El fin: Gijón

More than six months after I finished my Camino del Norte, it’s probably about time I finished writing about it.  It’s taken a while—the year got away from me, somehow, and to be honest, I haven’t felt much like writing.  Which is a pity, really, as I’ve been on soooo many adventures!  Post-Camino and after a few days in Madrid, I spent some time in Brussels, doing job applications; then it was time for what is quickly becoming my annual huge party, and a trip to Ibiza.  Next, I moved out and spent a month in Fribourg, Switzerland—an insanely beautiful place.  A day after finishing there, I flew back in to Belgium, grabbed my stuff, and moved to Antwerp, where I’ve since been working in the diamond industry.  Yes, the diamond industry, of all things.  Unfortunately (and obviously!) I can’t write about that, but it’s been a ride.  A somewhat short-lived one, mind you: I’m finishing up at the end of the month.  It turns out that ultra-capitalism is really, really not my bag.  In between all of that, I’ve also been doing trips, including hiking the Belgian coast from the Netherlands to France in two days (insane—don’t do that!), a trip to Amsterdam with friends, and a long long weekend to see friends in Copenhagen.  And it won’t be long until the adventures truly recommence ;).

Day 22: Gijon (28km)

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Day 22, and it was finally my last day.  I was exhausted, blistered, so damned tanned it’s crazy, and feeling strong.  Tired, though; that bears repeating.  Ex post facto, I’m recalling my camino very fondly, despite the ridiculous amounts of pain and “another hill, are you fucking kidding me?!” it entailed.  I’ve now hiked a swathe of the Spanish coast, a bit of the Italian and Portuguese coasts, all of Belgium’s—and so obviously, my new life ambition is to hike the entire way around Europe, in stages.  I’m not even kidding.  That’s my plan.

Anyhow, I woke up in our hostel outside Villaviciosa, and wandered into the communal kitchen for breakfast.  The pirate king was there, calling out the Slovak and I for flirting (I’m allowed to say that now, as I’ve not spoken to him since—incidentally, what the hell is it with me lusting after hiking partners?).  Then it was time for us to leave, with a lot of hugs, pirateyness, and treasure chests.  Best pirate king ever.

El Tigre, the Slovak and I hit the road once more, as the start of our day would take us in the same direction.  The Slovak was heading for the Camino Primitivo, whereas I was sticking with the el Norte; and El Tigre was undecided.  Of course.  We were trying to convince him to take the el Norte though, so that he didn’t actually, and completely literally, die.

After only a couple of kilometres, we reached the point where our paths were to divide.  Luckily, El Tigre decided he would come with me, which on the one hand was the responsible choice, and on the other, straight-up FML.  So we said our farewells, and headed onward.

The rest of my day was fairly insanely irritating, to be honest.  While I was glad to not have tiger blood on my hands, I was getting pretty close to murdering him myself.  He told me a lot of his bizarre theories about the world—which, for my sanity’s sake, I elected not to record—and I told him that all he needed was a donkey to be a character in Don Quixote.  Somewhat fortuitously, he hadn’t read it.

There were a fairly respectable number of hills on the leg to Gijón, and not a lot happened.  We bumped into a French guy doing some sort of schmoozing around a vacant barbecue, who needed directions; and after far too long, we found a café at the top of a hill.  This was the point at which El Tigre told me he had 20 euro left for the remaining 350+km to Compostella.  I cannot even tell you how much face-palming I was doing.

Finally, we had our first real sighting of Gijón:

(It’s real because it has a road sign. Obviously.)

After a bit of a scenic wander through the outskirts of the town (and many accusations from El Tigre that I didn’t know what I was doing and had gotten us lost, and another instance of me having to translate Spanish into English for him, because wait, who’s the Spaniard here?!), it was time.  We’d reached my albergue for the evening—my feline friend was heading further onwards, in hopes of finding a park, or forest, or another cow paddock to sleep in—and it was time to set El Tigre free.  Which I did.  In fairly short order.  Hey, I’m allowed.

