The Road to Santiago.

October 7, 2004

Photo of the bridge at Boó.
Bridge at Boó

Santander to Polanco

Was Newton’s second law of thermodynamics about inertia? You know — a body at rest tends to stay at rest. I had a terrible time dragging myself out of bed. Fortunately, I had packed up my pack the night before and just had to slip into the day’s wardrobe.

Than I got a bit of a shock:  the bill for all the transmission of the photos was as much as one night's stay in this hotel. This was not a good idal. I sure wish I had found an Internet salon which would have allowed me to transmit from my own disks.

So I left the hotel a little down, but as I saw the sun peeking through the clouds, I felt a lot better. However after an hour my gloom returned. Obviously, I was lost. Fortunately I had my new book with maps which showed the route numbers of the highway I should have been on. After asking a couple of people how to get there from here, I came to the conclusion that I would have to backtrack about 3K. Normally my rule is never turn back. But, hey, rules are made to be broken, right?

The guidebook was pretty good. I was able to find my way and even take an occasional short cut due to my map. My first important destination was a town called Boó. I was concerned about Boó because at that point I would have to make a decision. In previous centuries, the pilgrims crossed the river by boat at that point. Unfortunately, today there are no boat services. So a person has two options. The first is to detour 3 K to the south, where there is a car/pedestrian bridge, and then come 3 K back to the opposite side. The second is to walk across an active railroad bridge.

Both guidebooks mentioned the railroad bridge option but warned to cross it at a personal risk. A sign in the albergue at Santander had mentioned the bridge and warned of the risk. Since I’m not a risk taker, I take such notices to heart. But the thought of saving two hours from what would be a seven-hour walk was very tempting. I wondered how active the train line is. Well, when two trains went by in a ten-minute period, I thought that it was active enough. I took the long way.

Photo of the road to Arce.
Road to Arce

But after walking for over an hour on the road (trail) that snaked along the river, I still hadn’t reached Arce, the village where the other bridge was. I started thinking that perhaps I should have crossed at Boó. It wasn’t a very wide river and if I hadn’t had my computer and perishable medicines in my pack, I would have been tempted to build a raft for my pack and swim across the damn thing. But eventually I did get to Arce and crossed that bridge.

I was walking around Arce, looking for a restaurant that the guidebook recommended, when I heard someone calling out ,asking me if I was un peregrino a Santiago (a pilgrim to Santiago). I answered in the affirmative and asked if he knew where the restaurant was: cerrado, demasiado caro. (closed, too expensive).

The man asked where I was from. When I said the United States, he lit up with a huge smile — I had an instant, new friend. His name was Jesús Angel. He had been to the U.S. twenty some years ago, as a young Spanish sailor stationed in Chicago. He didn’t like the city but found some nice people there who were helpful to a young man in a strange place with people speaking a strange language. He had never forgotten that experience.

And then again, just a few years ago, he went back. He had lived in Wisconsin for about four years, working for the Phillips Company. He loved Wisconsin, the countryside, and its people. He summed it up by saying that it’s like in Spain — in the big cities, the people are in too much of a hurry to take time to help someone. (I’d exclude big cities in Spain from that generalization. People in Madrid have been mostly helpful and friendly to me!)

He wanted to help me — and he did so by taking me to a nearby bar and asking the bartender’s wife to make me a meal of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and ham. The bartender proudly displayed the eggs and said they were from free-ranging chickens and were better than those bought in a store. (I thought all chickens in Spain were free ranging — they seem to be everywhere!)

The 13-year old daughter of the bartender was waiting on tables. She got a kick out of listening to our lively discussion over the lunch. (She was studying English in school and enjoyed trying to follow our conversation.). She was amazed when Jesús offered to give me a ride to Polanco, four miles away via the highway. (The thought of walking an additional four hours on back trails when it was already three in the afternoon made his offer one which I couldn’t refuse.) She was really amazed when he insisted on picking up my lunch tab. If I had crossed the bridge at Boó, I would have missed all this!

El Regato de las Anguilas

The albergue in Polanco, El Regato de las Anguilas  (Eel Brook), was a tiny, three-room building on the edge of a running brook, right next to the road. Small but clean, it had plenty of hot water. Soon, a couple of 20-something girls came in. They took one room and I, the other.

Mimi and Luna
The girls, Mimi and Luna, were from Barcelona. They told me that they had crossed the bridge at Boó. I asked them if they weren’t afraid. They said no, that they had watched a couple of trains go over the bridge before they went across. How did they know that the next train would be on the same track? Or that two trains might not pass from opposite directions? Actually, they said, one did pass while they were on the bridge, but “it was alright as long as you stayed to one side, away from the train.” (That’s easy for them to do. They’re as thin as a rail while I’m as wide as a rail track!) Now I really felt better about my decision.

At 9 o’clock, I went back to the Bar Quin where, earlier, I had gotten the keys for the alberque. The owner, Mrs. Asuncion, made me a homemade meal. It was simple: a rice casserole followed by a second course of a fried egg with bacon and fried potatoes. It tasted great, which goes to show how a day’s walk makes even the simplest dish seem like a feast.

Mrs. Asuncion didn’t offer any postres (dessert) and I didn’t need any. She let me take the remainder of the bottle of wine to finish at the albergue.
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