The Road to Santiago.

October 27, 2004

Photo of Jamon_y_Queso at Luarca market.

Alumña to Piñera

Tepani and I left the albergue at the same time. He wanted to go have breakfast and I decided to wait and have some coffee later. Actually, I didn’t want to chance having to walk with Tepani. It’s not that I did not like the man, it’s just that I prefer to walk alone. That way I don’t have to talk — which takes energy — and I don’t have to keep pace with someone else.

It’s difficult to walk with others because each person has a different rhythm to walking. I change mine very often. Sometimes I speed up and go pretty fast and other times I slow right down. I find that varying my stride helps relieve any muscle aches that I may have. Also, going up a steep grade can make the calf muscles hurt, while going down a slope can cause the shin muscles to ache. When that happens, I stop and gaze around at the scenery. Sometimes I tack going up the hill. This is where I weave back and forth across the road (if there isn’t any traffic) because the grade is less steep.

Another reason I like to walk alone is that I like to stop and observe so many different things. Birds, mammals, and plants always fascinate me — especially when I see things new to me. Also, I like looking at the farms and the farm animals. My uncle was a farmer in South Dakota and I spent a few summers living on his farm. I know how hard farmers work, so I respect them. In Spain, it seems there are many different methods of farming. A lot depends on the lay of the land. The steep hills are not conducive to using conventional tractors. Instead a lot of work is done with hand tools such as scythes, pitchforks, and wheelbarrows. Many farms use work animals such as horses, mules and burros, or oxen. And there is a whole array of small tractors and “push” mowers.

After about two miles, the road wound down the hill into the fishing town of Luarca, a town I like very much. I had been to Luarca twice before. By strange coincidence, the day of the week had also been Wednesday. How, I can hear you say, do I know what day of the week it was? Are you one of those savants who can tell the day of the week for any date in history?

No, my system is easier. Each time I’ve been here, it’s been market day, and market day in Luarca is every miércoles (Wednesday). On market day, vendors set up booths under tents (in case it rains) along one side of the small river which divides the town. The wares that are sold run the full gamut from foodstuffs to fabrics to shoes and clothes to jewelry and music tapes. There are even vendors with cages of live fowl.
Photo of nuts at Luarca market.
Luarca Market
I remember the last time I was here, when a woman was arguing with a vendor as to which pato (duck) she should have. He had grabbed the one nearest the cage door but she insisted on one in the back of the cage behind a half dozen other ducklings, all of which looked identical. He knew that by reaching into the back, there quickly could be a few ducklings running around loose. She insisted, but he held his ground. I guess the customer is not always right in Spain.

After Luarca, I had to climb up a hill that was as high as the one I came down on the other side of the valley. Once I got to the top, the terrain was pretty level for several kilometers. I was surprised to see how much traffic had increased on the highway, especially large trucks. The road disrupted some nice, peaceful villages and I was glad to see that a new highway was being constructed on the southern outskirts of the villages.

Up ahead of me I saw a place called, “Bar Laura.” Laura is the name of my stepdaughter and she is into positive omens and signs, so I decided to stop for a cold drink. I went inside and ordered a coke light (one of the few diet drinks available in Spain). The woman handed me a regular coke and I told her I couldn’t drink it because of the azucar (sugar) and she reluctantly took it back, replaced the cap, and stuck it back in the refrigerator. When I asked her also for un vaso de agua de grifo (a glass of tap water), she really looked annoyed. I quickly drank the coke, paid the cuenta (bill), gave my thanks and left. Outside of the bar, I saw a coke machine where the same size drink was a quarter less than I paid. Definitely the sign was not a positive omen!

For the next few kilometers, the walk wasn’t too bad except for the zooming of the trucks. Having to be always on guard for oncoming traffic can be stressful. So, when the camino went off to the left on a back road, I gladly took it. The paved road soon became a dirt road which wound up a hill. As I climbed gradually up, I could hear the trucks straining on the highway on a parallel course and I was glad that I had followed the conchas (shells).

At one point, I came to a house which had an announcement about a restaurant which offered pilgrim meals in the next village only 2 km away. Across the road was a fountain and rest area that the farmer had built for pilgrims.
Photo of Pilgrim rest stop.
Pilgrim rest stop
When I got to the town, I went to the restaurant and partook of the pilgrim’s menu. It was cheap all right, very starchy, and mediocre at best. At least the pair who ran the joint was very pleasant, so I can’t complain too much.

The walk for the afternoon was uneventful and pleasant. When I reached the pueblo where the albergue was located, I asked for directions to the Bar Miramar, which my guidebook said was where the keys were kept. I was told that it was closed. When I asked where I could find the keys, I was directed to a small farmhouse.

When I knocked on the door, a dog immediately unleashed a torrent of barking. I had almost retreated when the door opened and a pleasant woman with a big smile greeted me. She spoke sharply to her dog, which stopped barking and started wagging his tail. I tentatively held out my hand for him to smell. After a quick sniff, I had a new friend and we instantly bonded. The woman stamped my credencial, gave me the llave (key) to the albergue, and told me where it was located. Then she pointed out the nail upon which I should hang the key the next morning.

The albergue was in an old escuela nacional (national school) that was built in the 40s during the Franco dictatorship. It was on the side designated niñas (girls). In the large room that used to be the classroom were ten double bunk beds. Showers and toilettes were situated in what might have been the coatroom, and the dining area, with tables and chairs, was the former entrance hall. But, there were no cooking facilities.

Soon after I showered, Tepani showed up. He had gone to the bar and found it closed. Then he went to the farmhouse where the lady told him I had already obtained the key. He had walked along the highway instead of the back road and had seen a small tienda (store) on his way to the albergue. It was a ways back on the highway, so I walked there to buy some bread, ham and cheese, fruit, and wine.

Later that night, while having my meal, I glanced out the window and noticed that a full moon had risen. Since I live on the coast, in Massachusetts, where a full moon results in 11-foot tides, I felt some pangs of home sickness which could only be relieved by a bottle of good Spanish Rioja!
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