Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Promised Land #2: Santander, #3: Oviedo, the Primitivo Decision Point

Leaving Güemes

That morning I didn't rush to get up - I read before I went to bed and still got a quiet and calm sleep, waking up naturally before my alarm at 7am. Breakfast was again communal, with tea, coffee, Cola-Cao, biscuits, and jam. The usual Spanish breakfast. I ate, chatted with some more new people, and left. I shook Ernesto's hand and thanked him for his hospitality. 

Walking down the hill from the albergue I was recognized by a family who had heard me translate the hermita discussion. I walked faster than them, but I stayed with them until the split-off between the three options to Santander. We all decided that we would take the scenic route, which didn't exactly follow the Camino, but hugged the coast and eventually ended up where you needed to go. 

We knew that there was a ferry from the village of Somo to Santander, so our objective was just to walk along the coast until we got to Somo, then take the ferry. Alba (the daughter of the family that I met) and I walked faster than her parents, so after making the requisite conversation with them we split off and walked the 15km along the coast to Somo. 

Walking up and down the sand dunes is just like walking through the snow without snowshoes - I was post-holing through the sand, and when we got back to the road I had to spend a few minutes emptying my socks and shoes of sand. 

All throughout the 15km, Alba and I communicated in Spanish - we talked about our education, what we were doing now, and exchanged stories and stereotypes of Spaniards and Americans. We got to the boat dock in Somo after not really having followed the Camino, but all the time we were walking we saw both the dock and Santander, so we knew we were on the right track. 

At 11am, I left Alba to wait for her parents at the dock, and paid the 3 euros for the river crossing to Santander. I ran into none other than the German woman I was talking to the night before, so we sat with each other at the back of the boat admiring the view. 

"the shoes and water incident"

(One of the sad disclaimers in all of this is that I don't know this German woman's name. If she told it to me, that information is lost in the sands of time. If not, we never talked while needing to know each other's names, so it never seemed relevant. Lastly, the chances of our seeing each other again in life is not zero, but negligible, so I did not make an effort to get her contact information or email or name, because I knew that if we were destined to see each other again, it would happen. So this embarrassing story about her will never be tainted with her name.)

She had already changed into her sandals and strapped her shoes to her pack, so  her feet could get some rest. This day was her last on the Camino, as she was taking a bus back to San Sebastián the next day and flying back to Germany. When we were approaching the dock in Santander, she grabbed her pack and slung it over her shoulder. A few seconds later, we both turned around to look back at the water after hearing a large SPLASH sound. She gave a cry of surprise at seeing her hiking boots (Asolo approach shoes, no less), floating away in the water. 

Thankfully, the boat was basically docked and the shoes were no more than 20 meters from the dock shore. So of course, she wanted to go in and save her shoes. We ran off the ferry and she handed me her pack. I sat and watched as she quickly took off her sandals, shirt, shoes, and glasses, and jumped in after her shoes. She was very athletic: a climber, hiker, and biker. So presumably she was a good swimmer as well - it took her no more than a few powerful strokes to get to her shoes. Even though she couldn't see, she skillfully dodged both the fishing line off the side of the pier and the stares and points of the people along the pier. 

She got out triumphantly holding her shoes, carefully put on a second pair of dry clothes, and we walked into the center of town. We parted ways as she went to the municipal albergue in Santander while I went to search for Leah and Kayla. I tried to take some pictures of Santander, but my camera phone was not working, so I only ended up with one artsy picture of Santander. 


I found the girls in an internet cafe (cheap! 2 euros an hour) inside the bus station in Santander. We wandered around to find menu del día for lunch as usual. We were on our way back to the bus station to find the schedules to Oviedo, but we ran into German girl and Romanian girl in a square in Santander, ended up chatting for a few hours and grabbing a beer.  We didn't see any of Santander, nor did I want to. I (as always) wanted to keep going, since I didn't need a rest day. Leah's feet were feeling better from a two-day rest, and Kayla had gotten the chance to sleep off her death march the day before.

How Kayla got to Santander

When we were sharing stories of our experiences the day before (I of Güemes, Leah of Santander), Kayla shared her story for how she ended up in Santander: in short, she got to Bareyo exhausted, decided to press on, and ended up being driven the last 10km or so along the highway to Somo. She met up with Leah around 7pm in Santander, and they spent a relaxing evening doing laundry and relaxing in Santander while I was having a good time in Güemes. 

