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LIVE from the Camino Live from the Primitivo

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#1
It's not often at this point in the year that I get any free time, and still less common for me to know in advance that it's coming. A few months ago, though, I received the welcome news that my window of opportunity to take some annual leave might come earlier than usual. Pilgrimage-possibilities immediately began suggesting themselves to me, and inasmuch as the number of days available is, as always, limited, the Primitivo stood high on the list of potential routes. I'm still dreaming of a really long trip – the Via Gebennensis, at around 2,000 km, would fit the bill nicely – but the logistical difficulties are so formidable that that one will remain a bucket-list item for the foreseeable future. Right now, ten days or so is as much as I can scrounge together, and for my fourth Camino, going back to where it all began in 814 A.D. had a definite charm. If one makes reservations long enough in advance, moreover, flights to Spain in the shoulder-season are almost absurdly cheap, at least if one isn't all that fussy about where in the country one actually lands. My family, with visions dancing through their heads of a couple of weeks of uninterrupted Netflix and house-and-garden magazines during my absence, gave the idea an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Only one obstacle stood in my way, but that was, and may remain, a serious one. A year ago, as readers of that sub-forum will recall, I ventured out in a fit of ignorance-induced enthusiasm along the little-travelled Camino Português Interior. It was in many respects a memorable journey, and probably came closer to recreating, in however attenuated a form, the daily experience of our mediaeval predecessors than anything else in this vein that I've attempted thus far. That is to say, I spent a considerable proportion of each day wandering off in entirely the wrong direction through unmarked and heavily overgrown Iberian wilderness, and a goodly proportion of the remainder dodging, or at least warily skirting, the uncontrolled wildfires that were responsible for so tragically high a number of deaths in Portugal last summer and seemed to be popping up around me like so many mushrooms. All in all it was one of those trips that one is, in equal measure, glad to have accomplished and determined never to repeat. According to the Pilgrim's Office at SdC, 81 of us completed the CPI last year, and the only thing that surprises me about that number is that there were in fact so many of us.

The lasting legacy of that trip, however, was serious and persistent foot problems. My first two days in the mountains, covering almost 100 km over terrain that was often rocky and covered in scree, left me with damage from which, for the remainder of the trip, I was unable to recover. While the visually impressive evidence was to be seen on the right foot—a blister two inches across that didn't rupture until after I returned home, and a heel that oozed blood slowly but continuously throughout the second week—the real trouble was building up beneath the surface in the left. By the end of the pilgrimage, I had landed myself with an exceedingly nasty case of plantar fasciiitis, an all-too-obvious diagnosis that was duly confirmed by the podiatrist to whom I hobbled shortly after picking up my compostelle at SdC.

Well, nobody's fault but my own, and I knew it. Over the next several months I diligently performed the regimen of dreary rehabilitative exercises with which those similarly afflicted are familiar—that curious toe-clenching business that resembles Kegels for the feet; rolling a tennis ball or a bottle of frozen water around on one's heel; hauling the front of one's foot upwards with the aid of an industrial-sized rubber band, etc. Improvement was painfully slow, in both senses of the adjective, but by mid-November things seemed to have improved to the point that I was ready to measure my progress. One chilly Saturday afternoon I embarked on an unambitious test run: a 16-km loop along flat, paved surfaces. Nearly four hours later, darkness long since having fallen, I hobbled at a snail's pace through my front door, practically unable to put my left foot to the ground. It was impressed upon me that I was in considerably greater difficulty than I had supposed.

Numerous X-rays, scans and assorted professional proddings and pokings followed, together with a new set of exercises. In the end, with time running out, I prevailed upon my medical advisers to try the penultimate resort of fasciitis-sufferers—a series of cortisone injections directly into the heel. These aren't tremendous fun, but are not unbearable either. Although I experienced an acute cortisone reaction that in the short term left me even less mobile than previously, matters did appreciably improve thereafter. My orthopaedic consultancy, which spends most of its time working with high-level athletes but generously agreed to take my very banal case on board, fixed me up with a new pair of insanely expensive hiking shoes complete with still more expensive inserts precision-moulded to the contours of my feet. About three weeks ago, having taken hardly a single unnecessary step for the better part of a year, I ventured out once more for a more realistic road-test: 30 km non-stop, with a couple of stiffish hills en route.

The results weren't disastrous. I was conscious of my left heel after a couple of kilometres, and remained so for the rest of the way. But it wasn't sufficiently uncomfortable to slow my pace, and at the end—other than being reminded by my aching leg-muscles how disgustingly unfit I currently am—I was as much a going concern as at the beginning. Rather than tempt fate, I shut operations down at that point, and from that day until this one have done nothing more than continue the cycle of rest and rehabilitation.

Thus it is that I find myself at the starting point in Oviedo, a few hundred metres from the Cathedral and a brand-new credencial in my backpack. If I were to assign a grade to my foot, I'd say that I'm operating at present at about 80% of normal. Should things stay that way, despite my lack of road-fitness I'll have few concerns about finishing the trip. But I have no idea whether by the end of tomorrow—or any of the days to follow—I won't find myself bounced right back to square one. ("Go to rehab. Go directly to rehab. Do not pass SdC. Do not collect another compostelle," as a Catholic version of the Parker Bros. board game might put it.) Only time will tell. One thing is sure: in my worst imaginings I would never have dreamed that I could have banged my feet up so comprehensively, and with such persistent consequences, merely by walking on them.

Otherwise my morale is high. I've heard nothing but good things about the Primitivo, and even though I'm now the owner of a lightweight magnetic compass that, if I'd possessed it last year, would have saved my bacon more than once on the CPI, I doubt I'll have occasion to use it. Word has it that the waymarking along this route is excellent. I don't expect to run into too many fellow pilgrims at this time of year, but that too suits my mildly solitary mood. Having heard Mass this evening at the Cathedral and with a night's albergue accommodation safely obtained, I have nothing to do but to hunt down my first dinner of the trip and get an early night in preparation for a pre-dawn departure tomorrow morning.
 

MeandIan

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
May2018
#2
It's not often at this point in the year that I get any free time, and still less common for me to know in advance that it's coming. A few months ago, though, I received the welcome news that my window of opportunity to take some annual leave might come earlier than usual. Pilgrimage-possibilities immediately began suggesting themselves to me, and inasmuch as the number of days available is, as always, limited, the Primitivo stood high on the list of potential routes. I'm still dreaming of a really long trip – the Via Gebennensis, at around 2,000 km, would fit the bill nicely – but the logistical difficulties are so formidable that that one will remain a bucket-list item for the foreseeable future. Right now, ten days or so is as much as I can scrounge together, and for my fourth Camino, going back to where it all began in 814 A.D. had a definite charm. If one makes reservations long enough in advance, moreover, flights to Spain in the shoulder-season are almost absurdly cheap, at least if one isn't all that fussy about where in the country one actually lands. My family, with visions dancing through their heads of a couple of weeks of uninterrupted Netflix and house-and-garden magazines during my absence, gave the idea an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Only one obstacle stood in my way, but that was, and may remain, a serious one. A year ago, as readers of that sub-forum will recall, I ventured out in a fit of ignorance-induced enthusiasm along the little-travelled Camino Português Interior. It was in many respects a memorable journey, and probably came closer to recreating, in however attenuated a form, the daily experience of our mediaeval predecessors than anything else in this vein that I've attempted thus far. That is to say, I spent a considerable proportion of each day wandering off in entirely the wrong direction through unmarked and heavily overgrown Iberian wilderness, and a goodly proportion of the remainder dodging, or at least warily skirting, the uncontrolled wildfires that were responsible for so tragically high a number of deaths in Portugal last summer and seemed to be popping up around me like so many mushrooms. All in all it was one of those trips that one is, in equal measure, glad to have accomplished and determined never to repeat. According to the Pilgrim's Office at SdC, 81 of us completed the CPI last year, and the only thing that surprises me about that number is that there were in fact so many of us.

The lasting legacy of that trip, however, was serious and persistent foot problems. My first two days in the mountains, covering almost 100 km over terrain that was often rocky and covered in scree, left me with damage from which, for the remainder of the trip, I was unable to recover. While the visually impressive evidence was to be seen on the right foot—a blister two inches across that didn't rupture until after I returned home, and a heel that oozed blood slowly but continuously throughout the second week—the real trouble was building up beneath the surface in the left. By the end of the pilgrimage, I had landed myself with an exceedingly nasty case of plantar fasciiitis, an all-too-obvious diagnosis that was duly confirmed by the podiatrist to whom I hobbled shortly after picking up my compostelle at SdC.

Well, nobody's fault but my own, and I knew it. Over the next several months I diligently performed the regimen of dreary rehabilitative exercises with which those similarly afflicted are familiar—that curious toe-clenching business that resembles Kegels for the feet; rolling a tennis ball or a bottle of frozen water around on one's heel; hauling the front of one's foot upwards with the aid of an industrial-sized rubber band, etc. Improvement was painfully slow, in both senses of the adjective, but by mid-November things seemed to have improved to the point that I was ready to measure my progress. One chilly Saturday afternoon I embarked on an unambitious test run: a 16-km loop along flat, paved surfaces. Nearly four hours later, darkness long since having fallen, I hobbled at a snail's pace through my front door, practically unable to put my left foot to the ground. It was impressed upon me that I was in considerably greater difficulty than I had supposed.

Numerous X-rays, scans and assorted professional proddings and pokings followed, together with a new set of exercises. In the end, with time running out, I prevailed upon my medical advisers to try the penultimate resort of fasciitis-sufferers—a series of cortisone injections directly into the heel. These aren't tremendous fun, but are not unbearable either. Although I experienced an acute cortisone reaction that in the short term left me even less mobile than previously, matters did appreciably improve thereafter. My orthopaedic consultancy, which spends most of its time working with high-level athletes but generously agreed to take my very banal case on board, fixed me up with a new pair of insanely expensive hiking shoes complete with still more expensive inserts precision-moulded to the contours of my feet. About three weeks ago, having taken hardly a single unnecessary step for the better part of a year, I ventured out once more for a more realistic road-test: 30 km non-stop, with a couple of stiffish hills en route.

The results weren't disastrous. I was conscious of my left heel after a couple of kilometres, and remained so for the rest of the way. But it wasn't sufficiently uncomfortable to slow my pace, and at the end—other than being reminded by my aching leg-muscles how disgustingly unfit I currently am—I was as much a going concern as at the beginning. Rather than tempt fate, I shut operations down at that point, and from that day until this one have done nothing more than continue the cycle of rest and rehabilitation.

Thus it is that I find myself at the starting point in Oviedo, a few hundred metres from the Cathedral and a brand-new credencial in my backpack. If I were to assign a grade to my foot, I'd say that I'm operating at present at about 80% of normal. Should things stay that way, despite my lack of road-fitness I'll have few concerns about finishing the trip. But I have no idea whether by the end of tomorrow—or any of the days to follow—I won't find myself bounced right back to square one. ("Go to rehab. Go directly to rehab. Do not pass SdC. Do not collect another compostelle," as a Catholic version of the Parker Bros. board game might put it.) Only time will tell. One thing is sure: in my worst imaginings I would never have dreamed that I could have banged my feet up so comprehensively, and with such persistent consequences, merely by walking on them.

Otherwise my morale is high. I've heard nothing but good things about the Primitivo, and even though I'm now the owner of a lightweight magnetic compass that, if I'd possessed it last year, would have saved my bacon more than once on the CPI, I doubt I'll have occasion to use it. Word has it that the waymarking along this route is excellent. I don't expect to run into too many fellow pilgrims at this time of year, but that too suits my mildly solitary mood. Having heard Mass this evening at the Cathedral and with a night's albergue accommodation safely obtained, I have nothing to do but to hunt down my first dinner of the trip and get an early night in preparation for a pre-dawn departure tomorrow morning.
Good luck. I would like to know how you progress. Buen Camino
 
Camino(s) past & future
Planning Camino Del Norte to Oviedo and then Primitive in May / June 2018
#5
Yes I agree a well written piece. I will be very interested to hear how your foot holds up, we leave Australia today for Paris and then to Irun to commence our first Camino - del Norte to Oviedo and then Primitivo. I have been training hard and was feeling well prepared and strong until 3 weeks ago when I suddenly developed plantar fasciitis. I’m doing all the exercises, had the cortisone injection which hasn’t worked so my good doctor, understanding my commitment to this pilgrimage, has loaded me up with strong painkillers and the appropriate letters of authorisation so I don’t get put behind bars while passing through several borders. Oh yes, and my pack weight has just increased with spare insoles and cushioning, balls for rolling the feet, bags for ice not to mention the copious quantities of painkillers.
Postponing the trip was not an option - now or never.
So like you Aurigny I will be waiting to see how I go (or not) with some trepidation but will be giving it my best shot. Good luck
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#7
When the evidence changes, so the saying goes, it's sensible to change one's mind. Peering out the window early today and seeing the rain-swept streets defying last night's over-sanguine weather forecast caused me rapidly to change mine While I normally like to make an early start to the day, especially in light of the fact that my planned night-stop, Grado, was the better part of 30 km away, the attractiveness of that idea seemed harder to perceive at six in the morning. Instead I cooled my heels and waited for better weather to materialise. By around nine, the rain had given way to a sullen cloud-base, and having made good use of the delay by loading up on café con leche and reading the local newspapers, I set off from the Cathedral in the general direction of another one, more than three hundred kilometres to the west.

