pilgrimage route, Camino de Santiago Francés, in Arzua things would be easier. The Francés route is the most popular. That means that more businesses cater to the weird hours and high calorie diets of the pilgrims. There was a spring in our step and my knee was almost normal as we walked through long roads alone. As we approached the town, our now good friends Diane and Patrick showed up.  We all marveled at a church that seemed to be dedicated to a stoner…or maybe the drawing skills of a high school student.

 

We each had booked different albergues, but enjoyed a brief chat before separating again.  Our Albergue was fancy. Cotton sheets and a nice layout for people doing a long walk. We had lunch and tried to buy stuff for dinner, but the stores closed before we could get in. So much for the Francés route providing. We did score a loaf of bread and some pastries, so all was not lost. 

When we left in the morning, it was raining. We donned headlights and stomped through the rain. We hadn’t made it more than a kilometer when we saw someone ahead. It was a tall guy dressed strangely in what looked to be a kid’s patterned rain poncho, one trekking pole, an umbrella, and a weak headlight. I had a hard time understanding him, but he mumbled something about three headlights were better than one.  As we walked I learned he was in his 60 or 70’s. His appearance reminded me of a businessman that was stranded with a small set of random gear from the trunk of a rental car.

Laura was sporting a new headlamp, so she took lead and lit the way. We were walking on a road that was the low point with high banks on either sided. Salamanders and frogs could be seen in our headlights. It was fun except the guy started talking at us. We learned he was from South Korea and he had a tight schedule to finish the Camino that day. He would repeat the same sentences over and over. Something about the Korean or Vietnam War. He was hard to follow and any attempt to glean additional information or change the subject caused him to start over talking about a war that we never were 100% about which one it was or why he was talking about it other than that is all he knew about the USA.  We stopped at a coffee shop and were amazed when the South Korean guy ordered fried eggs and an apple.  We had been living on chocolate croissants for weeks and hadn’t seen any place that had a short order grill. As we drank our café con leche and ate our chocolate croissants, another South Korean showed up. He was in his twenties or thirties and talked briefly with our guy. You could tell by the younger guy’s reaction and his quick escape that our guy was odd. The others wanted nothing to do with him. We walked with him for a good distance more, never got further with details of his life or talking about ours. We eventually left him giving away his umbrella and his poncho to bewildered folks who were just out for a walk. 

We found our hostel and started laundry, this hostel didn’t let you do your own, but they had an inexpensive paid service.  As the laundry got washed and dried, we went looking for food. The first restaurant was a Michelin Starred place that we just walked by in hunger. Our budget didn’t rate that kind of food. Most of the other places were closed due to it being Sunday and Festival Nacional de España. We did find a nice hotel restaurant open and a gas station that sold some odds and ends for dinner- bread, box wine for €1, and a small bag of olives that we thought was olive oil.   Our feast of bread, the worst wine in Spain, and olives (for me) was punctuated by another guest talking loudly into a phone the entire meal. To add context, a bottle of cheap and good wine in Spain will set you back 2-5 Euros. A broth box of gutter wine will set you on your back with a headache and the sad disappointment of how you got it.

 Around 830 PM, I went to brush my teeth and ran into 2 Americans, Ted and Diane. We chatted for maybe 30 minutes before Laura joined us. We chatted for another hour until we decided it was time for bed.  In the middle of the night it came to me, TED AND DIANE! We had been told by several walkers that we should talk to them. It was a strange stroke of luck that they had seceded to stay in an albergue that was a fairly short walk to Santiago to avoid the Sunday/Holiday madness, too.  After we got up in the morning, we chatted some more.

After we left the albergue, we walked with a couple from Missouri that were taking a gap year, too. The rain poured down from the sky like a broken hostel shower set to cold. At times the gutters turned to rivers and Camino walkers disappeared into cafés and stores to wait out the worst of the rain. Since Laura’s rain gear had failed and she was soaked through, we continued. When the rain finally stopped, we stopped at one of the few places that was dry. I sat down and promptly tore a 3 CM/1 inch hole in the seat of my pants. FML. We walked on until we found a trash can where Laura deposited her rain pants and a few choice words.

