The Road to Santiago.

October 24, 2004

Can't get there from here

Muros de Nalón to Soto de Luiña

I have to say that this was the hardest day I have had since the first day when I was out of shape for the mountains near San Sebastian. I thought that the day was going to be nice. The weather was good, and I had a real breakfast with another famous à la Chef Glover.

Photo of an auto junkyard.

For the first couple of hours, the path wasn’t too bad. Generally, it was along old back roads. At one point, I passed a junkyard which amazed me because many of the cars in it looked to be fairly new. When I first came to Spain, it was almost like Mexico in the sense that you would see a lot of old cars still in operation. Since autos are expensive, they would keep them going for a long, long time. Now, it seems that Spain is like the U.S. where people just must have new cars.

Shortly after, the camino veered off the road onto a path that headed up the mountain. It wasn’t a bad climb until I came to a fork in the road. There were no signs! ¡No flechas, no conchas, nada! (No arrows, no shells, nothing!)

Since the fork to my right turned down and backwards almost 180 degrees, I didn’t think that it could be the right one. Besides, the surface was different. It was gravel, whereas I had been walking on a dirt road for the past hour. Surely, that had to be a logging road newly laid down for trucks.

Another twenty minutes later, I came to another fork. One went up the mountain and the other headed down. Since I could see a village off in the distance to my right and also see the cliffs of the playa (beach) to my right, I thought I probably had to start down and back in that direction.

Photo of undergrowth.
A fungus among us

But the path kept going off to the left. And the undergrowth kept getting thicker and thicker. In fact, the thickets started to scratch my legs. It suddenly occurred to me. I was lost!

For the first time on this trip I was scared — really scared. Sure, I had a cell phone and could dial 112 for emergency help, but where would I tell them I was? On a mountain, near, but not on, el camino de Santiago. Oh sure, that narrows it down!

I couldn’t forge my own path because the underbrush was too thick. And the mountain was too steep. If I slipped, I could slide for a hundred yards or so.

Once I got control of my panic, the decision was obvious. My only choice was to retrace my steps. My general rule is: never go back. But, as the politicians would say, that state­ment is no longer operative!

I figured that I had lost about an hour until I got back on the right trail. The trouble is that I kept losing the trail. And I didn’t know where the highway was, so I had no alternative but to keep on el camino.

Finally, at one point, I was trying to adjust my backpack when I glanced to my left and saw the concha almost hidden by a bush. It was only luck that I saw it.

Eventually, I came to another country road. It was about 3:30, so I stopped to eat my remaining ham and a couple of mandarin oranges. After a rest, my strength returned. The road, however, was no picnic. I had to run a gauntlet of barking dogs. I hate Spanish dogs. (Except for the one at Don Ernesto’s albergue.)

Before long, the trail again left the road. Since I didn’t know where I was, and since there were several intersections ahead, I had no choice but to follow the signals.

They went up another mountain. But, on the way down the other side of the mountain, I lost them again. So, I followed the remnants of eucalyptus trees, figuring at least it was a logging trail that should lead to somewhere. The path was muddy and slippery and at one point I fell on my rear end and slid down about 15 feet.

Eventually, I did come to a road but there were no signs to point the way. Ahead I saw a man haying in the field with a hand scythe. When he stopped to run his whetstone over the blade, I called out and asked where the albergue was. He answered alli (over there) and pointed off to the right.

I was really relieved! All I could think of was, “At least he’s not the grim reaper!”

When I reached Soto de Luiña, I asked where the albergue was located. On the other side, a little ways up the hill — of course. When I got there, I saw a sign in the window that said that the keys were at the bar, “Ecu” — down the hill in the town!

A shower washes away more than dirt. Soon my spirits were back. I could only be amazed at how the ancient pilgrims did it without modern roads and guidebooks. I wondered how many didn’t make it.

The name of this town, Soto, means mountain forest. The only thing that I could say about the day was that I had a good nature walk through the forest!

Photo of a slug.
Slugging it out
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