Many veterans of the Primitivo report that getting out of Oviedo is something of a challenge. From my perspective, it was a great deal more straightforward than I had imagined. It's true that one has to know where to begin. Oviedo doesn't do yellow arrows – at least until the outskirts. Until then, one must rely on brass scallop-shell markers set into the footpaths, much as one does in León or Pamplona. That, in turn, is tricky until one finds the start of the sequence. Fortunately, it's very close to the Cathedral – just to the right, as one exits the main door. From there the trail of shells, spaced at about 50m intervals, leads up Calle Schultz and ultimately to the western edge of town.

To be sure, locating them is sometimes a bit of a challenge. Sensibly, the shells are set into the concrete at an angle so as to indicate when one is supposed to bear right or left or to cross the street. But the ovetense seem especially fond of parking their cars over the markers or covering them with chairs and tables outside cafés, requiring the pilgrim to engage in a degree of creative projection. They're also to be found only on one side of the street, and tend to oscillate between the middle of the pavement and the kerbstones in a way that requires one's head to be on a constant slow swivel. However, in general the waymarking is so good that if one has travelled, say, 300m without seeing some indication of where to go next, it's safe to assume that one is off track and should return to the last known position for another try. I'd go so far as to say that Oviedo has the best waymarking out of town of any similarly sized Spanish town I've ever seen, Ourense alone excepted.

Once clear of the city limits and established along the trail, the journey soon becomes very pleasant indeed. The early stages of the Primitivo involve lots of climbing and descending, but neither is all that difficult. It's a little steeper than what one would describe as "rolling countryside," but not so much as to tax the abilities even of someone like myself who had done practically no serious walking over the past year. The terrain looks a lot like northern Bosnia, albeit with rather fewer burnt-out villages along the way. Despite the fact that the winter and early spring, to judge from the state of the rivers, have been quite moist in these parts, the going underfoot is surprisingly good. Most of today's leg consisted of gravelled or rocky paths interspersed with the occasional stretch along the hard shoulder of the main road, but even in the forested sections, very little mud was to be encountered. I finished the day with my hiking shoes nearly as clean as when I began.

It's important to plan ahead, as the logistics of the Primitivo can be challenging. Fortunately I obtained all the road food and drink that I was likely to require before leaving Oviedo. Had I not, I imagine that I would have arrived at my destination in a lean and hungry condition. I had planned to have lunch at the only remaining restaurant in Escamplero, the half-way point of today's leg. Indeed, somewhat concerned about the risk of over-taxing my left heel, I had even considered the possibility of ending my day there – the restaurant owner is also the key-holder for the local albergue. Both decisions were taken out of my hands, though, by my discovery of a chalked board announcing that the establishment was closed on Wednesdays. A vending machine was available to enable me to wash down my sandwiches with cold drinks by way of compensation. The sensible pilgrim along this route does well, though, to assume that the pickings will be not just slim, but non-existent, between the daily departure and destination points.

So on to Grado it was, about another thirteen kilometres further west. After Escamplero the trail became narrower, more or less paralleling the River Nalón on the northern bank and with the main road above and to the right. It's quiet, and at this time of year at any rate, it would appear, a little lonely. I encountered only one other pilgrim along the trail, a middle-aged bicigrino – I believe German by nationality – who I came across optimistically but futilely trying each door of the Escamplero restaurant in the hope of finding a staff-member to let him into the albergue. Otherwise I had the trail to myself the entire day.

Some amenities are nonetheless available. A good fountain guards the entrance to the tiny hamlet of San Lázaro de Paniceres, perhaps 5 km west-northwest of Oviedo. Fill up your water bottle here, because it'll be a long time until you see another one. A self-service sello is also kept in a wooden box at the Chapel of the Carmen in Lampaxuga, another three kilometres further on. This being Iberia, the iron-bar-festooned doors of the chapel itself are chained up in such a manner as to deter the cast of Ocean's Eleven at its most inventive, so any praying you might wish to do will have to be accomplished from the steps of the vestibule outside. However, a dish is placed on the floor within the church to receive donations. If you have had a particular kind of misspent youth, you can revive your pitch-and-toss skills by heaving your coins through the bars in such a way as to land them inside the dish. My own youth having been misspent in an entirely different direction, my couple of euros missed the target by a country mile. But at least they rolled to rest in the main aisle, and will no doubt easily be found by whatever retiree from Fort Knox holds the keys to the establishment and comes by every so often to sweep up the metallic harvest.

It took me far longer than usual to reach Grado. I was proceeding at a very sedate pace, being firmly resolved that if I were to break down physically on this trip, it would at any rate not happen on the first day. In the event, my injured heel held up surprisingly well. It certainly made its presence felt, especially on the downhill stretches, but the difference between this outing and any of my days during the last week on the CPI a year ago is as between chalk and cheese. Today I was dealing with twinges and, as the day wore on, the occasional mild throb; a twelvemonth past, every step I took was a small down-payment on Purgatory. Tomorrow morning will be the acid test, but I was more pleasantly surprised by my physical condition than I ever expected to be.

After passing the village of Peñaflor, 3 km from my destination – and site of the first open bar I'd passed since leaving Oviedo, 23 km away – I found that an intimidatingly official diversion-board had closed the remainder of the trail. Pilgrims were being ejected back onto the main road, the N-634, for the rest of the way. Fortunately, though visually unappealing, this was undramatic. A good footpath keeps pedestrians from having to mix it with the considerable volume of vehicular traffic, and the road leads straight into the centre of town, the municipal albergue being clearly signposted off to the right.

Unfortunately, I was unable to roost there. The delightful and newly-appointed volunteer staff – from Cape Town and Boston, respectively – explained to me that anyone arriving after 15:30 will have definitively lost the bed-race for the day. The thirty-two-bunk establishment was filled to the gills. I can't quite imagine how, in light of how few people appeared to be on the trail, but no doubt my fellow pilgrims began their day much earlier than I did mine. Although the albergue staff generously offered to make arrangements on my behalf with an acquaintance of theirs, who was willing to put up any latecomers for EUR 10 a night, I decided instead to duck round the corner to a private establishment, the Auto-Bar on the main street, which offers four-bunk rooms with bathrooms attached at EUR 15. I'm occupying the upper berth of one of them as I write.

All in all, then, a successful and agreeably uneventful day. I haven't covered a tremendous amount of ground, and will need to pick up the pace within a day or two if I'm to reach SdC on time. That, though, is a problem for the future. Right now, I'm relieved that things have gone as well as they have.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances - September '2018'
#9
Thoroughly enjoyed the read again. I particularly enjoyed:

"My own youth having been misspent in an entirely different direction, my couple of euros missed the target by a country mile. But at least they rolled to rest in the main aisle, and will no doubt easily be found by whatever retiree from Fort Knox holds the keys to the establishment and comes by every so often to sweep up the metallic harvest."

I wonder if you've ever written a book? I can't wait for the coming updates!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#10
If I had wondered where all the other pilgrims were, I needed wonder no longer. When I came down early this morning for my café con leche at Grado, a dozen or more were at the bar ahead of me. During the course of the day, I must have passed or been passed by three times as many. And the small square at Salas, which seemed to be the consensus night-stop, was a reunion for us all. It may not be the Francés during high season, but even at this time of year the Primitivo appears to get a respectable amount of traffic.

This small sample may be unrepresentative, but from what I've seen and heard today, the Primitivo tends to attract a certain demographic cohort. Firstly, we're a little more…well, let's say "seasoned" than the average. The youngest pilgrim I saw today was in her early thirties; most are a couple of decades older than that. We skew somewhat masculine, by a ratio of around three to one. And all day I didn't meet a single person for whom this was his or her first pilgrimage; four or five seemed to be the norm. One Irish gentleman, a few years older than myself, had spent nearly twenty days on the Norte from Irún; became bored with it; and hopped on a 'bus to Oviedo; he was much happier with what he was seeing here. A French peregrina, travelling with her husband and another couple, was on her fifth trip to SdC and looking for a physical challenge. In terms of nationalities, Spanish, German and, surprisingly, Dutch predominate. One hears few native-speakers of English, although at the rest-stops everybody seems to use it as their preferred lingua franca.

Today's leg, though not long, was moderately challenging. The first seven kilometres out of Grado are a stiffish uphill haul as far as El Freisnu, after reaching which one embarks on an equally sharp descent. This is mountainous grazing country for farm animals: many brood mares, now heavily in foal; plenty of sheep; and a large number of dun-coloured Asturian cows who, even if they don't exhibit the rude good health of their Galician sisters, are if possible even more laid-back. Today that was literally true: it was warm without a breath of wind for most of the day, and most of the cattle, stuffed full of grass and wildflowers, were lying on their sides in blissful ease, all four legs splayed out and only a flick of a tail or a twitching ear to show that they had not succumbed to some ghastly bovine pandemic. Once again, though, snacking options for humans are limited. Nothing was open before the half-way point at Cornellana, though there are more than enough bars and restaurants in that town to supply anyone's needs.

Before one gets there, though, one has to navigate an extremely muddy stretch between Cabruñana and the tiny village of Doriga. It was apparent that I spoke too soon yesterday when I praised the conditions underfoot. On this particular part, the mud was deep, tenacious and in many spots covered by several inches of still water. Inasmuch as I'm wearing hiking shoes with no waterproofing whatever, picking one's way through this morass was an exceedingly taxing job. Twice the mud grasped me so firmly that I inadvertently took one foot clean out of my shoes; once it was so deep that I had to give it up as a bad job; retrace my steps; and try to find an alternative way round. This was not to be my only encounter with boggy conditions; during the second half of the day I was to have to negotiate many more. Contrary to what one might expect, it's not merely a feature of low-lying areas. In the upper elevations, run-off water from the slopes hits the trail and courses downhill, turning what would otherwise be steep but firm paths into a soggy and highly precipitous skid-pan along which one does exceedingly well to keep one's feet. These, moreover, are not places where one wants to fall. Apart from the obvious inconveniences, many large and sharp stones are dotted into the trail, and coming down on one's lower spine onto one of these could put a swift halt to one's gallop. On the worst of these stretches, it's necessary to think carefully about where to put one's feet every time one does so. Five minutes for a hundred metres may represent a very creditable rate of progress.

Close to Salas, I may have wandered off piste. My last couple of kilometres were spent along the shoulder of the N-634a, which was the only stretch the entire day that featured no way-markers at all. If I did choose a non-standard approach, though, it didn't add more than a kilometre to my journey. Salas itself is an attractive red-bricked and red-roofed town with nearly half a dozen private albergues in addition to the municipal; losing the bed-race is not to be apprehended here. There are also a couple of well-stocked supermarkets, which are worth patronising inasmuch as the network of amenities thins out still further over the next couple of days. I'm hoping to be able to traverse the Hospitales route by then, and it isn't too early to begin stocking up.
 
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Pam Scott

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino de Santiago compostella 2015
#11
What a marvellous insight into the Primitivo. Thank you. I will be started the Primitivo early June. Hope your heel holds up. Looking forward to your updates.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#13
On well-travelled sections of pilgrimage routes, the beginning of the journey each day can resemble the peloton at the Tour de France: everybody roaring off at the same moment in a massive gaggle. That was the scene at Salas at seven this morning. It had rained solidly overnight, and was still coming down, but none of us wanted to wait any longer. A mob of us had been enjoying morning coffee at the Luciana bar on the main drag. On our departure, we were stopped by the proprietress, who is, it appears, in the habit of presenting each departing pilgrim with a small banana and an even tinier dry-cured ham sandwich. It's extraordinarily kind of her, but if you're the beneficiary of this gracious gift, I recommend consuming these items quickly. They don't stand up very well to the rigours of the voyage.

And indeed it's reasonably rigorous, at least on the early stage to La Espina, about 10 km away. Most of the peloton were overnighting at Tineo, which is a decent-sized town and hence a logical stopping place. However, it's more than 13 km from Campiello, the jumping-off point for the assault on the highest leg of the Primitivo, over the Sierra de Hospitales mountains. These are respectably high by Iberian standards: more than 1,200m, or nearly 4,000 feet, which must be climbed from around the 500m mark. Having to take them on after a three-hour-long approach didn't appeal, so I decided to push on through and put up at Campiello tonight. At around 35 km in total that's a reasonably long leg for the Primitivo, so I was happy to let the peloton forge ahead while I followed at a more sedate pace in its wake.

In many respects, today's experience was a mirror of yesterday's. Thus far the Primitivo is revealing itself as a route not of disastrously stiff climbs, but very long ones. The uphill legs, mostly along country paths and forest tracks, go on quite literally for a couple of hours without interruption. Often one has to give back all the height gained in a kilometre or so, only to be required to begin climbing all over again. There used to be an exercise machine called the Stairmaster, a kind of miniature down-going escalator on a continuous loop that the hapless Sisyphean user had continuously to climb, getting nowhere. The Primitivo seems a lot like a massive open-air Stairmaster with scenery, cows, and occasional opportunites for coffee.

One presenting itself at Espina, I dutifully caffeinated myself and, the rain not having eased up appreciably, made a quick change of plan for the 11-km section to Tineo. The admirable set of briefing notes for the Primitivo complied by Liz Brandt, which is available gratis on this site, warns that this leg is exceptionally muddy and that pilgrims should consider walking along the road during wet weather. I had already seen evidence of this since leaving Salas, having not just to hop around massive puddles but on one or two occasions to abandon the trail altogether and hike through forest undergrowth so as to circumnavigate the junior swamps I was finding in my way. If it was like this before Espina, I didn't want to know how it was further on. So I took the expert's advice and followed the AS-214 into Tineo. Granted, that's not an ideal alternative either. The road is narrow; has just two lanes and no shoulder of any kind; and carries a very large number of heavy goods vehicles, displaced from the parallel motorway by the exorbitant Spanish tolls. Some of these pantechnicons, barrelling along considerably in excess of the posted speed limit, got a lot closer to me than I liked. But at all events the AS-214 is level, a rarity in this part of the world, and after just two hours I was able to stop in the centre of town for a quick and frugal lunch.