We stumbled down to the Compostela office to turn in our documents and get a number in the line so we could finish this on October 14, 2019.  While waiting for our number in line, who should walk by but the guy from South Korea! Apparently he had walked the distance but arrived too late to get his certificate on the day he completed the walk.  We waved, but left to check into our hotel. After check in, we went for food. Pizza, wine and a salad hit the spot.  We later completed the certification process and got our certificate of being stupid enough to walk over 500 miles.

That evening, we hung out with Eddie and Clare.  All were feeling the happiness of completing a long and tiring task.

The next morning, we braved the wind, cold, and tired legs to walk 200 meters to a waiting bus for a ride to Finisterre. Friends had planned to walk the extra 90 kilometers/56 miles, but most were thwarted by the horrible weather. The tour bus made it just fine.

 

 

We dropped our heavy gear off to be shipped to the next albergue. It cost us some time and stress at the late start, but couldn’t be helped. We also had breakfast of peanut butter on toast, which is, according to the chain restaurant we ate at, a “Dutch Breakfast”. We haven’t confirmed if this is indeed a Dutch thing or another marketing ploy.

Our day’s trek started with a steep climb out of the town of Luarco and the river it sets beside. It was misting and grey, but we started chatting with a woman from Germany who was just starting her solo journey. She was a new to the Camino, but we tried to give her a few hints on how to lessen the discomfort of the first few days and then we took off. She didn’t know how far she was going and we knew we had many kilometers to cover and already had a very late start.

After the initial climb, it was mostly fields and farms. We met our friend Michelle again. He was still cruising at his own pace.  We chatted until he took a break then we pressed on.

In the farm country of northern Spain, you see a lot of cats. This day was particularly filled with cats. Most would watch you go by with the vague disinterest all cats seem to exude, but some would see you walking their street or driveway and walk or run to meet you. The most memorable adolescent kitten this day was a calico with a broken-stubby tail. He was playing in a gutter next to a school when we walked up. He charged up to us and demanded attention. He was a sweetheart. Little did he know that if we weren’t walking all day for days to come, he would be coming with us.  We also found out later that the little guy said hi to all of the walkers.   A while later, a large orange cat walked calmly down the street to give us a quick hello before walking on to its destination.

That night our albergue in La Caridad was packed with walkers and a pair of weird hippy Camino walkers. The guy had his backpack side pouches stuffed with nasturtiums for a cheap salad. Word from the other walkers is that this couple was living on €5 a day. They camped in fields (technically illegal in Spain) and grifted electricity from various albergues to keep their cameras and battery packs full.

For dinner, a large group of walkers funneled down to a little basement restaurant that had a “pilgrim’s meal”. A pilgrim’s meal was usually cheap, large, and includes wine…the best kind of meal.  We all ate and drank more than we should have, but before we could leave, they offered a shot- a toast to the Camino. You can’t not take that toast?!?Right?!?  We both took the shot, Laura woke to regret it in the morning. The drink was “Orujo”. It is a type of brandy made from pomace, the leftover sludge from making wine.

The walk to Ribadeo the following day was long, but Laura got to practice her Spanish with Guama. My knees and feet were hurting badly, so the conversation was welcome distraction. We met him and his friend at the city limits of Franco, Spain. We liked the style of how the friend flipped Franco the bird while Guama took the photo. If you don’t recall Franco and his practice of killing people who opposed his dictatorship, read up about him.

We also hung with our Canadian friends Carol, Diane, and Patrick.  Carol had started her day by accidentally stealing Guama’s trekking poles (nearly identical poles), so we ribbed her for the next few days. We also met Eddie and his with wife (recently joined him) at a laundry mat.

