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 and began our walk out of Oviedo under a gray morning around 7:45am. The cool air was welcome but we hoped it might clear a bit for views before too long.
When leaving the town and beginning the Camino Primitivo, one has two popular choices for their first day. It is 13km (7.8 miles) to the small pueblo of Escamplero or 26km (15.6 miles) to the larger pueblo of Grado both of which have albuergues (hostels) or pensiones (more like a relaxed hotel). I figured the shorter day was a good option and would allow us to take a small side trip up to two World Heritage UNESCO sites on Mount Naranco as we made our way out of town (adding about 6.2km or 3.7 miles). This would be a total of about 11.5 miles for our first day.
The day before I made sure we walked the official Camino Primitivo route from the cathedral to our pension (Romero) so that when we left this morning we could just continue on it out of town. To take the side trip, we left the route before town ends and headed up hill through a winding neighborhood that gave us views back down into the heart of the city.
Clouds covered the summit of Mount Naranco as we made our way from sidewalks to road to a wooded path to visit both the Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel del Lillo iglesias nestled on the slopes of the mountain that has a height of just over 2,000ft. We arrived too early in the morning for either to be open (if a church is going to be open in Spain, it usually isn't until 10am or later), but it was interesting to walk around them and admire the architecture. Both were built in the 9th century and are in varying states of restoration (see uploaded photos).
By 9am we were walking back down and reconnecting with the Camino to continue out of town. It was very easy to follow the route with the multiple bronze shells in the sidewalks at every junction and concrete markers once you left were further away from downtown. There was only ONE time that there should have been a shell and wasn't (crossing Calle Uria) but I have an app that I could check to make sure we turned the right direction and found a shell further up the street. In the region of Asturias, any bronze shell or concrete marker points the way by following the direction where the rays come together. Road signs and the region of Galicia is another story but that comes later...
Around 10:30am we reached our first stage marker with a map of the towns along the Camino and services provided in each one (just a bar versus a place to stay, for example). The area was still within the outskirts of town with apartments and urban parks but we could look ahead and see we were moving towards the countryside.
For me, it was at this point that walking a Camino in Spain became real. Up to this point, it was all something planned and imagined. Now I would actually be walking it and seeing how it would unfold for myself. Would it be as I had seen my mind, would it be more or even less?
For the next hour or so, we wandered up and along a mix f overgrown gravel and dirt roads that intersected wide open fields of grass and early corn and potato. Every once and awhile the path would connect with a route through a green tunnel in the forest lined with centuries old stone walls pocked with ferns and succulents. As we broke out onto another farm road, layered green hills rolled out in the distance dotted with tiled farm houses and weathered wooden barns. An occasional horse would look up from munching or a cowbell would ring from up on a slope above us.
Our first stamp of the day came from a tiny chapel as we passed through Llamaxuga, one of what would be many miniscule villages we would encounter on our journey. Nothing more than a few cobbled homes at least a century or two old, a chapel and a fountain if we were lucky with random blue and yellow shells attached to the sides of buildings to show us the way through so we didn't end up in someone's open barn next to a tractor.
There was a covered porch in front of the chapel, named Capilla Del Carmen, and we stopped and took off our packs. I had seen a small wooden door next to the closed doors of the chapel itself that said, "Sello-Stamp" and an arrow pointing. Opening the door, there was stamp and stamp pad with a little plastic box for leaving donations for the chapel. Smart. Many of the chapels and iglesias we would see would offer a stamp and/or have a small slot for donations. The Camino is not only a walk of faith but a great way to leave behind some lesser change you might be carrying in your pack for restoration or flowers for the altar on Sunday. Adding an accessible stamp ensured you would have more visitors than a chapel without. A bonus table and chairs definitely made an appealing stop even if you had only been walking for a short distance.