The final stretch of the day to Campiello is a twin of the first. Forest tracks, often boggy or even flooded; very brief spells on paved roads; long climbs and precipitous (and, in wet weather, hazardous) descents; and, other than the odd roadside fountain, no amenities at all. The normally first-rate waymarking was less evident than usual in the forest sections, but occasional clumps of white tissue (tsk!) at the side of the trail served almost as well as, if less salubriously than, yellow arrows. On a more positive note, I was amused to pass, toward the end of the day, a village named La Tienda, the smallest such settlement I've ever encountered. The signs telling you that you are successively entering and leaving town are no more than the distance of a football field apart; the only structure to be found in the entire place is a single modest farmhouse on the right-hand side. Whether this was also a shop at some point in the past is something the historians will have to determine.

Campiello is little larger. For all intents and purposes it consists of two rival private albergues, Casa Ricardo and Casa Herminia, situated adjacent to each other on opposite sides of the only street. Both, however, are highly patronised during the season, being the last places of accommodation – and, indeed, the last businesses of any kind – between here and Berducedo, on the other side of the Puerto de Palo mountain pass. They're much of a muchness; cost the same (EUR 10); so I decided to encourage local entrepreneurialism on a broad front by staying at Ricardo's and dining at Herminia's. I daresay that one's experience would be almost identical if one were to do it the other way round.

Tomorrow will, by all accounts, be an arduous day. As with the choice between the Route de Napoleon and the Valcarlos low-level alternative on the Francés, one may get to Berducero either directly over the mountains – the Hospitales route, so called for the three mediaeval pilgrim hospitals strung out along its track and now visible only as ruins and the longer but flatter Pola de Allande track, which also features a couple of coffee-stops along the way. One is enjoined most sternly by the locals never to attempt the Hospitales route unless weather conditions are excellent: fog sweeps in with breathtaking speed and lives are lost up there. Happily, the forecast for tomorrow is about as good as it can be, so I can see no reason not to proceed directly.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015); Camino Norte/Primitivo (2016); Camino Frances (2017); Le Puy (June 2018)
#14
My son and I walked the Primitivo in mid May 2016 with mostly good weather and great temperatures, experiencing only a few days of partial drizzle or fog. I loved this route and although we walked alone quite a bit during the day, many albergues were quite busy by day's end. You will probably not be alone as often as you hope, @Aurigny.
Wishing you a very Buen Camino and healthy feet!
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#15
This is a wonderful 'blog' of you journey, such an easy and informative read. I'll be starting from Oviedo on the 29th and this is a timely input to my planning. I hope your heel holds up.
Thanks for sharing. Buen Camino
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#17
Casa Ricardo is an interesting place – or such, at any rate, is its clientèle. There was plenty of room in the establishment when I went to bed last night: at lights-out, only half the bunks in our room were occupied. I was a little taken aback, therefore, when I slipped out quietly at 05:15, to find a young woman sleeping on a camp-bed in the communal kitchen. Still more surprising, when I stole past her to the courtyard to pick up my shoes, was my discovery of a gentleman, somewhat more mature in years, who had chosen to crash out in a sleeping bag laid on the stone flags, underneath the stars. Being blessed with unusually good reactions, I was able to pull myself up before measuring my length on top of his; and his soft snores confirmed that he had not heard the brief but pungent expression of my view of his choice of a doss-down spot that sprang unbidden to my lips. I've no idea whether he is afflicted with an uncontrollable case of claustrophobia or was simply trying to save the ten euro, but either way, he'll never know how close he came to sending both of us to the hospital.

All in all, I was grateful to be on the far side of the wooden door where no more unexpected encounters, other than possibly disturbing an unwary cat, could await me. Sitting at one of the unused metal tables outside Herminia's, I made a hasty breakfast of the items I had bought the previous day and headed off into the darkness. I had a fairly long and steep hike ahead of me, and wanted to break the back of it before the afternoon heat became a serious factor.

Had I to do it again, I would have left still earlier. The first part of today's leg started on paved road, but quickly switched to farmers' cart-tracks that once again were often covered in standing water, blocked by fallen trees, or both. My lightweight LED torch provided me with good illumination, but I was still having to do quite a lot of scrambling around these various obstacles. It was all taking time, and even at this stage I was keeping one wary eye on my watch. I had been warned that a real possibility exists of losing the bed-race at Berducedo, which is not much bigger than Campiello, and I didn't want to have to extend an already long day still further by having to hike on to the next albergue at A Mesa.

I started the serious climb up the sierra, leaving the village of La Mortera, shortly after sunrise, getting out of town less than two minutes before a chilly wind blew dense billows of low cloud up the valley. Within moments the village and everything beneath it had been obliterated by a solid layer of stratus. This was not of any concern to me – already I was a hundred feet above the cloud-bank, and would soon be a great deal higher than that – but it was a salutary reminder of just how quickly the weather in these parts can turn unfavourable. In recent times, I'm informed, the waymarking of the path along the mountains has been greatly improved, and as a result the danger of tumbling off the side is considerably reduced. But one still can't walk in seriously foggy conditions, and it would not be enjoyable to have to spend extended periods of time up there in the cold and damp waiting for the visibility to improve.

Today, though, the chief concern would be the sun, which was beating down with surprising intensity for this time of year. A fountain is to be found just above La Mortera, and filling one's water-bottle here is a necessity. Not another drop will be available until one reaches Berducedo, more than 20 km away. As I tanked up, I was joined by a trio of Spanish pilgrims, varying in age from the mid-twenties to the mid-forties. The eldest of the three concerned me. It didn't appear as though he had done a great deal of training, and already he was covered with sweat and so badly gassed that he was unable to respond to my ¡Buenos dias! until he had put his hands on his knees and his head close to the same place for a couple of minutes. If he had come from Campiello, as I'm sure he had, he'd covered by that point about six kilometres. The climb had barely begun, and I was wondering uneasily whether we'd have a heart attack on our hands before the morning was out.

But I also had my own ascent to which to attend. In terms of terrain and of degree of difficulty, the Hospitales route is like a more rugged and isolated version of the first day of the Francés from SJPP to Roncesvalles. The gradient is a bit steeper, the trail underfoot a bit rockier, and the views a bit more extensive, at least if the weather is co-operative. In fact all day I was powerfully reminded of the upper stretches of the Route de Napoleon: the same mountain ridges covered with short grass or scrub, with wooden poles about 50 cm high staked out at intervals to show the trail, and very few trees visible in any direction.

The only significant difference, other than the extra steepness, is the presence of various quadrupeds who clearly view the presence of humans as at best a source of diversion, and at worst an intrusion. On my way up I found half a dozen Asturian cows sprawled across the trail who looked at me with a cold eye and made it perfectly clear that I was expected to go around them, rather than the reverse. Fair enough, I thought. But I was less impressed by a donkey who stationed himself on one of the rocky trails far above me. As I approached I expected that he would either ignore me or move aside. Not a bit of it. Instead, as I came abreast him, he turned around; began walking beside me; and, when I continued on my way, found diversion in leaning heavily on me and trying to bustle me off the left-hand side of the trail. Being in just that state of sweat-soaked hyperventilation to be irritated rather than captivated by these antics, I leaned heavily back. We continued thus for twenty metres or so, I stumbling and he gently snorting in apparent amusement, until I stopped; put down my bag; and gave him a hefty shove on the shoulder with both hands. This caused him finally to amble off downhill, no doubt in search of the next rube on whom he could practice. There's a YouTube channel called "Animals Being Jerks." This character, I decided, was either a loyal viewer or was hoping soon himself to audition.

As previously mentioned, the ruins of three pilgrim hospitals are to be found along the route. Not much is left of any of them beyond the foundations and some of the walls. I was again startled as I passed the site of the second, the Hospital de Fanfarón, to find that some halfwit had pitched his one-man tent against one of the interior walls and, at about 09:30, was only now striking camp. To the best of my knowledge, free-camping is not permitted on public lands in Spain, but even if it were, it passes my comprehension how, with an entire mountain range to choose from, anyone could imagine that the ideal place in which to drive stakes into the ground is a fifteenth-century historical site. It's little wonder that pilgrims are often not as popular with the locals as they ought to be.

Somewhere around Fanfarón is also where the highest point of the route is to be found, although there's no marker to indicate the precise spot. Still, the Mk. 1 eyeball does the job quite well. I imagine that, after a cold front has passed through, the views from up here are truly spectacular. Today they were a bit less than that: there was too much humidity in the air. I'd say that I was able to see for 50 km in all directions, but on a really clear day, twice that should easily be possible. I did pause for a few moments to catch my breath, and was joined by a young Norwegian peregrina whose progress up the slopes – about twice the rate of my own – was a reminder of my abysmal lack of physical conditioning. After we'd exchanged some pleasantries about the scenery and the delightful weather she continued along the ridge and very quickly showed me a clean pair of heels, disappearing from view in less than ten minutes. I imagine that something like today's hike holds no terrors for her: at home, she probably takes on stiffer challenges as part of her daily commute.

At any rate, she was to be almost the last companion I was to see on the sierra. Crossing the Puerto del Palo, a pass marked by the junction of the low-level route and an ugly high-tension electricity cable that stretches for miles in a westerly direction, I started a very steep descent along a scree-covered path towards the microscopic settlement of Montefurado, in reality an old chapel and a couple of stone farmhouses. From there the trail switchbacks up and down – mostly, alas, up – before emerging at the small village of Lago. I gather that until recently a bar existed here, but I was unable to find any trace of it. Instead it was necessary to content myself in patience until I reached Berducedo, at the end of an agreeably shady forest path about three kilometres further along.

The municipal albergue in the village doesn't have a good reputation, and looking through the grimy windows as I passed, I had an idea why. Fortunately space was available at one of the private alternatives, Casa Marques on the main street, and this served me very nicely indeed. It has a sunny terrace with ample clotheslines and drying racks, and plenty of seating. The attached restaurant-bar offers a very acceptable menú del dia, especially if braised beef is on offer as it was tonight. All told, one might do a great deal worse.

I have heard that, in many people's eyes, the Hospitales route is the high point of the Primitivo in the figurative as well as the literal sense of that term. For me it was a good day's journey, but not so impressive that one should feel greatly disappointed for having missed it. Almost as striking views are available, for those who follow the Pola de Allende route, at the point at which it intersects the one along which I travelled. And the weather on the mountain track can be a little wearing even if fog or thunderstorms are not complicating things. There's no shelter of any kind up there, and very few places even to sit. On the windward side of the ridge-line a strong and chilly wind blows almost continously; on the lee side it's much stiller, but on a sunny day like today the temperature soars. The entire day, therefore, I alternately froze and baked, leading me to feel at the end as though I had worked much harder than I really did. I'm glad to have done it, but my guess is that in the final analysis, other parts of the Primitivo will seem every bit as, or still more, memorable to me when I look back upon my time here.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#18
It's hard to know what to do about the Sabbath when one is on pilgrimage. From one perspective it's the statutory day of rest, and hence one ought not to walk. From another, one is already engaged in a form of physical and spiritual recreation, and hence one ought. In my typical unsatisfactory way I split the difference. I would put in a day's journey, but make it a short one, a proverbial Sunday's walk of 20 km down the road to Grandas de Salime. In these parts this is a comparatively major metropolis of some 530 souls, featuring a municipal albergue and two private ones, a small supermarket (in truth a medium-sized grocery), and an ATM.

Part of the calculation involved in keeping today's run within limits is the condition of my left heel. It's not giving me serious difficulties as of yet, but at various points yesterday it was sending out definite distress signals. Scrambling over rough surfaces, of which there are a superabundance on the Hospitales route, seem to upset it more than paved or level ones, even though my hiking shoes seem to be absorbing as much of the impact as any footwear can be expected to do. Giving it an easy day and a chance to recover appears sensible. One thing that I've learned about the Primitivo is that it exigently demands patience of those who travel it, and will have that patience one way or the other – if not on the trail itself, then in a chair afterward with compression bandages and ice around one's elevated lower limb.

So Grandas it was. Inasmuch as it wouldn't take me more than five hours at the very outside, there seemed to be no reason to start at cock-crow. Accordingly, I was happy to allow the peloton to depart and follow them at a civilised hour. My only appointment of the day was 19:00 Mass at El Salvador church in the centre of town (which, I was frustrated to discover on arrival, is no longer celebrated on weekends). So I breakfasted like a gentleman; fired off a couple of e-mails home, and meandered downhill in the direction of Grandas, once the streets had been well aired.

As it turns out, "the direction of Grandas" is one of those relative affairs. As the crow flies, the town is only about six or seven kilometres to the east of Berducedo. But a couple of mountain ridges stand in the way, making one's progress toward the goal a series of undulations reminiscent of a drunk trying to find his way home after a boozy party. First one heads to the little village of A Mesa, which involves walking to the southern end of a long ridge featuring a dozen wind turbines along the top. The moment one reaches it, one reverses direction and hikes up the ridge to the north. And as soon as one reaches that, it's time to reverse course again and walk downhill south, only this time along the far side. As an exercise in geographical futility it can hardly be bettered.

