The Road to Santiago.

September 30, 2004

Photo of Albergue Ontón.
Albergue Ontón

Ontón to El Pontarron de Gurmiez

I overslept and woke at 9:30 because I had miss-set my alarm clock. Actually it was a good night’s sleep — the mat was comfortable and there were no city noises.

I had to walk back up the other hill to the bar to return the key. I was recalling my instructions: Leave the key here by the window, but watch out for the dog!

As I went back down the hill from whence I had come and wound my way back up the other hill, I squeezed past by a bakery truck delivering bread. The delivery man was putting bread in a wooden container that was attached to a driveway gate. It was similar to a mailbox, but about the size of a breadbox. (That’s a broma (joke)). Having owned a business for 20 years I considered the vagaries of such an economy. Since bread is so cheap here, I suspected that the delivery person was the baker himself. It wouldn’t make sense to pay a delivery driver because employees don’t work cheap.

At the crest of the hill, I spied a Shell Gasoline service station where I decided to use the servicios (services, i.e. toilets). Afterwards, I bought a diet coke to assuage my guilt. This was the first time I had found a diet drink. As I began to trudge up the hill, enjoying the cold flavor of the carbonated beverage, I felt something was missing. I looked back to see the counter girl from the service station chasing after me with mi palo (my stick). I was grateful that she did.

An hour or so later, I was overtaken by a little old man with a backpack and walking stick. He was briskly walking and whistling, obviously very carefree. I struck up a conversation with him and asked why he had a bunch of eucalyptus leaves sticking out of his pack. Para los catarros (for colds). He then proceeded to give me instructions on how to make an infusion with boiling water and then how to breathe the fumes. He said it was the best way to clear the lungs. (Good idea, but we don’t have many eucalyptus trees in Massachusetts. Maybe I’ll try it here if I need to clear my lungs.)

We talked about many things as we walked. Then he mentioned that even though we were in Cantabria, he was Vasco (Basque). When I mentioned hay muchos Vascos en los Estados Unidos (There are many Basques in the United States.), he said, si, mi abuelo (Yes, my grandfather). Then he told me the story of his grandfather and how he went to work in the U.S. Later, the story continues, his grandfather returned to marry his childhood sweetheart — which was good for my new friend; otherwise, he wouldn’t be here.

Photo of Castro Uridales.
Castro Uridales
"". I stopped in Castro Urdiales for lunch. This is the first of the four premier seacoast vacation towns in Cantabria (the others are Laredo, Santander, and San Vicente de la Barquera). I had been here before and found the city enchanting with its beautiful beaches and active harbor. As with all these seacoast towns there is a nucleus of the old medieval city (protected from urban renewal by law) with an ever-increasing circumference of new construction. I would like to have stayed in Castro Urdiales for a night, but it was very expensive, so I didn’t.

About 5 p.m., I stopped in a bar at Islares for a rest and a café con leche. Since it was obvious that I was a pilgrim, the proprietor said I still had a long way to go to reach the albergue at Colindres. I told her that I was going to stay at the albergue in El Pontarron de Gurmiez, the next village. She said that there was no albergue there. So I decided not to tarry very long. I had to find a shelter for tonight.

My Internet notes had said otherwise, but I was still a little nervous. I would be too tired to go much further. If the notes were wrong about El Pontarron de Gurmiez, they might be wrong about Liendo, the next town.

When I got to El Pontarron, I pulled out my notes and followed the directions: go to the bar and ask for Susana. Well, Susana did have the keys to an albergue. She gave them to me along with instructions in very rapid Spanish. Segundo casa alli donde esta los correos (Second house over there — where the post office is). The albergue was on the first floor of a two-family house on the other side of the post office. The bar proprietor, back in Islares, was wrong. (Ya never know.)

I went to what I thought was the right place, but there were two dogs on a leash within 20 feet of the door. They were barking and defending their territory with ferocity typical of Spanish dogs. I decided that this couldn’t be the right place so I went to the other side. There was a car in front of the door that I had to squeeze by, which I did. But the key didn’t work. Just at that moment, I heard a woman above me ask if she could help me. I asked her, “Albergue?”

She directed me to the right place, which was indeed where the dogs were. The albergue was a big room with six double bunk beds and an adjacent bathroom and shower. Actually, except for the barking of the dogs, it was pretty good. After I cleaned up, I took a nap until dinner time. All along the route to the restaurant and back again, there were dogs barking as I passed. I think the entire town knew when I returned to bed tonight.
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