Sunday, 21 October 2012

Back Home

Back home and now time to reflect on my Camino Norte. For me there is no doubt that the Norte is tougher than the Camino Frances. This is in two senses - firstly because the frequency and heights of the climbs are greater and because the walking stages tend to be longer. The stage are longer in part because of the relative scarcity of inhabited places in some parts but mainly owing to the paucity of available accommodation at times. The currently available UK publications are poor and we used a guide published by the Spanish tourist board which came with an accommodation guide that is updated yearly. Unfortunately, although the guide was mostly ok the accommodation info was often inaccurate, with places closed and many places not mentioned at all. As has often been said on the forums the German guide appears to be the most comprehensive but it was by no means faultless. We had mostly good weather with only two days with drizzle during the first part of the Camino. However, the last week was overcast and the last two days had heavy rain. In fact the final 20km were walked in torrential rain with rivers of water at our feet. No real problem for the hiking itself and the poncho I bought was excellent. I would certainly take it again as it both kept me and my rucksack dry and because it is long the rain only dripped onto my waterproof leggings. 
Notwithstanding the relative toughness I thoroughly enjoyed by Camino and I liked the relative scarcity of other pilgrims. I think the most I saw at any one time was about 20 and that was in one AdP. For many days we often saw no others hikers and often spent time in AdPs with less than 3 other people and twice we were the only two in the AdP. In general, the food was better on the Norte in part because few places catered especially for pilgrims so we most had the standard 'menu of the day'. However, the almost total lack of vegetables was again a common theme. My impression is that there is more road work on the Norte but overall I think the general scenery was better. Especially, if like me you love to see the sea. It was good to get to Santiago de Compestella again and the extra day there gave a good opportunity to explore the city. My best discovery being the market that is about 500m behind the cathedral where not only are there a large range of stalls but also what looked to be a lovely fish food restaurant. Unfortunately, we had just had lunch so did not try it and it was not open in the evening. Despite the number of pilgrims and tourists in SdC there are plenty of places to stay especially if like us you don't want to stay in another AdP. In fact appeared to be as good a way as any to find a hotel and we found that it was no cheaper going to the hotel direct. However, there are many places that do not feature on the booking websites which is fine if you want to trudge around the city. Did some tourist shopping at the end and found one stand out place that sold high quality items and artwork called  Rosario Rey . It's not a cheap place but certainly a little different. I found one item that is a wooden ball cut in half. The are lines cut in each half so that when the ball is placed back together it would read 'otro camino interior' which means 'another internal path'. I liked this a lot as it really called to me, however, it was a little expensive. Notwithstanding this I went back again later and after some discussion I bought it!
For me the Caminos are a physical and mental challenge that I enjoy whilst giving me time away from life's normal demands. I am a competitive person but this is primarily against myself as I will always set myself challenges whether they be as simple as "climb this next hill without a stop" or "complete another Camino".  Lucky, I again stayed healthy with only a few minor aches and pains and only 1 little blister! Buon Camino till next time! 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

O Pedrouzo to SdC 21 km and the end! This time!

O Pedrouzo to SdC about 21km Got here! Rained most of the way which gave me a chance to try out my new upgraded poncho that cost 10€ from the agricultural shop in O Pedruzo - see photo. Pleasant and easy stroll which was mostly on tracks just a pity the visabilty was so poor. The only bit of colour on the way was the pilgrims markers in the airport perimeter fence.  We could not see the cathedral until we were near to the centre of the city. Booked accommodation last night which turns out to  be just ok so we will look for somewhere more to are liking later. In fact having just paid 40€ for the room we are definitely off to some where better. Other that that all I have to do before we go to the airport the day after tomorrow is get our pilgrim's certificates and the Santiago flan as well as some wool for Christa.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Biomorto to O Pedrouzo about 27km

Biomorto  to O Pedrouzo about 27km and only 20km to go!

