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A Winter Experience on the Salvador (from 2014)

JFidelL

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino del Norte/Primitivo (Sept 2013)
I know, I know, it's 2019 now; however, I figure that winter reports on the Salvador are fairly rare and I should contribute. I probably should have wrote this a long time ago, but in the intervening months and years I forgot I had an account here. Only my recent pilgrimage to Rome on the Via Francigena reminded me about this site, which now has me thinking fondly about my Salvador experience (being my 1st pilgrimage as part of a combined Salvador-Primitivo-Muxia-Finisterre Camino).

I went solo, during the end of February. I didn't book anything in advance (except for where I stayed in Leon), didn't know where to pick up the Salvador credential, didn't have a map of Leon or Oviedo, didn't have a working phone, and didn't speak Spanish. However, I was in my 20's, in good physical condition, had Ender's guide printed out, and had (and still have) a very good sense of direction.

I remember it very fondly because of the kindness of the people I met, the beauty of the landscape, the solitude, and the uniqueness of the experience, which I want to share.

Day 1: Leon to La Robla (25.7km)
I went to Sunday Mass in the side chapel of the cathedral, then wandered the city until I found the place where I could get the Salvador credential (Madres Benedictinas/Benedictine albergue). The nun was one of only two people I would meet who could speak English until I arrived in Oviedo.
The walk goes through the city and then it's suburbs, always staying close to the Bernesga River. Outside of Leon the path switches from dirt track to rural road to hiking trails. There was no snow, though the temperature was between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius (40-50F) and the clouds were very heavy. Funny enough halfway to La Robla I met the only other English speaker I would meet until Oviedo.
She and many other people (family and/or friends) were picking mushrooms or doing something else out in the wilds, and every time they passed me in their car it would break down and I would pass them by. After this happened 3 times one of the ladies in the car asked me where I was from and greeted me Buen Camino. After that they finally passed me without their car breaking down.
I got to La Robla without incident, and found the albergue along the main street. After some confusion the hospitalero let me stay there, and I got a burger at a local diner, cleaned up (no shower - there was no hot water!), and slept. Actually I couldn't find the hospitalero at first. There was a park right beside the albergue with a little bar and the couple who ran it helped me out. The husband went to find the hospitalero while I sat down on a bench to rest. Their younger son asked me a ton of questions I didn't understand while their older son tried to get him to stop. The husband returned and let me know the hospitalero was on his way, but he was finishing up an important football game.

Day 2: La Robla to Poladura de la Tercia (27.6km)
Temperatures near 0C (32F) and heavy clouds. Lots of walking beside roads until I got to Buiza. I had breakfast at a truck stop (Restaurante Buen Suceso, named after the nearby chapel). At one point I had this feeling that I should have bought supplies in La Pola de Gordon, but naively assumed the B&B in Poladura (Posada El Embrujo) would be open just for me. Walked through Buiza and followed the path until it led to a barrier saying something along the lines of the path being closed. I climbed over it and kept going. There was ankle-deep snow along parts of the path, but along one segment of the path with thick bushes there was a cascade of water running downhill. I ended up walking on the bushes to avoid having my feet soaked. More snow (some parts knee-deep) through the forested parts of the path.
Most of the path to Poladura was either covered in snow or waterlogged grass, but signage was good (with wooden waymarkers or yellow arrows standing straight out of the ground). After strolling into Posada El Embrujo uninvited (the door was unlocked), the surprised owners led me to the albergue, which was a little dirty and quite cold, having only 2 electric heaters. At this point I only had a protein bar left for dinner.

