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.

 

 

Week 1-   30-8-2019 

 

Travel requires lots of early mornings. Today, we woke at 430 to get a ride at 530 AM for a 10 AM flight. The flights went better than expected because the international flight had OK food and was on time.  From the long overnight flight, we gathered our bags and waited in the circus line that is most of the world’s customs and border patrol check-in lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 From there we stumbled to the next challenge, SNCF. The trains in France are interesting and confused, much like the people riding them. When our train came, we tried to board it, but the line for our car was a mess. Young families with way too many bags, old people that couldn’t or wouldn’t get into the dang car as conductors started yelling at us in one of the many languages I don’t speak or understand.  To speed things up, we were forced into a different car and the train sputtered to life with us in the wrong car.  We rode in the wrong seats until the rightful owner showed up. We expressed our confusion and sadness and tried to get to our proper seats, but discovered a man and 2 kids that seemed to refuse to move and would only point at his phone.  Stymied, we went to the first class section and waited to get yelled at yet again. This never happened and we arrived in Hendaye without having to relocate.

 

Hendaye is a small town that sits on the French side of the French-Spanish border. We got off the French train and bought 2 tickets using our bag of Euro change leftover from a trip 2 years before. Next was a short 100 meter walk to the Spanish train located in the Spanish-side town of Irun.

 

The train to San Sabastian was smooth and only took 30 minutes. We found the station that our Airbnb host instructed us to take and started walking. A short walk took us to the correct neighborhood, but no amount of calls, texts, human sacrifices, Airbnb messages, Google map searches, 3 laps around the neighborhood dragging our oversized bags and screaming at the heavens could help us find the proper house. With my phone battery dying, and both of us at wit’s end, our host drove up and picked us up. We had walked in front of our host’s house at least 3 times, but she hadn’t described the house well or how the Basque Regions like to have 2 street signs for each street. One in Basque and one in Spanish. Since they consider themselves Basque first and Spanish, the Basque signs were large and well located.

The next day, we pack our stuff up in our backpacks and walked the length of the beaches to the apartment we would be staying at for our week of Spanish school. The path there was easy and pretty.

 

Monday (2-9-2019) was the first day of Spanish. It was just me in the “moron level” Spanish class until an Aussie gal named Melissa showed up. She was also on a gap-year, but had run afoul on her passage from Turkey to San Sabastian. She ended up taking several buses to get there.

 

The rest of the week was a bit of a blur. Each evening we had meetups to practice Spanish. Most were lost on me as my base level didn’t allow me to add anything to the conversation, but I could usually follow along. The best trip was to the Basqueland Brewing Project. It is by far the best beer we tried in Spain for our 2 months there and on par with many US microbreweries.

Friday completed our week of Spanish class and we packed to start hiking the Camino de Santiago (del Norte).

 

Week 3 – Guernica

 

Guernica is an interesting city. We visited the Assembly House with its ancient tree (and new replacement) and its beautiful stained glass ceiling. We gazed upon a wall mural of Picasso’s Guernica that was made to raise awareness to the fact that Franco had convinced his buddy Hitler to bomb Franco’s own city to prevent it from seceding from Spain.

 

                From Guernica, we walked through forests and hills to make it to Lezama to wait in the baking sun for two of the 20 beds. First come first serve has highs and lows…the high was not walking another 10 kilometers into Bilboa, but the low was sitting in the sun in +30 C temps. We got a room, but then the fight for food was on. The little town didn’t open anything till 730 or 8 PM. Dinner in Spain can be tough. The next morning, we hiked on in mist and rain into Bilboa. Lots on interesting routes and people. We met on guy handing out pins to the people on the Camino. I appreciated his give small gifts to strangers. In Bilboa we walked the river-front and saw the famous museum from the outside. The thought of standing and slowly walking in the museum made us continue on to out hostel. From the hostel we stumbled back into town and found one of the few restaurants open on a Sunday evening –Doner Kabob.

