The Road to Santiago.

October 15, 2004


Piñeres to Leces (San Esteban)

It had rained in the night but the sky was clear in the morning and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I thought maybe it would be a good day. At home I can read the sky, but in Spain, I’m totally clueless.

As I left the albergue, I tried to follow the camino but soon got lost. I didn’t think it would be too bad because I could keep the mountains to my left and the sea to my right. Then, at one point while trying to adjust my course by crossing a field, I realized that the grass was wet and, if it rained again, I would get very wet. The first chance I could, I made a beeline for the highway.

It was good that I did because before long it started to rain. And, boy, did it rain. It changed from chubascos  (showers) to full tormentas (storms). Not only did I get soaked, but I was having a hard time seeing, with the water dripping off my gafas (glasses).

Then a car pulled over and stopped a few meters ahead of me. My mother told me never to ride with strangers, but when soaking wet I’ll go with anybody (anybody except perhaps the proprietors of the Bar from Hell). So, I ran to the car, threw my mochila (backpack) into the trunk, and hopped into the car. The motorist was a nice guy who smiled when I said, “No me gusta la lluvia.” (I don’t like the rain.) Muchas llavia in the Asturias. (Much rain in the Asturias.) He dropped me in downtown Ribadesella.

The city of Ribadesella is an interesting port town, if I hadn’t been so wet and miserable, I might have enjoyed walking around the harbor. It’s situated on the banks of the river Sella, which is well known in the Asturias for the trout and salmon caught in its waters.

It’s the river that gives the town its name. Riba means riverbank. So Riba de Sella means The Bank of the River Sella. Using this naming system, Boston would be known as The Bank of the River Charles, or where I live in Newburyport would be The Bank of the River Merrimack. Just think how difficult it would for the local financial institutions. My bank would be known as The Bank of The Bank of the River Merrimack.

It was 12:30 when I arrived in Ribadesella. Since I hadn’t had any breakfast, I went into a place to get a bite to eat and dry off, but it was too early for them to serve a meal, so I had to settle for a bocadillo de pollo (a chicken sandwich) and a café con leche. Eventually, the rain stopped so I decided to press on before it started to rain again. Before I left town, I stopped at a tienda de frutas (a fruit store) and bought some mandarin oranges.

Photo of red clay.
Red clay
"". As is typical with Spanish rias (fjords) in the North, the town is in the valleys. So, I had quite a climb leaving town. But it wasn’t too bad since the road snaked back and forth and rose at a moderate slope. I stopped several times to admire the view (actually to get a rest). At one spot there was a big construction site where they were building viviendas (apartment buildings). I’m always amazed when I see the bright red clay that is so prevalent in Spain. It explains the popularity of tiles and other ceramics. And brick is the dominant construction material, also.
Photo of a XV Century church.
XV Century church

At the top of the mountain was San Esteban, a small village that consisted of a church and about a dozen houses. One was the Albergue de Leces. The sign said it would open at 18:00 hours (6:00 p.m.). Fortunately, the hospitaleria let me in ahead of time. When I asked her where I could eat, she said Torres, which was 1.5 K down the road. Then she told me that a bus stopped at 8:00 p.m., right in front of the albergue. The returning bus stopped right in front of the bar in Torres at 9:45. She gave me a set of keys and told me to lock the door each time I left, but in the morning, just leave the keys on the table and slam the door shut tight.

After I showered and did my laundry, I ate a lunch of mandarin oranges. Then I climbed into my sleeping bag for an hour’s nap before I spent some time writing.

While I was napping a young couple from Barcelona arrived. They had started out walking on the camino frances but it was too crowded. People were even sleeping on the floor and the albergues were filling up so early, that it became a race to get to the next one before anyone else did. I’m glad that I didn’t have that problem on this route. It is somewhat lonely, with so few peregrinos staying at the alberques on this route.

I went out to the bus stop at about 7:45 because I didn’t want to miss it. The sun was just setting, and it would soon be dark. There was one streetlight at the stop and that was it. I looked around. There were very few lights to be seen anywhere. I would not want to be walking along this winding, rocky road at night. And, I wouldn’t want to miss the bus back from the bar.

The bus came on time (apparently that isn’t always the case) and let me out right in front of the only bar in Torres. I entered and asked for the comedor (dining room). The bartender pointed to a table in el rincon (the corner) under the television set. After I sat down he brought over a blackboard with the various fares written on it. He asked what I wanted for the pimera . . .segunda . . . y  beber (first course . . . second course . . . and drink).

Since I was sitting under the TV, I couldn’t see it but certainly heard it. So while I waited for the food to be prepared, I sat there looking at the bar filled with men and women of all ages. Fortunately, they took little notice or interest in me. One aspect of the bar was new to me — there was a small collection of wooden shoes hanging on one wall. They were shaped like Dutch shoes, but had little pegs on the bottom to elevate them one to one and a half inches above the floor. Very interesting. It seemed that they were there to show what people around here used to wear.

After the meal, the bartender offered me a choice of postres (desserts) as is typical in restaurants. When he handed me the bill, I was shocked. Instead of being a menu del dia (menu of the day) with a set price, everything was priced ala carte. I had misunderstood the blackboard offerings. So it ended up being twice as much as I normally pay for a meal.

When I went to the bar to pay la cuenta (the bill), the bartender was cutting cheese. It was the famous Cabrales, a very strong blue cheese from the town of Cabrales in the Austurias. He sliced a bite, put it on a small slice of bread, and let me try it. I said un buen queso (a good cheese) and he replied el rey (the king). As I left the bar, he pointed out where the bus would stop and how to wave my hand.

As I road up the hill in the bus, I was again glad that I didn’t have to walk in the dark. I thought to myself that when I was younger I would have been insulted that the bartender thought I didn’t know how to wave. Now I’m just glad that people are willing to be helpful. I guess I’m getting less cynical.

Photo of a XX Century house.
XX Century house
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