Only 280 Miles of Walking Left

Day 8: Santillana del Mar to Comillas — The directional signs to leave Santillana this morning were non-existent, leading us to speculate that the town was trying so hard to be authentically medieval that painted yellow arrows, the key to pilgrim directions, were forbidden. How else to explain that two walks up and down the village’s streets this morning did not reveal the way out of town?

Last night I’d had a nice dinner with John of Calgary, then had headed straight to bed, somehow finding sleep amidst the giggling of my five female Spanish roommates. After their quiet departure at 5:30 am I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I gathered my things and headed out the big, black, steel albergue gate.

Here I joined two Italianos and a Maltese pilgrim as we walked up and down the street, hoping for a hint of the way out of town. Finally we all headed out the car road, in spite of the yellow “X” (meaning it was not the pilgrim route) and walked along the highway first to Orena, then to Caborredondo. The others chose to stay on the highway to Novales while I found the official pilgrim trail and its very welcome yellow arrows.

Before Cobreces I returned early to the highway to find breakfast and waved to the Italian/Maltese contingent who somehow I’d beaten to this point. I then missed the pilgrim trail and stayed on the highway most of the way to the pretty town of La Iglesia. From here the camino wound on small roads through the tiny villages of Pando and Concha, then finally climbed a rise and revealed Comillas in the distance.

I crossed the bridge into town, then walked up to the winding streets at the heart of this medieval town. After a few tries at finding the albergue I finally located it and set my pack on a bed to reserve it so I could head out for some lunch in the shade.

A sign outside the albergue described an unsettling fact: Santiago de Compostela is still 456 km (280ish miles) away. I’ve managed about 160 km +/- in the last 8 days, though I’m actually two days ahead of schedule. Perhaps it’s the early arrival here, though, that’s made me feel I’m not maintaining a quick enough pace. But Comillas holds some interesting sightseeing treats, so it would be a shame to rush along and miss them.

I wrote emails at a cafe in the plaza and planned my assault on the main landmarks of this touristic, medieval seaside village. Spanish and German tourists sparsely inhabited the square and there was a relaxed feel to this town that records its beginnings as a Roman mining center over 2000 years ago. I watched from a distance as a few other pilgrims arrived and looked for the albergue, including John of Calgary. I wanted to tell them where it’s at, but shouting across the square or jumping up to run and catch them didn’t seem quite right. Instead I ordered a round of huevos fritos and patatas fritas and decided to make this my final meal of the day.

After awhile I headed back to the albergue where I may have lost my first argument in Spanish. The hospitalera’s boss came by the albergue at 2:30 and discovered pilgrims inside prior to the 4:00 opening. She was offended and loudly complained although she wasn’t about to throw anyone out. I tried to explain to her that in 2200 km of caminos I found it customary for pilgrims to enter an unlocked albergue and choose their bed. She wasn’t satisfied to hear that but I was pleased to engage in my first, albeit unsuccessful argument en Espanol.

The hospitalera soon arrived and collected our money as per normal. I chatted briefly with the Spanish women from last night then took a tour of the Palacio Sobrellano, a lavish home built by a Catalan noble on one the town’s many hills. A glass or two of wine with John, then off to bed.

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“Tout Droit” Does Not Mean “Turn Right”

Day Seven: Mogro to Santillana del Mar — My inner alarm clock woke me at 6:30, in plenty of time to shower, tend my feet, and pack my things. I headed out for breakfast and to buy stamps and a few pharmacy items. Then went back to my room for my pack, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the train station. It was time to become a real pilgrim again, and this four-star hotel was a comfort to be left behind in favor of much more walking and the more pilgrim-like simplicity of albergue life.

I’m not sure whether it was the lack of signage at the station or whether my decision to take the train had damaged my camino karma, but somehow I managed to get on the wrong train. My plan had been to catch the train past the town of Boo de Pielago, where I’d ended my walk yesterday, to Mogro, crossing the Pas River bridge the safe and recommended way. But I could only wave to Mogro as the train slowed down at my station. It refused to stop until about 15km later, at Torrelavega. When I arrived there I this time carefully checked the schedule and confirmed the time and location for the correct train to Mogro.

As I patiently (in air quotes) waited for the right train I was surprised and delighted to catch a glimpse of Lizette of Denmark at the station plaza just 50 meters away. Since I’d already checked through the gate, to say “hi” I would have had to leave the station and buy a new ticket. So I hoped I’d have the chance to see her somewhere later along the way. I’m a little surprised she (and presumably Marianne) are here, since Torrelavega is off the camino. I was sad they’d sad goodbye at Santander because they were nice company. But the camino sometimes brings friends back together at surprising moments, so perhaps I’ll see them ahead along the way.

I finally arrived in Mogro at nearly 11:00 — much later than planned. A friendly Spanish couple with a dog was just arriving there by foot (did they walk the train bridge?) and asked if I wanted to sit with them, but I was ready to get walking. Rather than visit I headed across the road, finally to begin the day’s walk.

This region of Cantabria consists of summer homes and rural estates, situated on large plots for views of the verdant countryside. As I walked down toward the factory city of Mar, I met two French bikers, one of whom described his bike journey through the US and Canada some years ago. After visiting briefly with them I walked down a long grade, around the enormous Solvay factory at Mar.

This part of my walk was not beautiful, but it did give me a chance to become more familiar with the French guidebook I brought along. Last night I used Google Translate on my iPhone to look up a few words. Today I finally realized “continuer tout droit” actually means “keep right on going,” not “continue to the right” or “turn right,” which is “tourner droite.” They never tell you these things in high school French class.

After Mar the estates became fewer and the small farms more plentiful. Several times I lost sight of yellow arrows and wondered whether I’d missed the way to Santillana del Mar, but each time I caught another arrow and was led first to Camplengo, then to Santillana itself.

Santillana del Mar is a town frozen in history then thawed out as a lure for tourists. In spite of the tourist shops, hotels and art galleries the town’s cobblestone streets have a genuine charm. I walked its length looking for the albergue, then was directed back to its beginning where I found the tiny albergue down a driveway behind an art museum. I waited with three French people (who were subjected to my attempts to communicate with them in their language), five Spanish women (clearly good friends considering the quantity of giggling) and two quiet Italianos. After a 1/2 hour wait for the albergue’s 4:00 opening I checked in, put my pack on a bed, and headed to the local cafe for some refreshment.

As I rested in the bar, resigning myself to an evening with no native English speakers, in walked John of Calgary. I directed him to the albergue and enjoyed the prospect of a pleasant dinner with this nice, young man. Tonight will be a simple evening of laundry, showering, eating, and maybe the enjoyment of a glass or two of pilgrim wine.