Leaving Ribadeo, we entered rolling and treed country. Due to the early hour and we really wanted a coffee con leche and pastry, but ever café we found was closed. Heartbreaking. After many disappointments, we came to a bar that had coffee and beer. I chose…beer. They had a local microbrew pale ale, Angus Santas Brew Brotherhood (brewery), and a really good bean soup.

In Lourenzá, we found that the local fabada bean festival had closed, or overbooked every restaurant in town. After a lot of disheartened looking for food, we waiting in line at a big top tent with the sole intent of eating anything they had to offer. Our Australian friend Ted, along with Eddie, and his wife all joined us for the only meal in town.

In the morning, we started slowly so that I could visit several pharmacies in a vain attempt at getting a knee brace that fit. I had been using Laura’s and it was a bit tight. Leaving town we had the choice of 2 paths to Abadin. The old path that was longer and followed a busy road, or the path over a mountain that was 6 kilometers or so shorter. We went high.  We stayed at a super new and really nice hostel called Lar Xabarin. The best bit, beyond the great security, excellent area to wash and dry clothes, great kitchen… it had an espresso machine that was cutting edge. Free to use at any hour that you felt under caffeinated. Heaven.

From Abadin to Varibla, we walked in the rain with Eddie and Claire. The wonderful company helped me forget the pain in my knee and the rain for a bit.  The hostel scene was fun. We made a huge meal with Patrick and Diane while a German gal walked around showing off her horribly chaffed inner thighs. She was bandaged up like a war victim.

The morning brought better weather and a pleasant walk through the countryside. The roads were 50-50 paved and dirt. The dirt paths and road are easier on the body and almost always better than the pavement.  We made it to Baamonde in the early afternoon. We decided to stay at the better rated of the two hostels in town. It was horrible.

The municipal hostel in Baamonde is a 100 beds of hell. The bathrooms were last cleaned during the Spanish Inquisition- mildew and dirt were the only thing to see. The kitchen was stripped of any useful items to the point where the microwave appeared to have the internal plate removed. It was found later. No utensils, plates, bowls, pots/pans, or cups were to be found. The floors were filthy and covered in dust and dust bunnies. One questions one’s decisions in times like this. We chose a cot and went to what sufficed for a grocery store in town. We bought wine, cheese, and bread. A quick grab of yogurt later proved to be useful.  We ate our sad meal on scraps of paper that the bread came in and then tried to decide how to drink the wine. We ended up eating the yogurt (there was no fridge, so it would be warm at best in the morning) and then ghetto–style drinking red wine from the washed containers.

Instead of enjoying the filth for the evening, we went to a nearby church, Santiago de Baamonde church, with Patrick and Diane to look at a tree that had carvings and a shrine.

After a skivvy night of sleep, we tried to distance ourselves from filth that was the Baamonde hostel. Soon after leaving town, we passed the 100KM to go marker!!! The end was certainly near. 

The path to Miraz was short and dotted with farm cats. One cat family consisting of 2 or 3 moms and about a dozen kittens came out to say high. A few got close enough to almost pet as they followed us for a bit. 

Much of the way we hiked with Diane and Patrick. We ran into a group of English speaking Camino walkers that seemed to be too fresh and too clean. Their boots were straight out of a store. After a few minutes, they told us their secret- ride in a bus with WIFI through all of the “boring or paved parts”. Well, that became a huge topic for the next few days. Most agreed that this wasn’t walking the Camino, but more of sightseeing the Camino.  The next albergue was nice and had a bar a few feet away, so I got my end of day beer.

We dropped our heavy gear off to be shipped to the next albergue. It cost us some time and stress at the late start, but couldn’t be helped. We also had breakfast of peanut butter on toast, which is, according to the chain restaurant we ate at, a “Dutch Breakfast”. We haven’t confirmed if this is indeed a Dutch thing or another marketing ploy.

