This was one of those stages that would taken much from us to complete due to the multiple ascents (guesstimate cumulative 2,800ft) and descents (guesstimate cumulative 3,000ft). We decided to take the bus from Cudillero, which is about a 25 mins downhill walk from El Pito.
This post will focus on our general observations to date.
Cudillero is much bigger than El Pito. But our accommodation in latter was a steal, Euro 36 for a night in a row of cabins with an outdoor patio with chairs and table. I think Hotel Avalro almost had a full house with many locals who drove there. The rooms had foam mattresses and Joon had the highest Fitbit sleep score to date on the Camino!
In the waterfront of Cudillero, while we only patronized one eatery, my general impression was that it was not overly “inflated” as might be expected in such prime locations. In other countries, one might expect only upscale establishments to take over such prime estate. That was not the case here. Thus, we saw many local tourists, taking pictures, visiting the souvenir shops, etc.
Spaniards seem to love to socialize a lot in casual relaxed settings. They love to sit out on the terraces or patios, just having coffee, wine or beer. Any food plates (rarely seen) were more like raciones (rations or appetizers). A contributory factor to this culture might be the design and prevalence of open squares in Spanish cities and towns.
The costs of meals in standard restaurants is very affordable. In Cadavedo, a menu of the day cost us Euro 11 each. We had a first course, second course, dessert, water (or table wine) and bread. Great value and sufficient portions, such that we can cut back/down on the usual second meal of the day.
One of the biggest favorable impression was the public transportation. A bus ticket from Cudillero to Cadavedo, a distance of 23.4km (14.6 miles) cost each of us Euro 3.60. The bus was practically empty, and thus, I am led to suspect there’s a State subsidy. Which I believe is a great and needed investment to connect all these towns and people.
After all these observations, one cannot but ponder the ranking of countries that can offer its citizens a widely accessible First World life.
Sunday Oct 23. Soto del Barco to El Pito. 3hrs, 12km. We took a bus from Aviles to Soto del Barco.
We decided to take the bus to Soto del Barco. This easy morning allowed us to view Niemeyer’s buildings in the morning sun and catch the rainbow ending in our hotel.
We made our way to the 12th century Romanesque Iglesia de Los Padres Franciscanos, where we enjoyed some spiritual time.
We had cafe solo, before making our way to the bus depot. We met Jerry & Phoebe, who were taking the bus to Ribadeo. Jerry shared that he had to take in his belt by three notches since the start of his Camino! Yikes, I do not ‘pass Go’ and may have to return to Irun! Nope, not on the cards.
The bus driver understood our plans. Seems that he had ferried others on the same leg. After disembarking, we started our walk. Essentially via inner roads, through dirt paths and through residential areas. We were able to catch some great surrounding scenery.
We walked our way to Muros de Nalon. Our adventure begun as we started the final 5km to El Pito, where we would spend the night. The overcast skies were about to rain. And rained it did.
Fortunately, the route took us through a forest where the trees gave us some shelter. It was very windy too. That sort of howling wind through the trees. This forest path was probably 1.5km. We were lucky that nothing fell on us as we saw a relatively large fallen branch later on smack in the path. And amazingly, as we turned a corner, the wind and rain stopped. Quite an unforgettable experience.
The final stretch into El Pito was on paved roads. We reached our lodging in good shape and spirits.
The story of the rainbow is about a promise that the world will never experience another civilization ending flood. For us, the rainbow delivered a day that was better than it would have been otherwise.
Day 24, Fri Oct 21 was a Rest Day in Gijon. We visited the Roman baths, churches, other touristic stuff, trip planning, etc.
Day 25, Sat Oct 22. Gijon to Aviles, 8 hours, 24.7km.
We started the morning with getting an empanada that was filled with ‘pollo curry’ from a nearby panaderia that had opened since 7.30am. This is highly unusual as most tend to open at 9am. We kept this for later in the morning.
Our Plan A was to catch a bus to a stop just outside the city limits. This would spare us the drudgery of walking through the older and industrial sections. After getting directions and a map from the hotel front desk, we set off for the bus stop that was like 5 mins away.