Man did I have a glorious nap.  There were no staff nor other guests at the hostel that night, and so I had the place to myself—it was very peaceful.  As the day drew to a close, I headed into town to rustle up some dinner, only to find sunset like fire on the water.  It reminded me of nothing so much as Cartagena in Colombia.

My plans of quality beach time the next day were foiled by some fairly grisly weather setting in, so I decided to head to Madrid.  And al fin—my Camino was complete.

For now.

 

Leche: San Esteban de Leces and Villaviciosa

Days 20 and 21 saw me (re-)meeting the Slovak, and encountering the character that would come to be known as El Tigre.  It was…eventful.

Day 20: San Esteban de Leces (29km)

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After my night in the pube- and mould-beridden pension, I set out in the vague direction of Ribadasella.  A little outside of Celorio I saw the German girl I’d met a few times, who the last time I saw her, had asked if I was feeling better—she said that the almost-annoyingly-friendly German guy had been stressed out that I’d died at some point after San Vicente de la Barquera or something.  And the reason I mention this is because he was walking on the road just ahead, so I caught up to him and said hello, reassuring him that I was, in fact, alive.  Though shortly after this, I realised I’d made two fundamental mistakes about him—one, that he wasn’t actually German, but in fact a German (and everything-else-)speaking Slovak; and two, tat he wasn’t too friendly, but just the right amount.  In a totally unrelated twist, I also realised that he was super, super attractive.  (Haha my vocal notes: “he’s not annoying at all and kind of hot.”  Consistent!)

Anyway, the two of us quickly drew away from the slow-pokes behind, and having a good old chat while absolutely smashing it as far as speed goes.  Normally I hike at 5km an hour, and we were crushing that.

After a couple of hours, we made it to some anonymous town, where the Slovak pointed out a guy with a rucksack who was wearing crocs.  He said that he’d heard of an Italian walking the camino in crocs—this must be him!  So we caught up to the croc-wearer and asked, only to find out that he was a Spaniard from Madrid (albeit living in the UK), and therefore there may have been multiple people doing an epic long-distance hike in plastic non-supportive footwear…  Oh dear.

This was my introduction to El Tigre.  My notes at this point probably sum it up, with the simple sentence: “Confusion and outrage”.  Little did I know.

After a coffee and some tortilla (of course), El Tigre fell in with the Slovak and I, and things slowed down considerably.  El Tigre told us all kinds of stories about his adventures thus far.  After, that is, I’d given him epic amounts of sunscreen, for what appeared to be third-degree burns.  Because what Spaniard wears sunscreen, right?!

  • El Tigre was doing the camino because some of his cousins had done it earlier, and he’d been jealous.  Back in the UK he’d been working as a dish-hand, and one night threw his tea-towel, quit his job, and decided it was time to camino.  There was no planning involved: he wasn’t aware that there was more than one camino; that there were alternate paths; or that he would actually be required to pay for his food along the way.  He’d just figured there would be people feeding him for free, given his ‘pilgrim’ status.  At the point at which I left him, two days later, he had 25 euro left to last him the next 353km.
  • Speaking of finances, El Tigre had once incurred a fine for drinking in public.  Knowing it was illegal in Spain, he and his friends sat down to have a few beers, directly outside the police station.  However, he decided not to pay the 600 euro fine—despite the fact it apparently increased ten-fold for non-payment—and instead went with all his money to the UK.  He figured he’d probably be arrested at some point, but would just explain he’s an idiot.
  • El Tigre was camping along the way, but from what I gather, didn’t know much about the art.  As such, on one evening he set up in a paddock, only to be awoken a few hours later by the sounds of cows eating the grass all around the tent.  He spent the night terrified of the cows and their bells, and couldn’t get back to sleep.  He wasn’t quite sure if cows ate people or not.
  • On another camping occasion, El Tigre decided to set up on the beach.  He was having a lovely night, with one fatal flaw—he forgot that tides existed, and so woke up to find himself in the ocean.  His gear was still wet (and yes, he smelled as a result).

