Goodbye to the Sea

Day Twenty: La Caridad to Ribadeo — As Martin and I crossed the highway bridge above the Rio de Ribadeo into Galicia this afternoon I had mixed feelings. I knew the next town, Ribadeo, would be the last coastal town we’d visit on this walk and that the crossing meant a goodbye to the sea and its many beautiful beaches and vistas. I thought back to the states of Cantabria and Asturias I’d crossed, and the Basque Country where I’d begun with Sebastian and felt sad that this crossing also meant the beginning of the end to this journey. Santiago is now just eight days away and most of this month of walking and adventure, like the sea, is now behind me.

This morning I lingered over breakfast at La Caridad out of enjoyment over the nice hotel, the Casa Xusta, I’d stumbled into the night before. My gear was mostly dry after yesterday’s downpour and I was physically ready to push myself out the door, but the hotel’s breakfast of cereal, yogurt, toast, jam, fresh orange and coffee — with linen napkins — was too luxurious to rush. I trusted that Martin wouldn’t mind much if I were a few minutes late to the train station in Tapia where I was to meet him at 10:45.

At 9:00 I set out from the hotel wearing my rain jacket which before long was back in my pack. There was a very light drizzle falling, but the temperature was moderate and the high clouds to the west suggested the rest of the day would likely be dry. I began walking briskly as I realized the distance involved and my relaxed pace at breakfast would mean I’d now be quite late for Martin.

I skipped the camino trail and walked the N634 out of town for the sake of time, then at Porcia I opted for the camino trail as it headed toward the coast in order to see if I could catch some vistas of the ocean. I stayed on the trail through El Franco where it turned to asphalt and appeared to make a straight line to Tapia.

About 4 km before Tapia I saw a man on a bicycle approach. He slowed down and asked me where I was going today. I mentioned Tapia then Ribadeo and he gave me detailed directions about how to get there. I asked him where the train station was in Tapia and he frowned, “it’s 5 kilometers away. Why?” I explained that I was to meet my friend there. “No, he should just take the train on to Ribadeo where the station is right in the city.” He then rode off and I began to puzzle about how I would meet Martin if his train were leaving him 5 km (3 miles) away from the city.

Soon the man returned from the opposite direction and told me he’d show me the way into town and get me a cup of coffee while I waited for Martin. As we approached the town he walked me through the open air market, where everyone seemed to know him. Then he walked me down to a nice cafe overlooking the harbor.

As we talked over coffee (in his excellent and my broken Spanish) I learned that is name is German (pronounced Herr-MON) and that he is a local merchant seaman who’s been unemployed the last four years. Then as we waited for Martin I explained about my blog. The cafe owner opened his laptop and I walked them through the last several days’ postings and photos, including the church fireworks from yesterday, which he identified as San Antonio Day. He explained that fireworks are just part of how Spaniards celebrate and it’s no big deal.

Soon Martin called, so German and I headed up to the Plaza Mayor to find him. Once there, we headed back to the cafe for empanadas de atun, coffee, and photos. Before we left, German excused himself and returned after a bit with a backpack and two colorful bandanas from his hiking club, one for Martin and one for me. With him was the president of the Grupo de Montanas. We were now honorary members of his august fraternity!

Since German also had his backpack we realized he was also planning to escort us out of town, perhaps all the way to Galicia!

He walked us along the cliffside promenade to show us his town’s lively beaches, then said a cheerful goodbye as the trail turned away from the beach. We were thankful for his friendly welcome to Tapia and the bandanas we knew would impress our friends.

After a few km Martin and I shared the cherries and nectarine I’d purchased at the market and then a few km later we heard the sound of a motor scooter approaching. Who should it be but German, this time bearing more gifts of stickers and his email address so we could contact him once we arrived in Santiago. He said his final goodbye from a chapel in a park high above the Rio Ribadeo from which we could see the towers of Ribadeo, our goal for the night.

The highway bridge crossing into Galicia was just a few minutes away now, and German’s friendliness was a reminder of how kind and helpful all the local Asturians had been all throughout the walk. They frequently volunteered directions and always offered a hearty “buenos dias” or “buen camino” or “buen viaje” as we passed them on the street.

After crossing the high bridge (an act of courage for Martin) we settled into our first Galician albergue, found a cafe, and planned our dinner for later in the evening.

Martin’s knee is still hurting him, so he’ll likely take a bus a few days ahead, once again to give it time to heal. I’ll keep walking — away from rather than along the sea — to see my beloved Santiago soon, then my loved ones and home.

20120618-185913.jpgWet, cold road out of La Caridad.

20120618-190027.jpgInlet before Tapia.

20120618-190136.jpgTapia harbor.

20120618-190231.jpgFrom left: Martin, me, German.