                

From Bilboa, we walked passed the famous Vizcaya Bridge. The bridge is like a hanging tram that cars and people can ride from one side of a river to the other. Very strange.  We stopped in Portugalete for the night and had a great time chatting with 2 Italians and 2 Bulgarians over dinner and wine.

 

 

              

  

An early morning departure from Portugalete was needed to make the 30 kilometers doable in time to get lunch before the restaurants closed and the heat got too bad.  In Castro, we had the view of a church-castle thing, a cool bridge, and a jetty. Great view for which my description does not do justice. We jumped in the water on the beach side, watched kids jump off the bridge into a tiny lagoon and enjoyed a sunset on the jetty.

                

From Castro we headed to Laredo at around 20 miles of walking, the pain in my feet was bad. We stopped in a small town for lunch, but discovered that they weren’t serving that day. Cheese and bread at the only open grocery store became our feast. We also met a German shepherd that acted oddly towards me. He came up and rested his nose to my boot. When he lifted his mouth, a small pebble had been placed on top of my toe. He wanted to play fetch with the pebble! So cute!

                2 mountains later, we crawled into Laredo. They had a renaissance festival in full swing, but we only wanted food. Burgers and beer were found in a US themed restaurant (so bizarre).

                We woke the next morning with sore throats, we thought from the chain-smoking host, but later found out it was just a cold.  We packed and hustled to catch the early boat across the harbor. Before you think we are cheating in our long walk, this is the route that the original pilgrims took. The old route used a small ferry; the new one uses a slightly larger ferry with a motor.  After the ferry, we walked for a few hours and only got slightly lost once or twice. We made to our albergue in San Miguel De Meruelo and did our routine of showering and laundry.  Over dinner, we met Leo from the Nederland. He quickly became a friend. His constant smile, ability to speak more languages than I can count, being 72, and being a freaky fast hiker made him super easy to get along with.  He play translator between 2 French people (one spoke only French) and us who spoke English and broken Spanish.  Good times!

 

We woke and made our way to Irun via train by 11 AM. We tried to find someone/business/church that was open and would stamp our pilgrim’s passport to show we started in Irun, but after much walking and annoyance, we gave up and started walking.  We decided to take the route over the mountain as it was shorter and supposedly prettier. We saw towers built in the early 1800’s for the Carlist War (e.g. Torre V de Jaizkibel) . The cool little towers were dotted along the trail and could be climbed or entered by those with tie and energy. We had neither. We made it to Pasai Donibane, but the albergue was full.  We hiked on to the weird 10 Tribes Albergue it seemed much farther than the 5 kilometers that the guy at Pasai Donibane suggested. The hill was very steep and the way long. The albergue was close to full when we arrived around 6 PM. It was late to be arriving, so we were happy that they could put us in a tent for the night.  Dinner and conversation went well until it started to rain around 9. The rain continued through the night as a rock concert and cannon blasts could be heard from San Sabastian’s celebration of a regatta that was going on the weekend. The rain lightened to a constant misting by morning, so we walked with our new friends Ted and Linda (Aussies). The rain let up as we made it to San Sabastian proper.  We stopped in Orio for lunch and Laura discovered her least favorite salad, the “Esalada Rusa”. It is a Spanish salad made of potato salad topped with tuna and a hardboiled egg. I swapped my yummy looking seafood rice so we would both have something to eat.  We kept on going until we reached Zarautz

        

        We walked with Ted and Linda down an ancient Roman road. It took no effort to see the footsteps of man, beast, and carts that had been worn into the rock.

        The following day we walked with Phil (Brit) and Mark (Netherlands) for a few hours.  Mark stopped early due to injury and Phil stomped with us all the way to Debah. The coast was pretty and rugged. In Debah, Laura was tired and sore, so I grabbed the passports and went to the tourist office to try and get 2 beds for the night. We managed to get the last 2 at the municipal albergue; the guy behind me in line looked crestfallen to say the least. After checking in and realizing the time, we went to try and get lunch/dinner before things shutdown and barely got lunch. The waitress was su

per nice and took our order as the kitchen closed.