Clearly El Tigre was in need of guardianship, and so the Slovak and I adopted him as our slightly inept man-child and/or retarded puppy.  His name ‘El Tigre’ comes from the fact that he sees himself as the Spanish equivalent of Bear Grylls (who already exists, by the way), and he needed a suitably on-theme name.  He didn’t like it very much, to be honest.  But if you can’t figure out how to open a thermos mug by yourself, you don’t get self-naming privileges.

The three of us stopped for lunch (and wine, of course) in Ribadesella.  The Slovak disappeared on the phone for a protracted period of time, as his sister had just had a baby.  In the meantime, I was caught between El Tigre and an older Spanish guy on the chair behind mine.  The older guy was saying he’d always wanted to go to Australia, but his wife wouldn’t let him.  Oh dear.  Lunch was absolutely fantastic, though, and having had a look on Google Maps just now, I’m pretty sure it was at Café Capri on Calle Gran Via de Agustín Argüelles.

We made it to the donativo at San Esteban de Leces that evening, which was just one hill up from Ribadesella.  We’d tried to see some cave paintings in Riba, but again failed thanks to their being closed—why are cave paintings always evading me?!  The showers at the albergue were probably the most porn-ready showers the world has ever known, but my god was the water pressure + temperature combo a win.  Definitely one of the best showers I had along the del Norte.

It was a pretty chilled out evening, with more wine and munchies as the night progressed.  There was this one Irish guy, John, who reminded me a bit of my adventure ed teacher in high school, Peter Booth.  John was thoroughly sprightly, setting up his tent outside, chirping contantly, obviously completely out of his mind.  He made porridge in the morning, Very Loudly.  😐  There was also this super-creepy Belgian guy staying at the hostel (the Belgians I met along the way were disproportionately weirdos, but this guy was on a whole nother level—I felt very uncomfortable around him, and the next day we would end up walking further than anticipated, as I didn’t want to stay in the same place as him).  But overall, lots of stretching, lots of talking to the Slovak, and I even got a bit of reading done.

Day 21: Villaviciosa (~36km)

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Day 21 was again pretty chilled, with the three of us cruising through to Villaviciosa.  In the morning, shortly after eating my first apple for the day, I found myself looking everywhere for a horse: usually they were so ubiquitous, that I could always find a horsie-friend to feed my core to.  On this occasion, though, the horse didn’t appear from around a corner until just after I’d already thrown my core out.

This horse was to horses as the Belgian guy was to pepole.  It was fucking crazy.  As we walked down towards it, it stood dead still and stared at us.  The Slovak was giving me shit for throwing away my core, and I felt so guilty, that I decided it was time to dig out the “just in case of emergency horse” apple from my bag.  I held it out to the horse, and the (weird-eyed) horse looked confused.  I started to wonder if it was going to bite my hand off, so after it dropped the apple at first, I rested it on the wall so the horse could grab it from there.  And that horse had no idea what was going on.  The Slovak decided to be a bit braver than me, and so held it out to the horse again—still no.  In the end we threw the apple into the field behind the horse, for later, and it just stood dead still, and stared.  Its tail was cut short as well, which somehow added to the ‘crazy’ ambience.  I can only assume the haircut was an intermediary step in preparation for horse asylum.

As we started to talk off, the horse broke its stillness, and began to follow us down the street, just staring.  I’m kind of glad there was a wall in the way…

The day progressed, with El Tigre struggling every step of the way.  We honestly didn’t think it was going to make it, and so as we reached a small café somewhere before Villaviciosa, asked if he wanted to leave us and stay in Sebrayo instead.  That would be just another 2km, rather than the 7km to Villa and 2km past that to the albergue.

I have to stop and recount another El Tigre tale at this point: the waiter at the café spoke only Spanish, which was fine of course.  So El Tigre asks him about the way to Sebrayo, and the waiter starts giving the most comprehensive directions and description of a place I think I’ve ever heard in my life.  El Tigre is nodding and nodding away, and eventually the waiter decides his job is done, and leaves.  At that point El Tigre turned to us, and asks “so what did he say?”.  That’s right.  Even though El Tigre was the one in the conversation, not to mention the native Spanish speaker, he figured we’d just listen and ‘translate’ for him.  Wtaf.