Where to go from Santander: continue or change trails?

The day we were in Santander was August the 17th - 12 days into our official walking, and around 14 days from when I had to leave Santiago de Compostela. At the moment, it had taken us 12 days to walk about 275 kms, and along the Camino del Norte route we had another 500 km to go. If we wanted to get a feel for a different kind of trail (more mountainous, more up and down, less road), we had the option of splitting off to the Camino Primitivo at Oviedo, and at the same time covering some lost ground and making closer progress to Santiago. We could not reasonably make it another 500km in only a few more days of time than we had already walked, so we wanted to bus through from Santander to Oviedo (about 200km), and set a target of 300km from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela in the next 15 days or so.

Ultimately we decided that we wanted a slightly varied experience on the Camino - we had already done 12 days of the Camino del Norte and wanted to see some real mountains on the Primitivo. So our decision was to just bus to Oviedo and start on the Primitivo the next day.

Santander to Oviedo

We only made it to the bus station (and got on the bus) at 5:50pm, scheduled to arrive in Oviedo at around 8pm. We made it to the bus stop just in the nick of time, so I was sent on a quick 3-second grocery store run to get Nestea and cookies for the bus ride. Turns out we didn't actually need it, since the bus ride was basically like a short plane flight - it came with an attendant, wifi, infinite drinks, and some snacks. (For future reference, this 2-hour luxury bus ride with the SUPRA company cost us 25 euros each). 

In Oviedo... at least 4 mistakes

Oviedo where we were headed was the capital of the Spanish province of Asturias, best-known for it's cider. We clearly couldn't start hiking that late at night, so we were going to spend the night at the albergue (camp outside, if nothing else) and then start the next morning. 

Asking at the bus information center is where mistake #2 happened: asking for the albergue and not asking for a map - we got a bus stop instead. This was mistake #2 (mistake #1 was not looking this information up either on the wifi-enabled bus or at the internet cafe in Santander). Mistake #3: getting off the bus too early. Mistake #4: on Leah's 3G-and-Google-maps-enabled device, clicking the address for the "albergue juvenil" rather than the "albergue." (Remember my post about the meanings of different Spanish accommodations more than a year before...). This meant that this was a "youth hostel" rather than an official albergue for the Camino. This particular albergue juvenil happened to be not only way out on the outskirts of town (which to us was not surprising, given that the albergue was either on the outskirts of town or in the center next to the church), but also happened to be part of the international hostel association. This meant bad news for us, since we could not stay there without this international hostel card that we did not have. And we couldn't even buy said hostel card directly at the hostel. (Later when Leah and I were discussing this business model we came to the conclusion that it was basically the dumbest business model ever...)

So here we were, 9pm, on the outskirts of town, not knowing where the albergue was, not having any public transportation options, and not having any food or knowledge of where the Camino was. We didn't even know whether the yellow arrow blazes were as prominent here, or whether they changed into something completely different. 

We were lucky that the man at the albergue juvenil took pity on us (and the fact that I spoke good Spanish helped immensely - he was not that comfortable with English), giving us a map and a list of pensiones to try. We called the closest one and asked how much it would be for three people to stay in a 2-person room (we did after all have all of our camping gear, so we would be totally OK sleeping on the floor. As already established before, a roof is the most important feature). Often we would be forced to stay in a 3-person room (which was of course more expensive), but finally one pensión agreed to let us stay. We walked there (yet another 30 minutes in our exhaustion) and negotiated the price down to 30 euros for the night. Kayla ended up sleeping on the floor, but it was Leah's or my turn next). 

El Tayuelu, and cider

The pensión was called El Tayuelu, and it was also connected to a Sidrería (like a tavern, but specializing in cider, which is called sidra in Spanish). We got dinner there (tapas, specifically chipirones, which are fried whole squids) and extravagantly-poured cider. The cider tradition is that it needs to aerate before it can be drunk (so it is sweeter), so the waiters take a bottle way over their heads in outstretched arm and pour the cider into a cup held in the other hand as low as possible. There's a great show, a great splash, and a great hurry as the buyers of the cider try to drink it as fast as possible. Delicious and alcoholic and sweet. We went to bed late, enjoying our opportunity to sleep in, before starting off on our first short leg of the Primitivo the next day.

Thus ended Day 12. For me, Güemes -> Santander -> Oviedo. The end of the Camino del Norte route, the start point of the Camino Primitivo.

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