Complaining Day

Day Twelve: Sebrayo to Deba (Gijon) — Today was the most grueling stage of any on this year’s camino and to make it even worse I hadn’t brought enough water. By midday I was parched and exhausted. By the end of the day I was begging for mercy. So today I will give myself the luxury of complaining about everything.

I awoke this morning at 5:30 to the sounds of multiple pilgrim alarms going off amid the 14 bunks of the Sebrayo albergue. One, probably belonging to a pilgrim who was upstairs eating breakfast, went off every 10 minutes, begging its absent owner to wake up. Finally at 6:30 I got out of bed, quietly packed my things, and headed out for the day’s walk.

I knew I was lacking two things as I left. 1) I hadn’t had my credential stamped by the hospitalera — she had apparently appeared 2-3 times in the evening, but because I was late getting in yesterday I’d missed her each time. 2) I hadn’t bought water. Many pilgrims just use albergue tap water to drink, but I don’t really trust it in these rural, farm-animal rich locales. So unless I’ve purchased a 1.5 liter bottle the night before (which I hadn’t) I rely on what’s leftover in my CamelBak (which wasn’t much).

Nevertheless, I headed out alone at 7:00 to walk the 30 km (18 miles) to Deva, just shy of the major Asturian city of Gijon.

Within 20 minutes I was surprised and delighted to hear John of Calgary’s voice asking if he could join me. Of course! I’d said my goodbyes to him last night, knowing he was headed to the Camino Primitivo today. So it was an unexpected treat to have him for a couple of hours before the Primitivo splits off to the south.

The first thing we did was get lost. John, 25, is an automation programmer, mountaineer, snowboarder and motorcyclist. That gave us plenty to talk about. And talk we did, right past the turn off. We kept on walking — on a steep uphill — realizing we hadn’t seen a way marker in some time, but deep in conversation. When we arrived at an intersection with no way markers at all I asked a local where we were. His response, “You’re lost!” He gave us directions back to the camino but instead we consulted my iPhone map and took the car road to Villaviciosa. Our detour had turned a 75 minute walk into 2.5 hours.

We arrived thirsty for coffee and not sure how to find our way back to the trail in this town of 10,000 or so. We stopped at a hotel, planning to ask for directions, and convinced the hotel dining room’s waitress to serve us breakfast. After coffee she kindly loaded me down with cookies and muffins for the road (John is gluten intolerant) and sent us off with a stamp for my credential and directions to the camino. A few minutes later we were on a gravel, pedestrian walkway heading out of town.

Unfortunately, in about 30 minutes (near Grases) we reached the junction with the Primitivo and it was time to say a final goodbye to John. He has been a great walking companion on and off for nearly my entire camino and I will miss him. A kindly Spanish pilgrim (whom I later came to know as Jose of Madrid) took a photo of us standing at the junction marker, pointing in our individual directions.

After Grases the camino wandered along a local paved road to the town of Nievares, where it took a very, very steep climb of 400 meters in just 5 km (1300 feet in about 3 miles) to Alto de Cruz. Unfortunately the sun was out, which meant I was sweating like an I-don’t-know-what, with only a few ounces of water in my pack. Shoulda bought water in Villaviciosa. The climb lasted forever and I saved my last swallow for the summit.

Immediately after reaching the top the wind changed to cold and the downhill trudge began. Many pilgrims feel the downhills are harder, more punishing to the feet, than the uphills. This one was on pavement so it didn’t seem too bad to me, but I was still very thirsty.

At the bottom of the hill I came to a large restaurant, Casa Pepito, and I celebrated my successful climb with a big salad and a plate of fried eggs and French fries. I was stuffed when I left Pepito’s but I figured I would just take it easy for a few km to let the big lunch settle, which would’ve been a good plan except that another huge hill awaited.

This one wasn’t polite enough to be on pavement. This new, insult of a hill was on muddy/rocky/slippery earth. My heavy, fatty lunch turned into a brick in my stomach as I walked each slow step upward. This time I had water, but my stomach was in no mood to receive it.

I finally reached the second summit and followed the road, then path, downward and downward toward the day’s goal of Deba. The last kilometers are always the longest, and these were no different. They were nicely punctuated, though, by a kind man who was barbecuing his dinner and who offered me some of his chilled, local cider. Asturians are proud of their cider and they pour it, this man included, out of the bottle from a height of about 4 feet above its receiving glass. It makes for a fun show and the cider does a good, low alcohol, job of quenching thirst. I briefly considered whether my stomach was ready for it and then immediately bottoms-upped the glass and thanked the kind man.

At about 4:00 I arrived at the Deva Albergue, which is situated in an enormous campground full of children playing soccer, swimming, or playing basketball. I took a luxurious camp shower and gathered my dirty clothes (i.e., all of them) and headed to the coin-op laundry. Spain and Italy were playing their Europe Cup game as Seth of Wisconsin and I chatted. Mone soon joined us, along with a tall multilingual Austrian woman named Karina. We pilgrims are clumped into small wooden cabins spread out over a hilly lawn, each with about six beds.

After a huge chicken dinner — I ate a lot today — I complained about some people making too much noise outside the cabin and went to bed.

OK, it was a tough day and I needed to complain a little. In reality I’m enjoying myself and meeting great people. Tomorrow I’m planning two rest days in Gijon as I wait for Martin. I know by the end of my long weekend I’ll be ready to face more walking. And hopefully I can manage them with less complaining.

20120610-221132.jpgGoodbye to John at the crossroads.

20120610-221232.jpgBig pool at the Deba albergue/campground

20120610-221218.jpgFirst view of Gijon

20120610-221145.jpgNote the distant valley floor from whence I walked.