We noted that the bus #24 (per guidebook’s recommendations) was listed as stopping at this bus stop. There were other people waiting at this bus stop. The minutes passed, the other buses came, the people waiting at the bus stop got into their buses. After waiting 30 minutes, we were the only ones at the bus. I typed into Google Translate a question of whether bus #24 stops here, clarifying that we had waited for 30 mins, with the intent to show any bus driver which pulls up or who I waved down. However, a lady showed up to wait for a bus, so I showed her my phone with the Spanish translation. She put on her reading glasses, got up to check the printed schedule. Somehow, we got the message that bus # 24 will only come in TWO hours time, since it was the weekend (Saturday!)
What was Plan B? We decided to walk. And it wasn’t a drudgery at all. We went through the suburbs, and it was interesting to see the contrast of the city glitz versus the down to earth suburban facilities. One of the notable differences was the pricing levels. Granted, for food items, a lot depends on the amount and quality of ingredients. But we bought atun (tuna) empanadas at Euro 5 and 4 at various towns. Here in the suburbs, it was Euro 3.25!
Life decided to throw a ‘fast’ ball at us as we were nearing that bus #24 destination, Sat within 0.5km, which was the start of the steep climb. I term it a ‘fast ball’ because the event will cause a gut reaction. There’s no time for intellectual analyzing. The ‘fast ball’ was a bus #24 coming up behind us! So, it wasn’t a 2 hour wait back in town. Perhaps our overall system was too tired to respond with unnecessary emotions or perhaps the Camino Way was starting to seep into our bodies, but it was a ‘so what’ response to seeing the bus #24. We got to walk even though we might not be so refreshed for the climb if we had been on the bus. And we observed some pretty interesting local sights.
Life is about Plans A, what our primary objectives or aims, and consequently, desired expectations and outcomes. A curve ball is then sometimes thrown at us. Plan B is then needed.
Today seems to be sprinkled with Plans B.
Let me jump to the evening after we had arrived in Aviles (the day will be depicted via attached photos). Given the next day will be Sunday, the priority was the supermarket shopping. Armed with a short but needed list of 5 items, Plan A was to walk to Lidl, a German based supermarket, which was 0.6km. One of the hardest thing to find was electrolytes which we had bought at Decathlon (Bilbao, Santander), a chain found only in major towns/cities.
As I was within 200m of Lidl, out of the corner of my eye, I realized I was passing another supermarket chain, Alimerka. Plan B neurons activated and I decided to see if I could get the 5 items on the shopping list in Alimerka. After getting 3 (which every supermarket would have), I was left with the electrolytes and pastries. As I stood at the end of an aisle, considering which sections to explore, I happen to just turn my head and saw the familiar electrolyte tubes on a shelf that was an arms length from me. A wave of astonishment swept over me! Plan B.
Plan A was to have an early dinner. Joon had found a restaurant in Aviles that offered Phad Thai and other fusion style food and was open at 7.00pm. This was attractive, both in terms of the early dinner and variety of food. As we made our way there, we noted a church that seemed open and said to ourselves that we would come back to it after dinner.
At this restaurant, Bambola, there was a sizable crowd. We went in and an English speaking waiter informed us that it’s best to return at 8.30pm when the kitchen would be fully opened (he initially said 8.15pm but left some leeway for the cooks to ‘settle in’). The sizable crowd was from the lunch hour plus afternoon aperitifs.
Plan B was put then into motion. We went back to that church we had spotted earlier. To our pleasant surprise that was a service in progress! What made this exceptional was there were portable 150-200 children, likely below 10 years, who were singing. They sat in the front pews and outnumbered the adults, some who were standing outside (parents, grandparents, etc.) We were able to partake of the Eucharist, which was special for us.
Plan A had been to only reserve 6 or so nights ahead for flexibility. But I had been wrestling with the stage stops as we were getting into smaller towns/villages that had a paucity of separate room accommodation. Joon kindly reminded me on checking in that I had wanted to ask the reception staff to assist with some bookings in Spanish as I anticipated this hotel might have good bilingual staff. After checking in, I changed my strategy and spent time re-doing the stage stops, sorted through various sites and accommodation offerings. Marta then helped secure two different reservations through phone calls. Booking.com was off little help in those two locations. Marta was instrumental in Plan B, and thus, I ended with reservations all the way to Santiago. Plans B sometimes require ‘angels’ in disguise.