Still, if one wants to trail around the Spanish countryside in ever-diminishing circles, today was the day to do it. Conditions could hardly have been more perfect for walking: not a cloud in the sky, the temperature agreeable, and a light but pleasant breeze to keep one's skin dry and comfortable. Forty-five minutes at a modest pace brought me to A Mesa, which features an impressive-looking and quite new albergue. The hospitalera doubles as a masseuse, bringing aching lower limbs back to life. A Dutch peregrina with whom I spoke, having just received the treatment, said it was worth every penny.

After climbing and descending the ridge, which looks more intimidating than it really is, the wayfarer is given a choice of routes on to Vistalegre. This whole area was incinerated in a forest fire in April 2017; to avoid forcing pilgrims to tramp through the scene of devastation, the local authorities opened up a diversionary trail as far as the Salime dam. It adds an extra couple of kilometres to the journey and is even more absurdly circuitous. In light of all the recent rain, I decided that the danger of taking the traditional route was minimal, and headed downhill after stopping for a brief prayer at the completely delightful and tiny chapel of Santa Marina at Buspol (a pilgrim's prayer in Spanish is tacked to the door). I was glad I took this option, because what I was seeing confirmed suspicions that I had formed when walking the CPI last year. My botanical ignorance is second to none – at best I'm able to distinguish daisies from not-daisies – but it nonetheless seemed to me that if you wanted to design something that would burn hotter, faster and better than almost anything else in the world, you would wind up with something very like an Iberian planned forest. Row upon row of conifers, replete with pine oil and shedding needles that shrivel up into a highly inflammable carpet, are planted like soldiers on parade in long straight lines and incomprehensibly close to each other. The odd eucalyptus tree is interspersed to promote initial combustion. Where the trees are not present, a gorse-like undergrowth that crisps up wonderfully in the dry weather is allowed to cover the hillsides. As if there are not enough things to burn, tall clumps of yellow rape festoon the lower slopes. Lastly, after the young trees have been partly incinerated in one summer's fire, their char-grilled corpses are left standing there to provide pre-dried kindling for the next summer's. To put it in a sentence, the entire area is primed to go up again like a Roman candle the moment somebody drops a match. As I say, I'm no expert, or even an educated amateur, but the Iberian method of forestry management completely eludes me.

The good news is that it's not necessary to run this gauntlet very long: three kilometres or so. Nor did I have to do so alone. Shortly after I descended into the burnt part of the slopes, I was joined by a stocky man in his early forties, covering the ground at an almost incredible rate. Seeing me, he asked me for directions to Grandas in Spanish that was quite as bad as my own. Trying to find a more convenient lingua franca, I discovered that he was Russian. Surprisingly, this worked out well, because he was able to understand enough of my pig-Polish to catch my drift. We quickly found that as long as we confined our vocabulary to just two parts of speech, nouns and verbs, we were able to get along splendidly. He had started his Camino in Moscow, his home town, and had been on the road and living out of his backpack for months. Somehow the conversation turned to the literatures of our respective countries: he was gratified to discover that I thought Pushkin superior to Tolstoii. Finding my sedate pace almost impossible for him to match, though, he wished me well and told me that we'd catch up at the albergue later in the day. And at the nearest thing to a dead run he was gone. Somehow, this encounter seemed to epitomise for me the talks I've had with my fellow pilgrims. They've hardly ever followed conventional expectations; they usually involve my butchering whatever language we happen to be using; and yet I don't believe I've ever met anyone out on the trail with whom communication has proved impossible.

After passing the Salime dam – the observation post on the western side is worth visiting – the road goes uphill again for nearly the six remaining kilometres into Grandas. Once more this looks scary, but if taken at a steady and moderate pace is quite manageable. It's necessary to walk on the shoulder most of the way, but not much traffic seems to use that route. The last couple of kilometres cut through the forest, providing pleasant shade and possibly being a little faster than the main road.

Grandas doesn't look as though it's doing well these days. Dining options are few, and the meal I ate, at any rate, distinguished itself neither by its attractiveness nor its affordability. Still, I rarely want to eat much on these pilgrimages and, if nothing else, a forgettable night-stop provides incentive for an early bed and a timely departure the following morning. That's what I will be doing, Fonsagrada across the border in Galicia being my destination for tomorrow.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015); Camino Norte/Primitivo (2016); Camino Frances (2017); Le Puy (June 2018)
#19
I opted to stop just past the dam at the nice hotel for a cafe con leche in the afternoon on their patio overlooking the beautiful lake. I ended up spending the night there, too. So nice to have a cute room with a view, hot bath, and good dinner. One of my favorite memories on the Primitivo.
 
#20
Forty-five minutes at a modest pace brought me to A Mesa, which features an impressive-looking and quite new albergue. The hospitalera doubles as a masseuse, bringing aching lower limbs back to life. A Dutch peregrina with whom I spoke, having just received the treatment, said it was worth every penny.
I am really enjoying your posts Aurigny. And the opening of a new albergue in La Mesa means that the Berducedo bottleneck will decrease even more. Great news, it looks very nice. https://www.gronze.com/asturias/mesa/albergue-miguelin
 
Camino(s) past & future
Sept/Oct 2015 Le Puy - to Conques, Tui - Santiago. May/June 2017 Conques to SJPP
#21
When the evidence changes, so the saying goes, it's sensible to change one's mind. Peering out the window early today and seeing the rain-swept streets defying last night's over-sanguine weather forecast caused me rapidly to change mine While I normally like to make an early start to the day, especially in light of the fact that my planned night-stop, Grado, was the better part of 30 km away, the attractiveness of that idea seemed harder to perceive at six in the morning. Instead I cooled my heels and waited for better weather to materialise. By around nine, the rain had given way to a sullen cloud-base, and having made good use of the delay by loading up on café con leche and reading the local newspapers, I set off from the Cathedral in the general direction of another one, more than three hundred kilometres to the west.

Many veterans of the Primitivo report that getting out of Oviedo is something of a challenge. From my perspective, it was a great deal more straightforward than I had imagined. It's true that one has to know where to begin. Oviedo doesn't do yellow arrows – at least until the outskirts. Until then, one must rely on brass scallop-shell markers set into the footpaths, much as one does in León or Pamplona. That, in turn, is tricky until one finds the start of the sequence. Fortunately, it's very close to the Cathedral – just to the right, as one exits the main door. From there the trail of shells, spaced at about 50m intervals, leads up Calle Schultz and ultimately to the western edge of town.

To be sure, locating them is sometimes a bit of a challenge. Sensibly, the shells are set into the concrete at an angle so as to indicate when one is supposed to bear right or left or to cross the street. But the ovetense seem especially fond of parking their cars over the markers or covering them with chairs and tables outside cafés, requiring the pilgrim to engage in a degree of creative projection. They're also to be found only on one side of the street, and tend to oscillate between the middle of the pavement and the kerbstones in a way that requires one's head to be on a constant slow swivel. However, in general the waymarking is so good that if one has travelled, say, 300m without seeing some indication of where to go next, it's safe to assume that one is off track and should return to the last known position for another try. I'd go so far as to say that Oviedo has the best waymarking out of town of any similarly sized Spanish town I've ever seen, Ourense alone excepted.

Once clear of the city limits and established along the trail, the journey soon becomes very pleasant indeed. The early stages of the Primitivo involve lots of climbing and descending, but neither is all that difficult. It's a little steeper than what one would describe as "rolling countryside," but not so much as to tax the abilities even of someone like myself who had done practically no serious walking over the past year. The terrain looks a lot like northern Bosnia, albeit with rather fewer burnt-out villages along the way. Despite the fact that the winter and early spring, to judge from the state of the rivers, have been quite moist in these parts, the going underfoot is surprisingly good. Most of today's leg consisted of gravelled or rocky paths interspersed with the occasional stretch along the hard shoulder of the main road, but even in the forested sections, very little mud was to be encountered. I finished the day with my hiking shoes nearly as clean as when I began.

It's important to plan ahead, as the logistics of the Primitivo can be challenging. Fortunately I obtained all the road food and drink that I was likely to require before leaving Oviedo. Had I not, I imagine that I would have arrived at my destination in a lean and hungry condition. I had planned to have lunch at the only remaining restaurant in Escamplero, the half-way point of today's leg. Indeed, somewhat concerned about the risk of over-taxing my left heel, I had even considered the possibility of ending my day there – the restaurant owner is also the key-holder for the local albergue. Both decisions were taken out of my hands, though, by my discovery of a chalked board announcing that the establishment was closed on Wednesdays. A vending machine was available to enable me to wash down my sandwiches with cold drinks by way of compensation. The sensible pilgrim along this route does well, though, to assume that the pickings will be not just slim, but non-existent, between the daily departure and destination points.

So on to Grado it was, about another thirteen kilometres further west. After Escamplero the trail became narrower, more or less paralleling the River Nalón on the northern bank and with the main road above and to the right. It's quiet, and at this time of year at any rate, it would appear, a little lonely. I encountered only one other pilgrim along the trail, a middle-aged bicigrino – I believe German by nationality – who I came across optimistically but futilely trying each door of the Escamplero restaurant in the hope of finding a staff-member to let him into the albergue. Otherwise I had the trail to myself the entire day.

Some amenities are nonetheless available. A good fountain guards the entrance to the tiny hamlet of San Lázaro de Paniceres, perhaps 5 km west-northwest of Oviedo. Fill up your water bottle here, because it'll be a long time until you see another one. A self-service sello is also kept in a wooden box at the Chapel of the Carmen in Lampaxuga, another three kilometres further on. This being Iberia, the iron-bar-festooned doors of the chapel itself are chained up in such a manner as to deter the cast of Ocean's Eleven at its most inventive, so any praying you might wish to do will have to be accomplished from the steps of the vestibule outside. However, a dish is placed on the floor within the church to receive donations. If you have had a particular kind of misspent youth, you can revive your pitch-and-toss skills by heaving your coins through the bars in such a way as to land them inside the dish. My own youth having been misspent in an entirely different direction, my couple of euros missed the target by a country mile. But at least they rolled to rest in the main aisle, and will no doubt easily be found by whatever retiree from Fort Knox holds the keys to the establishment and comes by every so often to sweep up the metallic harvest.

It took me far longer than usual to reach Grado. I was proceeding at a very sedate pace, being firmly resolved that if I were to break down physically on this trip, it would at any rate not happen on the first day. In the event, my injured heel held up surprisingly well. It certainly made its presence felt, especially on the downhill stretches, but the difference between this outing and any of my days during the last week on the CPI a year ago is as between chalk and cheese. Today I was dealing with twinges and, as the day wore on, the occasional mild throb; a twelvemonth past, every step I took was a small down-payment on Purgatory. Tomorrow morning will be the acid test, but I was more pleasantly surprised by my physical condition than I ever expected to be.

After passing the village of Peñaflor, 3 km from my destination – and site of the first open bar I'd passed since leaving Oviedo, 23 km away – I found that an intimidatingly official diversion-board had closed the remainder of the trail. Pilgrims were being ejected back onto the main road, the N-634, for the rest of the way. Fortunately, though visually unappealing, this was undramatic. A good footpath keeps pedestrians from having to mix it with the considerable volume of vehicular traffic, and the road leads straight into the centre of town, the municipal albergue being clearly signposted off to the right.

Unfortunately, I was unable to roost there. The delightful and newly-appointed volunteer staff – from Cape Town and Boston, respectively – explained to me that anyone arriving after 15:30 will have definitively lost the bed-race for the day. The thirty-two-bunk establishment was filled to the gills. I can't quite imagine how, in light of how few people appeared to be on the trail, but no doubt my fellow pilgrims began their day much earlier than I did mine. Although the albergue staff generously offered to make arrangements on my behalf with an acquaintance of theirs, who was willing to put up any latecomers for EUR 10 a night, I decided instead to duck round the corner to a private establishment, the Auto-Bar on the main street, which offers four-bunk rooms with bathrooms attached at EUR 15. I'm occupying the upper berth of one of them as I write.

All in all, then, a successful and agreeably uneventful day. I haven't covered a tremendous amount of ground, and will need to pick up the pace within a day or two if I'm to reach SdC on time. That, though, is a problem for the future. Right now, I'm relieved that things have gone as well as they have.
It's not often at this point in the year that I get any free time, and still less common for me to know in advance that it's coming. A few months ago, though, I received the welcome news that my window of opportunity to take some annual leave might come earlier than usual. Pilgrimage-possibilities immediately began suggesting themselves to me, and inasmuch as the number of days available is, as always, limited, the Primitivo stood high on the list of potential routes. I'm still dreaming of a really long trip – the Via Gebennensis, at around 2,000 km, would fit the bill nicely – but the logistical difficulties are so formidable that that one will remain a bucket-list item for the foreseeable future. Right now, ten days or so is as much as I can scrounge together, and for my fourth Camino, going back to where it all began in 814 A.D. had a definite charm. If one makes reservations long enough in advance, moreover, flights to Spain in the shoulder-season are almost absurdly cheap, at least if one isn't all that fussy about where in the country one actually lands. My family, with visions dancing through their heads of a couple of weeks of uninterrupted Netflix and house-and-garden magazines during my absence, gave the idea an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Only one obstacle stood in my way, but that was, and may remain, a serious one. A year ago, as readers of that sub-forum will recall, I ventured out in a fit of ignorance-induced enthusiasm along the little-travelled Camino Português Interior. It was in many respects a memorable journey, and probably came closer to recreating, in however attenuated a form, the daily experience of our mediaeval predecessors than anything else in this vein that I've attempted thus far. That is to say, I spent a considerable proportion of each day wandering off in entirely the wrong direction through unmarked and heavily overgrown Iberian wilderness, and a goodly proportion of the remainder dodging, or at least warily skirting, the uncontrolled wildfires that were responsible for so tragically high a number of deaths in Portugal last summer and seemed to be popping up around me like so many mushrooms. All in all it was one of those trips that one is, in equal measure, glad to have accomplished and determined never to repeat. According to the Pilgrim's Office at SdC, 81 of us completed the CPI last year, and the only thing that surprises me about that number is that there were in fact so many of us.

