I will be hiking El Camino Primitivo in Spain. It is the original Camino through more mountainous terrain and runs about 195 miles. My mom is joining me making the pilgrimage all that more special! It will be a different kind of long distance hike than I am used to but I'm excited to experience Spain on foot.
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We woke to a cotton candy sunrise and low clouds in the valley below. Breakfast was served at 7am, most of us were packed and ready to go when we sat down to tortilla and homemade breakfast bread. After reorganizing her pack to take essentials in a day sack, my mom attached an envelope to her backpack and left it by the front door with a few others.
Our walk started around 8:15am on a short cut right up from the albuergue to the Hospitales route. Rolling green hills lulled us for miles as we climbed up on an overgrown path through verdant fields. Our pace was slow and those leaving Samblismo soon left us behind.
However, one benefit of letting the crowds go ahead of you is that it is easier to find a place to pee when there is little forest. But you have to be quick about it as there will surely be some pilgrims coming up from the town prior to yours such as Borreo.
This section is always touted as without water sources so we were surprised to see gate and fountain about an hour in to our walk this morning. I dipped bandanna in the cool water and topped off my water bottles. It promised to be nothing but sunshine today.
We played leapfrog with a trio, a couple and another who appeared to be someone’s dad. They had a leisurely pace like us.
It was snack time in the shade with a herd of bell ringing cows at 10:45am. Instead of bears and deer to think about like we have in the Pacific Northwest, we have cows and horses in Spain. Fellow pilgrims Denmark and a young Korean from Samblismo were also there. I had my bright orange umbrella up for sun protection and after making a joke about how the cloudless sky might produce rain, they realized what a good idea it actually was.
Los Hospitales was a wonderful ridge walk with just a few steep, rocky sections and we took time to stop at each of the three hospitals ruins along the way. These were more like shelters of long ago when many pilgrims died trying to make it over this range in poor weather. Sitting down at the final on around noon, I enjoyed eating the last can of tuna I had purchased in Oviedo.
The saying goes, what goes up must come down. The Camino drops down through a gully of loose rock on the other side as it intersects a steep winding road. It was interesting (scary?) to watch the cyclists zip past but I’m sure if you like that sort of thing it would be quite thrilling.
A stone walled village sat on this lower ridge and our trio of pilgrims tucked back in the shade called to let us know of a fountain but we had anticipated the long day and were still carrying water we wanted to finish. Another small village held a snoozing pilgrim in the foyer of a chapel and we continued on as the skies were growing darker.
After passing through more forest and more open fields, the skies opened up and lightening shook the air when we were still a half mile from Berducedo. I threw on my rain jacket because I was sure my umbrella would not withstand the wind and mom quickly donned her poncho. It had been quite the long day and we were ready to be done as we quickly became drenched.
Arriving at the Casa Marques pension around 5:30pm, the restaurant had just closed but we were able to check in and look for mom’s backpack which had been left in the albuergue section of the pension. Debating when we made reservations, I opted to pay a little more and get us a room upstairs with actual beds. It was a nice reward after our long day and most of our friends from Samblismo had done the same.
We settled in and took showers while we waited for the restaurant to open back up at 7pm. We were joined by Denmark and Germany but most of the other pilgrim were new to us. We all kept the one waiter busy! I had the pilgrim meal of steak and fries and mom had chicken and Russian potato salad. I saw others enjoying ice cream bars for dessert but thought I would ask for something homemade and they found a delicious fresh cheese/ricotta thing with local honey for me. The benefits of speaking Spanish.
The fog had rolled in for the evening and we were off to bed around 9pm. The pension felt like an old school house with a long, narrow hallway and wood doors with square opaque glass windows. However, the bathrooms were good-sized and homey, complete with towels and hairdryers. And I will note, we had the best wi-fi so far for our trip. My feet ached enough to take some pain reliever and we talked about our goal for the next day. I had thought we would have a shorter day but it looked like it would be another long one with more elevation gain to get to Grandes de Salime. We had an option to stop short if needed and decided we would play it by ear.