In the end El Tigre decided to come with us despite his impending mortality, and buttressed by caffeine, we trooped on down the road.  By the time we reached Villaviciosa, it was no longer just El Tigre, but the Slovak dying, too.  He was muttering along the lines of, “I thought I was the strong one, how, how are you…[mutter mutter are you a machine mutter mutter]”.  Of course, what they apparently didn’t notice is that I was getting pretty tired myself, but have the annoying habit of being progressively more and more fake-perky, the more physically exhausted I get.  I remember one time doing a 2am emergency evacuation down a mountain with a group of people, after our snow caves started melting on us.  I was so markedly jolly that one of the guys suggested I become an aerobics instructor: so yes, that’s pretty much what El Tigre and the Slovak had to deal with at this point in time.

Eventually, though, we made it to a private donativo pirate hostel.  My shower was cold, which made me sad :(.  (It just occurred to me how many showers I’ve rated in these posts…!)  On the upside, there was another world map with no pin for my origin, so I got to pin another world map!  Never before in my whole life, and now twice on one trip!  Hells yeah.

We had a great communal dinner, with many helpings of delicious lentil soup.  We got to talking with this awesome German chic Luisa (Germans are everywhere while travelling; just accept it), and I practiced my Spanglish with the albergue owner.  I informed him that I was el capitán de los piratos, and he basically had no choice but to deal with it.  It was a lot of fun!  Alas though, it was time for a night’s sleep, before my final day on the road.

 

Hambre: San Vicente de la Barquera, Buelna, and Celorio

Days 17-19 of my Camino del Norte were far from the most eventful, with illness, a bit of boring trail, and a seriously dirty pension.  All part of the experience, right?

Day 17: San Vicente de la Barquera (~14km)

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The day after Comillas, my intention was to head to Colombres.  Not because it’s a major stop on the trail, but because the name’s close enough to ‘Colombia’, and I just cannot wait to go back to that country…!  Unfortunately however, I wasn’t feeling too well, and so the going was slow.

That morning was a rather lovely walk.  I stopped at a surf club a few kilometres out of Comillas, had a chat, and avoided the rain.  I then carried on to St Vicente de la Barquera, another picturesque waterside town, but was feeling so bad that I went straight to the pharmacy to hit up any drugs I could find!  Incidentally, pharmacies in other countries are often an interesting experience.  My most memorable visit was a pharmacy in Medellin, which involved a whole lot of miming for the pharmacist (and a rapt audience).  Typically I only end up in pharmacies if I need directions, though: I think I’ve said before, but pharmacists are pretty much the most accessible highly educated people if you’re ever lost, and as such, are very likely to be able to give directions in English.  #toptipsfromlaura (on another note, when the hell did I embrace hash-tags?!)

After my drug stop and a coffee, I wasn’t much improved, so started looking up albergues in St Vicente itself.  I went to the tourist office to ask for directions, but that I’d been thinking of was already 3-4km back.  Retracing my steps is obviously out of the question, so instead I trooped up to the local hostel.  The lady at the tourist office said that it opened at 1pm, and sure enough, when I got there, the hospitalier was there: however, she was actually on her way out, and the albergue would be opening properly at 14:30.  I explained I was feeling ill, though, and so she fetched me a chair and let me sit outside the door.

I pretty much spent the next couple of hours—as after all, 14:30 quickly turned into 15:00—reading and befriending a little robin, and giving directions to other walkers who arrived.  I ended up watching some bags for Manuela (a German girl I may have mentioned previously?) and another German-speaker, whose name I didn’t know at tat point.  Finally though, the albergue opened, and somehow I ended up on translation duty for the hospitalier for the next half-hour as people checked in.  Great for my Spanish, but not so great for my state at the time!