20120610-221201.jpgCasa Pepito’s for a welcomed lunch, followed by yet another climb.

20120610-221123.jpg“Lost Caminoist,” photo by John Stoner.

In Paradise, Lost

Day Eleven: Ribadesella to Sebrayo — Last night ended up being surprisingly social as I visited over a nightcap with the five Spanish women. I think we all had fun, but I’m not sure since I understood only every other word. They seemed to really like it when I bought us all a round of drinks, so I might have hit on an international language understood by all.

After a nice sleep in my lovely but tiny room I awakened at 7:15 and was on the trail by 7:45. I stopped for coffee and a croissant at a cafe near the Plaza Mayor then headed across the bridge to the west side of town, which features a long promenade along the beach. This was a great start to the day, though I had to snuggle inside my rain jacket to stay warm in the wind.

As it turned out, from Ribadesella to La Isla is one great stretch of countryside. The path overlooked beach after beach, many with surfers taking advantage of the high waves. At the town of Vega I stopped with Linda and her boyfriend from France (both of whom I’d met at on our first boat crossing and also at Guemes). I showed her my “Things Scatalogical” blog post and she erupted in shock and then laughter, which of course made me worry that I’d crossed a line into bad taste. But maybe that topic is part of a humorous international language that everyone understands — or maybe bad taste is the same in many cultures?

Anyway, Vega and its surrounding countryside made a big impression on me. Though it was starting to rain, the views of beach after beach — all seen from the vantage point of green pastures with sheep and cows and horses — was just amazing. I could live here in this paradise. But I think I’ve said that almost every day. Perhaps in Vega what got me was the California surfer vibe, like what California must’ve been like 75 years ago. Few houses, great waves, quiet beaches, and a beachside cafe for a cheap beer between waves.

The coastal path continued through the town of La Isla, where tourism has brought crowds and the inevitable subdivisions of vacation homes. As I left La Isla for the town of Colunga, after crossing the car bridge and walking again along the highway, I noticed a sign advertising the region: “Asturias: Parais Natural” — Asturias: Natural Paradise.

With apologies to the ghost of John Milton, if there’s a paradise I am going to get lost in it. No sooner had I seen the sign than I followed the way markings to a dead end. The yellow arrow directed me to an empty subdivision (property boundaries and sidewalks but no homes) and I tried one path after another to pick up the trail. On my last attempt I found a location that sounded a lot like the description in the guidebook. So I took it and stuck with it until it dribbled into nothing. I got out my iPhone and used the GPS feature and I saw where I should go — to a road across three pastures, each with its own electrified fence.

After deciding not to test the fences’ voltage I took another stab at finding the right road and this time ended up at the freeway, a great way to get to Colunga if you could pole vault the highway fence and have your mom in a car waiting for you. No such luck on either count, so I checked the map program, saw what looked like a road in the satellite photo, and took it. Almost two hours after losing my way I found my first camino marker. I was back in business.

I knew, though, that this was now going to be a very long day. The distance was to be 32 km (20 miles), but my 2 hour detour added distance and time to my day. When I arrived at Colunga at 3:00 with three hours left of walking to Sebrayo I had to decide whether to reduce my planned distance for the day or press on and get in late.

There was just something about Colunga that didn’t appeal to me, though it does have a pretty church. But the idea of missing my goal didn’t seen right. So after a cervesa, a chocolate croissant and a mystery meat sandwich (he said in was ground chicken….) I headed on to Sebrayo.

Past Colunga the camino follows grass and gravel trails and small, paved roads through tiny hamlets. In one tiny town its little church building was consecrated in the year 921. A nice neighbor lady let me in to take photos. Because of the tree cover and recent rains the paths were often quite muddy.

At 6:15 I pulled into the tiny village of Sebrayo, whose only business is its pilgrim albergue, and who should be in the entry but Amelia of Berkeley! I enjoyed a happy reunion with her, Flarent and Julien, along with Nacho of Barcelona (our interpreter at Guemes), John of Calgary, two new Americans (Seth and Jeff) and the nice French couple from Brittany.

Since Sebrayo has no businesses, pilgrims have a choice of waiting for the grocery truck at 19:00 or walking 10 minutes through mud to a restaurant in the town on the next ridge. The truck held no enselada mixta or huevos fritos, much less vino tinto, so John and I walked the muddy ten minutes to the restaurant.

Assuming it was one km away, that would make my day a 32+8+2=42 km (26.25 mile) day. Literally a marathon distance.

Making the day’s goal was nice, but even nicer was having a chance to see the people of our “wave” of pilgrims who are now leaving the Camino del Norte for the alternate route to Santiago, the Camino Primitivo. Tonight is a goodbye to Amelia, Julien, Florian, John, the French couple, etc. It’s possible I’ll see them in Santiago, but no guarantees. So, some sad goodbyes at the close of a long day of being lost in paradise.

20120609-231048.jpgClockwise from bottom left: John of Calgary, Jeff of Boston, Julien of Quebec, Amelia of SF, Seth of Wisconsin, Florian of Amsterdam

20120609-231034.jpg1,100 year old church interior.

20120609-231028.jpg1,100 year old church exterior.

20120609-231015.jpgLuscious landscape.

20120609-230941.jpgBeach near La Isla.

20120609-231001.jpgColunga church.

20120609-230930.jpgBeach near Vega (i.e. paradise).

20120609-230918.jpgVega, beautiful Vega.

20120609-230856.jpgGoodbye Ribadesella.

20120610-070834.jpgRemote albergue at Sebrayo.