The lights did not come on until after 7am, so a few of us were shuffing in the dark trying not to make noise. My mom startles so much if I wake her I am afraid I am going to give her a heart attack. I giggle, she gets mad. It is usually better to let her wake up on her own. I prefer getting an early start but leaving in the dark increases your chances of leaving something behind.
I ate a banana and slices of ham out in the lobby while Mom was getting up and I ended up chatting with German Kurt again. I asked him where he had finally decided to stay tonight and he gave me an evasive answer like he didn’t want me to know. I thought it was weird because I had already told him where we were going to stay tonight so it wasn’t like I was going to be taking a bed he wanted.
Mom was still dealing with her muddy shoes, most pilgrims were putting theirs on inside the hotel and dropping a trail of clod bits as they drudged out. I opted to carry mine out wearing my flip flops and sit in the patio across from the hotel to wait for Mom. The surrounding buildings were surrounded in low level clouds and I had my rain jacket on for a bit of warmth.
Waiting outside, a tour group was getting ready to depart the hotel with their day packs. Maybe another lesser known camino intersects here? Weathered buildings mixed among the remodeled. What would be considered derelict here in the States, they sat with For Rent or Sale signs waiting for someone to show a little love and transform them into an albuergue, shop or home.
Mom emerged from the hotel around 8am, met me at the patio and we hiked back up the hill of Tineo. La Griega was not open yet or I would have stopped by for a quick coffee. Continuing on, we took a left at the familiar yellow arrow and rejoined the Camino. I really hated leaving Tineo, it is one of the towns I hope to return to some day. You know you have fallen in love with a place when you walk away feeling like you are leaving something behind and realize it is probably just a piece of yourself.
The morning fog still hovered but we could tell it would burn off in a few hours. A playful homeowner on the outskirts of town had a couple of mannequins made up to look like peregrinas out on their walk and a dormant nativity scene wrapped in plastic sheeting. Sometimes I wonder what the locals must think of all of us walking through and at least a few of them must enjoy connecting with pilgrims.
The Camino is lined with chapels, fountains dedicated to saints with votives and places to drop coins, plenty of reminders that this is a spiritial journey. One such stop, the fuente of San Juan, met us as we left the city limits with its overlook and picnic tables. We paused momentarily to fill water bottles and meditate on the day. A couple of young peregrinas passed us and I commented to Mom that they had been at the albuergue our first night in Escamplero.
As the Camino climbed out of Tineo, it circled and offered a view back at the town as it clings to the side of hill as the clouds burned off and the skies turned blue. Spider webs glistened on barbed wire fence that kept a herd of goats on a farm’s grass. Coppertoned roof tiles dotted the countryside like a patchwork quilt.
The path narrowed and went from pavement to soil, moving into the forest known by many as the “green tunnel” that lined the pastures allowing us occasional viewpoints across the valley. Some of the stone walls held signs like “Que Verde Es Mi Valle” and an old medieval song made into a cryptogram.
We leapfrogged with several pilgrims who had been at our hostel the night before, including a couple I dubbed Denmark. I had pointed out some sunscreen on Joanna’s face earlier in the morning as she was trying to rub it all in. They seemed like a friendly sort and we would encounter them often in the rest our journey.
There were more hand painted camino signs as we continued on dirt tracks through farmland lined with lupine, daisies and blackberry. We saw the beginning of windmills on the ridges off in the distance and blue layers of mountains for miles. Horses ran through meadows and colored plastic wrapped hay bales decorated plowed fields. Our day was filled with lots of up and down but nothing too steep.
The next few miles before Campiello where we planned to stop for lunch was road walking n a narrow shoulder. Traffic was minimal, thankfully, but it didn’t keep me from being nervous about a truck rumbling by. We would pass into a town, take a few steps, and then walk out of the town limits. Berruguso, Las Tiendas (which really didnt have any tiendas). So many fields of young corn but we have yet to have anything with corn offered in restaurants. All for cattle?