Our day’s trek started with a steep climb out of the town of Luarco and the river it sets beside. It was misting and grey, but we started chatting with a woman from Germany who was just starting her solo journey. She was a new to the Camino, but we tried to give her a few hints on how to lessen the discomfort of the first few days and then we took off. She didn’t know how far she was going and we knew we had many kilometers to cover and already had a very late start.

After the initial climb, it was mostly fields and farms. We met our friend Michelle again. He was still cruising at his own pace.  We chatted until he took a break then we pressed on.

In the farm country of northern Spain, you see a lot of cats. This day was particularly filled with cats. Most would watch you go by with the vague disinterest all cats seem to exude, but some would see you walking their street or driveway and walk or run to meet you. The most memorable adolescent kitten this day was a calico with a broken-stubby tail. He was playing in a gutter next to a school when we walked up. He charged up to us and demanded attention. He was a sweetheart. Little did he know that if we weren’t walking all day for days to come, he would be coming with us.  We also found out later that the little guy said hi to all of the walkers.   A while later, a large orange cat walked calmly down the street to give us a quick hello before walking on to its destination.

That night our albergue in La Caridad was packed with walkers and a pair of weird hippy Camino walkers. The guy had his backpack side pouches stuffed with nasturtiums for a cheap salad. Word from the other walkers is that this couple was living on €5 a day. They camped in fields (technically illegal in Spain) and grifted electricity from various albergues to keep their cameras and battery packs full.

For dinner, a large group of walkers funneled down to a little basement restaurant that had a “pilgrim’s meal”. A pilgrim’s meal was usually cheap, large, and includes wine…the best kind of meal.  We all ate and drank more than we should have, but before we could leave, they offered a shot- a toast to the Camino. You can’t not take that toast?!?Right?!?  We both took the shot, Laura woke to regret it in the morning. The drink was “Orujo”. It is a type of brandy made from pomace, the leftover sludge from making wine.

The walk to Ribadeo the following day was long, but Laura got to practice her Spanish with Guama. My knees and feet were hurting badly, so the conversation was welcome distraction. We met him and his friend at the city limits of Franco, Spain. We liked the style of how the friend flipped Franco the bird while Guama took the photo. If you don’t recall Franco and his practice of killing people who opposed his dictatorship, read up about him.

We also hung with our Canadian friends Carol, Diane, and Patrick.  Carol had started her day by accidentally stealing Guama’s trekking poles (nearly identical poles), so we ribbed her for the next few days. We also met Eddie and his with wife (recently joined him) at a laundry mat.

Leaving Ribadeo, we entered rolling and treed country. Due to the early hour and we really wanted a coffee con leche and pastry, but ever café we found was closed. Heartbreaking. After many disappointments, we came to a bar that had coffee and beer. I chose…beer. They had a local microbrew pale ale, Angus Santas Brew Brotherhood (brewery), and a really good bean soup.

In Lourenzá, we found that the local fabada bean festival had either closed or overbooked every restaurant in the area. After a lot of disheartened looking for food, we waited in a long line at a cookout under a big top tent with the sole intent of eating anything that was available for purchase. Ted, our Australian friend, Eddie and Claire, from Ireland, and a handful of other trail friends joined us at our table.

In the morning, we started slowly so that I could visit several pharmacies in a vain attempt at getting a knee brace that fit. I had been using Laura’s and it was a bit tight. Leaving town we had the choice of 2 paths to Abadin. The old path that was longer and followed a busy road, or the path over a mountain that was 6 kilometers or so shorter. We went high.  We stayed at a super new and really nice hostel called Lar Xabarin. The best bit, beyond the great security, excellent area to wash and dry clothes, great kitchen… it had an espresso machine that was cutting edge. Free to use at any hour that you felt under caffeinated. Heaven.

From Abadin to Varibla, we walked in the rain with Eddie and Claire. The wonderful company helped me forget the pain in my knee and the rain for a bit.  The hostel scene was fun. We made a huge meal with Patrick and Diane while a German gal walked around showing off her horribly chaffed inner thighs. She was bandaged up like a war victim.