Day 3: La Robla to Puerto de Pajares (10km); Mieres to Oviedo (19.7km)
This was one of the most memorable days of my entire life, let alone this Camino. I left Poladura with no breakfast, and soon after exiting the village I found first knee-deep, then waist-deep snow. Again I walked on bushes to make some progress without being bogged down. Closer to the Cruz de San Salvador the snow lessened, but ice took its place and there were a few very tricky sections where if I slipped I would have slid probably hundreds of metres, maybe to my doom. I only fell once and luckily didn't slide.
Between the Canto de la Tusa and the Pajares Pass I: lost my water bottle, tried to jump across a mountain stream but landed in it with my left foot, ran out of power for my digital camera, and arrived at the little restaurant at the mountain pass one hour too early for lunch. After having a cup of coffee and buying a bottle of water, the must unexpected series of events happened to me...
An old man in a car (who saw me earlier as he bought a coffee in the restaurant) pulled up to me when I resumed walking and told me to get in his car. I declined and kept walking. Again he pulled up beside me and told me to get in the car. At this point it was starting to snow, and the sky was dark with clouds hanging low. I took him up on his offer and got in. Immediately he started to race down the road, and a whole bunch of things started happening which I was almost unable to process. Outside, the light snow became a blizzard. The land changed from grey and brown to dark greens in deep valleys. Cars headed the opposite way were zooming by as we zoomed around sharp bends in the mountain road. And all the while, the old man was talking about how funny it was that the nearby railroad took a long time to get down the mountain because the trains couldn't handle steep grades. I did say I didn't know Spanish, but when someone saves your life, you listen and you nod your head while saying "Si, si, si!"
We passed Pajares and I wondered where we were headed. Around the time we got to Campomanes the blizzard had turned into a thunderstorm while the old man had changed his story from the railroad (which he liked to talk about because he used to work for them loading goods) to what he does in the mountains (skiing, mostly, because he was retired). The drive wasn't over, however, because we kept going, past Pola de Lena to Mieres del Camino, where he lived. He not only drove me straight to the albergue but escorted me to the front door (despite it still pouring rain). Unfortunately, it didn't open until 5pm, and despite all that had happened so far that day, it was only 2pm. Somehow I was able to ask him to bring me to a supermarket, and he brought me to the city centre, where I learned his name (Alfredo) and thanked him profusely before I left him to so I could buy as much food as my backpack could fit.
I think this was already quite a bit of adventure for a day, but it wasn't over yet. I left the supermarket with no idea where to go, so I started wandering through the town looking for a place to have lunch. I ended up in a restaurant called McCharly and Company Cafe, which was an American-themed burger joint with good burgers! As I paid a man named Yon asked me who I was, what I was doing, and where I was going. After I answered him to the best of my abilities, he not only waived the cost of my meal but insisted that I take as many ready-made sandwiches as I wanted! My already-full backpack was now bulging at the seams and once again I was thanking a stranger profusely for their kindness!
It was only 3pm and after reviewing my guidebook I decided that I could make it to Oviedo before sunset, so I started walking again. My keen sense of direction led me back to the local albergue and I found the well-marked path once again. After a couple of days in the mountains all the green plants and warm air (it had stopped raining at this point) made me feel like I was in a tropical paradise, though it was only 15 degrees Celsius (60F). I was in such a good mood that I got to the outskirts of Oviedo well before sunset. Then the last surprise of the day hit me. Almost literally.
A sudden storm obscured the sky, sending ice-cold rain mixed with hail straight into my face. I didn't have time to put on my gloves before my hands became numb, as they were too busy covering my head. I pushed forward until I found shelter inside a phone booth, where I waited for the storm to pass. It eventually did, taking all the clouds with it. A nearly clear sky with a bright setting sun shone on me, almost in mockery of my condition. The storm disoriented me quite a bit, because it took me an hour to find the cathedral, when it should have been easy to get to. Once I got there, it was late and I decided to find the nearest place to sleep, at a place called Hostal Arcos. I was in no condition to search for an albergue in the decent-sized city.
My hands were so numb that I couldn't sign my name for the receptionist, and he and I had quite the laugh as I repeated the words," Mano, frio" (hand, cold). Eventually I was able to sign my name, and I was led to a room that I didn't leave for the rest of the night. After I warmed up I just ate one of the many sandwiches I got from Yon, and slept like a baby without setting an alarm, since I was in Oviedo one day earlier than expected. I'd just get my Salvadorana the next day.

I'm sorry my story was so long, but the Salvador was truly a unique experience that I can and will never forget. In short, winter on the Salvador features a few dangerous sections, which Ender's guidebook mentions. You also should call ahead if you want to guarantee a place to stay for the night. I got very lucky. It is also very beautiful, and though I imagine summer there is beautiful, I just love snow-capped mountains. Lastly, I don't know how often pilgrims get free things (like food and car rides!), but I think the chances are higher on a less busy Camino like the Salvador than the Frances.
 

naturmenneske

naturmenneske
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Madrid mars 2017
Via de la Plata februar 2016
Camino France januar 2015
Camino Portoguese 2012
Thank you for the story. I walked San Salvador in October and loved it. No snow and some other pilegrims that told me to order dinner in Poldura in advance as well in Pajeres. I met the snow on the Primitivo and had many wet and cold days.
 

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Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Again, soon as possible!
I love the Salvador, walked it twice now. But never in winter! No thanks!

Great write up and thanks for sharing

Davey
 

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