A passable night in the AdP  but had to wear shorts t shirt and socks to keep warm. Woke up to torrential rain - oh goody. Thankfully, it reduced a bit before we went out and after we stopped at the first cafe for coffee and biscuits it relented to a steady drizzle. It did rain for most of today's hike and some of it was fairly heavy. However, my 1€ poncho did its job.  Finally met up with the Camino Frances which was immediately obvious as we saw a stream of walkers cross the path in front of us.  I think we saw more pilgrims in the last 8km of today's walk than we have seen for the previous 870kms! Another change is that the first AdP was full and although the second one had beds it was in the middle of nowhere with no eating facilities.  Walked on towards O Pedrouzo with a string of people in front and behind us and it was clear that the prices were increasing with the numbers.  However, found a good little place just on the edge of town that has washing and drying service which was pretty key to today's  needs so we booked in at 35€ for a double with on suite facilities. Nice place and there is somewhere to eat next door. Off to SdC tomorrow for the final 20km and as we had a couple of longer stages then originally planned it means we will be there a day early. As the forecast for tomorrow is thunder and hail with not much better for the day after it seems like a good thing!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Miraz to Biomorto 38km

Miraz to Boimorto 38km
Got off at 0800 after tea and toast heading for Sobrado dos Monxes and had an uneventful walk which started across a dartmoor like landscape and then tended again once more to woods and pasture. The big hills are supposed to be behind us now but contrary to our guide book we still keep having to climb the occasional one but they all seem small now. Arrived at Sobrado at about 1400 and the AdP that is part of the old monastery there was not open until 1630. The monastery itself did not look well cared for and we doubted that the sleeping arrangements would be much better. Neither of us fancied cold showers and vespers at 0500 so we tried a local hotel. However, they wanted 55€ for a room so we decided to walk on to Biomorto where we had been told there was a new AdP. It was just under 10km further but the weather was ok so it seemed like a good choice, especially as Sobrado itself looked pretty grim. More of the same as far as the walk went - mostly on good tracks through forest. About 3km out there was a sign for the AdP we wanted so all looked good. It's amazing how long the last 3km always seems to take! However, got to another sign next to the road and found the AdP about 100m down the track. It was locked! It's ok though because there was a number to phone. Called the mobile number given and after some stumbling (on my part) Spanish a young Spanish girl turned up 5mins later and let us it. The place looks almost brand new (see photos) and at 1730 while I am typing this we are the only two people here. A bit of confusion before the girl left about locking of the door as it appeared they had no spare keys to give us! After she kept trying to explain to us in Spanish and our clear lack of comprehension - beyond the fact that we knew she was talking about keys and time - she eventually called someone else and then showed us that she would lock the doors but we could leave and return via a large door like window!  That will do! Off for a stroll shortly to find the bar/cafe that is supposedly close by.  