At long last, I found my bed.  Where things didn’t exactly improve, as there were a—and this is a quote from my very angry vocal notes—”lot of fucking assholes making heaps of noise, and lacking even basic hostel etiquette”.  Lots of plastic bag rustling (DO NOT TAKE PLASTIC BAGS TO SHARED ACCOMMODATION) and lights being switched on and off.  My only adventure for the rest of the day was to pop out for a particularly delicious dinner, but after that I created myself a circle of seclusion and ignored the world.

Day 18: Buelna (25km)

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The next day I decided to take it easy and carry on to somewhat after Colombres, or to wherever I made it.  Briefly before leaving, I realised the German-speaker from the day before also spoke Polish (which I can understand a bit of thanks to Russian).  He was very nice, albeit out-of-control friendly, but i’m not much for mornings, and headed out shortly afterwards.

It was a pretty chilled day walking by myself.  Leaving San Vicente it was pretty much up a hill, then downhill along a somewhat boring road, so I broke out my Kindle and did some reading.  I’d finally started reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I remember being recommended to me by a Dutch girl when I was 19.  At least I got there eventually?

I cruised for the first 15km, then stopped for a coffee and a protracted read in Unquera, on the border of Cantabria and Asturias.  I’d been considering stopping there if I still felt as ill as the day before, but gladly, felt good enough to continue.

I did end up bypassing Colombres just as siesta began (though happily, the supermarket lady let me duck in to buy some snacks for the rest of the way), and it seemed sweet enough.  From there, the surroundings became increasingly rural, until I finally ran into this huge freaking mega-bridge in the middle of nowhere.  Standing underneath it, I felt like the tiniest person in the world!

Dan and Audrey had posted on their ‘Uncornered Market’ Facebook about a ruta alternativa starting somewhere after Colombres, which I was totally unable to locate.  Until, that is, I reached another highway, and out of the corner of my eye saw a tiny little sign on an adjacent path.  A short bush-bashing later, I was by the coast once more, and spent a lovely time wandering through heather under a storm-lit sky.

In the end, I elected to stay in Buelna, a small sea-side town.  I had a good chat with the guy behind reception as I arrived, who turned out to be from the Canary Islands.  Manuela, from the days before, was bemused at the conversation and at my then getting bedding and a blanket for free.

As it turned out, the albergue was almost empty, and so I ended up with a room to myself.  It was amazing.  I had a solid nap before heading down for the six euro dinner downstairs.

The meal’s quality corresponded with its price tag.  On the upside, another lady joined me.  She was an Italian who had been in the bunk below me the night before (and, while tsk-ing angrily at the snorers in the room, probably doesn’t realise she snores quite badly herself).  She only spoke Italian, so as we were seated at a two-person table facing each other, it ended up being me speaking Spanish and her Italian.  It was hard at first, but became easier as we made it through the bottle of wine.  It was pretty ridiculous, but also a lot of fun.

Day 19: Celorio (~23km)

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Day 19 saw yet another lazy start.  My intention was to make it to Villahormes or just beyond, but things didn’t quite go to plan.  Basically, I got to Llanes, found a chocolateria, and thanks to some serios mistranslation on my part, managed to order the only thing on the menu that didn’t have chocolate in it.  And it was pancakes.  Pancakes are the worst!  That whole food group—pancakes, waffles, donuts, and churros—is a lazy travesty against cuisine!  (I had to throw in the ‘lazy’, because I do bend sometimes when I can’t be bothered finding real food :D.)  But in either event, my heart was no longer in it for the day, and I felt a bit like crying when I later left the restaurant and saw the remains of a hot chocolate.  I may have been exhausted, but also, I take chocolate very seriously.

I meandered on anyway, and made it a few kilometres more, to Celorio (the next town along if you exclude ‘Poo’, where I didn’t want to stay, for some reason).  I stopped yet again and went to a restaurant, where I basically had patatas bravas and coffee, went ‘fuck this shit’, and asked the waitress if there was any albergue in town.  She had awesome sparkly eyeshadow, and siad that while there was no albergue, there was a pension which cost just 12 euro a night.