As a Parent, I wanted my children to be focused on their own Plans A. But as I grow older, I wonder if I should have instilled in them the discernment, resiliency and serenity for Plans B?
Thursday Oct 20. Villaviciosa to Gijon. 8 hours. 31.2km. 2 notable mountain climbs; first was to elevation of 475meters; second was after descending to 100m, a climb back to 275m.
Walking out of Villaviciosa was easy as within 30 mins, we were on country roads. Traffic was much lighter on these roads.
About 3.7km, the route splits into the Primitivo or Del Norte. We kept on the Del Norte as our Correos luggage service was for this route. In hindsight, I should booked Correos from Irun to Villaviciosa on the Del Norte, and made a separate booking from a different carrier from Villaviciosa to Oviedo. Correos only starts their Primitivo service from Oviedo.
Our Cicerone guidebook advised staying on road VV-10 after Casquita. That shaved off 2.4km as the Yellow Marked route took a more circuitous route through the countryside. When later route joined up with us, it was the start of the climb to Alto de la Cruz.
Joon had been coping with a low grade fever, so we took it slow and easy. We started this climb just before 10am when it was still cool. It was generally an unpacked path, dirt at times, rocky and stony at other times. We climbed 350m in 2km. We were able to reach near the top where a road meet us within an hour. There was still about 80-100m of elevation gain on the road before we started a long descent.
The descent was pleasant as the gradient was gently and didn’t force our toes against the boots/shoes. As we reached Peon about mid-day, we saw the two pilgrims that we had briefly seen at the start of the climb (they were about 50m ahead, one was carrying a very distinctive yellow backpack). They were having a cup of coffee seated outside a restaurant. I wrongly assumed the cafe-restaurant was open; their small cup of coffee was from a vending machine. We took the opportunity to rest, have coffee and our snacks. The guidebook had alerted there would not be any services available and it was right.
The couple were the only pilgrims we saw today. We suspect most have diverted onto the Camino Primitivo.
The second climb, while to a lower elevation, was perhaps more taxing as it was mid afternoon with the sun shining, and after we had already walked for 5+ plus hours.
We started walking through residential areas. It was interesting to note the interesting features and decorations of homes.
When we finally were on level ground, the route took us away from the major road into Gijon for safety reasons, as heavy traffic was non stop. But going through residential areas is never a straight line, and I estimated this added another 2km or so. Gijon is a big city, and getting into the center from the outskirts was another 2km.
Our walking style is a slow and consistent pace. Our rest stops are short, sometimes a couple of minutes, sometimes 5-10 mins.
When we age, we all wonder, where did the years go?
Wednesday Oct 19. Colunga to Villaviciosa. 5 hours, 18km.
All (Camino) walkers face this daily, even hourly temptation. To walk fast between the scenic viewpoints. To only pause for pictures. Perhaps it’s Fall, or the much less patronized Camino del Norte, but on the Camino Frances, we did see pilgrims having picnic breaks on grass at various viewpoints. Not so on del Norte.
Un-hurriedness is a virtue that I seem to have lost, misplaced somewhere during my growing up years. The Camino helps restore this.
It may seem simple but the other day, we had to wait at the bus stop at a road. Unlike trains, we know that the bus arrival times are not so strictly adhered. We were about 30 minutes early – which means there was no way we will miss the bus. As the scheduled arrival time came and passed, I was unable to ‘wait’ without being anxious. It seems decades of being a car owner had robbed me of the un-hurried ability to wait at a bus stop. The bus did arrive about 12 mins past schedule.
Un-hurriedness on the Camino meant we took the time to pay attention when we were in nondescript surroundings. It means catching sight and appreciating what seemed to be some special effort by others.
Today’s walk was along countryside. It was slightly overcast. We enjoyed the unhurried amble. And made it to Villaviciosa before the drizzle came down.
Postscript – without premeditation, we did smell a rose this afternoon.
Tuesday, Oct 18. Ribadesella to Colunga. 21km, 5hrs.
This is being posted after the Camino, as I realized that I missed a day! Horrors!