Baamonde to Miraz only 16km

Baamonde to Miraz only 16km

A quiet night in the AdP without the French cacophony. Wanted to sleep in a bit this morning as we had less than 4 hrs to hike to Miraz but I woke up before 0700 in any case. Left the AdP at 0800 as there was little point going far in the dark and it was drizzling persistently which meant I needed my poncho. First part was along the road which worked well given that it was dark till almost 0830. Had some descent light before we turned off the road and over a very old bridge that marks the 100km to SdC.  Just past the bridge is another very old Romanesque church in a pretty grove set out as a resting place. It would probably have been a lovely spot to sit had the sun been out. Thereafter it was a good track through fields and wood that all looked much like a typical Devon lane. A fantastic location for fungi hunter with lots to choose from and with parasol and shaggy inkcaps in abundance. Contrary to the information available there were also at least two cafe bars on the way so we had coffee and Santiago flan for breakfast after the first 2hrs hiking.  Rain had stopped by then so walking was more pleasant and we arrived at the AdP in Miraz just before midday. This AdP is run by the English organisation of the  Confraternity of St James and staffed by English  volunteers. When we got to the door the sign said it was not open until 1400 which given the previous short leg is surprising. It must be a common occurrence for people to arrive earlier than 1400 as the previous AdP insists people leave before 0800 and I is only a four to five hour stroll.  However, the door was open so we walked in and called 'Hola'. I could see four or more people sat around a table and one of the ladies came over to see us. She then informed us that despite the fact that it was raining again (and only about 13deg) that we could not come in until 1400! What a lovely Christian welcome. Unfortunately, the next leg is at least 28km which would likely take about 7hrs given the hills and that would be without a stop for lunch. So we are stuck here in a little bar waiting for the AdP to open so we can get our washing and other items done. I have only had dealing with the confraternity of St. James twice - once for the guide books that I threw away a while back and today with there unwelcoming welcome. Finally invited into the AdP at 1340 and the place is as clean as I would have expected. Just one large room with 32 beds but all ok and no Frenchman. Lovely wood stove alight in the corner which we subsequently tried to get some chestnuts for to roast on the top of it but they are just a little too young. The prime advantage of it being Brit run is that there was tea available (and biscuits) all day long. Miraz itself is a one bar town with some lovely old rustic buildings but not much else. Cooked up our pasta finished with a apple turnover thing. Tomorrow there is breakfast at 0700 but i doubt it will be a full English.    

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Abadin to Baamonde - 40km

Abadin to Baamonde about 40km

A bit of a noisy night as we had the French snoring champion with us again!  Hopefully, by walking 40km today we will have left him behind. Otherwise, some of today's walk was occupied by working out strategies to stop him. We did consider the simple act of throwing water over him as just waking him up did not work. But we thought this was a little crude. We therefore devised a method to apply a cup full of body temperature water to between his legs. We thought this would both wake him up and occupy him for a little while.  This may sound extreme but it was a lot more humane than some of the solutions offered by other people last night! The nights are also invariably disturbed a little by the mosquitoes. In fact you can determine their flight path through the room by the individual slaps as people try to kill them. A surprisingly good walk today despite the distance.  It was cold this morning, probably only about 4 degs and it was misty. Decided to stay on the road for the first 20kms or so as it was more direct and there was very little traffic around - probably owing to last nights fiesta. Got to Vilalba just before 1130 and this included a coffee stop. Took the opportunity for a coffee and a piece of tortilla and then headed back out.  We did have a couple of pieces of pumpkin pie left over from last night to keep us going. Got to our destination without incident just before 1600 and at least the sun put in an appearance this afternoon and it was a pleasant walk through dappled shade. For some strange reason the horres have been getting smaller and smaller and the one in today's photo was more like a Wendy house.  Fortunately, tomorrow is a short day as the forecast is for 13 degs and showers! Today's AdP is ok and there is a restaurant nearby for a meal. Tomorrows AdP has no food and no shops so we have bought some things to take with us for lunch and dinner. Baamonde is famous for its old church and a carving of Mary inside a very old chestnut tree - see photos. Off to Miraz tomorrow which is only about 16km but it is there or another 25km further on to the next place with accommodation that we know about.  