We stopped for lunch and ice cream in Campiello around 12:30pm, recognizing more pilgrims. There was a store but it was more like a convenience shop. A few gluten free items like crackers and fruit lined the shelves. If you needed to, there would be enough to stock your pack for the next two days.
Lunch as delicious eggs, potatoes and chorizo. Agua con gas is our favorite cold drink to order, next to cider of course, so we had several of those. I loved how deep orange the egg yolks were! Another cure note, Audrey Hepburn and Elvis greet you on the bathroom doors.
More road walking lay ahead and darker clouds gathered overhead. Deeply rutted dirt paths with grass running down the middle took us through more green tunnel. And there was most certainly more mud.
Borres was a mud pit until we walked up through the angled town to the road above on am maze of streets. The albuergue appeared to be up a grass track but you had to go into town first to pay. I was thankful this was not our stop for the night. The fountains ran muddy and warned not potable.
We walked through a logged section of the Camino dotted with heather and passed the junction with Los Hospitales. The Camino then split in a T. We went left first but then doubled back to go right along a tree lined wire fence to reach the albuergue in Samblismo.
Quite a few familiar faces: Denmark, Germany, and the two pilgrims from La Doriga who turned out to be teachers from Spain who take a week long trip together every year. They were doing a loop from Oviedo and had already climbed over Los Hospitales and were traveling back on the lower route for the return.
I had been looking forward to this albuergue but found it less than I anticipated because of our experience with David in Bodenaya. Not bad but not as family as I thought it would be. Especially when I commented to Kurt about how he had told me he didn't know where they would be staying tonight when I asked this morning after I having told him about this place. He only chuckled and waved his hand and muttered something about wanting to make sure he had a spot. What??
Making reservations had us not worrying about a bed but meant the clothes line was full when it was time to do laundry. There was drying room in the horreo so we did get to climb up and see what that was about. I know, it’s only 5 days of hiking and I’m doing laundry twice but when backpacking at home you aren’t hanging around as many people at the end of the day and it feels good to be in clean clothes with all the social we are getting on the Camino. If its available, I’m doing it.
The albuergue had lovely white walled rooms with tiny bathrooms. There was not much to do in Samblismo except sit in chairs on the patio and enjoy each other’s company. For most of us the next day would be long so we were resting up both physically and emotionally.
Dinner was another homemade ensalada mixta and lentil soup. Most folks were in bed by 8:30pm and we were no exception. I sure was glad I had earplugs and eye mask! For the first time this trip, we called in to a pack service to have mom’s pack picked up in the morning and sent ahead to be at the pension in Berducedo we had reserved. She would just carry a small day pack for the long day over Los Hospitales.
The albuergue filled with the sound of opera as we woke with the smell of coffee wafting up from the kitchen. Our laundry was neatly folded and pilgrims gathered around the long table for the last time to eat and to say goodbye.
After most of the pilgrims had set off on the Camino, I chatted with David as I waited for mom to come downstairs. We talked about some of his previous guests and all the stories stuck to the rafters of the small living area. I didn’t want to leave and there was another young pilgrim who was planning to stay longer before heading in the opposite direction toward Oviedo (she had already been to Santiago).
We were the last westbound peregrinos to leave at 8:45am, pausing for pictures and smiles with David. There was a soft mist on the hills and more cattle grazing for breakfast in fields. Cow bells serenaded as we passed a variety of rosy rhodies. I observed that the dairy cows in this part of Asturias were emaciated, the villas had a feeling of poverty or leaner times.
There was a very nice rest stop outside one such villa, El Rincon del Peregrino. We stopped and discovered a sello (stamp) for our passport plus a nice indoor seating area with vending machines. Most pilgrims passed by but a swiss peregrino stopped in to grab coffee from one of the machines and we chatted about Swiss hiking.
One of the benefits of finding a stamp early is that it takes a little pressure off a pilgrim’s day. At the pilgrim’s office in Santiago, you will be asked to show stamps from your journey. Some say two stamps a day, others just one. Knowing we would always have one at our stop for the night, having a second from a rest stop meant we didn’t necessarily have to stop at a restaurant or other place during the day. It was like insurance.