From the pictures and Joon’s notes, we experienced a lovely sunrise as we left our Hotel Marina in Ribadesella. In our exploring of the town yesterday, we didn’t realize there was a nice beach with some lovely homes.
It was nice day for walking, a mix of countryside, hilly stretches and beach areas. We came across many surfers at the beach areas.
We love it when we came across this cow in the countryside!
Monday Oct 17. Llanes to Celorio. 5.5km 1.5hrs. Travel Rest to Ribadesella.
We left Hotel Don Paco at 8-ish in the morning, after I backtracked as I thought I left something on the bed (later, I found I had packed into the bag).
Getting out of Llanes was easy and within 1km or so. We were soon in the countryside and some residential estate. We had booked a bus from Celorio to Belmonte de Pria to be able to spend the night at Ribadesella. The bus ride would saved us about 15km walking and 700 feet of ascent. We had 2.5 hours to walk the 5.5km from Llanes to the bus stop in Celorio, with lots of buffer.
We took a coastal route vs walking on the road. While the coastal scenery was much more limited, it was nonetheless more enjoyable walking in the countryside than on roads.
As we neared Celorio, it started to drizzle. Oops…I had forgotten to check the weather forecast app and assumed it was a dry overcast day. We shared one small umbrella and hustled to the bus stop.
That’s when I realized that I had again made an assumption from previous travels that I was heading for a bus depot. It was actually a bus stop on a major road outside the town center. Using Google Translate, I managed to confirm with a Spanish lady waiting at said bus stop that the Alsa bus would be stopping at said bus stop. Celorio was too small to have a bus depot.
Using Google Maps, I queried the options to Ribadesella as I wanted a back up option for a taxi all the way to our final destination for the day. Lo and behold, it was the same bus that I had booked!
We then discussed and agreed to take the bus to the final destination, rather than getting off at Belmonte de Pria and walking into Ribadesella. The driver charged us the difference to get to Ribadesella by stopping at our Belmonte bus stop and showing us on the meter, the additional costs. We gladly paid the difference.
Getting into Ribadesella earlier at 11-ish allowed us to spend some prayer time at the Iglesia Santa Maria Magdalena before it closed for the siesta hours.
We had 1/2 menu of the day, which was just right (we had been eating the full menu of the day and we were getting ‘stuffed’), A 1/2 menu means one selects from either the first or second course; the rest of the daily menu is still offered (bread, dessert, water or wine). Though if one has a healthy appetite, the cost difference between 1/2 and full menu (at this particular restaurant) was only Euro 3.
For us, a Rest Day can be a Travel Day especially when there’s inclement weather or terrain that’s too taxing for us. It’s important for us that the Physical is secondary to the Spiritual.
The puzzle why we didn’t meet many Spanish pilgrims during our walk was solved this morning. Spanish pilgrims constitute the largest percentage of peregrines and peregrinos on any Camino route. The Camino route passes the front door of our accommodation (Valbanera). As we exited the door at 8.01am, four Spanish pilgrims passed and greeted us! Yes, we were missing them largely because they have started walking much earlier than us!
We did not use any Camino-specific App on our first two Caminos. On the Camino del Norte, I have two Camino Apps, though my primary one is the paid App from WisePilgrim. This is because of the number of alternative routes and paucity of Yellow Arrows relative to the other Caminos. The App played a major role in today’s walk. The turn off was painted on the road and had faded. In the early morning light it was hard to spot especially if one was walking fast.
Walking in the early mornings with temperatures in the low 60s F can become addictive. Especially in the countryside where there’s no traffic noise. There must be yet some undiscovered therapeutic effects from such simple activities.
Misty mornings that roll over the landscape lends a dreamlike quality to what’s being perceived. A dream state that one wishes to linger in. To savor with one’s senses. To quiet the mind, to slow that internal rhythm.
The Camino App alerted us that we needed to cross the road to the other side. As I looked across the road, I could not perceive a notable break in the hedges. My eyes looked down on the road, and I noticed the faded arrows to cross the road at this specific point. We did that and as we crossed, the gap was clear. We crossed a railway track and entered the moors like area that ran along the coastline. We were in for a treat beyond our expectations, with the mist, the overcast clouds and the morning sun.