Friday, 12 October 2012

Lourenza to Abadin 26km

Lourenza to Abadin 26km

Flights all booked last night for fri 19 Oct with Ryanair. Should leave SdC at about 1000 and arrive at Stansted around 1100. As always, most frustrating using Ripoffair web site. In part because it is not optimised for use with a mobile so the alerts messages and other 'offers' have to be search for around the screen but also because they bias it all to buying all of their extras which means a constant search for the NO option. I think they would also prefer that we use their app but as they want £2.99 for it whereas most company ones are free then I don't want it. Especially as I rarely fly with them. Got out at 0715 in the dark but wanted to get away from the snoring and get off before the crowds! There were more than 20 people on the AdP last night. Today's walk is described in the guide book as 'the hardest ascent in the entire northern way' and includes a 500m climb at the end. We therefore expected it to take about 71/2 hrs allowing for the climbs and a break for breakfast. However, we got to today's AdP at 1245 some 2 hours earlier than I expected. That said the climb was easier than we expected and we do now have well trained 'Camino Legs'. The hike was on good tracks and quiet Tarmac roads though woods which had an especially pleasant aroma after yesterday's rain. We climbed along the edge of a valley and even followed the trail under a 'Horres' which is the name for their construction used to store grain and other food stuffs over winter.  Today (12 Oct) is a national holiday so most shops are closed and the places at very quiet. However, we found a cafe open in Mondonedo for breakfast which looking at the photos on the wall was owned by a local famous cook. In fact the tarts and croissant were excellent. Arrived at the AdP before it was due to open at 1300 so stopped at the bar for a drink. Ideally, we would have walked on another 6km or so as we were feeling quite fresh and it would have reduced tomorrows walk from 36km but the next accommodation is more than 18km away. One small bar here and no restaurant but evidently there is one 0.5km away so I guess a little stroll in the evening will be nice. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Tol to Vilela about 14km and the next day on to Lourenza about 22km

Got to Ribadeo easily enough after a 7km stroll including a 600m bridge crossing which thankfully had a pathway separate from the high speed traffic. Photos are of the view of Ribadeo  and back to Figueras. Walked into the city and found the tourist info office fine. We need this as we had no info about AdPs on the  next stage which would mean a hike of more than 36kms which we did not want to do  However, it was only about 0930 and the office did not open until 1030. As I was in need of a replacement rain jacket we had a look around the small centre to see what we could find. Lots of fashion shops but not much of the more practical type. Popped into one and a simple jacket was 99€!  Stopped for a coffee and a snack then left mike with the bags while I had a quick hunt. Ultimately found the Spanish equivalent of a pound store and bought 3 plastic ponchos for less than 3€. See photo! Bought three incase they don't last.  Will still buy a good poncho if and when I see one. Went back to the tourist office and although the person there did not speak English he gave us the info we needed.  There was only one AdP between Ribadeo and Lourenza and that was only 7km further up the track. However, as the last few days had been quite long and as by then it was already near 1100 it was the best choice over walking another 30km or so. Stopped in a supermarket to get a few essential including some soap - for some reason mike complained when we opened it later and it turned out to be black.  Most of today's walk was on roads but these were very little used and made a pleasant enough walk as they were mostly through farm fields and pine forest. One thing of note though is that since we enter the region of Galicia when we crossed the bridge ever Camino shell sign has been the opposite way around than from the rest of the Camino. Most confusing!! Got to the AdP ok and was expecting it to be quite basic and it was. The 'restaurant' where we had to book in looked closed but it was open. Were then directs to a yellow house 200m away and on the first floor we found 32 bunk beds and a less than perfect shower - see photos. Still it was here or nothing so mike swept the floor and we got on with our daily chores. Luckily, at the moment we are the only ones here and we hope it stays that way but in any case at least we had no queue for the shower! In the end there were 12 people in total and the heavens opened at about 1900 so we were glad to be indoors. 

We got up a little earlier today and started out at 0715. Still dark till after 0815 but we were on a small well made track that we new went to the first village on the way so it was easy to follow. Got some heavy rain for about an hour so my poncho got well tested. I'm pleased to say that it worked very well and was well worth the 1€. Most of the track today was through eucalyptus forest which after the rain and the subsequent warming smelt really lovely. Beside the fact that in galicia the shell signs are a different way around there are more general information and welcome signs. Just before we dropped down to today's destination we got a snap shot of tomorrows climb - see photo. When we leave Lourenza we have 27km to walk including a climb to 550m. Found the AdP ok but we were hoping for a washing machine as our clothes have only been hand washed for a while. No AWM at the AdP so we checked out a couple of pensions but no luck there either so we settled with the AdP. At lest there is a line to dry today's and yesterday's washing and we have a room with only 4 beds. Four of the people from last nights AdP have already turned up but we think they will all choose the other room. Otherwise now all set for tomorrow and just catching up on the blog and will look at flight options as we now have a reasonable idea when we will get to SdC