The lasting legacy of that trip, however, was serious and persistent foot problems. My first two days in the mountains, covering almost 100 km over terrain that was often rocky and covered in scree, left me with damage from which, for the remainder of the trip, I was unable to recover. While the visually impressive evidence was to be seen on the right foot—a blister two inches across that didn't rupture until after I returned home, and a heel that oozed blood slowly but continuously throughout the second week—the real trouble was building up beneath the surface in the left. By the end of the pilgrimage, I had landed myself with an exceedingly nasty case of plantar fasciiitis, an all-too-obvious diagnosis that was duly confirmed by the podiatrist to whom I hobbled shortly after picking up my compostelle at SdC.

Well, nobody's fault but my own, and I knew it. Over the next several months I diligently performed the regimen of dreary rehabilitative exercises with which those similarly afflicted are familiar—that curious toe-clenching business that resembles Kegels for the feet; rolling a tennis ball or a bottle of frozen water around on one's heel; hauling the front of one's foot upwards with the aid of an industrial-sized rubber band, etc. Improvement was painfully slow, in both senses of the adjective, but by mid-November things seemed to have improved to the point that I was ready to measure my progress. One chilly Saturday afternoon I embarked on an unambitious test run: a 16-km loop along flat, paved surfaces. Nearly four hours later, darkness long since having fallen, I hobbled at a snail's pace through my front door, practically unable to put my left foot to the ground. It was impressed upon me that I was in considerably greater difficulty than I had supposed.

Numerous X-rays, scans and assorted professional proddings and pokings followed, together with a new set of exercises. In the end, with time running out, I prevailed upon my medical advisers to try the penultimate resort of fasciitis-sufferers—a series of cortisone injections directly into the heel. These aren't tremendous fun, but are not unbearable either. Although I experienced an acute cortisone reaction that in the short term left me even less mobile than previously, matters did appreciably improve thereafter. My orthopaedic consultancy, which spends most of its time working with high-level athletes but generously agreed to take my very banal case on board, fixed me up with a new pair of insanely expensive hiking shoes complete with still more expensive inserts precision-moulded to the contours of my feet. About three weeks ago, having taken hardly a single unnecessary step for the better part of a year, I ventured out once more for a more realistic road-test: 30 km non-stop, with a couple of stiffish hills en route.

The results weren't disastrous. I was conscious of my left heel after a couple of kilometres, and remained so for the rest of the way. But it wasn't sufficiently uncomfortable to slow my pace, and at the end—other than being reminded by my aching leg-muscles how disgustingly unfit I currently am—I was as much a going concern as at the beginning. Rather than tempt fate, I shut operations down at that point, and from that day until this one have done nothing more than continue the cycle of rest and rehabilitation.

Thus it is that I find myself at the starting point in Oviedo, a few hundred metres from the Cathedral and a brand-new credencial in my backpack. If I were to assign a grade to my foot, I'd say that I'm operating at present at about 80% of normal. Should things stay that way, despite my lack of road-fitness I'll have few concerns about finishing the trip. But I have no idea whether by the end of tomorrow—or any of the days to follow—I won't find myself bounced right back to square one. ("Go to rehab. Go directly to rehab. Do not pass SdC. Do not collect another compostelle," as a Catholic version of the Parker Bros. board game might put it.) Only time will tell. One thing is sure: in my worst imaginings I would never have dreamed that I could have banged my feet up so comprehensively, and with such persistent consequences, merely by walking on them.

Otherwise my morale is high. I've heard nothing but good things about the Primitivo, and even though I'm now the owner of a lightweight magnetic compass that, if I'd possessed it last year, would have saved my bacon more than once on the CPI, I doubt I'll have occasion to use it. Word has it that the waymarking along this route is excellent. I don't expect to run into too many fellow pilgrims at this time of year, but that too suits my mildly solitary mood. Having heard Mass this evening at the Cathedral and with a night's albergue accommodation safely obtained, I have nothing to do but to hunt down my first dinner of the trip and get an early night in preparation for a pre-dawn departure tomorrow morning.
Loving your posts and am taking copious notes for reference in September. Stay healthy and Buen Camino from Australia.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Sept/Oct 2015 Le Puy - to Conques, Tui - Santiago. May/June 2017 Conques to SJPP
#22
Yes I agree a well written piece. I will be very interested to hear how your foot holds up, we leave Australia today for Paris and then to Irun to commence our first Camino - del Norte to Oviedo and then Primitivo. I have been training hard and was feeling well prepared and strong until 3 weeks ago when I suddenly developed plantar fasciitis. I’m doing all the exercises, had the cortisone injection which hasn’t worked so my good doctor, understanding my commitment to this pilgrimage, has loaded me up with strong painkillers and the appropriate letters of authorisation so I don’t get put behind bars while passing through several borders. Oh yes, and my pack weight has just increased with spare insoles and cushioning, balls for rolling the feet, bags for ice not to mention the copious quantities of painkillers.
Postponing the trip was not an option - now or never.
So like you Aurigny I will be waiting to see how I go (or not) with some trepidation but will be giving it my best shot. Good luck
Best wishes for a great Camino from another Aussie Pilgrim planning to work Norte/Primitivo in August (knees/shins/feet willing). Let us know how you are travelling.
 

ksam

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Portuguese '08, Frances '11, del Norte '14, Invierno '16, Ingles '17, Primitivo October 2018
#23
My very tender and sore left heel sends it's best wishes to your left heel! I'm enjoying every bit of you posts. God will and the creek don't rise...I'll be following in your foot steps come October.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#24
Not all legs of a pilgrimage can be filled with fascinating things. The Grandas-to-Fonsagrada stretch is a little – pun intended – pedestrian. But it also gave me the impression of marking a kind of cultural boundary, as well as a political one, along this route. To this point, the Primitivo has had its own and quite distinctive character. Now, as it passes out of the Principality of Asturias into Galicia, it is beginning to take on something more of a Francés-esque appearance and vibe. This is to be expected, the point of conjunction with the final stage of the Francés itself not being far away. But for most of today, it was easy for me to imagine myself on one of the more anonymous runs that one encounters before, say, pulling into somewhere like Molinaseca.

To be sure, the day certainly started in good Primitivo fashion, with an uphill hike out of town. To my left I could clearly see the ridge above A Mesa, with its dozen windmills, just six or seven kilometres away as the crow flies. The reflection that to get to that point I had walked sixteen was not conducive to the mood of spiritual forbearance in which this pilgrimage is supposed to be accomplished. For all that, the sojourn to the first significant point out of town, the little village of Castro, goes quickly enough. But then the serious climbing begins, firstly along a shady, and muddy, forest trail from which I was driven several times into the adjacent fields by the bogs in my path, and then on the shoulder of the main Grandas-to-Fonsagrada road as far as Peñafonte. After that one resumes one's upward progression on a more open, and increasingly narrow, track. The gradient is relentless but bearable except for a short section just beneath a small clutch of wind turbines near the Puerto del Acebo, the highest point of the day's trek at 1,050m if the roadside placard announcing the fact is to be believed. All told the climb takes about ninety minutes of solid hiking, through terrain that is fairly featureless. At the top one does get a splendid view of the countryside in all directions, confirming that the hills ahead are somewhat less challenging than those behind. From here, provided the visibility is half-decent, one can also easily see the rooftops of Fonsagrada about 12 km away, and especially its distinctive water-tower at the south end of town. By this point one has also crossed into Galicia, to which a small marker bears witness.

The rest of the day's run, passing abeam the villages of Fonfría and Barbeitos along a path that parallels the main road, is still more unmemorable. The restaurant at the latter was, to my disappointment, closed (it puts up the shutters at 16:00 on weekdays), so I had to tighten my belt until reaching Fonsagrada itself. My main concern when doing so was avoiding the pop-up late-afternoon thundershowers that had been forecasted. These duly manifested themselves, right on schedule, but fortunately for me confined their attentions to the southern side of the Acebo ridgeline. Indeed it was remarkable how significant that mountain seemed to be to the local micro-climate. Just a couple of kilometres to the south, the precipitation was coming down in buckets. Above the mountain itself and as far as the eye could see to the north, the sky was clear with the exception of some broken cumulus clouds. I can only assume, inasmuch as the wind was coming out of the east, that orographic lifting has something to do with setting off the storms when an unstable airmass is around.

The humidity, though, made itself felt at ground level as well as above it. I was quite sweaty enough on the approach to Fonsagrada, but the last 1.5 km or so, a gravelled track with about a one-in-eight uphill gradient, finished the job of causing me to soak through my shirt as though I had dipped it in a bucket. Again the parallel with the Francés suggested itself to me, with almost every Brierley-day, it seemed, ending with a wearisome climb to some hill town or other. I was also surprised though by this stage of the game I really ought not to be by the gentleman in the Citroen Berlingo van who honked me out of the way when I was two-thirds up. I'd hesitate to bring my motorbike up a path like that, far less a four-wheeled vehicle. The Iberian driver doesn't even think about it at least, doubtless, until his gearbox is deposited in one of the deeper ruts.

Still, I'm bound to say that the ascent was worth the effort. Fonsagrada is my notion of an ideal night stop. With a population of nearly four thousand, it's a glittering consumer paradise compared to almost anything else along the Primitivo. It features one of the best private albergues in Spain, the Cantabrico, which I commend to anyone who may find him- or herself in these parts. I can say the same for the restaurant at which I ate my evening meal, Manaia Sea Ela in the Avenida Galicia, about four minutes' walk away. It was nothing elaborate: the standard €9 menú del dia with which we're all familiar, but a very superior example of the type. Two choices were on offer for each course (I had the local version of Wienerschnitzel), but both well-presented and efficiently served. Can't say anything about their hooch, because I don't drink, but the people at neighbouring tables didn't seem to have any complaints. As I rolled downhill back to bed, stuffed to the gills with good food, I know I didn't.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Primitivo June 2013
SJPP - Logroño June 2014
Ingles July2016
#25
Iberian driver ? Galicia is not an Iberian region. That's why the Galicians are indifferent to bullfights.:)
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#27
They're hanging in, S. I said in my first post on this thread that the left one, which is the problem child, was about 80% of normal. I'd say much the same today. It hurts, but not in the pattern typical of plantar fasciitis. As you probably know, with that ailment the pain is worst first thing in the morning, and then diminishes when things loosen up after a bit of usage.

These days my heel is OK in the mornings, and probably for the first 12-15 km of any hike. Then it starts throbbing, and from the 20-km point onwards I'm feeling every footstep. But it's not crippling pain, the kind where one looks around for the nearest tree branch with which to fashion an impromptu crutch. It just hurts.

But that's how it is with every pilgrimage. By the end of each day, most things hurt. Often it's not easy to differentiate the normal pain from the abnormal.

If things stay the way they are now, though, I'll definitely make SdC, probably by Saturday.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#28
I was sorry to say goodbye to Fonsagrada, and sorrier still to give up the several hundred metres of elevation my efforts the previous day had earned me, but duty called. As I've said, the waymarking along this entire route has been superlative, so I was somewhat taken aback to find that here, the more typical pattern for getting out of Spanish towns – no useful guidance whatever – was reasserting itself. From the Cantabrico albergue, a single shell-marker attached to the exterior of the Xunta's local pilgrimage-administration office points uphill and to the left. But nothing follows it. After circumnavigating the block twice, I gave it up as a bad job and resumed my own navigation, heading westbound with the sun to my back. Very soon indeed this procedure put me back in yellow-arrow land, and I recommend it to other visitors. Or simply ask any local where is the road to Lugo, because that's where the trail actually goes.

The weather today could hardly have been more perfect. On the whole I've been extraordinarily lucky this trip: with the exception of a couple of squishy mornings at the outset, conditions have been either good or ridiculously good. This was one of the latter days. The thunderstorms yesterday afternoon had cleared the atmosphere out and meant that, for the first time this trip, I was getting the unrestricted views I'd been promised. Unfortunately a solid blanket of low stratus cloud filled the valleys, and though the sun was certain to burn it off before long, I wouldn't be in the neighbourhood by then. Still, with delightful conditions around me and the memory of last night's dinner still sustaining me, I was in good humour for my 26-km hike to O Cádavo, last stop before Lugo.

Nearly always I'm on my own for most of the day on the Primitivo, but today I kept running into various people I'd previously met – a young couple who were doing the entire journey with their five-month-old baby, carried in a sling; a mother and daughter from the western United States, on pilgrimage for the first time; an athletic young Spanish man who left me in the dust for pace but who I kept catching up because of his habit of taking frequent catnaps en route, and so on. At times the narrow trail was quite congested as we squeezed past each other, everybody's natural walking speed being different. But most of us came together again at the top of the first long climb, the Hospital de Montouto with its well-preserved ruins, its standing stones and, now, its enormous wind turbine towering above the scene. (If you're a connoisseur of wind turbines, the Primitivo will hold considerable charm for you. During each of the past three days, the trail has passed only a few metres away from one or another of them.)