20120618-190339.jpgGerman and Martin leaving Tapia on cliff side promenade.

20120618-190532.jpgView of Ribadeo and Galicia from high bridge over town.

20120618-190637.jpgMartin, conquering vertigo.

20120618-190745.jpgRibadeo skyline.

July 14-15, 2010 Puebla de Sanabria to Vilavella

July 14: My first day’s walk started well, had some rough patches, but ended well. I set out from the hotel, with the red dawn casting a pinkish glow on the castle above the city. After walking past the castle I search for yellow arrows and immediately was lost. I theorized that  I’d need to head down the river vally in a northwesterly direction, so I set out on roads that seemed to follow that general route. By the time I reached the main highway — the A-52 and its companion, the N-525 that would shadow this camino most all the way to Santiago — I found yellow arrows again and walked ahead with more confidence. I walked the first day through quiet farms and fields with the goal of reaching Lubián. This meant climbing the mountain to Padornelo.

The walk up toward the pass at Padornelo was one of those frustrating camino moments where a pilgrim wishes he’d used a map. The marked trail enters traverses a canyon of perhaps 2-3 km in length, but the highway and freeway bridges above cut right across the canyon, saving the long walk down and around the canyon. If I’d known enough to get on the N-525 road I could’ve walked the high bridge, gone through the tunnel after it and in 1/4 of the time made it to Padornelo on the other side of the tunnel. But all pilgrims complain about walking, even though that’s how we’ve chosen to travel. Anyway, I trudged around the canyon, climbing to an elevation above the bridges and tunnels, then came down the other side with the “town” of Padornelo there to reward me.

In reality, Padornelo is a large gas station and a hotel/restaurant. My thought had been to stay here for the night, but when I saw that it was likely empty of pilgrims and set right by a highway I instead decided to have a beer at the restaurant and keep on walking. My feet, not yet used to the abuse yet, weren’t happy about that plan. I took off my shoes, hung my socks on the chair, and put my feet up on the chair until the bartender looked askance at me. That was a good cue to move on, which I did, walking down the mountain, losing about 1000 ft in elevation over the next 6-7 kilometers.

After a couple of hours the trail turned into a narrow, one track affair and I was convinced I was still a long way from Lubián when quite suddenly I came upon an albergue right at the entry to a tiny village. There was no hospitalero in attendance, but the albergue’s 16 beds left only one vacancy — my bed for the night. I set our my things and headed out for some refreshment. Climbing into the main section of town, along the road, I came to a bar and who should I find there but my friend, Artur! Somehow my long day of walking had allowed me to catch up to him. After a shower we had a relaxing meal and continued our ongoing conversation about medieval history, theology, geopolitics, and the military.

That evening I tucked myself into my bunk, enjoying vistas out to the forest just beyond the stone walls of the albergue. I was glad to be a pilgrim again.

July 15: The following day I slept in while other pilgrims packed and headed out the door. I had mentioned to Artur my plan to walk a short day and stop at the destination spa/resort at Villavela. I enjoy modern architecture and I’d found the online photos of this hotel to be rather intriguing. That meant a short day of walking for me, and Artur held back because he wanted company along the way, though his plan was to walk farther.

We left Lubián, walking downhill toward the day’s lowest elevation, and then uphill toward the peak of another camino mountain, this one 300 meters above the valley floor. At the top, which marked the border into Galicia, we could look toward the west and see for perhaps 20 miles. We stood together next to one of the white, concrete markers with blue scallop shell that would accompany us, marking our mileage the rest of the way into Santiago.

We arrived at Vilavella after only about 12 km of walking. There we found Dick and Annika, who made a big deal out of the “ritziness” of the hotel, not knowing I was planning to stay there for the night. I had an enormous bocadillo (sandwich) with Artur, then wished him well on his way, after which I settled into my unusual, two-story room. This was certainly one of the most modern hotels in which I’d ever stayed. The fact that it was in a tiny farming community that smelled like cattle gave it an unusual charm. I bought some red swim trunks so I could enjoy the pool and I spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying my fine surroundings.

Here’s the note I wrote that night to my wife, Gail:

As I write this, I’ve walked nearly 50 km now in 2 days without any advance training and my legs are killing me. People say the 3rd day is worst…. The weather is perfect so far and I have a sunburn on the back of my neck since I´m walking mostly mornings going in a generally westerly direction.

This camino is practically deserted in comparison to the Camino Frances. And most of the pilgrims seem to be Italians. They understand Spanish very well, though. Wish my Spanish was better, though after another 2 quarters of college Spanish this year it’s definitely improving. If someone speaks slowly I can understand a fair amount. Now that we´re in Galicia all the printed material is in Gallego, but it´s pretty close to Spanish and for the most part understandable.