That’s What I’m Talking About!

Day 16: Aviles to Cordillero — After lunch today a beaming Martin jumped in front of me, pointed his walking stick at a forested hillside and shouted, “that’s what I’m talking about!” Then he pointed across the road to another gorgeous hillside and said, “and that’s what I’m talking about!” I couldn’t help but laugh at his sudden, un-English (perhaps cervesa-fueled) outburst of enthusiasm for the beauty of the Camino del Norte.

And why not celebrate? The day was beautiful, lunch was tasty and plentiful, beds and showers were only a couple hours away, and we were looking to enjoy dinner in a picturesque fishing village on the Northern Spanish coast.

We agreed last night that we would leave at 7:00 this morning in order to get a fairly early start to our day. By the time I awoke, Martin had already finished his shower in the oddly quiet albergue. Most mornings some pilgrims are up at 5:00, rustling their bags and heading noisily out the door. This morning, Martin and I oddly were the first ones out the door, even at that hour. As we headed into downtown Aviles we both feigned outrage at the lazy habits of the sleepy pilgrims we’d left behind, both secretly wondering if maybe they knew something we didn’t.

After coffee (tea for Martin) and croissants we followed the scallop shell markers out of Aviles, passing an ancient church on our right, then walking through suburbs of modern apartment blocks to the outskirts of town.

After 20 minutes or so we found ourselves at a vista overlooking the town of Salinas and the ocean beyond. We climbed down a hill into this prosperous, upscale village and then, in what would be the story of the day, we climbed back up again. On this particular up/down we missed the French guidebook’s suggestion to walk along the beach.

The day’s ups and downs continued through Barrio de las Cruz, Santiago del Monte, El Castillo (no food here for starving pilgrims), Soto del Barco (at last, food), Muros de Nalon (cervesa time!) and finally, Cordillero.

Spain clearly did not design its towns with the needs of foot-weary pilgrims at heart. If it had, the villages would all be in flat valleys and the mountains would be background scenery there strictly for our viewing pleasure. Instead, each town is at the peak of hills that seemingly increase in elevation at the close of each day, with valleys in between that somehow deepen simultaneously, forcing pilgrims to use all their physical and spiritual energies just to make it to the day’s end. On the good side, the undulating track allows for many great vistas and much strenuous exercise.

But on the bad side, even the ebullient Martin was humbled by the hills. He spryly climbs them, his feet and pole-equipped arms combining in an breathtaking display of pure Britannic power and efficiency. But his bad knee suffers on the many downhills, and we’re both starting to wonder if he’ll need some rest in order to continue.

Martin is excellent company and he would certainly be missed. Through the day we talked about theology, about memories of last year’s Camino Frances and about odd British permutations of the American language (such as “wingeing poms,” being “gutted,” “lorries,” etc.). Though theoretically we’re both English speakers I occasionally needed a little explanation to understand just what Martin was talking about. Which of course was part of the fun.

We arrived at our pension at about 5:00 pm after a very full day of walking and talking. To protect Martin’s knee we took a short taxi ride to and from the nearby fishing village for dinner and will follow that with prayers and medications and a good rest. If the knee isn’t ready for walking in the morning we’ll consider putting Martin on the train to advance a day or two ahead.








A Thumb’s Width of Green

Day 15: Gijon to Aviles — To welcome him back to the Camino I suggested to Martin that we have dinner at Peggy Sue’s American Diner, just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Martin agreed and our American meal there was a true treat. From the burgers, fries, shakes, ketchup, music, lemonade to the Coke in glass bottles — everything was flawlessly reproduced from 1950’s vintage America. I was thrilled, and I think Martin was at least a little entertained by my joy at this little reminder of home.

Though Martin worried that his snoring might keep me up, in reality he was quiet as a clam last night and I think we both slept quite well. We were up and out by 8:00 under high clouds with a light but chilly wind. After a kilometer or two we stopped at a modern cafe and took an as yet unearned rest over cafe con leche and croissants.

The French guidebook warned that today’s stage is the worst of all stages on the Camino del Norte because of the industrial areas at the exit to Gijon and at the entrance to Aviles. As we left Gijon it became clear why. Martin, the optimist, looked ahead at the vast factory sprawled before us and the power lines above and pointed to the green hillside visible in the thumb’s width distance between the two. “Just ignore the top and the bottom and focus on the thin strip in the middle,” he wisely proposed.

And he was right. It’s very possible one could focus on the enormous smokestacks or the mounds of raw materials or the busy freeway full of roaring cars or the shoulderless highway that makes pilgrims compete with vehicles for space or the unspeakable odors emanating from the factories or the dust blown into one’s eyes by giant trucks kicking up clouds of dust.

Instead, why not focus on the thumb’s width of green? Indeed, in the middle of the day we spent at least two hours walking through quiet farmland. We came to a lovely church at Santa Eulalia and met a nice German pilgrim there. We dined at a truck stop with an American pilgrim named Julian and enjoyed a great lunch. We had a fine conversation about theology that I’m certain will be continued over wine during the next days. And we came to a town that is described as one of Northern Spain’s best examples of a medieval city. Tonight we’ll head out for dinner and try to discover why that is true.

So, as the Camino del Norte’s worst day, it didn’t seem half bad!

20120613-165557.jpgMartin, showing off his authentic American burger at Peggy Sue’s diner.

20120613-165706.jpgA big pipeline carries something to or from the big industrial site.

20120613-165848.jpgNice French women at the roadside pilgrim refreshment bar, set up by a kind local at the “Santiago 350 km” mark.

20120613-170056.jpgTruck stop cafe with a great lunch menu.

20120613-170206.jpgMore, dangerous roadside walking. Pilgrim beware.

20120613-170340.jpgExterior of Aviles albergue.

20120613-174227.jpgChurch at Santa Eulalia.