                We had another long day (~30 kilometers of rough terrain and no facilities) on our trek from Debah to Markina. To add to the fun, it rained off and on all day. We tried to keep a good pace, coupled with an early start, we made it to Markina around 2 PM. We checked out the San Miguel de Arrechinaga Church. It is a medium sized open cathedral that houses 3 huge megaliths (big rocks) that form a shelter over an altar. It is a neat place, but it had no food, so on we went.

                We did experience our first Camino miracle I Markina. The Pellegrino Menu. It is a 3 course meal and a full bottle of wine for two. We had it twice in one day and it was marvelous.  Laura’s knee was bothering her and so we decided to make the next day shorter. We only went 5 kilometers to Bolíbar. Bolíbar is a super-cute old town. Lots of history and a museum and fountain dedicated to Simón Bolíbar.  There we met a Senegalese man that carved wonderful shells (the symbol for the Camino de Santiago) and other works of art. He spoke French, so we just bought and gawked at his skills.  From there we backtracked to the hostel where we would be reduced to eating ramen noodles out of a vending machine. It turns out has only one functional bar/restaurant and it doesn’t like outsiders…and by outsiders, I mean even Spanish outsiders. It was one of the reasons the Basque are called insular.

                We got out of tow ASAP in the morning and met up with our friend Ted and Linda. We all walked some distance and chatted. We were reintroduced to Patrick and Dianne (Canada). All of us stayed in the same albergue. While those 4 went to Guernica to check out the museum and cultural center commemorating the Franco having his own people bombed, Laura, Jane (Irish doctor), and I went to a local bar to have a good IPA and wait for dinner.

                On Friday the 13th AND a full moon, we got up and walked the 6 miles to Guernica. We walked across Roman bridges and by more ancient churches and black berry bushes. We checked into a weird Pension (hotel or boarding house, usually with common bathroom or other oddity). Guernica is a town steeped with Basque history.  We relaxed and tried to prepare for the long hike (20+ kilometers) the next day.

Day 34 – 17/8/2019

 

On the start of our day, we visited briefly the The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The names of all of the fallen officers are engraved on the memorial.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
When your dress uniform get extra starch.

Our friend Sean has not only been a gracious host, but he took is to the International Spy Museum!!  If you are like me and just a wrinkled 16 year old boy, this place is for you. It is a fun combination of facts and fun things to do. While I hear the old museum was better, I can totally see taking a child to this and spending a day roaming the halls.

 

After a quick lunch, we went to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. If you get a chance, the videos on how people are using old school ways of making iron tools and art is insane. Hours of fanning and working ore into actual tools and art.

Detailed metal work in African art
Detailed metal work in African art -2

 

To cap our tour of Smithsonian museums, we went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 

After the museum, wee walked back through China Town to our friend’s home.

Dinosaurs!
Jar Jar Binks in an early cameo
Washington DC’s China Town

Day 33-  16/8/2019 

Air and Space Museum created a symbol that can only stand for Thunder Snow!

We made it to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum! I have been trying to make it here for years. Sadly, about 25% of the building is torn up and/or closed. We did get to wander through several great exhibits.

We started in the navigation section and learned a bit about how ancient seafarers plotted their way around the world. Much different from the techniques I was briefly taught in the Navy, but some old methods are still in use.

Part of the USS Alabama’s BBQ-4 nav system. I guess this has been declassified?

From there, we moved on to  early flight. Looking at the original Wright Brothers air plane was great, but reading about the many difficulties and iterations of the planes and various parts was far more interesting. The tenacity to make bunches of versions and then test them with their own bodies is a commitment that few have.  The only thing they did better was copyright the heck out of their plane and their design. They wouldn’t let others touch or see it until AFTER it had a copyright. 

Wright flyer

 We also got to see one of Amelia Earhart’s airplanes. She had a few. She was a complete bad ass as a flyer.  

 

Amelia Earhart’s plane. Not the one she was lost in.