As the path neared the road before swinging back to the coastline, we decided to walk on the road. For us, this was the optimal balance, experiencing the first (and likely better half) section of the moors area and making some distances on paved paths. Balance is something that one quickly gets an intuitive sense for one’s journey. Sometimes it’s trade-offs like what we just discussed, other times it’s walking and taking some form of transportation. Or not. The Rule of the Camino – It’s your Camino. And not someone’s expectations.
As we made good progress on the side of the road, I erroneously assumed that the Yellow Arrows into Pendueles was marked up by merchants. And a km into it, I decided to check the Camino App and realized the error. Fortunately, the App (with its satellite overlay) showed me how we could rejoin the Camino about another km ahead. A bit of adventure of our own creating!
Uphill sections are a standard feature. There’s one stage on the Camino Frances, known as the Meseta, that’s flat for kilometers and kilometers. Unlike some who didn’t like the monotonous flat scenery, it was one of my favorite sections as I felt myself getting into a contemplative mindset. There’s no such stage on the Camino del Norte.
We climbed uphill through a residential area, along inner roads. And when we hit you a major road, there was a pedestrian path that brought us to a view point where we could see Llanes in the distance (probably 8-10km).
The App showed two options – along the road and along the mountainside. There was no pedestrian path along this two lane winding road downhill. We opted for the safer route which skirted a golf course. There were a lot of ups and downs, which I attributed to the design of the golf course!
One cannot but initially some frustration in coming uphill, getting to the top of said incline, only to view a descent and subsequent ascent, especially if latter is as high or even higher as current summit. As I mentioned, due to adjacent golf course, they did not or could not cut a more consistent/continuous incline and descent. This is what I term, the “sanding down” by the Camino. We learn to use sandpaper to smoothen the rough spots in a surface, to smoothen said surface. In the same way, this series of ascents and descents can sand down one’s frustrations. To accept this as part of the experience, and not to let frustrations bubble up. I didn’t realize it at that point in time, but an encore sanding experience was in store.
The descent into Llanes was a relief. So was the fact that our hotel Don Paco was next to the Camino route.
We checked in and discovered our bags were not there. After some back and forth, including via WhatsApp, we found that Correos had neglected to pick up our bags from last night’s hotel. This was a Sunday, and the Correos customer service representative initially wanted me to arrange a taxi to collect the bags and deliver, and they would reimburse me. After explaining I don’t speak Spanish and did not know a local taxi contact, Correos agreed to arrange with our current hotel, though I would have to pay and they will reimburse me.
Throughout this, I basically maintained my cool. Where the second round of sanding needed to be applied was waiting for the hotel taxi to collect and bring the bags. I was influenced by the previous day’s taxi ride in assuming the one way journey would take about 20-30 mins at most. When an hour came and passed, I began to get agitated. Waiting in the lobby likely compounded it, vs waiting in the room. I asked the hotel reception staff to call the taxi driver twice to assess whether he was on the way. The reception staff was in no doubt that I was not happy. And I voiced that I would complain to the hotel manager about the taxi driver. Latter arrived at that moment and I collected the bags and paid him. The sanding was completed when all my frustrations were released and I changed my mind about complaining. And realized it was a Sunday and the driver may be on overtime. The charges were very reasonable considering the two way journey and his time. The next morning, I messaged the hotel and complimented both reception staff and taxi driver.
I wonder if there’s more sanding ahead of me! But more importantly, I wonder if I can replace an instinct to complain, with one to compliment. That would be a great grace indeed.
Sat Oct 15. Comillas to San Vicente de la Baraqua. 3.5 hours, 10km. Taxi-ed to Colombres.
We left our hotel just after 8.10am, planning to eat tuna empanada with coffee. The panaderia was still closed. That turned out well for us as we caught some amazing sunrise painting of the sky and clouds.
Walking out of Comillas was on a pedestrian path alongside a major road. Eventually we turned to the coastline and our first stop was at Playa de Oyambre. There was a cafe there with a much needed restroom. The beach was dominated by surfers. All the vehicles parked there had racks to hold surf boards.