Attractive though the Hospital is, this is not the place to rest. Two and a half kilometres below, at the end of a long, descending forest trail (the Eroski guide, followed by the Brandt briefing notes, says 900m, but this is clearly wrong), the Casa Mesón bar and sandwich-shop in Parvadella awaits. For €2.30, I was given a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich, complete with accompanying tomato, as big as a baby's head, and sufficient to sustain me for the rest of the day. Thus fortified, I embarked on the second half of the day's journey.

This proved to be surprisingly hard work. It's a mixture of road work and forest trails, but the latter become progressively steeper, on some stretches rivalling the final haul into Fonsagrada. My policy for going up hills is to take them as slowly as I like, but never actually to stop until I reach the summit, in the certain knowledge that re-starting will be more painful than just keeping going. For me, anyway, it's a policy justified by its results. My progress upward may have been measurable with a sundial, but even so, nobody was passing me on those slopes.

The trail abruptly descends on the approach to Cádavo, which you won't actually see until you're on top of it. It lies at the bottom of a bowl of hills on all sides, and to be honest doesn't have a huge amount to recommend it other than location. The Xunta albergue is the first thing one sees, and while most of them are good, this one is not, perhaps, the showcase of the network. (Although speaking of networks, it does have free, albeit slow, wireless internet.) Otherwise there's a private competitor, the San Marco, on the main drag, about which I'm afraid I can say nothing other that it's well signposted and easy to find. A decent restaurant attached to the Hotel Moneda, a fountain, and a petrol station more or less complete the list of amenities. I'm starting to have second thoughts about staying here – I'd flirted with the idea of pressing on to Castroverde, 5 km or so down the trail – but inasmuch as it's only for one night, I'll stick with the original plan and make an early departure in the morning.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Sept/Oct 2015 Le Puy - to Conques, Tui - Santiago. May/June 2017 Conques to SJPP
#29
They're hanging in, S. I said in my first post on this thread that the left one, which is the problem child, was about 80% of normal. I'd say much the same today. It hurts, but not in the pattern typical of plantar fasciitis. As you probably know, with that ailment the pain is worst first thing in the morning, and then diminishes when things loosen up after a bit of usage.

These days my heel is OK in the mornings, and probably for the first 12-15 km of any hike. Then it starts throbbing, and from the 20-km point onwards I'm feeling every footstep. But it's not crippling pain, the kind where one looks around for the nearest tree branch with which to fashion an impromptu crutch. It just hurts.

But that's how it is with every pilgrimage. By the end of each day, most things hurt. Often it's not easy to differentiate the normal pain from the abnormal.

If things stay the way they are now, though, I'll definitely make SdC, probably by Saturday.
Well done you. Pain I guess we can all deal with but knowing when the injury has got to the point of being a Camino-ending injury is my fear.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Sept/Oct 2015 Le Puy - to Conques, Tui - Santiago. May/June 2017 Conques to SJPP
#30
They're hanging in, S. I said in my first post on this thread that the left one, which is the problem child, was about 80% of normal. I'd say much the same today. It hurts, but not in the pattern typical of plantar fasciitis. As you probably know, with that ailment the pain is worst first thing in the morning, and then diminishes when things loosen up after a bit of usage.

These days my heel is OK in the mornings, and probably for the first 12-15 km of any hike. Then it starts throbbing, and from the 20-km point onwards I'm feeling every footstep. But it's not crippling pain, the kind where one looks around for the nearest tree branch with which to fashion an impromptu crutch. It just hurts.

But that's how it is with every pilgrimage. By the end of each day, most things hurt. Often it's not easy to differentiate the normal pain from the abnormal.

If things stay the way they are now, though, I'll definitely make SdC, probably by Saturday.
Love your attitude and your determination. One foot after the other..... Bravo!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#31
The Hotel Moneda does quite a nice dinner, even though I was the only one in the dining room eating it. (Parenthetically, I'm going to have to stop ordering escalope de ternera in Spain. No matter how much I insist I want it muy bien hecho, in fact casi incinerado, they find it impossible to believe me. The meat itself is of excellent quality, but in this country "very well done" means "mooing at a slightly lower volume.") However, Cádavo not being the kind of place to encourage layabeds, I was up and out as soon as the sun was theoretically over the horizon. I had to guess that, because early-morning hill fog reduced visibility to a few hundred metres. The fountain on the way out of town, appearances to the contrary, does indeed work – one has to lean very heavily indeed on the buttons – and produces clear and deliciously cold water. Having filled my bottle, I was ready for the day's run to Lugo, about 31 km away.

The first, and practically the only, conurbation one encounters en route is the small town of Castroverde. It looks closer to Cádavo on the map than it is in reality – my walking-pace in the countryside is a fairly steady 5 kph, and it was nearly two hours before I reached it – but knowing what I do now, this is definitely where I ought to have overnighted. It too has a Xunta albergue, at the standard €6-a-night tariff, but this example looked a lot nicer than the one I patronised last night. Castroverde also has many more dining and snacking options, for all that the prices seem quite elevated for these parts. Most importantly for my purposes today, it has two small but well-stocked supermarkets: a Dia down a side-street somewhere, and a Froiz on the main thoroughfare at which I acquired enough road food, including a splendid loaf of bread straight out of the oven, to make me self-sufficient for the remainder of the day.

Uniquely in my experience of the Primitivo thus far, the Cádavo-Lugo sector features no significant climbs. In fact I had almost forgotten what it was like to bowl along on the flat, not having to work very hard. The Galician kilometre-markers were there in their usual unnecessary superabundance – all, miraculously, unvandalised. (I'd like to say that this is because one gets a higher class of peregrino/a than on the more travelled routes, but to judge by the clumps of white tissue beside various bushes, which seem every bit as common as on the Francés in proportion to the respective trails' traffic-volume, I'm not sure that that is so.) I was able, therefore, to watch the distance to run click down at what seemed a phenomenal rate. Just three hours after starting, my pit-stop in Castroverde included, I was at the half-way point, marked by a vending machine in the microscopic village of Vilar (though no sign identifies it as such). Manfully I resisted temptation, but nonetheless fell with a soggy thud a couple of kilometres further on in Santa Maria de Gondar, population 68. On the left-hand side, when one has practically left town, one finds a veritable oasis of self-service goodies – no fewer than three vending machines offering everything from sandwiches to microwaveable rice and pasta concoctions; two ovens (one conventional, one microwave) with which to heat them; a sink with tap-water; and even some electrical outlets with which to charge infernal devices like the one on which this message is being composed. It was more than flesh and blood could stand, so I demolished my road food here, washed down with copious draughts of cold Kas limón of which the machines supplied far too much.

After that I wobbled, rather than walked, back onto the trail – almost immediately passing a large, new and, it appeared, expensive fountain for travellers that, unfortunately, the vending-machine rest area has probably already rendered obsolete. The remainder of the day's trek was pleasant but not especially noteworthy: forest, fields, cows and kittens more or less sums it up. Seven kilometres outside Lugo I chanced across a couple of workers who were busily improving the track with the aid of a microscopic bulldozer, part of a six-month, half-a-million euro project for which, according to the numerous signs advertising the works, the EU is putting up 80% of the cost. Supposedly this also includes improvements to the waymarking, but I find it almost impossible to imagine what remains to be done in this regard. It sometimes appears as though the Xunta of Galicia once acquired a colossal number of marker-posts in a discount sale and, having no idea what to do with them all, plonked them down at various points regardless of whether they were required or not. I'm one of those people who like to know how far they have to go, but I have not yet reached the Alzheimeresque need for constant reminders that a solicitous Xunta has provided for me. Along today's leg I found four of the things within a 250m stretch, only one of which was even arguably necessary to steer pilgrims in the right direction. The two closest were 26m apart.

A stiff but short climb at the end of the day brings the wayfarer into the centre of Lugo, the only city along the route since departing Oviedo. The old town is quite attractive; the ring-road of suburban apartment-blocks surrounding it less so. But it features a fine Xunta albergue, tucked just inside the Puerta San Pedro, and presided over by a gracious hospitalera. Restaurants and fruit-shops abound. Whatever hardships a pilgrim may have encountered along the way to this point, ample compensation is available here.
 
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#33
But it features a fine Xunta albergue, tucked just inside the Puerto San Pedro, and presided over by a gracious hospitalera.
Hi, Aurigny, I know the beauty of your posts is in your captivating prose, but here is yet another gem of news buried in your description. I take it, based on your use of the feminine noun hospitalera and the adjective "gracious", that there is now a new person in charge of the Lugo albergue. Even if the "a" is a typo, there is no way you would have used "gracious" to describe the hospitalero many of us have encountered. Or maybe it is his day off. ;)
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#34
Many thanks for the kind words, L. Very definitely the use of the feminine was intended. A most kind and courteous individual -- early forties or thereabouts, I'd say. Unfortunately I didn't get her name, but she couldn't have been more helpful to me.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#36
Hi Aurigny, thanks again for a wonderfully insightful account of your journey.
Given your experience of some muddy and very wet stretches, plus the forecast for more heavy rain over the next week or so, what would you recommend as the best footwear; hiking shoes or boots?
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#37
It's possible to receive a compostelle starting from Lugo, if you back up a few hundred metres from the Cathedral and begin from there. No doubt this is why the peloton this morning became much more numerous than usual, and a great deal younger. The secondary schools in Spain are still in session, so the hordes of hundred-kilometre students who congregate on the terminal stages of the trail every summer are not yet in evidence. But there seem to be quite a lot of the college-aged joining our merry throng, at least during the early part of the day. Later on the numbers thinned out, and as has been typical of this entire trip, before the halfway point of the journey I was on my own.

I had been cautioned about the difficulty of getting out of Lugo, but once again, the authorities appear recently to have risen to the occasion. These days it's ludicrously simple. All one need do is to make one's way to the Puerta de Santiago, which can be accomplished by going to any point at the Roman walls and turning left or right as required. Once at that spot, one of the familiar blue-and-white signs points down the Rúa de Santiago, and from there it's a straight downhill run, with ample waymarks, to the pedestrian bridge across the river. On the far side one turns right and walks along the south bank out of town. While I'm on the subject, I should add that if one is lost in a Spanish town and there happens to be an Avenida de Santiago or some similarly-named thoroughfare, making one's way there, while not a copperfastened guarantee, offers a very good chance of putting one's footsteps in the right direction.

This is another leg on which it's advisable to stock up on food before leaving Lugo. About 10 km out of town, practically all that one is likely to encounter in that regard is at O Burgo, which features another vending-machine emporium, Casa Zapoteiro, that an enterprising soul has established in his or her garage. The set-up is quite elaborate, including a unisex toilet, a self-service sello and a grafitti wall. Unfortunately, while chalk is provided for the grafitti wall, paper for the toilet is not, ratifying my decision never to travel on pilgrimage without a roll of paper towels stashed in my backpack. It weighs almost nothing, and its applications are endless.

Just before I reached this facility, I happened across a couple of pilgrims in their late teens or very early twenties who were in the midst of a silent but heated domestic dispute. This consisted of the young woman removing the items from her backpack one by one and hurling them on the ground in the middle of the road, and the young man bending down and picking them up again. Both were decked out in brand-new hiking gear, and didn't look as though they'd been on the trail for very long. I thought that they might stop, or at least act a little embarrassed, as I hove into view, but far from it. A few kilometres up the road, I was overtaken by them as they blazed along at about twice the speed I was making. She was in the lead; he about fifty metres behind; both had earphones clamped on their heads, ignoring each other. Not for the first time the thought occurred to me that for a young couple contemplating matrimony, going on a pilgrimage is much more valuable than a pre-nuptial agreement, and perhaps even more valuable than pre-nuptial counselling. It establishes quite definitively whether they are capable of functioning as a team, or whether they aren't.

After Burgo, which according to a roadside sign is home to an actual live bar some distance off-piste, the trail either parallels or runs along the shoulder of a small two-lane country road, the memorably-named LU-P-2901. One doesn't want to follow it too far; eventually, after Ponte Ferreira, it curves off to the south in the direction of Palas de Rei. It's a pleasant enough little road along which to walk, and certainly gets very sparse vehicular traffic, but the places through which it passes are remote indeed. Very likely they were significant at some point in Spain's history; now, the succession of destination-markers that pop up every couple of kilometres seem to refer to historical place-names rather than anywhere of more recent significance. Not a single commercial establishment is to be encountered out here, the occasional agricultural co-operative and tractor-repair station aside. It's not until one reaches Ferreira that the first café puts in an appearance, along with a couple of private albergues and the odd agriturismo or two.

When I left Lugo, I hadn't made up my mind as to my day's destination. So long as my foot felt good and the weather stayed fine, I was flirting with the idea of continuing all the way to Melide, even though that would have been the better part of 50 km from my point of origin. As it happened, neither of those criteria came close to being satisfied. From Burgo on I had been in considerable pain, although not of a severity that would compel me to stop walking altogether. More importantly, as I passed Ferreira with about 28 km already in the bank, the sky ahead turned dark and menacing. Because the wind was coming out of the west and that was the direction in which I was travelling, it was obvious that I was going to be hit hard fairly soon. I have good waterproofs, but for obvious reasons I don't walk in thunderstorms. I was also mindful of the fact that, as on all my pilgrimages, I had squirreled a certain amount of money away for one night's luxury accommodation – "luxury" in this context meaning not having to share a room with somebody else (or a dozen somebody elses). I expected to be out on the trail only for another two or three days, so my opportunities to indulge in this splurge were rapidly diminishing. Turning briskly on my heel, then, I returned to the closest of the farmhouse accommodation places, the Casa de Ponte, and enquired of the genial hostess, who was watching a Spanish soap opera in her living room, whether she had a single available for the night and how much it might be. The sum mentioned -- €30 – was just within my budget and I quickly closed the deal. Half an hour later, showered and tucked up in bed as the first distant rumbles of thunder sounded, I drifted off into a dreamless and undisturbed night's sleep, the first I have enjoyed since landing in Iberia.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Norte, Primitivo, Plata, Salvador Torres
#38
What a splurge!