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Pinera to Tol

Navia to Tol about 26km?
Got off ok this morning and headed down the last couple of kilometres to the centre of Navia where we took the opportunity to get a coffee and a croissant. Another fishing town in a deep valley. The photo shows the view as we left the town. Heading towards a AdP in Tol today. Got a little rain on the way but not for too long. I keep assessing every piece of plastic on the way to see if it would serve as a temporary rain coat. Hopefully a shopping option will occur soon.  First section was simple, flat and good tracks. Then came a junction with some Camino info painted on a wall - see photo. We expected to go to Tol via Carida but the info offered an option to avoid Carida and potentially take a more direct route. After much discussion we chose the 'direct' way to Tol. Started off ok but with  no obvious Camino way markers but then we noticed a fleck of paint on a telegraph pole and this with the google info gave us some confidence in the route. To cut a long story short we got to Tol in the end. There were a few crosses on the way that gave some clues and the occasional local pointed us in the right direction. We the met up with a French lady that spoke good Spanish so she managed to get some more directions as well. However, without google maps we would all have struggled. Spoke to the French lady on the way and she was heading for Tol as well but she had booked into a hotel. She turned off a little before us and we headed on to the AdP which we found about half a kilometre down the road. Unfortunately, the door was closed and it appears you had to call the local police station for the key. More importantly there was nothing else in Tol so no food no drink. We therefore decided to find the hotel which we found further back in the village. Christine was still at the reception and it turned out that the only reason they were open was because she had booked the room a while ago. However, the kitchen and restaurant were closed!  Lucky for us she had booked a room otherwise we would have had another 5 plus km to walk today. Think we have overcome the food problem as the young Spanish man has agreed that they do have pasta and tomatoes at least so I think I may be cooking tonight. Before. I forget I must mention the Camino guide books that are currently available in English and there are few.  We are mostly using one given to us in the tourist info centre in Deba which has a book of the hiking stages and a book about accommodation through each stage. This appears to be published by the Spanish tourist board and is ok. Some info is limited and some, such as the expected heights to be climbed each day, is very optimistic. In fact a few days back after Soto de Luina it turns out that we climbed to nearly 800m!  However, I also bought the two guides from the Confraternity of St James, at £5 each, and they frankly are next to useless. Very few maps, very little AdP info and all written in detailed text turn by turn that would be next to impossible to follow unless you constantly looked at the book and then you would never see a thing on the way! Not sure where we will end up tomorrow as Ribadeo is only about 8km away and Lourenza is 36km away and we have no info about any AdP, hostel or hotel in between!  As for food tonight it would appear that my offer to cook prompted a change of heart and they produced a good tuna salad then a reasonable pasta with cheesecake and coffees to follow! The hotel was expensive compared to our norm as it was 60€ for the two of us but at least dinner was only 8€ each. Pity we were too late for the pool and the 9 hole golf course.  