My mom had been fiddling with her pack up to this point and would be for a good portion of our first week on the trail. She had not walked much with it (maybe once) and was getting used to weight distribution and where things would go for easy access when she needed them. These are things that someone like myself who has spent a lot of time backpacking has dialed in but it was new for her. I was feeling bad as I had suggested she switch to the lighter Gossamer Gear pack over the smaller High-Tec one she had planned to bring because it seemed to be a nuisance but she eventually did get the hang of things.
Like many of the chapels we would see, you could peek through barred square openings in the main doors and look inside at the rows of simple wooden pews and decorated altar. Usually someone in town will have the keys and if you want, you can ask to sit in prayer inside. Most people, like us, would take a moment outside to be in silence with prayer or precious hopes for the Camino walk. Often there would be a posted prayer on the wall, sometimes geared towards a pilgrims journey.
Several more pilgrims came and went as we were there. As with the beginning of all long-distance trails, you could tell there was a mix of day hikers and pilgrims bound for Santiago. Pack size would vary or they would soon turn around while the rest of us continued.
It took us about two more hours to reach Escamplero, our stop for the day. The last mile or so was on road, some of which was a bit sketchy as you walk a thin shoulder. I suppose we were going to have to get used to that and it seemed most driver's would give us a wide berth.
In Escamplero, there is not much more than a restaurant with a pension above it (El Tendejon de Fernando) and a public albuergue managed by the same restaurant. Mom and I found a white plastic table on the patio in front of the restaurant and sat down. First, we each ordered a drink and toasted to making our first day. The view from here looked out over the valley and I could see how this would make a fine tourist stop on a road trip. It was Sunday and the place was filled with families and couples enjoying the afternoon (at about 2pm).
We had not made reservations ahead of time and inquired about the pension which turned out to be full so we paid 6 euro each and received a set of disposable sheets to take with us to the albuergue which was a little further up the road. I then asked about ordering dinner and was told we had a little while to order as they stopped serving at 5:30pm (it was about quarter to 4). This was a common occurrence for our trip, a restaurant or bar would be open until about 4 or 5pm, then close for a few hours to open again around 7 or 8pm. If you wanted to eat out, it was before or after this time frame. We would often eat at 2pm or so and then again around 7 or 8pm.
After enjoying some local dishes like fabada asturiana and having fun with the cider "machine" that poured my cider into my glass for me, we walked over to the albuergue to settle in for the night. I will make a note here before leaving the restaurant. If you have ever read a Rick Steves book, you know he will tell you that if you don't want to pay for your water at a restaurant abroad, you have to specifically order it "from the tap". Well, I did that only once in Spain and it was here at this restaurant. Let's just say a laugh escaped from my waiter and then he said, "Okay," like I was definitely some tourist. I never asked for it that way again. Even though the water is totally fine in Spain (first world country) everyone gets their water out of a bottle unless they are at home. As a solution, I usually ordered "agua con gas" (seltzer water) to justify paying for my water each time and it was a break from the water we were drinking while walking.
Our albuergue was basic but clean and relatively full for the night. We got there early enough to score two bottom bunks. This is where our routine that we would have for most of our trip began. We would unpack the things we needed for sleep like a liner bag, toiletries and sleep clothes. There would be a shower and washing of a few items of clothing like socks, underwear and shirt so they could hang and dry out along with the towel we carried. Then the rest of day was spent relaxing before going to bed around 9pm depending on how much there was to do in town which for Escamplero was not a lot. I think some of our roommates had gone back into the restaurant/bar but I opted to just relax at the albuergue for the night. I did chat with a couple across from us who were both carrying the Six Moon umbrella and I wanted to know if they had brought it with them. They had but had checked their bags. I was a little jealous but sure that my department store purchase would be okay for what I needed it for on this journey.