And so I found myself at the cheapest of cheap pensions.  It was fucking dirty, with wallpaper peeling in wide swathes, and a ceiling full of mould.  Also, I woke up with someone else’s pube on my thumb.  Altogether, it was pretty gross.  On the upside, my room had a bath (albeit cold), and to be honest, I relished the chance to just chill and relax and have a clothing-optional day.  For the rest of the day I ate everything left in my pack, namely muesli bars and an apple, read, and rested.  The next morning, things would pick up considerably.

 

Romanza: Santander to Santillana del Mar and Comillas

Day 15: Santander to Santillana del Mar (~42km)

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The stretch of the Camino del Norte beween Santander and Santillana del Mar was one of the most beautiful parts of the walk (though admittedly, I’d recommend it on a bike rather than on foot, due to all the asphalt, and in order to speed past the more-boring parts!).  It was a great day at a bit over 40km, full of lots of sweet little towns.  Additionally, Santillana del Mar was absolutely stunning, and one of the most romance-imbued places I’ve ever been—a big call, given my cynical tendencies!

I’d planned on getting up early, though that definitely didn’t happen.  As such I left late, but was still in time to see some beautiful filtered morning sun falling through the town of Santander as I left it.  I’d made the fundamental error of starting to read a Carlos Ruiz Zafon book—the Prince of Mist—and that meant that there would be a lot of stops throughout the day.  I spent hours at different places reading, including at one place recommended to me by Dan and Audrey, Condado de la Mota, where I had a really lovely salad.  (It’s an exciting life I lead, n’est-ce pas?)

As suggested above, between the beautiful views was a fuck-ton of asphalt, and the odd boring bit.  One part of the trail ran next to a big concrete pipe, and while it was flat, it was gravel, and very hard going with the heat.  On the upside, for some of it I took a little detour and walked through a waterfowl reserve, where there was a veritable steamboat of the Tom Sawyer variety tooting along.

After many stops, and many more photos of cows (by this point I felt I must have taken at least 500 photos just of cows), I found myself in Santillana del Mar.  It’s an absolutely beautiful medieval town (though despite the name, is nowhere near flat, and nowhere near the sea), and I feel like it should be a compulsory expenses-paid trip for any game designers creating sets for medieval Europe.  It was also very romantic, and everyone everywhere was making out.  There was one couple in their late 60s who were all over each other in the main square, which was hilarious, at least partly because the man was super awkward.  So much hover-hand.

I did manage to arrive at the albergue ten minutes after check-in had closed, and didn’t really know what I should do.  There was a German guy out the front of the hostel, and so I asked what the hospitalier looked like.  He said that he had a beard.  I asked how tall he was, and the guy stood and gestured at about 6’2—so, pretty tall.  Okay, so how old?  The guy said 30, 35.  So I went wandering the town and by the museum where the hospitalier otherwise worked, looking for a tall bearded guy in his early 30s.  I didn’t succeed.  Then, when I got back to the albergue, the German guy goes “he might not have had a beard, actually”.  And he might not have been that tall, and he wasn’t sure what age, either.  So yes, it’s unsurprising that my search for some guy, of some height, who may or may not have had a beard and been of an age, wasn’t successful.

I stayed at the albergue anyway, using my gear for bedding, and leaving some money in the morning.  The next mission was to find some food before crashing, as I was ravenous.  Walking around, a lot of venues were closed, but were noticeably fancy.  One even had a Michelin star (?!).  At the restaurant I ended up in, I devoured the entire plate in a few minutes, to the point the waiter came over and made fun of me for it.  After a nice (less-abusive) chat with him and one of the waitresses, it was finally time to head back to the albergue for bed.

Day 16: to Comillas (22km)

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On my trek to Santillana del Mar, I’d been back-and-forth with a Spanish group from Barcelona all day.  There were about eight of them, maybe three girls and five guys, and they were all very good-looking.  Collectively, it was like seeing a real-life catalogue.

Anyhow, getting up to leave in the morning, they were putting on their boots at the same time as me.  One of the girls hummed a bar of music, and the next thing you know, several of the guys had broken into song.  My excitement level went zero to a hundred immediately, and I asked if they’d be dancing next.  I mean come on, real life musical—yes!!