Monday, 8 October 2012

Videos of the dancing in Portugalete and the views from 7 Oct

Cadavedo to Navia about 32km and 9hrs again

Cadavedo to Navia about 32km
Great meal again last night in a local bar full of people watching what was clearly an important Spanish football match with supporters from both sides in the bar. Had another 'menu of the day' at 12€ inc sweet and wine. We had the local version of beans and sausage to start with and it came in a huge dish with about as much as we could eat in it. The main course was lamb and chips. Wonderful tasty meat  but there was so much we could not eat it all. Got off to a good start today with pleasant tracks again. Had a bit of rain on and off for a couple of hours but nothing too heavy. However, we passed Luarca the motorway works again proved to be problematic as the Camino had been re-signed to a temporary route. It was well marked originally and we were following a good track, but it soon terminated at the major road works which included demolitions! Reversed our track for about 50m and tried that but after about 15mins this looked to be drifting off in the wrong direction so mike suggested we reversed track again. After some discussion we chose to scramble down the sides of the workings to where we could see another track that looked ok. After about 50m of downwards clamber we got to the track and hidden around  the corner was a Camino sign!  Carried on towards our planed destination of an AdP in Pinera. Got to the village and found the house to register and pay our 5€ only to be told that the AdP itself was a further kilometre on! Went on and found the place ok with a little help from a German Pelegreno. However, it was right on a very busy highway with about 25 beds with plenty of people already there, and to cap it all there was nowhere close by to buy food or eat. We decided to donate our fee and hike on towards Navia which was about another 5.6km away. When we got to the outskirts we saw a small two star pension and stopped. Another 9hr day on the trail, but at least it was mostly flat!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

El Pito to Cadavedo about 28km and 9 hours!

El Pito to Cadavedo approx 28kms!

This for me was one of the best hiking days so far. Difficult, challenging but very rewarding. The start was good with a nice track through trees and continued to be good until we met the workings of the new motorway which had cleared away some of the track.  However, we soon got back to the markers and found our way to Soto de Luina. Pleasant little village where a cafe was opening at 1100 just in time for our second breakfast. As we left the way markings were a little confusing showing one way marked 'Camino' and another way marked 'Bellota''. We chose the Camino route as we had no idea what the other one meant. Later in the day we discovered that Bellota was a village later on the way that was not on our map!  Subsequently, it appeared that this may have been the flatter route. Our map shown a climb of only 100m today but we definitely went higher then that. We saw no one else  on the trail today and spent much of the time high up on the Spanish Amalfi equivalent. Finally got to the AdP at 1700 tired but happy. No more words today. Hopefully the pictures will tell the story. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Aviles to El Pito about 26km

Well Aviles was a pleasant surprise last night given the poor view we had of the city on the way in. The old historic part of the town is very attractive and mostly pedestrianised. Lots of well maintained old buildings and a park in the centre of town. Good meal with a very helpful and friendly patron who described what he thought was a better route out the next day. Decided to try his suggestion and think that although it was not shorter it was probably less hilly. Left at 0715 this morning as the snoring chorus was not going to allow a lay in! First part of the walk was mostly on Tarmac but as it was early morning and cool it did not matter. Past one well decorated roundabout on the way out of Aviles . You should be able to see the 'paper' boats! Contrary to the weather forecast it started to rain lightly half way through the morning but not enough to matter However, a short while later it got a bit more persistent so we stopped to put our gortex rain jackets on. Disappointingly, I could not find mine so it looks like i have been a numpty and left it somewhere. A bit confusing though as according to my and mikes recollection we last wore them one chilly morning so it's hard to imagine that it was miss laid after that. I find it hard to imagine that someone thought they had a better use for it than me but then I will never know. Best I find a shop before the real rain comes but at least I have a bin bag with me for emergencies! Second part of today's walk was really good as we strolled through some pleasant tree covered valleys and even better when we popped out onto road we were less than a km from our planed destination. Decided to stop at El Pito after about 26km as we had walked 30 plus the previous two days. In a small one star hotel today with two real beds, sheets and only one snorer - bliss. All nicely set up with a help yourself breakfast at 0700 although it is limited to 1 coffee, 1slice of toast and 1 portion of marmalade. Much to mikes delight I have my first blister today and it is on my big toe. Not bad at all and only a minor nuisance at this stage. After doing our washing in the basic facilities - cold water only with a ceramic washboard, we walked down the road to the local cafe for lunch. Fortunately, just after we arrived they served bacon and eggs with a plate of fresh tomatoes to someone else in the bar - so that made it an easy choice.  Before I sign off today I may need to explain some of the potential typos on the blog. These I blame primarily on the apple mac operating system's determination to guess words when I type. This means that it can insert some surprising suggestions that easily go unnoticed.  For instance if i type confirm but accidentally miss the 'i' I get condom!