The morning brought better weather and a pleasant walk through the countryside. The roads were 50-50 paved and dirt. The dirt paths and road are easier on the body and almost always better than the pavement.  We made it to Baamonde in the early afternoon. We decided to stay at the better rated of the two hostels in town. It was horrible.

The municipal hostel in Baamonde is a 100 beds of hell. The bathrooms were last cleaned during the Spanish Inquisition- mildew and dirt were the only thing to see. The kitchen was stripped of any useful items to the point where the microwave appeared to have the internal plate removed. It was found later. No utensils, plates, bowls, pots/pans, or cups were to be found. The floors were filthy and covered in dust and dust bunnies. One questions one’s decisions in times like this. We chose a cot and went to what sufficed for a grocery store in town. We bought wine, cheese, and bread. A quick grab of yogurt later proved to be useful.  We ate our sad meal on scraps of paper that the bread came in and then tried to decide how to drink the wine. We ended up eating the yogurt (there was no fridge, so it would be warm at best in the morning) and then ghetto–style drinking red wine from the washed containers.

Instead of enjoying the filth for the evening, we went to a nearby church, Santiago de Baamonde church, with Patrick and Diane to look at a tree that had carvings and a shrine.

After a skivvy night of sleep, we tried to distance ourselves from filth that was the Baamonde hostel. Soon after leaving town, we passed the 100KM to go marker!!! The end was certainly near.

The path to Miraz was short and dotted with farm cats. One cat family consisting of 2 or 3 moms and about a dozen kittens came out to say high. A few got close enough to almost pet as they followed us for a bit. 

Much of the way we hiked with Diane and Patrick. We ran into a group of English speaking Camino walkers that seemed to be too fresh and too clean. Their boots were straight out of a store. After a few minutes, they told us their secret- ride in a bus with WIFI through all of the “boring or paved parts”. Well, that became a huge topic for the next few days. Most agreed that this wasn’t walking the Camino, but more of sightseeing the Camino.  The next albergue was nice and had a bar a few feet away, so I got my end of day beer.

Week 5

 

We left early out of Ribadesella. We crossed a bridge and nearly got erased by an early morning delivery van. We quickly made it to the local beach for a sunrise walk along a nearly perfect beach.

Leaving town, we started gaining elevation in a wooded area and then lost it all to come to the beach town of Vega. Some enterprising individual had posted adds for coffee in a couple locations on the trail and we took the half kilometer detour to get some. It ended up being a machine that dispensed brown water for €1. Another reason to hate advertising. As we departed with brown water sloshing in our bellies, we met our friend from northern Italy, Angelica. We chatted for a bit and hiked.

After a few twists and turns we made our way to the tiny town of Berbes. A fellow hiker, Bob, was waiting there to catch a bus. He is a producer of documentaries and his phone died. To maintain his virtual presence, he was going to go fix or replace his phone and then bus back to where he left the trail. The things we do to stay honest to ourselves and our Camino.   

As we stumbled into Colunga, our old friend Leo was waiting for us… doing a beach clothing change in a grocery store parking lot. We chatted for a couple of minutes, but the need to eat was too strong and we headed off to find food and our hotel. We found food at a nice restaurant. You could tell it was nice as they immediately sent us to a windowless basement. The waitress was elderly, toothless, and spoke Spanish as it was meant to be spoken – fast and slurred. We order what we thought was seafood soup, a fish dish for the main, and, of course, a bottle of wine. The soup was good, but the langoustines weren’t pealed, nor were the shrimp. I felt even more animal-like as I dripped soup everywhere and tried to peal the various seafood. The main dish came out and we knew we screwed up. In this region, squid isn’t calamares, it is pescado de chipirones. And that is how we learned to choke down rubbery and dry squid.

We made it to the hotel, of which we may have been the only guests as they closed the lobby and turned out the lights as soon as we checked in.