Around 8km into the day’s walk, I received a comment on Facebook asking if I’d been to visit the Altamira caves near Santillana del Mar.  And this is where my slap-dash approach to planning trips (i.e. not planning them at all) lets me down: these caves are something I would have loved to see, they are exactly my kind of thing.  But by this time, I was already well on my way, and had I gone back, that would be adding 16km+ to my day.  Given the day before had been over 40km again, I was trying to keep to around 20-25km for the day so that I didn’t overdo it.  I’m just going to have to go back.  Oh, no!

And so I kept trekking on, encountering a bunch of Frenchies near one of the ubiquitous churches.  They didn’t have any English, so I had a halting (yet protracted) conversation with them in French.  Weirdly, speaking French outside of French-speaking countries doesn’t bother me anywhere near so much.  I don’t speak it in Belgium, and didn’t really last time I was in France, either.  I just do not enjoy that language, at all.

Finally reaching a town with an open bar, it was time for my first café con leche for the day.  Peregrinos definitely run on coffee.  On the wall I saw a little plaque, which read

“paz a los que llegan, salud a los que habitan, felicidad a los que marchan”
(peace to those who arrive, health to those who stay, happiness to those who walk).

Is that not the perfect saying for my circumstances at the time?  Which, to be fair, was probably the point: I’m sure I’m far from the first hiker who has stopped there.

I had a truly awful lunch just outside Cóbreces, before deviating somewhat from the track to go to the beach at Playa De Luaña.  After a spot of sunbathing and blister-repair at I continued following the line of the coast, bypassing Liandres, and hitting the final stretch towards my destination Comillas.  I was starting to get quite tired; I knew that the albergue had limited bedding; and there was a group of around four German women about neck-and-neck with me.  The mission was on to get there first.  But could I find the blasted place?  No, no I could not.  The town’s site and the Camino guide alike didn’t list an address, and I didn’t see any signs.  So I spent rather some time walking up and down the hills, all around the town, before finally asking somebody.  I think he may have gathered I was getting a bit tired, and so he walked me right across town (giving me explanations and descriptions on the way) and almost to the door.  What a hero!

My day pretty much ended with having my washing rained on, some noisy older Germans in my room, and a set of seriously disturbing advice about what I should do to resolve my blister problem.  But by that point, I didn’t even care—I had a bed, and there would be no more ‘vertical’ that day.

Americanos: Tarrueza to San Miguel Meruelo and Santander

Days 11 through 14 of my Camino del Norte saw beaches, blisters, and my becoming smitten with an American couple.

Day 11: Tarrueza to San Miguel Meruelo (27km)

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Day 11 had another very lazy start, with my not leaving the albergue until twenty past 8.  I was still quite tired and sore, and not feeling especially motivated.  However, I’d run out of chocolate, so clearly things were quickly becoming urgent.

I soon reached Laredo and stocked up on a lot, repeat a lot of chocolate and other snacks, then set out for the beachfront.  My achilles were still killing me from the Islares walk, which was a good time.  I’d stopped at a bench to pack all of my new goodies into my bag, when suddenly some people stopped on the path behind me.  I turned around, to see Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market once more.  They said that they were headed to Noja, which by this point was also my destination for the day: I really wasn’t feeling the 30km it would otherwise be.  I’d rather do 35km the following day instead.

I trailed D&A along the waterfront, had a quick chat, then headed to the beach to catch a boat over to Santona.  Once there I stopped in a restaurant for some well-deserved tortilla and coffee, and watched somewhat bemused as a sudden squall piped up and drenched a bunch of people who were running along the foreshore in kilts.  I was still sitting in the cafe when D&A arrived a couple of boats later, and set off through the town.  Santona was, by the way, exceedingly pretty, choc-full of natural beauty and artisanal stores.

