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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.
Antonio had set out a self-serve breakfast for us in the kitchen and I was joined by two other peregrinos who had slept upstairs of the main building (I would find out later in our journey they were two teachers who were long time friends that traveled together each summer for a week).
Our breakfast was the typical coffee, ham, olive oil, bread. For some reason, it was always the best coffee, ham, olive oil and bread! I had asked about bananas the night before and Antonio told me to just take them from the small cooler in the lounge. After consulting with one of the peregrinos on where the compost or recycle bin might be (there wasn’t one), I brought mom some thing to eat.
I had guessed correctly that my clothes would be damp but I put them back on anyway. Mom was slower to dress, she was not used to putting damp clothes back on. I told her it looked like today was going to be warm and muggy and there would be rain anyway. So far our weather was similar to a warm day in the mountains back home. There were more than a few days on the PCT that I had to put my wet clothes back on and hope they would dry as I walked.
We left to misty skies around 8:30am and played leapfrog with others who had left Grado and San Juan this morning with a much earlier start. I soon donned my bright orange umbrella and my mom her poncho, I was glad I had tights on under my skirt and a long-sleeve wool shirt. Layers are best on the Camino.
There were lemon yellow lilies lining the road into Cornellana, a tranquil town whose main attraction is a working nunnery. As we arrived outside town around 9:30am, we took a lovely walkway along the river that circumvents the town and arrives directly at the nunnery and leads up and out of town. It was too early to visit the nunnery, mom was rather disappointed. I reassured her there would be no shortage of such places in our time in Spain. Here the Camino climbs up a windy road and through a few more tiny villas.
We continued to be passed by rushing pilgrims, more than a few doubling back because they had missed arrows. The Camino twists and turns, you have to be diligent. We stopped to eat a snack at chapel in Quintana and walked along ferns growing out of stone walls. A cute set of honey pots declared in Spanish: “Borrow what you need, give what you can”.
At a small roadside stop tucked in the alcove of a business there were vending machines filled with small snacks and beverages and a Camino journal to sign. We were joined by a set of twins from Spain, a brother and sister, both decked in large dark ponchos. We exchanged stories and soon parted not to see them again.
Slugs slithered across our path and dangled from tall grasses as we made our way through a lush green valley towards Salas, the next larger town. There were patterns in everything: stone walkways, gardens and gates, it was hard not to stop and take a plethora of pictures.
It was a climb again up to Salas, where we arrived around 1:30pm for a cold drink and snack in a small bar. There wasn’t food to order at this hour so we mostly ate snacks in our packs. It looked like quite a few pilgrims who had passed us seemed to be staying here.
We called ahead to Bodenaya, and spoke with David who initially said that he was first come, first serve. He asked me how many in my party and I mentioned that I was traveling with my mom. He asked how old. When I told him 72, he declared he would save us a spot. Yes, I used the senior card but at least it wasn’t my idea. I had really been looking forward to staying at his albuergue but since it was the only place in Bodenaya, getting there with my mom and not having room would not have been a good thing.
We didn’t linger long in Salas as we still had more than 4.5 miles to go to Bodenaya. We started out of town and were soon on a wide grassy road through forest. Rusted logging machinery caught our attention and an abandoned slough diverted water across the “trail” we had to rock hop over.
There was a new albuergue with open glass windows alongside the road, it’s owner calling out to passing pilgrims. Then we left the forest for more road and more road. As the rain picked up, Mom and I fortified with chocolate and passed the famous infinity sign with peregrino walking as we made our way under another overpass.
We finally arrived in Bodenaya just before 5pm and David welcomed us into his albuergue. The first room was were we left all our wet things and gathered around a long table in the main room for tea. David would later tell us that this was where the animals used to sleep and the living quarters were upstairs.
David made things feel like home and family. He served a family style dinner after we had all taken showers and shared a story of how we were all family now. Several of the pilgrims at the table we had passed or been passed by earlier in our trip and we had a chance to get to know them more deeply. There was the father son duo we had seen earlier and a young 19 year old French woman who had started at her village in the middle of France walking to Santiago by herself. So many different stories and reasons for walking the Camino.
There were signs on the wall such as “Today I Choose To BE Happy” “Hoy Escojo Ser Feliz” and there were stickers and pins all over the rafters from previous pilgrims. I left a PCT sticker so if you see it there you will know it is mine! After a delicious dinner of pasta salad, hummus, soup, bread (all homemade and vegetarian), David treated everyone to little yellow arrow pin to wear for the rest of our journey. He even gave me one to bring home to my son as a way to encourage him to maybe take his own journey someday.
David took time to talk with everyone about the next stages using a wall map of the Camino. Where to stay before the junction with Los Hospitales and the differences between the two routes. He also had us come to a consensus on our wake up time in the morning before we went to bed.
David had saved the one separate room for Mom and I and I was glad we did not have to sleep in bunk beds. It was a little hard later that night after everyone was in bed because I was talking with mom about our plans for the next day and she couldn’t hear me when I whispered so I probably spoke loud enough for everyone out in the common area to hear. Ugh, I think I am that loud American.
My stay at David’s albuergue was everything I had hoped it would be and one of our favorite moments. David even did all our laundry as we slept! Little did we know, however, the adventure that tomorrow would hold for us.