The Road to Santiago.

October 1, 2004

Photo of Laredo.

El Pontarron de Gurmiez to Colindres

As I left in the morning, the two dogs just lay there looking at me. Not a peep out of them! After I crossed the bridge to the other side of the river, I stopped for a cup of café con leche in the bar where I had eaten last night. The hospitalera offered to make me a fresh omelet with ham and cheese. It was a nice change from the usual fare of sweet rolls.

As I climbed up the hill, I noticed that the steep sides were covered with a sort of heavy-duty chicken wire. I realized that it was there to prevent rock slides which could clog the roadside drainage ditches. If they got blocked, there could be some serious washouts during heavy rains, making driving on these roads very treacherous.

An interesting effect of the netting is that it gives plants a foothold to grow on the rock faces of the mountain. In many places, I could see small evergreen trees taking root.

When I reached the alto (height, top), I saw my first road sign for Laredo. All of a sudden, a song popped into my mind, “As I walked out onto the streets of Laredo. . . ”

I don’t know where the song came from. Gene Autry, or one of those singing cowboys I remember from my youth, sang it. I couldn’t recall the rest of the words, but that first stanza kept playing over and over in my head.

This would be the third Laredo that I’ve been to (of the many Laredos there are in the world). The first was in Texas, in 1981, on a trip to San Antonio for a convention. I decided to take a side trip across the border to Mexico. I took a train — la Aguila Azteca (the Aztec Eagle) — which departed from Nuevo Laredo (New Laredo), just over the border on the other side of the Rio Grande.

“I spied a young cowboy all dressed in white linen. . . ”

(These are some of the many things I think about as I’m trudging along the way.)

That trip to Mexico was an eye opener for me to learn about institutional corruption in the Third World. I had to pay a bribe (the inspector called it a “tip”) in order to have my bags accepted for the border. I had read earlier in a guide book that if you were stern and refused to pay the bribe, you could avoid paying. I refused. The inspector then started going deliberately slowly though my bags — very slowly. I got the point and asked him how much. He said, “Señor, whatever you feel is appropriate.” I forgot what I offered him, but a flick of the wrist told me that it wasn’t “appropriate” enough.

“. . . all dressed in white linen and as cold as the clay.”

As I mentioned earlier, Laredo in Spain was one of the four major medieval towns in Cantabria (along with Castro Urdiales, Santander, San Vicente de la Baquera). Each had a 16-foot wall surrounding the city and afforded its citizens and the pilgrims a great deal of protection.

Photo of Gate of Bilbao.
Gate of Bilbao

The Gate of Bilbao is a reminder of that strong wall. It is through that gate that I entered the casco viejo in the same way thousands of pilgrims had done over the centuries.

In the old section, I found a nice place to have lunch. After lunch, I walked out on the streets of Laredo. As I passed the wharfs, I saw several fishing trawlers dockside and men inspecting the nets. Off to one side, I saw a woman sitting and mending her husband’s nets.

Photo of Street of Laredo.
Streets of Laredo

It was only a couple of miles to Colindres, the adjacent fishing pueblo. I reached the town around 4:00, making it a six-hour day. The guide book made no sense to me as to where the albergue was. I asked a couple of people and they didn’t know, so I decided to go to the police station and ask for directions.

As I entered the station and asked where the albergue was, they just said si (yes). An officer went to get a book and asked to see my passport. He then asked me to sign a form. The other cop — straight out of central casting with square chin, broad shoulders, and immaculate jump-suit type uniform — took me outside. I expected oral directions, spoken fast and by way of gestures. But no! He opened the trunk of his vehicle, put in my mochilay palo (backpack and walking stick), and told me to hop into the car.

On the way, I said that he was muy amable (very kind) and that the Spanish people are generally very kind. He said that in the old days it was true but, nowadays, there are some bad people in Spain. I said that it was the same in my country — mostly good people, but some bad. And that was why he had a job. He just nodded.

It was a beautiful place. And he showed me around in the albergue as if he were the host. “Bathroom’s here, reading room there, your bedroom here. Just leave the keys on the chair when you leave.”

I couldn’t believe the luxury. Sheets and pillow cases. They even provided clean towels.

Photo of Albergue Colindres.
Albergue Colindres
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