The Road to Santiago.

October 2, 2004

Photo of Dudley pouring cider.
Pouring cider

Colindrés to Güermes

In the morning, I decided not to have breakfast because I didn’t want to eat a lot of carbohydrates again. So I decided to get a couple of miles under my belt before I’d stop for coffee. After 12 K (7.45 miles), I stopped in the attractive town of Escalante to get something to eat.

I walked into the restaurant that had been recommended in the guide book and asked if I could get lunch. It was only 12:45 and the dining room wouldn’t open until 1:30. I was hungry and the next town was two hours away, so I said I would wait in the bar.

To bide my time, I ordered a large bottle of cold water and started to read the local paper. It wasn’t more that 20 minutes before the proprietor came in and invited me into the comedor (dining room) — I think she took pity on a poor, old pilgrim. I wasn’t proud; I was hungry.

From Escalante, the trail headed away from the coast, up into the mountains. In the bar, there had been a topographic map which showed how mountainous the headland was and that the best way to Santander was through the mountains, So I wound up the mountain side into an area of beautiful farmland.

After a couple of hours, I entered the town of San Miguel de Meruelo. Soon I saw that the street was closed off to traffic, but folks told me to go on ahead. The reason for the street closing was a local fiesta. There was music and dancing in the streets. Someone handed me a plate of chorizo y alas de pollo (sausage and chicken wings). So I stopped and enjoyed myself for a bit.

Then someone signaled me to come over and try pouring sidra (Galician cider). What’s so hard about pouring a glass of cider? Well, first you hold the glass in one hand near your waist. Then you take the bottle and stretch your arm up over your head. While looking straight ahead, you tilt the bottle and pour directly into the glass. Simple, ¿si? !no¡

I cheated by taking a couple of test pours. They insisted that I should do it all at once. I got most of it into the glass, but I noticed that the bottle they gave me was only a quarter full. I guess they didn’t want to throw away good booze. It was nice and cold and tasted good in spite of the kick it gave.

As I continued on the road, I heard a loud roar bearing down on me. It was about 50 riders on all-terrain vehicles dressed in muddy jump suits, helmets, and boots. It looked like the 21st Century’s version of the wild bunch.

Photo of quad competition.

Actually, it was a “quad” competition and I soon came to the pit where it would take place. Apparently, quads are quite popular in this part of Spain which has some very rugged terrain. I would have liked to watch a bit, but the competition didn’t start until 4:15 p.m., which meant that I would have had to hang around for about half an hour. Since I didn’t know how hard the rest of the day’s walk would be, I kept moving on. Later I could hear the games begin. The steepness of the road I was on made me realize that I had made the right choice.

It was 6 p.m. when I reached the pueblo of Güermes. I stopped at the bar to ask for directions to Albergue Cagigal. It was another kilometer beyond the town and up the hill. The albergue has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best albergues on el Camino Norte. It is a privately run albergue and is located next to the family homestead of Don Ernesto, the parochial priest. It has a room with eight double bunk beds, a set of three showers each for men and women, an outdoor grill, and a series of picnic tables. Inside the house, he provides a small kitchenette and a reading room with a fireplace. The walls are covered with photos of his 40-plus years of service to the church, caring for others in places all around the world.

There was no one around until the housekeeper arrived and she told me that Don Ernesto was not in. But she showed me to a bunk, all the while scolding me for not calling. After I had showered, Don Ernesto arrived. With a full head of hair and a flowing white beard, he looked more like a mountain guide in his plaid shirt and corduroy pants. He was much more gracious than the housekeeper and said that he had to leave and say mass, but we’d get together afterwards.

About 7:30, as dusk approached, I decided to walk back into town to have supper. As I was walking down the path, I was trying to memorize the way so I could find my way back in the dark. All of a sudden, I heard a horse neighing and looked to my left to see a horse running up to me. He stopped right by the fence and shook his mane at me. I stood there awhile, patting his forehead while he sniffed me all over — looking for a treat. Unfortunately I had nothing to offer him.

Photo of horse.
Sr. Eduardo

While I was eating dinner, Don Ernesto came into the restaurant and told me that he would wait for me next door in the bar, to give me a ride back to the albergue. After a wonderful meal of ensalada mixta y pimientos rellenos (mixed salad and stuffed peppers), I went into the bar to join Don Ernesto and several of the local people. We stayed long enough to be polite and then left.

Photo of Don Ernesto.
Don Ernesto
Back at the albergue, Don Ernesto provided me with my credencial (pilgrim’s passport), which he stamped, dated, and signed. The credencial is what allows pilgrims to stay in the albergue system. It is a descendant of the salvoconducto (safe conduct pass), which pilgrims carried on their travels regardless of their origins, even in times of war. It is symbolic of the spirit of el camino today.

Don Ernesto wished me a goodnight and said he would join me for desayuno (breakfast) in the morning. He then left me in the library where I looked through his scrapbooks.
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