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)
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 slow 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)
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.