As to obtaining the compostela after having walked the last 100 km on a camino to Santiago, apparently Spaniards list this “exploit”, the French would say, can’t think of the word in English - anyway they list it in their CV which explains the number of people....
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#39
Dear Seán,

It's a matter of what's most important to you. As you know, I've had trouble with my feet, so a pair of light hiking shoes (I use Salomon X-Ultras, which seem to be very popular out here) are, on balance, much better for me than a pair of heavy boots would be. But there are trade-offs. Twice this trip, despite considerable care on my part, excellent balance and being a fairly light man (tall and thin), I sank into wet mud with one foot, which was unpleasant (a lot of the albergues, though, now have a hose for shoe-and-boot-washing in the courtyard). If it had been rainy that would have been, probably, an everyday occurrence.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#41
Dear Seán,

It's a matter of what's most important to you. As you know, I've had trouble with my feet, so a pair of light hiking shoes (I use Salomon X-Ultras, which seem to be very popular out here) are, on balance, much better for me than a pair of heavy boots would be. But there are trade-offs. Twice this trip, despite considerable care on my part, excellent balance and being a fairly light man (tall and thin), I sank into wet mud with one foot, which was unpleasant (a lot of the albergues, though, now have a hose for shoe-and-boot-washing in the courtyard). If it had been rainy that would have been, probably, an everyday occurrence.
Thanks “Aurigny”, I go with my trusted Meindl (Respond) hiking shoes then. They have served me well in Ireland (Wicklow Way, Tain Way, etc) where a little mud is common place. And on my journey on CF over past few years.
I start from Oviedo on Tuesday. Buen Camino
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#42
I think that's wise. For me it's important to have confidence in my footwear. Even if they're not perfect for every situation, knowing that they're not going to hurt me does a lot for my morale.

If you've been up and down the Sally Gap on foot and in bad weather, nothing you'll see out here will intimidate you.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#43
I think that's wise. For me it's important to have confidence in my footwear. Even if they're not perfect for every situation, knowing that they're not going to hurt me does a lot for my morale.

If you've been up and down the Sally Gap on foot and in bad weather, nothing you'll see out here will intimidate you.
That’s a good test alright. one of The Irish Pilgrim paths last week as a training day; “St.Kevin’s Way” from Hollywood to Glendalough. A beautiful spring day but still plenty of “soft spots” to test the footwear. Slan go foil
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#44
One of the curious things for me is how little I want to eat while on these trips. I had brought some road food – a little bread, cheese and fruit – with me from Lugo – but the fact that I slept last night clean through the dinner hour did not in the least disturb me when I arose this morning. Nor was I interested in breakfast, even a cup of coffee. Mostly all I want to do during the day is drink large quantities of plain water. I rarely look forward with any anticipation to a cooked meal, although the Spanish habit of pre-salinating everything to a degree that suggests the local chefs own shares in Siberian salt mines has a fair amount to do with that. It's a mystery to me where my appetite goes, in circumstances in which I'm exerting myself physically about as strenuously as I ever do. In any event, I headed off to Melide, my intermediate stopping-point for the day about 22 km away, with nothing more than a litre of water in my stomach and another in my bottle, feeling thoroughly well-equipped for the journey.

This was the last section of the Primitivo proper for me; from Melide on it simply overlaps the Francés. Appropriately, even though it's now a fairly level trail, it retains its rustic character. There's one semi-respectable climb, of 150m or so, up to O Hospital – another place possessing only a nominal existence – but otherwise it's hard not to make good time, for the most part walking along the shoulder of a paved road. Four hours after leaving Ferreira, I was pulling into the centre of Melide, which I remembered from my previous outing on the Francés.

This time the contrast was too jarring. The town was full, its streets choked with participants in and spectators for what seemed to be a schoolchildren's fun run, and with pilgrims who were being disgorged fifty at a time from tour buses. Whence these came or where their passengers had spent last night is unknown to me, but they mostly seemed to be middle-aged Americans wearing matching sweatshirts and carrying very small bags that looked like fanny packs worn a little higher on the back. As far as I could see these didn't look capacious enough to contain more than a couple of sandwiches. Presumably the 'bus-operators handle the logistics of the operation. Anyway, the noise and crowds after nine and a half days of congenial semi-solitude was too abrupt an assault on my senses. Even Lugo had seemed quieter.

My appetite not having returned, I downed a couple of cups of coffee while I decided on my night-stop. Theoretically, I could take two more days in addition to today to reach SdC: my flight out doesn't leave until the evening of the day after tomorrow, so that day could be used for walking purposes as long as I got started early enough. On the other hand, if something should go wrong on day 2, that would leave me with no opportunity for recovery. I still don't entirely trust this heel of mine, for all that it has behaved surprisingly well thus far. If it were to let me down sometime tomorrow with, say, ten or fifteen kilometres to go to SdC, I could still make a quick trip to the hospital, pick up a couple of crutches, and if necessary put in an all-nighter to reach the destination. But if the same thing were to happen on the final day, I'd be out of options.

Accordingly I decided to make Arzúa my overnight-stop. That'll leave me with a longer day's journey into SdC tomorrow – just under 40 km – than I'd ideally like, But it keeps my options open. I'm not expecting serious difficulties to arise, but a semi-viable plan B always leaves me in a more cheerful mood.

As with the Melide sector, the 14 km or so jaunt to Arzúa was quickly accomplished. In contrast to the past week, today was a cool, cloudy day with rain threatening but never quite managing to come down. I found it extremely comfortable and refreshing after so many kilometres put in under an unusually hot sun for this time of year. Arzúa has tons of amenties, including a good Xunta albergue and several excellent but more pricey private ones, and as many restaurants as one can shake a stick at.

Only in one respect has my timing been off. Some kind of road-rallying tournament is taking place in the vicinity (for Americans, think of a kind of NASCAR circuit over half a dozen miles of twisting country roads, temporarily closed off for the purpose. The fun comes in seeing how many of the contestants end upside-down in the ditch, or telescoped against trees). All of these vehicles are sculling up and down the main street, making an ungodly noise because their silencers have been removed, presumably in the interest of enhanced performance or to compensate for low testosterone. Until they knock it off, whenever that will be, neither I nor anyone else in this town is getting a wink of sleep tonight.
 
#45
I have to admit I’m sorry you’re almost finished! Your posts have been so much fun to read.

Almost everyone who walks the Primitivo knows what you mean about the shock in Melide. I have found that for me the best way to deal with it is to walk on to the private albergue in Boente. It’s after Melide and before Arzua. Then you are in between stages, and it’s a very small place so not huge crowds. If you start out at normal starting time the next day, you will miss almost all the crowds until Arca o Pino. Then your last day there’s no avoiding the pilgrim conga line.

But your 40 km last day is another way to minimize time with the crowds. Enjoy, Aurigny!!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Sept/Oct 2015 Le Puy - to Conques, Tui - Santiago. May/June 2017 Conques to SJPP
#46
I have to admit I’m sorry you’re almost finished! Your posts have been so much fun to read.

Almost everyone who walks the Primitivo knows what you mean about the shock in Melide. I have found that for me the best way to deal with it is to walk on to the private albergue in Boente. It’s after Melide and before Arzua. Then you are in between stages, and it’s a very small place so not huge crowds. If you start out at normal starting time the next day, you will miss almost all the crowds until Arca o Pino. Then your last day there’s no avoiding the pilgrim conga line.

But your 40 km last day is another way to minimize time with the crowds. Enjoy, Aurigny!!
Many thanks Peregrina (have just reserved Albergue in Boente following your advice).
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#47
Hi Aurigny, I start out from Oviedo in the morning with the expectation / hope of reaching La Doriga (c34km) by mid-afternoon.
Haven’t seen any posting from you in the last 24 hours but wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your daily updates and how helpful they will be on my own “Camino”.
I hope your ‘radio silence’ isn’t enforced and that you have reached SdeC safe and sound.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#48
Liking to make use of a couple of the cool pre-dawn hours, I always travel with good light sources. Departing Arzúa at 05:30, though, I didn't really need them. Half a dozen of the serious hikers were out ahead of me. All I needed to do was to follow the little bobbing points of light in front, looking from a distance like so many fireflies, although my own illumination was still valuable as a means of ensuring I didn't put my foot in a puddle or a pothole.

It's been a couple of years since I was out on the Francés. I was astonished to discover just how little of this section I remember. Melide, to be sure, was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but almost everything else afterwards must have passed either above, or beneath, my consciousness. I vaguely remembered the bridge over the river at Ribadiso because I'd thought the last time I crossed it that it might be a good place to fish for trout when the water was high. But the only thing I even half-recalled from Arzúa itself was that semi-antique Froiz supermarket sign, and the rest was a complete blur until I came upon the fountain with the year 1909 engraved in Roman numerals, a few kilometres before Pedrouzo. How I can have been so out of it the first time round is beyond me.

At all events, it had the bonus that I was seeing this leg as it were for the first time. I wish I could say that it made a more positive impression on me. I know that this section of the Francés gets more foot traffic than all the others put together. But sheer volume alone can't account for the condition in which these last forty kilometres have been left. Not a single stone waymarker has gone unvandalised, usually by people wielding cans of spray paint. (One halfwit had bedaubed every one with the words "Love wins" in red for a fifteen-kilometre stretch, perhaps fearful that if he missed one, it wouldn't.) From about the mid-point between Pedrouzo and Lavacolla, each distance-marker had been gouged off. Litter was to be seen all over the place. It's remarkable that most of this escaped my attention the last time I was along here, or perhaps it wasn't as bad then, but it's all too evident now.

The best that can be said for it is that it passes by quickly enough. The early foot-traffic out of Arzúa thinned out quite soon, and contrary to expectations I found myself, even here, walking for long stretches out of sight of others. Relatively few bars and cafés were open at that hour, so I didn't stop until reaching the bar at Amenal, a couple of kilometres on the far side of Pedrouzo. There I picked up my first sello of the day, knowing that I should be able to obtain the second one at the church in Lavacolla. Just as I was finishing my coffee, a party of Americans arrived. They were travelling in what I think they believed to be period attire. Alas, their notion of what a mediaeval pilgrim would have worn seemed to have been derived from a viewing of that Robin Hood film of the early 1990s starring Cary Elwes and Mel Brooks. But far be it from me to decry their innocent fun, if that indeed is what impelled them to dress up like this. As I departed they were posing for photos being taken by a bunch of German bicigrinos; no doubt it's on the internet somewhere.

The authorities have dug up the road around that iconic way-marker just past the airport boundary fence that misleadingly tells the unwary that they've arrived in Santiago, whereas in reality they've another 12 km to go. If nothing else the works have had the effect of displacing the swarms of hucksters that used to be found there, and have now transferred operations to the road underpass about a kilometre further downhill. Closer in, the improvement of the park at Gozo continues, though it's having the paradoxical effect of making the lighted cross-monument there seem even more dated and run-down. Thanks to the low cloud and haze I was unable to make out the cathedral from up there, or any definable landmark at all beyond the bridge that carries the motorway around town. The park, though, will probably look quite pretty once the landscaping has been completed and the trees finally mature. From this point onward various parties of pilgrims began to congregate, and we arrived in town – along a more direct route than I seem to remember from last time – in a fairly solid phalanx.

I've been walking this time in memory of a man who died a couple of months ago, so I wanted to go to the Pilgrims' Office immediately and collect the compostelle to give to his daughter. The queue was about what one would expect for 16:00 on a Saturday afternoon: about ninety minutes long. Signs in the corridor warn pilgrims about consuming any alcoholic drinks on the premises. The pair of young Spanish men immediately behind me, though, had figured out a way around that. One of them kept the place of both in the queue while the other went away, no doubt to an adjacent bar, and slaked his thirst. The first then returned, freeing up the second to do likewise. As a result of executing this procedure, the pair of them were soon drunk as lords, bawling, chanting and singing in such a way as to render themselves thoroughly obnoxious to their neighbours. It struck me as odd that the security staff took no action to quieten them or even, if necessary, to escort them from the premises.

The compostelle once obtained, I went to the Seminario Menor, just off the Avenida de Lugo, where I'd booked a room at the modest price of €17. It's not a bad place to end a pilgrimage, being quiet and set in its own attractive gardens. After an undisturbed night's sleep, I checked out on Sunday morning and joined the long queue for the Pilgrims' Mass at the Cathedral. Many of my fellow worshippers were in town for a demonstration against a proposed new mine in the Touro-O Pino area. They were raucous enough while waiting in the queue, but respectful of the service itself. Though I've attended a half-dozen such Masses, this was the first time I saw the much-hyped censer in use; evidently someone in the congregation had stumped up the €400 this now costs to arrange. Speaking as a Catholic, I'm bound to say that it strikes me as something of a gimmick, with little or no spiritual significance. Nor am I persuaded that it originally served the purpose of fumigating the premises, so to speak, back in the days before showers and deodorants were as prevalent among the pilgrim population as they are now. Standing at the back of the south transept, I was unable to detect as much as a whiff of incense; I fancy the operators would have needed to be swinging the device for half an hour at least, with several refills, before I might. It's a good story, anyway. Just the same, if this tradition were to be discontinued, I don’t think that either on historical or liturgical grounds I would be inclined to shed a tear.