Before we went to bed, I talked with my mom about our distance for the next day. To walk to the next town with lodging was Grado (13km/7.8m) or we could continue a bit past to La Doriga (22.2km/13.3m). Our plan had always been to try and average 12 miles a day and not stopping in Grado would help us stay "off stage" as most people stop there. We decided we would see how we felt once we got to Grado and then call ahead to La Doriga and see if reservations were possible
I’m lying here in a bed at our pension, staring at the ceiling in anticipation for the beginning of our walk on the Camino Primitivo in the morning. Sleep will most likely evade me!
My mom and I have spent the last two days acclimating to the time change here in Spain and exploring the city of Oviedo which sits above Madrid near the coast in an area known as Asturia.
I’ve added a Spanish SIM card to my phone, stocked up on some food from the grocery store I know I can eat and picked up a cheap umbrella because I wasn’t brave enough to take my chances with my Six Moon and TSA.
I follow a Paleo lifestyle, avoid nightshades for arthritis relief and have IBS and good intolerances. I’m a mess. I love food but it doesn’t always love me! I am going to enjoy the food in Spain as much as I can but do my best to not spend the whole time in the bathroom. That means carrying more food than your average pilgrim might be cause restaurants and bars abound the length of the route.
My pack is heavier than I would like but lighter than most, I suppose. Somewhere around 11-12lbs before food and water. This last month I found myself weighing grams and doing my best to “leave my fears behind” but in the end decided I’ve done the ultralight thing before and don’t want to bring that competitiveness with me to Spain.
We had an amazing time touring the city and getting our first stamp at the Cathedral de San Salvador that marks the beginning of our journey. If you don’t know about Caminos de Santiago, you carry a credential with you and receive stamps along the way as proof you walked so you can receive a certificate in the end.
Last night after enjoying a cider that this region is famous for, we attended a pilgrim’s mass that blesses those who walk the path of a Camino. It was a wonderful way to christen our journey and a reminder that those who walk are meant to do so with a spiritual goal in mind.
I know for me, I not only hope to walk in faith but be open to gifts of direction for my life. Similar to my hike in the Pacific Crest Trail, I want to learn more about myself, what I am capable of and meet people from around the world.
Tomorrow we will get up and make our way through and out of town following bronze shell markers with a goal of about 12 miles for our first day. The weather is forecasted for mostly cloudy and a high of about 70 degrees. Just right, I say.
We had one little hiccup here at the hostel, the attendant who cleaned our room threw our main (Smart) water bottles away while we were out. Ugh. Luckily, we each have a collapsible Nalgene and smaller bottles from beverages we have had in town. May seem like a petty thing, but I like the Smart bottles sturdiness and ease of getting out of the pockets of my pack while hiking. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now.
Well, time to turn the light off at an attempt at sleep. Buen camino.
There are more pictures in the photo section of this journal. 🙂
Well, Mom and are sitting here in the airport with less than an hour until we depart.
I had planned to take time this morning to write up a lengthy post about getting ready these last few weeks and days for the trip but you know what they say about having plans.
Last minute throwing belongings into my pack and abandoning items on my to-do list mean that I will get on the plane looking forward to an amazing adventure and leave behind all that I can not control.
Ever since my trip to Costa Rica in 2009 when the day before my flight I got a call that my 12 year old son was in a New Mexico state patrol station waiting for the great grandparents to come from Texas in time before they closed and had to turn him over to child protective services because his dad had been picked up on a DUI from the airport, I have a general dread as vacation departures approach.
This time’s stress once again involved my now 22 year old son but thankfully not law enforcement. Actually, I guess it did but that was the least of it.
So, I’ll do my best to weave into my daily posts and pictures details about all the things folks enjoy like gear weights and such as I share our journey. Along with the drama of the last few weeks. Stay tuned!
One month to go!
Let me share a little about my mom and I.
I am the oldest of 6 and we have been a camping and hiking family as long as I can remember. My mom was one of the first women I personally knew who hiked solo. In fact, before I went and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State solo, my sister and I used to give my mom a bad time for doing it!