Continuing on, we noticed tiny snails in the cracks of the Camino markers and abandoned stone structures tucked in green gulches as we wandered the weave of farm roads linking these small villages. Asturia has a rustic feel of untouched countryside. We often walked alone in tranquil solitude without seeing other pilgrims.
It wasn’t long, though, before the mood of the day changed and those old farm roads turned into a sea of mud. MUD, MUD, MUD. And more mud.
Now, you may think I am exaggerating but this was the worst mud I have ever had to walk through. And I walked the first 16k of the North Coast Trail in Canada. Unlike other muddy trails where you can walk around on the terrain surrounding it or find a rock or log to walk bridge a puddle, these trails were lined with barbed wire and stacked stone wall. AKA, nowhere to go but through.
Most pilgrims had boots on and after trying ineffectively to stay clean, were reluctantly just drudging through the muck in an effort to not be the last to the public albuergues in Tineo. Those with trail runners on like my mom and me were taking a much leisurely pace, attempting to use any part of the trail not submerged in slime and slop. Reservations also helped.
Needless to say it was painfully slow. And when I say painful, there was more than one encounter with the barbwire. And my mom was so worried about getting her shoes the least bit dirty that she was taking even longer. If it was possible to “scramble” up the side of a rock wall and skim along next to barbwire while clinging to a few sparse trees, we did it. I managed to escape without completely submerging a shoe but my mom was not so lucky.
We arrived on the outskirts of Tineo just before 2pm, a delightful town built on the slope below the Camino. There was a large public park first, filled with picnic tables and a walking path. And a bar playing loud 80s music. Then the Camino turned on a scenic paved lane and diverted with the yellow arrow to have us snake down into town on narrow cobblestone streets.
We passed a small bar with carved wooden tables cut to stay level on the angled street and a sign that said open all day. A young woman outside sweeping greeted us as we walked by and I decided then we would return to visit her place for our meal.
At some point in the day I had called ahead to reserve us beds in the albuergue that is housed below the 4-star hotel in Tineo (Palacio de Meras). This was one of the reasons we could take a slower pace today. That and the fact that it was only a 7.5 mile day. Knowing our day over Los Hospitales would be long, we opted for two days to get there from Bodenaya rather than have two long days back to back.
Everyone had been in a hurry but our albuergue was not full. After paying for our beds in the front lobby, we walked around the hotel to a side entrance and into another nice lobby. One wall was filled with shoe racks and newspapers, I was the only pair of shoes/boots not completely covered in mud. There was the sound of other pilgrims showering off and chatting with loved ones on the phone.
We had been assigned bunkbeds and settled in near the back of a large dorm room. Each set of double bunkbeds had lockers and a curtain for privacy. I waited in the lobby for awhile as Mom worked on her shoes, she was quite upset they were so dirty. There was supposedly internet but not a good spot for catching it so I spent my time going over pictures and calling ahead to the albuergue in Sambalismo for reservations. Even with a data package, reception can be minimal when you finally arrive at an albuergue.
A little after 3pm we wandered back up the hill to eat at La Griega, the quaint bar we had passed on the way down. To my dismay, it wasn’t open! Was this just one of those Spanish quirks? To say you were open all day but then not actually be? With my heart set on eating here, I called the number listed to ask when she might be open again and the young woman answered. She quickly told me she had just ran to the store to pick up some things and would be back momentarily. Yay!
Our lunch (dinner) at La Griega is still one of my favorite stops on the Camino Primitivo. The young womans’ name was Yaiza and she runs the bar herself. She offered Mom and me pilgrim goodie bags while we waited for our meals and her dad stopped by to visit and chat. I can’t tell you how much being able to speak Spanish enhanced my time in Spain!
