The Road to Santiago.

October 28, 2004

Photo of the beaten path.
The beaten path

Piñera to La Caridad

The sky didn’t look good. The cloud cover was quite thick and rain threatened. This motivated Tepani to leave quickly in the hope of getting some distance in before rain might start. For me, the result was just the opposite. I waited, arguing with myself as to what I would do if the rain got too heavy. I checked the guidebook to see how many pueblos were along the route and where they were located. Perhaps I could hopscotch from café to café where I could occasionally dry out and rest.

Then it seemed to clear up. Perhaps it wouldn’t rain after all! I put on my pack, locked up the albergue, and headed back up the hill to the farmhouse where I was to drop off the keys. Then, as if Mother Nature was a jokester, the rain started falling. It wasn’t a heavy rain and, since the temperature wasn’t too low, I figured that the day wouldn’t be that bad.

At the farmhouse, I was hanging the keys on the nail when the door suddenly opened. After I thanked the woman for her help, I asked her where the nearest place was where I could buy a cup of coffee. She offered to make me a cup and invited me into her kitchen. Her husband was sitting at the table watching the news on a small TV set.

The kitchen in this very old house was a study in contrasts. The principal oven was a big, wood stove, which had on its top a large pot and kettle. On a counter, on the opposite wall, next to the TV, was a microwave oven.

She made me a cafe con leche and offered me some sugar. I declined and took a packet of sacarina (saccharine) from my insulin kit as I explained that I was el diabético (a diabetic). She responded that her mother had been a diabetic. I suggested that she should get tested annually since diabetes can be hereditary and I mentioned that mi abuelo, mi madre y mi hermano (my grandfather, my mother, and my brother) all were diabetic.

She said that she is aware of the potential problem. All the time she was talking, she was breaking off pieces of bread and dunking them into her coffee. By the time she finished her coffee, she had consumed half a loaf of bread. She was seriously over weight — what the doctors would term obese (anyone whose body weight is above 20% of what is considered “normal”). Her husband was sitting at the table, waiting for the rain to end. In spite of being an active farmer, he had a pretty big vientre (belly). He, too, is a candidate for diabetes.

While we were sitting there, we heard a ruckus in the back yard. In response to my look of surprise, the woman said “ocas.” I said that it sounded like gansos (geese). She explained that ocas y gansos are lo mismo (the same). Then I asked why do they have the geese? Para el carne o para los huevos (for meat or eggs)?

She shook her head and said, “para proteger las galinas” (to protect the hens). The geese apparently scare off los zorros y los perros tambien (foxes and dogs, too). I can believe that because I have had several run-ins with geese, especially when I was in charge of the animal research station of my college’s biology department. I was “goosed” on more than one occasion. Not only can they give a good bite, but also they often beat you with their wings. They are certainly bold and brave birds. Then I remembered that geese were used to guard the walls of ancient Rome!

The subject then tuned to the camino and they wanted to know where I began my walk. They were surprised that I had started in Irun. I mentioned the lack of albergues in the Basque country and the problems resulting from the poor trail markings. She said that in the local area, the Amigos de Santiago (Friends of Santiago) in Asturias were trying to improve the trails, but that the pilgrim tradition here was not as strong as along el camino frances.  

In response to my question ¿Quanto peregrinos tiene esto año? (How many pilgrims did you have this year? She looked into the book — quinientos (500). ¿El año pasado? (Last year?) trescientos (300). The difference of course can be explained due to the fact that this is an Año Jacobeo (St. James Year). [An Año Jacobeo is a year when the 25th of July falls on a Sunday. Such a year has special significance to Catholic pilgrims.]

By the time we were finished with a second cup of coffee, the rain had ceased and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I thanked the hospitalera for her kindness, patted the dog good-bye, and headed down the dirt road.

Soon I came to an arrow that pointed up the hill, indicating a gravel road as opposed to the main highway which had passed by the albergue. Should I take the path or the highway? Since the highway had heavy truck traffic and very little berm, I chose the path. The path went up over the hill and down along a field. Eventually the arrows disappeared. I kept on the path along the field. But on the other side of the field, I came to a fence. Even if I could have breached the fence, there was a brook on the other side and beyond that another field bounded by a railroad track.

Obviously, I was lost again. So, I turned around and trekked back up the hill. On the way back up the hill ,I noticed a pedestrian bridge that spanned the railroad track. It had been obscured by some bushes. I took the bridge and found another path on the far side. As it wound down the side of the hill, I kept taking the paths toward the left since to the right would take me back to the albergue. Eventually the path ran out again. But this time I was only a few feet above the brook which was only 20 inches wide at that point and the road was just a few yards away. I grabbed the trunk of small tree and, in a controlled slide, let myself down the bank. After I probed both sides of the brook to see how firm the earth was, I vaulted across into the small field. As I reached the edge of the highway, I saw a “mile” post. I had advanced only one kilometer from the albergue. One kilometer! It had taken me an entire hour to go one kilometer!

The rest of the day was uneventful with the camino staying on the paved roads which paralleled the highway. It was the original highway before the bypasses were built to avoid the centers of the pueblos. After the sun came out, the walk was actually quite pleasant.

Photo of the sword-of-Santiago trail marker.
The sword of Santiago
Then I saw a new type of trail marker. It was a four-foot high, cement sign in the shape of the cross of Santiago (which resembles a sword). I figured that if someone went to all the trouble to put up these signs, the trail would be okay. And it was.

Photo of path through the woods, over a brook.
Through the Woods and Over a Brook
Then I found myself walking along a path through a grove of chestnut trees. I soon came across a bed of crocuses. I was amazed; it was almost November and these beautiful flowers were scattered along the trail. At home they only appear briefly in the early spring.

Photo of fall crocuses.
Fall crocuses
The trail was very clear and eventually it led me directly to the albergue. Tepani was already there. He had stuck to the main highway again and had made good time. He was taking a shower. After he got dressed, he took me to the home of the hospitalera where I got my credencial stamped and was shown where to leave the key in the morning. She was a most pleasant old woman and was very interested in learning about Boston. We had a nice conversation.

Later in the evening, Tepani and I went to a bar/restaurant to get a cup of coffee. I took my laptop with me and remained for about an hour and a half, writing my journal. Later that evening, I returned to get dinner. When I asked if ¿Está abierto el comedor? (Is the dining room open?), the owner looked annoyed and reluctantly assented. His wife wasn’t much better. When I ordered the menu of the day, she too looked annoyed. The service was barely perfunctory. What a contrast from the couple with whom I had shared morning coffee!
Previous. Next.