My mom lives about 8 blocks from me and has for 20 years (this year). As a single parent for most of those years, she has always been there for me. She visits regularly, weeds my yard because I am too busy hiking and makes sure I remember to recycle properly.
In 2008 or so, I began my foray into backpacking with women from my church, most of them in their 50s and 60s. Years and miles behind them, they had so much experience to share. Because of them and their encouragement, I was soon backpacking solo and heading off on long distance adventures.
In 2015, I took my mom on her first backpacking trip (picture above in Olympic NP) with some other ladies from church. We had so much fun! She had borrowed a HUGE pack from my sister that was almost as big as her and soon after my siblings and I chipped in to buy her her own pack.
I mentioned in an earlier post about it being 2018 that we first started talking about doing a Camino together but thinking back now it was probably 2016 when I was laid off from work. I remember going with her to a talk in Seattle about the Camino Frances that got us thinking about when we might go to walk it ourselves. I ended up going back to work sooner than anticipated so the trip was delayed.
My mom is retired and I work 30 hours a week in a school (read teacher's schedule) that is perfect for a hiking lifestyle. I will be 49 this year and she is a young 72. In addition to hiking, she is also the reason I am involved in trail work with the PCTA and WTA. She has been maintaining trails for as long as I can remember! This last summer I got to help replace the monument at the terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail on the Canadian border which was an AMAZING experience.
There are many reasons I am looking forward to this trek in addition to visiting Spain and doing it with my mom. Aside from hiking, we are both looking forward to the history and culture. All those centuries old churches and artwork. My mom was a art history major in college and I can just imagine how exciting it will be to see historic works in person. We will be making time for museums like the Prado in Madrid, too!
But the most important reason is relational. If you are like me and have a mom that is working on those "Golden Years", you know that as a daughter (and maybe as a son, too), there is something about seeing your mom age that changes how you see yourself, too. A jumbled mix of fierce love, respect, fear and frustration. The beginning of a role reversal. A shift in the universe.
I will admit, I am not always as patient with my mom as I should be. It is hard to see someone who has always been your rock begin to falter in unwelcome ways. Forgetfulness, a slower pace and an ever-so-slight frailness are more than tiny irritations but reminders that we won't have our parents forever. And maybe that we, too, are not immortal.
Not only am I looking forward to making memories of a lifetime with my mom in Spain on the Camino, I await our trip together as a way to spend time within our relationship. For me to be more patient and enjoy a slower pace. An opportunity to appreciate all there is to appreciate. To connect with my mom in a more meaningful way doing something we both love to do.
The Camino Primitivo will be different from other long distance hikes I have done as we will be hiking town to town. It is not a wilderness experience but more of a cultural one. I am looking forward to experiencing Spain in this way, learning about the people and life as we walk through each village and landscape. I have to admit I am NOT looking forward to the amount of road walking, but the Camino Primitivo has less than the other routes. This is another reason I picked it.
In thinking about how to get in miles each day or week in preparation, my plan is to use my feet as much as possible. I have been taking the bus to work which requires about 2 miles of walking in the morning and then walking home from work which is about 7 miles. Some days I walk to the gym after work first and then the bus (3.5 miles). In general, walking whenever I can. With gas prices the way they are going, it has been nice not to drive my car at least 4 days a week (I work M-Th).
As I walk the areas of my town, a town I have lived in most of my life, I think about how I am traveling to Spain to soak in the details there. I am conscious of the fact that by leaving my car at home, I am doing the same thing here in my own town. How often do we do that, notice the little things? From the bright azaleas blooming, to wild rabbits on the court steps, to the patterns in the sidewalk. Sure, from the car I notice if a business has changed hands or construction projects. But once moving at a slower pace, I see so much more.
When we go on a hike, we are in amazement of the nature around us. The wildflowers, the fauna, the terrain at our feet. We feel connected. But we are not limited to this experience in the outdoors. Those things exist in our urban environments, too. I am excited for this in Spain and I am enjoying it in my hometown, as well.