In the morning, we went to the bar that was supposed to be open early. We had heard this lie so many times that you could have knocked us over with a feather when we walked into not only an open bar, but one packed with ~30 hunters and some Camino walkers. I managed to get us coffee and we headed out.

That day was a pleasant walk through woods and orchards. Things were quiet and uneventful until the gunfire started. Several rifles (?) went off all around our trail. No discernible direction other than all-directions.  We had heavy packs, so running or dropping to the ground weren’t great options. Instead, we started singing and whistling at the top of our lungs. No more gun fire near us, but it took reaching a highway to get my nerves back to normal.

We arrived in Villaviciosa without any sucking chest wounds, so that was a win.

From Villaviciosa to Gijόn was the two highest mountains of the entire walk. We shipped the bulk of the weight from our packs and it made a huge difference. We walked with nice Catalonian named Alberto. We had passed him several times, but never broken the language barrier. We ended up chatting (OK, Laura chatted and I listened and said one of the 5 Spanish words I know at random times) for hours.

From Gijόn to Alviles can only be described as something you wish you could forget. It starts with a long walk on pavement through a busy city, a brief section of woods and then a series of concrete plants (or other equally appealing industrial scenery). Miles and miles of hideous dusty factories and scorching pavement. We arrived in the city center of Alviles to a restaurant that was supposed to be open every day of the year… They tried to turn us away as being full, but Laura’s mad Spanish skills got us a seat in the second seating and a beer for me while we waited. Beer, mmmmm.  After lunch, it was a short walk to our hotel and a nice night of sleep.

From Alviles to Muros de Nalόn it was a pleasant walk. Three gals from Nebraska were staying there and walking the Camino. We chatted for a bit and then went to get dinner.

Leaving Muros de Nalόn was an easy walk and pretty enough until we found out that we had accidentally gotten on the bike route. It added a bit of pavement, but not too bad. After a bit we remerged onto the standard route. Looking over my shoulder, who should appear but our friend Leo! We chatted for a couple of hours. Today was his last day on the Camino. He was taking a train out of the next town to return to the Netherlands. Since it was a short day, we opted for a risky “600 meter” diversion to the beach. The Caminos are notorious for incorrect distances on signs and randomly closed cafes, but the stars aligned and we had coffee with Leo. After an hour or more, we needed to leave and Leo needed to try and get one more swim before he had to go.

 

We took a long-cut on the way back to the trail, but got to see some weird buildings and different places on our way to Soto de Luiña.

As with all things Google Maps, things can get weird. The next leg of our journey was listed as 41 kilometers for the shortest walking route to get us from Soto de Luiña to Luarca. We started at 6 AM to hedge our bets of getting to our hotel before midnight.  The weather was good and we met Heather, a fast talking and faster walking Canadian. She had walked most of the Caminos and seemed hell-bent on breaking a record. She was fun to talk to so we double-timed it to keep up with her for a bit. We also formally met Michelle. A Frenchman walking solo. He spoke only French (Laura speaks a little, but it is yet another language I don’t speak). We kept running in to him as we were the rabbit and he was the tortoise.

We made it to our hotel absolutely beat. The hotel manager wanted to wax poetic about where the laundry facilities for the town were located. He must have said it was a pay laundry and that you needed to use cash 5 times. He gave us bus and taxi routes and stations…just generally every detail about a town that someone walking 40 kilometers doesn’t give a rip about.

**IF YOU HAVE SEEN A FEW POST APPEAR AND DISAPPEAR, MY WEB HOST “INMOTION HOSTING” HAS BEEN HAVING ISSUES. I HAVE HAD 2 OR 3 POSTS DELETED SEVERAL TIMES. THEY THINK THE ISSUE IS FIXED AND ARE NO LONGER ANSWERING EMAILS FROM ME** 

 

               We got up early (as always) looking forward to the breakfast we had paid extra for only to find the hosts trying to upsell us. Instant coffee was included, but “machine coffee” was another €1 or 2. Fortified on 2-3 cups of instant coffee, we headed up hill. Our friend Leo passed us in a bit of a hurry. He wanted to get a swim in at one of the beaches, so he was off like a shot. Soon after a sketchy couple with a dog crossed our path. They looked like they had robbed a second-hand store and the dog looked a bit disappointed in the humans it had been stuck with. They seemed to be carrying everything in random bags.