At the cafe, we caught up with Mary. She was with an American couple, Patrick and Jennifer (South Carolina). We got to chatting as they had finished their coffee. Jennifer was sharing how Mary came upon them when they had a down episode. Lo and behold, who should turn up on the Camino to provide some support but a woman named Mary! Mary in turn shared that she much appreciated us inviting her to walk a bit with us and chatting as she was on her own for most of that morning. The Camino somehow provides what is needed.
The 5km stretch from Playa de Oyambre to Gerry to La Brana had surfers. I assume they knew which sections had waves appropriate to their skill levels or developmental stages. It was clear that surfers are not merely pursuing their passion but that it’s a Lifestyle. Interestingly, we spotted an observer who was seated with a tripod and long range video camera seeking to record notable feats. Another observer just watching the surfing action through binoculars.
Catching and riding the big waves. The exhilaration of such a simple joy. What are the ‘waves’ in my current chosen lifestyle?
Waves create ripples. And so, our paths through the days touch others.
At San Vicente de la Barquera, we visited the de Santa Maria de Los Angeles, such as expected, is situated on a hill, the highest point in town. The statue of Inquistor Antonio del Corro adorning his tomb in the church is regarded as one of the finest pieces of Renaissance funerary art!
Surfers show us that we can truly enjoy and live Life when we don’t have so much “baggage.”
Friday Oct 14. Santillana Del Mar to Comillas. 7 hours (including lunch stop 40 mins); 22.5km.
Yesterday late afternoon, after checking in at 3.10pm, we freshen up and rested as it was siesta time and things are closed. We made our way to the Colegiata de Santa Juliana to visit before it closes at 6pm. After the visit, as we wandered around the ‘medieval’ part of Santillana Del Mar, we were totally exhausted. There was no way we could wait till 8pm for restaurants to offer the dinner menu.
Fortunately, we found a smaller establishment that offered entree meals at this hour that was minutes from our hotel. So, we are heartily (I had a stewed half chicken). We quickly realized the issue. Because we were walking coastal routes, without stopping for a proper lunch, we had exhausted our body’s store. A change in strategy was needed!
This morning, we decided to have a proper breakfast at the same establishment that we had dinner. We shared a tuna empanada (Euro 5). I had a cup of hot chocolate which totally floored me. In USA, this would be made from cocoa powder with water or milk. I had real chocolate!
As we started our walk at 8.30am, one of the first signs we saw in Santillana was this. It became a guiding light for the day.
This message came at the right time. I was wrestling with mental fatigue. It came about from the daily exertions, dealing with getting meals before kitchens open at 8pm, and planning ahead (accommodations, unique situations, alternative routing, etc.) Thus, this “Carpe Diem” sign had a significance for me beyond the literal meaning. And that was very much needed. In Life, fatigue can easily degenerate into something worse. A Carpe Diem moment with loved ones might just be the tonic!
The walk in the mooring was very refreshing. In the main, the walk was on country roads with little to no traffic at times. As one looks around at the diffused lighting., the soft pastel colors does reveal how the old masters were influenced in their paintings.
As we reached Cobreces, there was two route options. We decided based on the perceived length of the routes, to take the shorter route. The two routes would reconnect further along. We forgot to note that the shorter route would take us past a Playa (beach). We learnt that means a descent and subsequent ascent!
As we approached the Playa, there was a restaurant with a patio overlooking the beach. Keeping to the theme of the day, we seized the opportunity to stop for lunch. Again, fortune was with us as the lunch menu was only available at 1pm, which would have required a wait of 30 minutes. But the cook agreed to take our orders at 12.30pm. Luck favors those who ask!
After lunch, we climb uphill and walked on some roads that passed residential homes. The temperatures were also climbing with us, Pat the forecast of 71F to 73F. It was taking some effort especially with an uphill ascent on hot asphalt roads. We spotted an ermitage at the top of a 4-way intersection. We planned to rest a bit in the shadow of said structure.
Having rested and prayed, we soldiered on to our lodging.
Postscript – We met Mary from outside Brisbane, Australia at a cafe. We walked and chatted with her a bit. Yesterday we met a Spaniard named Josea (Joseph in English)!
To seize the day is a mind set, an attitude and most importantly, a grateful heart.