We sat awhile enjoying our ensalada mixta and sandwich vegetal, watching more weary pilgrims stream downhill to find their resting place for the night. Yaiza had two peregrino journals to sign, one for her bar and another was part of an effort by the local establishments on this section of the Camino to gather suggestions and feedback from pilgrims. Obviously, that one was filled with stories about the mud coming into town! She also had the cut yellow arrow pins for us and talked about working with David in Bodenaya and other albuergues to enhance the pilgrim expereince.
Yaiza’s dad talked with pride about his daughter owning the bar and the benefits of living in a small town where everyone knows everyone. I mentioned that we wanted to buy postcards and stamps and he was soon weaving me through the cobble streets, down stairs and around corners to the right stores. Tabacos would soon be our go-to store for stamps!
After our time at la Griega, we wandered downhill again to the albuergue and followed our usual nighttime routine of showering and hanging wet laundry. Normally we might do this upon first arrival but I was so hungry I had talked mom into going to eat first. More pilgrims wandered in but beds still seemed to be unclaimed.
Around 6pm we set out to explore the town and visit the grocery store to pick up things to eat for the next two days. The guidebook said that there would not be a place to do so until after Los Hospitales so we wanted to make sure we had enough to get us over the mountains. I still had a small can of tuna and other snacks from Oviedo but needed more sustenance.
For a small town the grocery store had a nice variety of healthy items, especially if you wanted to cook your own food. There was even spiraled zucchini noodles! I found plain nuts, olives, snack radishes and pork rinds. If someone wanted to buy gluten free snacks like crackers and bread they could. Mom and I wandered a bit looking for things that sounded good before heading out and walking Tineo a bit further.
I had passed a carneceria earlier so I stopped by again for some sliced ham. Ham is a HUGE deal in Spain and you could go crazy just deciding which ones to try. One entire case would be filled with just ham, ranging from a very low end to a very pricey end (well over 45 euro a pound). I opted to try ham somewhere in the middle each time, asking for about a quarter pound sliced.
There was a large bus station perched on the slope of the town with a playground on its roof. We peeked into a small chapel-cemetery combo nearby and then once again climbed the hill back up to the albuergue around 7:30pm. I loved the tall, colorful town buildings perched at an angle that give Tineo such character.
I chatted a bit with some of the other pilgrims, including one I named German Kurt. He was a loud, older-than-me gentleman traveling with two other pilgrims. He seemed to want to know everyone’s business and where they were going to be traveling the next day. Since I already had reservations, I shared with him the albuergue in Sambalismo as he as still deciding where to stay.
The lights in the dorm rooms seemed to automatic and stayed on late. The curtains helped and luckily no other pilgrims took the top bunks in our little cubby. Snoring echoed across the larger room but we were soon able to drift off to sleep.
Footnote: I want to share an incident during our time in the grocery store that was the beginning of another layer to my trip on the Camino with my mother separate from the beautiful scenery and people we met. It would be disingenuous to not include this because I am still processing our time together in Spain and how things did not go as I had thought they would.
After wandering the aisles for awhile, each of us looking for foods we craving, we became separated. I didn’t think about it but as I was wrapping up my shopping, I looked up towards the front of the store to see my mom standing in line to check out. I quickly went back over to grab another bag of nuts and went up to the front.
She was not there. Hmmm. I got in line and figured I would just wait by the front door for her. I didn’t think she would have left without me but who knows? Tineo was a small town. Anyway, I checked out and stood in front of the checkout stands and waited for her.
Soon she came up an aisle from the back of the store and I waved at her. She looked at me in anger and shook her hand at me. What? She paid for her things and when she came up to me she yelled at me for leaving her. I laughed a little and told her I hadn’t, I was right here. She went on to tell me how she couldn’t find me and she had been scared. In that moment, it seemed like a surreal experience and I downplayed it, telling her I would not have left her and why would she think that?
Looking back now, maybe we should have talked about it more. She had really been mad (scared). As a 50 year old woman, it is not a thing that my 72 year old mother tells me that she had been scared. This was not the mother I know. The one who taught ME that hiking solo was perfectly acceptable. It turns out, this would be a reoccurring experience for our time in Spain.