The Road to Santiago.

October 29, 2004

Photo of rocky shore.
Rocky Shore

La Caridad to Tapia de Casariego

In the morning when we looked out the door, the sky was clear and bright. Tepani decided to push through to Ribadeo, 40 km away. He wanted to go along the coast all the way to Á Coruña and then turn south to Santiago. It’s a route known as el camino ingles (the English camino).

My goal, however, was Tapia de Casariego which was only 12  km. Since I was ahead of my planned schedule to reach Santiago by November 14th, I had decided to stay a couple of days when I reached Ribadeo to do some writing and transmission on the Internet. Since I was in no hurry, I would stay a night in a little-used albergue in Tapia de Casariego, described in the guidebook as “un precioso enclave junto al mar” (a precious enclosure next to the sea).

Even if the description hadn’t been so enticing, I would have stopped there just to get away from Tepani. After three nights, he was wearing a little thin. The previous night we had gotten into a little verbal sparing. I became tired of him lecturing to me about U.S. and all its faults. It was the typical leftist slant from the seventies and eighties — ideas which I thought had crumbled with the Berlin wall. To Tepani, most of the problems of the world are due to the fact that the U.S. is a big bully forcing the poor Europeans to bend to its will. I tried to keep the discussion light and not lose my cool, but eventually I had had enough. I reminded him that the U.S. was the oldest representative democracy in the modern world and that the Europeans, which gave the world colonialism, communism, fascism, and Nazism, shouldn’t be lecturing others on good government.

Anti-Americanism is pretty strong in many parts of Europe, especially France, where they feel superior to “bourgeois” Americans. Fortunately, the Spanish are not hostile to Americans. Perhaps it’s because democracy is so new to this country (only 28 years), it is hard to feel superior to other, older democracies. In any case, they wouldn’t be so aggressive in addressing foreigners. That would be impolite!

The clear day soon cleared my head of political debate. It was a joy to walk along back roads which passed farms boarded by the Cantabrian Sea. The area is known as la Costa Verde (the Green Coast), which is an appropriate description. The moisture that comes in from the sea results in a verdant land that is great for hardwood forests and dense pine trees. This is very different from the dry meseta (tableland) which surrounds Madrid. An American analogy would be a comparison between the Oregon coast and southern Texas.

Photo showing slate roof on Spanish home.
New England or Spain?
At some point, I realized that it was more than just the coast that made me feel at home. There was something else that was familiar. Then I realized what it was — the roofs of the houses. They had steep gables and were covered with slate shingles, unlike the standard roof in most parts of Spain. The latter have a shallow slope and are covered with red brick tiles which are curved and overlapping. These are made of slate, which is pizzara in Spanish and is found in the Galician and Asturian mountains. It is so available that it is used in almost all single family homes. In the U.S., our traditional slate roofs are very expensive. Therefore, newer construction has been given a similar look, but uses asphalt shingles, which are much less expensive due to availability. I have only seen asphalt shingles a couple times in Spain.
Photo of picnic spot overlooking the sea.
Amazing picnic spot
By 1 o’clock, I was on the outskirts of Tapia de Casariego where I came upon a beautiful, small, roadside park which was on the edge of an ocean cliff. I decided to take a rest and make a call home to the U.S. I wanted to say “Happy Halloween” to Angelica, my goddaughter, and wish her luck in her night of “trick and treat.” I missed not being home during this time of year because I enjoy carving Jack o’ Lanterns with her. But I was premature; the town where Angelica lives will celebrate Halloween on Sunday.

Spanish cultures do not recognize Halloween, which is a secular (some would say "sacrilegious") manifestation of a very important day in the Roman Catholic tradition — All Saint's Day, which falls on November 1. It is a national holiday in Spain.

After the phone call, I had a light lunch of oranges and some cheese while I enjoyed the view of the breakers smashing against the rocky shore. Then I decided to locate the albergue before I would survey the town. Well, when I got to the main plaza in the town, I asked for directions to the albergue. Luckily, the first man I asked knew the albergue’s location. As I followed his directions through narrow streets, I came to an area that looked familiar. I was back at the seaside park.

Photo of animal house albergue.
Animal house
The albergue was a small yellow building next to the cliff. If it had been back home, I would have described it as a one-room schoolhouse. But schoolhouses in Spain didn’t look like this. The note on the door gave a name — Maria José — and a number. I called the number and the lady said that she would be there shortly. After a couple of minutes, a car pulled up and a woman got out, welcomed me, and opened the door to the albergue. After she checked the lights and the water heater, she stamped my credencial and gave me a key to the door. She told me that it was my individual key and that I should keep it on me until I left. Then, the next morning, I was supposed to open a small window in the bathroom before I left. After locking the front door, I was to go around to the side and toss the keys through the window.

As Maria José was about to leave, I asked her what the building had been originally? She said matadero. When she saw my confusion, she laughed and said para los animales (for animals). It was then that I realized that matadero meant slaughterhouse.

Fortunately, there was nothing left in the building to betray its history. The door opened to a large room with four single beds on one side and, on the other side, two large tables, each with six chairs. In the back on either side were the toilets and showers. A spiral staircase led to a loft which had an additional 15 or so single beds. The overall effect was that of a ski lodge — an empty ski lodge during the summer season.
Photo of walk along the shore.
Shore walk
Leaving my stuff in the albergue, I made my way through the town to las playas (the beaches). It was there that I came upon a beautiful boardwalk that meandered along the heights which looked down upon a series of sandy beaches. It’s similar to the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine, but the beaches here are more expansive. As the afternoon progressed, the waves got higher and higher. When I passed by the harbor on my way back to the albergue, I noticed that the waves were breaching the outer breakwater and spilling into the inner harbor.
Photo of angry surf.
Angry surf
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