Leaving town I reached a headland, and after this headland I would walk along some more beach and thereby reach Noja.  However, things didn’t go according to plan.  On the path over the headland I reached a fork in the path: one leading left and uphill, and the other leading right and downhill.  I figured that the Camino is sadistic, and always forcing me to go uphill.  So I figured I would out-psych the Camino and take the uphill path, rather than going down and then having to retrace my steps.

This was not the right choice.

I wound up in some pretty dense forest, with a distinct lack of the yellow markers indicating my trail.  Instead I went up, and up, and up some more, and ended up accidentally crossing three small mountains.  It was quite pretty, at least, and so good to be walking on proper ground rather than asphalt.  Eventually I popped out again near Noja and started wending towards the town—where I encountered D&A just leaving.  They’d stopped for a nice lunch and civilised drink or two while I’d been climbing accidental mountains, and were now heading onwards to San Miguel.

To be honest, I was in a lot of pain, but I’d also been seeing signs for an albergue in San Miguel for about the last 54km at this point, and was tempted to go and check it out.  First, though—food.  And wine.  I headed into the town, found a bar, and had some tortilla and wine (bit of a change from coffee) while reading a book.  It was all very civilised.  Except for the book, that is; the book was rubbish.

Inexplicably, I decided to keep going, and so I hit the road once more.  It was around another 8-9km to the albergue if I recall correctly, and by this point it felt as though my shoes were full of glass.  Every step was agonising!  My blisters were absolutely out of control, but despite that, I made it to the albergue.  And I got to pat the cutest little grey puppy on the way!

Once I’d arrived, I had an incredible shower, some horribly flavourless food, chatted to Dan and Audrey, and had a fantastic night’s sleep.

Day 12: St Miguel to Santander (27km)

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Getting ready in the morning, I sort of attached myself to Dan and Audrey without their permission, because by this point I’d decided that they were the best people ever, and a travel-inspiration for me.  (Like I said at the top, I was smitten!)  We stopped at Güemes for a coffee and a donut, then continued on to Santander.

We took an optional coastal rail after Galizano, which was beautiful.  It was also very nice to once more hand over the navigation reins!  To be honest I was tired, and my feet hurt so much it was incredible.  A patch walking on sand saw my legs wobbling like mad!  We got to catch another boat, though, so obviously that was excellent.

D&A had a pension booked, so they dropped me off near the albergue and gave me a towel.  The towel in question had been left by somebody at the San Miguel albergue the day before, and we’d been asked to convey it up the path.  As it turned out, the towel belonged to another American couple, but not one I appreciated quite so much.  The woman started a conversation with me by saying that “it’s good, isn’t it—you don’t see many Blacks doing the Camino”.  What the actual fuck, lady?

Also at the hostel were the Swedish family (sans Kieran Perkins, this time), and Hennie, who I hadn’t seen in about a week at this point.  I wasn’t feeling that well in the evening so went to have eggs and chips—obviously healthfood—and retired quite early.  Tell you what, after staying in that albergue, I know exactly how they make the creaky ship sound effects for pirate movies.  It was amazingly loud.  Also, it was dirty, and they inexplicably turned the WiFi off at 10pm until 2pm the next day.  The inhumanity!  That aside, though, the albergue was gross.

Given the state of my feet, I decided to stay in Santander for a couple of days to heal up a bit.  I found a nearby Pension—Angelines—which, while somewhat dirty, was 24 euro a night, so headed there the next morning.  Even though I arrived at about 9am, they let me check in just half an hour later, and it was indescribably good to have nothing to do all day but lie down.

Days 13 and 14: Bed to the restaurant and back, rinse and repeat (0.5km)

In keeping with the above, all I did for days 13 and 14 was lie down and eat (at a nearby cafe, where a huge meal including a bottle of wine was just 9 euro.  I did lots of reading my book and chatting online, and put in my best effort to finish the bottle…though didn’t quite make it).  There was lots of reading, taking long showers, watching Bear Grylls celebrity specials and catching up on John Oliver.  Finally though, it was time to get back on track in the oh-so-literal sense.  As such I planned to put in another big day for day 15, overshooting the usual stop and instead heading for Santillana del Mar, an unmissable medieval town.

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