              We met Leo again at a bakery and chatted until the weird couple showed up and their dog tried to start a fight with another dog. It was a good excuse to get moving. We took the slightly longer route that hugged some crumbling cliffs. It was a beautiful walk that necessitated dodging mountain bikers, and also completely unthinkable in the US’s litigious society.  

               We made it to a beach that we needed to walk along for a mile or two to reach the third ferry on the Del Norte. It was a huge beach and would have been a joy had it not been miles into a long walk and heavy packs on our backs. Along the path, I saw what appeared to be a naked guy, so I looked away; Laura didn’t see him until she saw more of him than most people would want to see. Note: Naked guys prefer sunbathing on trails. We made the ferry, but hung out and had pizza before crossing. Leo joined us fresh from another swim.

               The next morning, we did a short and not so scenic walk through Santander to Boo de Pielages. We decided to go short due to the nature of the next leg. We had to take a train 1 stop, but logistics were vague in the books, so we thought we would hedge our bets and spend a bit of time figuring it out. We met a great group. A real UN of people that ate a community meal on a tablecloth with the world map printed on it. Our New Zealand friend quickly found out that while Fiji and the Faroe Islands made the cut, New Zealand didn’t.  I think the world would be a sadder and less Hobbity place without New Zealand.  The next morning, the entire albergue emptied as we tried to figure out how to pay for our train ride. Now let me explain the train. For hundreds of years a ferry carried pilgrims across the river. Then the train was built and the ferry system died. Pilgrims then would walk the 100 meters or so across the river on the train tracks…until people got hurt/died. The police and deaths put a stop to walking the tracks, so now the official route calls for 1 stop on a train.

               The station had no machines to buy tickets and no employees to buy them from, so 20 confused pilgrims climbed on the train and hoped to pay on or after the train. Only an annoyed conductor on the train greeted us on the train. He said nothing and we found out that the station we needed to get off on was also closed. Another loss of income for Spain.

                We got off the train and quickly spread out over the various confused arrows and other markings on the trail(s). We walked with the Kiwi, Clive. We swapped life stories and walked.

                In Santillana del Mar, we stayed in an albergue that was half curiosity shop, half albergue. The owner was a nice guy but super quirky. Once he learned that our home town was Loveland, it was over. All sorts of random phrases and words were shouted at us and jovial laughter with “Loveland” mixed in liberally. Santilana del Mar is a fun town that is part renaissance festival, part museum, and tourist trap. It is famous for a cave painting of a bison.

                We slipped out of Santillana del Mar an hour or so before dawn to avoid the heat and get to the destination in time for lunch. Camillas was a resort town, but mostly closed for winter.   We were happy to leave as food was a hassle to find. From Comillas we headed to Unquera learning Spanish and teaching English to a guy from Madrid. The next morning we planned for a 30+ kilometer walk along the cliffs and coast to Llanes. The walk there was long and once we left the beach, we took the wrong path. Instead of needing to backtrack 1-2 kilometers, we ended up at our albergue’s doorstep, but having climbed and lost 300 meters of elevation. Here we met Josepha and Anglica. Josepha is from (and spoke) Spanish and German. Angelica is from northern Italy and spoke English, Spanish, German, and Italian.  Over dinner and the bonus bottle of wine that Josepha contributed, we had a hoot. From there we had a long hot walk to Ribadesella. Google maps did the Google thing and tried to convince us to walk through 2 meter high blackberry bushes. We arrived hangry, tired, and more than a little sore, but just in time to get lunch before the restaurants closed till 8 PM.   The hotel/hostel we stayed in had a friendly dachshund mix that hung out with us while we drank wine and ate dinner.