Mass once over, I departed for the airport. I'm always glad to get as quickly as possible out of the centre of SdC, a place where spirituality is at best commodified, and at worst burlesqued. However, the destination for me is the least significant component of these pilgrimages, and one that at this stage of the game I'd just as gladly give a miss altogether. The places of faith, hope and charity are elsewhere: a little impromptu shrine on the side of the trail, where handwritten prayers and Mass cards are left under a small pile of stones; the bedroom of an albergue where packets of chocolate biscuits, blister remedies and the first cherries of the season are passed around from one bunk to another; a tiny mediaeval chapel at the top of a hill where nobody has lived for centuries, but where candles are still being lit and the flowers still being kept fresh. One has to end a pilgrimage somewhere, and SdC is as logical a place as any, but even from a religious perspective getting there is not the point. It never was.
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
Sept/Oct 2015 Le Puy - to Conques, Tui - Santiago. May/June 2017 Conques to SJPP
#50
Liking to make use of a couple of the cool pre-dawn hours, I always travel with good light sources. Departing Arzúa at 05:30, though, I didn't really need them. Half a dozen of the serious hikers were out ahead of me. All I needed to do was to follow the little bobbing points of light in front, looking from a distance like so many fireflies, although my own illumination was still valuable as a means of ensuring I didn't put my foot in a puddle or a pothole.

It's been a couple of years since I was out on the Francés. I was astonished to discover just how little of this section I remember. Melide, to be sure, was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but almost everything else afterwards must have passed either above, or beneath, my consciousness. I vaguely remembered the bridge over the river at Ribadiso because I'd thought the last time I crossed it that it might be a good place to fish for trout when the water was high. But the only thing I even half-recalled from Arzúa itself was that semi-antique Froiz supermarket sign, and the rest was a complete blur until I came upon the fountain with the year 1909 engraved in Roman numerals, a few kilometres before Pedrouzo. How I can have been so out of it the first time round is beyond me.

At all events, it had the bonus that I was seeing this leg as it were for the first time. I wish I could say that it made a more positive impression on me. I know that this section of the Francés gets more foot traffic than all the others put together. But sheer volume alone can't account for the condition in which these last forty kilometres have been left. Not a single stone waymarker has gone unvandalised, usually by people wielding cans of spray paint. (One halfwit had bedaubed every one with the words "Love wins" in red for a fifteen-kilometre stretch, perhaps fearful that if he missed one, it wouldn't.) From about the mid-point between Pedrouzo and Lavacolla, each distance-marker had been gouged off. Litter was to be seen all over the place. It's remarkable that most of this escaped my attention the last time I was along here, or perhaps it wasn't as bad then, but it's all too evident now.

The best that can be said for it is that it passes by quickly enough. The early foot-traffic out of Arzúa thinned out quite soon, and contrary to expectations I found myself, even here, walking for long stretches out of sight of others. Relatively few bars and cafés were open at that hour, so I didn't stop until reaching the bar at Amenal, a couple of kilometres on the far side of Pedrouzo. There I picked up my first sello of the day, knowing that I should be able to obtain the second one at the church in Lavacolla. Just as I was finishing my coffee, a party of Americans arrived. They were travelling in what I think they believed to be period attire. Alas, their notion of what a mediaeval pilgrim would have worn seemed to have been derived from a viewing of that Robin Hood film of the early 1990s starring Cary Elwes and Mel Brooks. But far be it from me to decry their innocent fun, if that indeed is what impelled them to dress up like this. As I departed they were posing for photos being taken by a bunch of German bicigrinos; no doubt it's on the internet somewhere.

The authorities have dug up the road around that iconic way-marker just past the airport boundary fence that misleadingly tells the unwary that they've arrived in Santiago, whereas in reality they've another 12 km to go. If nothing else the works have had the effect of displacing the swarms of hucksters that used to be found there, and have now transferred operations to the road underpass about a kilometre further downhill. Closer in, the improvement of the park at Gozo continues, though it's having the paradoxical effect of making the lighted cross-monument there seem even more dated and run-down. Thanks to the low cloud and haze I was unable to make out the cathedral from up there, or any definable landmark at all beyond the bridge that carries the motorway around town. The park, though, will probably look quite pretty once the landscaping has been completed and the trees finally mature. From this point onward various parties of pilgrims began to congregate, and we arrived in town – along a more direct route than I seem to remember from last time – in a fairly solid phalanx.

I've been walking this time in memory of a man who died a couple of months ago, so I wanted to go to the Pilgrims' Office immediately and collect the compostelle to give to his daughter. The queue was about what one would expect for 16:00 on a Saturday afternoon: about ninety minutes long. Signs in the corridor warn pilgrims about consuming any alcoholic drinks on the premises. The pair of young Spanish men immediately behind me, though, had figured out a way around that. One of them kept the place of both in the queue while the other went away, no doubt to an adjacent bar, and slaked his thirst. The first then returned, freeing up the second to do likewise. As a result of executing this procedure, the pair of them were soon drunk as lords, bawling, chanting and singing in such a way as to render themselves thoroughly obnoxious to their neighbours. It struck me as odd that the security staff took no action to quieten them or even, if necessary, to escort them from the premises.

The compostelle once obtained, I went to the Seminario Menor, just off the Avenida de Lugo, where I'd booked a room at the modest price of €17. It's not a bad place to end a pilgrimage, being quiet and set in its own attractive gardens. After an undisturbed night's sleep, I checked out on Sunday morning and joined the long queue for the Pilgrims' Mass at the Cathedral. Many of my fellow worshippers were in town for a demonstration against a proposed new mine in the Touro-O Pino area. They were raucous enough while waiting in the queue, but respectful of the service itself. Though I've attended a half-dozen such Masses, this was the first time I saw the much-hyped censer in use; evidently someone in the congregation had stumped up the €400 this now costs to arrange. Speaking as a Catholic, I'm bound to say that it strikes me as something of a gimmick, with little or no spiritual significance. Nor am I persuaded that it originally served the purpose of fumigating the premises, so to speak, back in the days before showers and deodorants were as prevalent among the pilgrim population as they are now. Standing at the back of the south transept, I was unable to detect as much as a whiff of incense; I fancy the operators would have needed to be swinging the device for half an hour at least, with several refills, before I might. It's a good story, anyway. Just the same, if this tradition were to be discontinued, I don’t think that either on historical or liturgical grounds I would be inclined to shed a tear.

Mass once over, I departed for the airport. I'm always glad to get as quickly as possible out of the centre of SdC, a place where spirituality is at best commodified, and at worst burlesqued. However, the destination for me is the least significant component of these pilgrimages, and one that at this stage of the game I'd just as gladly give a miss altogether. The places of faith, hope and charity are elsewhere: a little impromptu shrine on the side of the trail, where handwritten prayers and Mass cards are left under a small pile of stones; the bedroom of an albergue where packets of chocolate biscuits, blister remedies and the first cherries of the season are passed around from one bunk to another; a tiny mediaeval chapel at the top of a hill where nobody has lived for centuries, but where candles are still being lit and the flowers still being kept fresh. One has to end a pilgrimage somewhere, and SdC is as logical a place as any, but even from a religious perspective getting there is not the point. It never was,
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#53
I start out from Oviedo in the morning with the expectation / hope of reaching La Doriga (c34km) by mid-afternoon.

Hope it'll go well for you, Seán. Take it slow and steadily. 30 km a day on the Primitivo is an excellent rate of progress. (I say this as somebody whose comfortable daily average is around 35 km on the Francés, and 40 km on the Portugués Central.) If the weather conditions are challenging, I'd reduce that by 5 km at least.
 

ksam

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Portuguese '08, Frances '11, del Norte '14, Invierno '16, Ingles '17, Primitivo October 2018
#55
Thank you for sharing! This has been a great "live" thread. Your making me feel calmer about doing the Primitive in October...bad foot and all!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#56
Thank you for sharing! This has been a great "live" thread. Your making me feel calmer about doing the Primitive in October...bad foot and all!
Hope it'll go well for you, Seán. Take it slow and steadily. 30 km a day on the Primitivo is an excellent rate of progress. (I say this as somebody whose comfortable daily average is around 35 km on the Francés, and 40 km on the Portugués Central.) If the weather conditions are challenging, I'd reduce that by 5 km at least.
Muchas Garcias. Leaving Campiello for the trip over Hospitales. Very misty but there is a group of 5 or so of us travelling together. Hope it clears when we get higher. Hasta Luego
 

Lise Z

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Primitivo (August 2018)
#57
Thank you for sharing, Aurigny, loved your writing and dry wit ('Nor am I persuaded that it originally served the purpose of fumigating the premises, so to speak, back in the days before showers and deodorants were as prevalent among the pilgrim population as they are now.')

I am walking from Oviedo to Lugo in August. I guess experiencing the crowds on the last stretch to Santiago is part of the journey but for now I am happy to stop at Lugo.
 
#58
We were going to walk the Primitivo this month but have now postponed it until October. Done enough mud hopping in the past and hope it'll be drier after the summer.

Thanks for posting, it's been a great read.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Norte, Primitivo, Plata, Salvador Torres
#59
I loved your posts like everybody else. Have only just found you again.

As for distances of the stages, Sean, I walk about 22 km, sometimes more, in the mountains often considerably less. But then I am 78, which maybe is an explanation. We all walk the distances we can and if we take care, all of us arrive!

Et merci, Aurigny, de votre réponse en français! Actually I am German, was married to an Englishman for over 30 years and have now lived in France for 30 years - result: a European.

All the best to you! And thank you again.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2008) Le Puy to SJPP (2010) Camino Primitivo (2010)
VLP (2013) Norte (2016/17)
#60
Liking to make use of a couple of the cool pre-dawn hours, I always travel with good light sources. Departing Arzúa at 05:30, though, I didn't really need them. Half a dozen of the serious hikers were out ahead of me. All I needed to do was to follow the little bobbing points of light in front, looking from a distance like so many fireflies, although my own illumination was still valuable as a means of ensuring I didn't put my foot in a puddle or a pothole.

It's been a couple of years since I was out on the Francés. I was astonished to discover just how little of this section I remember. Melide, to be sure, was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but almost everything else afterwards must have passed either above, or beneath, my consciousness. I vaguely remembered the bridge over the river at Ribadiso because I'd thought the last time I crossed it that it might be a good place to fish for trout when the water was high. But the only thing I even half-recalled from Arzúa itself was that semi-antique Froiz supermarket sign, and the rest was a complete blur until I came upon the fountain with the year 1909 engraved in Roman numerals, a few kilometres before Pedrouzo. How I can have been so out of it the first time round is beyond me.

At all events, it had the bonus that I was seeing this leg as it were for the first time. I wish I could say that it made a more positive impression on me. I know that this section of the Francés gets more foot traffic than all the others put together. But sheer volume alone can't account for the condition in which these last forty kilometres have been left. Not a single stone waymarker has gone unvandalised, usually by people wielding cans of spray paint. (One halfwit had bedaubed every one with the words "Love wins" in red for a fifteen-kilometre stretch, perhaps fearful that if he missed one, it wouldn't.) From about the mid-point between Pedrouzo and Lavacolla, each distance-marker had been gouged off. Litter was to be seen all over the place. It's remarkable that most of this escaped my attention the last time I was along here, or perhaps it wasn't as bad then, but it's all too evident now.

The best that can be said for it is that it passes by quickly enough. The early foot-traffic out of Arzúa thinned out quite soon, and contrary to expectations I found myself, even here, walking for long stretches out of sight of others. Relatively few bars and cafés were open at that hour, so I didn't stop until reaching the bar at Amenal, a couple of kilometres on the far side of Pedrouzo. There I picked up my first sello of the day, knowing that I should be able to obtain the second one at the church in Lavacolla. Just as I was finishing my coffee, a party of Americans arrived. They were travelling in what I think they believed to be period attire. Alas, their notion of what a mediaeval pilgrim would have worn seemed to have been derived from a viewing of that Robin Hood film of the early 1990s starring Cary Elwes and Mel Brooks. But far be it from me to decry their innocent fun, if that indeed is what impelled them to dress up like this. As I departed they were posing for photos being taken by a bunch of German bicigrinos; no doubt it's on the internet somewhere.

The authorities have dug up the road around that iconic way-marker just past the airport boundary fence that misleadingly tells the unwary that they've arrived in Santiago, whereas in reality they've another 12 km to go. If nothing else the works have had the effect of displacing the swarms of hucksters that used to be found there, and have now transferred operations to the road underpass about a kilometre further downhill. Closer in, the improvement of the park at Gozo continues, though it's having the paradoxical effect of making the lighted cross-monument there seem even more dated and run-down. Thanks to the low cloud and haze I was unable to make out the cathedral from up there, or any definable landmark at all beyond the bridge that carries the motorway around town. The park, though, will probably look quite pretty once the landscaping has been completed and the trees finally mature. From this point onward various parties of pilgrims began to congregate, and we arrived in town – along a more direct route than I seem to remember from last time – in a fairly solid phalanx.

I've been walking this time in memory of a man who died a couple of months ago, so I wanted to go to the Pilgrims' Office immediately and collect the compostelle to give to his daughter. The queue was about what one would expect for 16:00 on a Saturday afternoon: about ninety minutes long. Signs in the corridor warn pilgrims about consuming any alcoholic drinks on the premises. The pair of young Spanish men immediately behind me, though, had figured out a way around that. One of them kept the place of both in the queue while the other went away, no doubt to an adjacent bar, and slaked his thirst. The first then returned, freeing up the second to do likewise. As a result of executing this procedure, the pair of them were soon drunk as lords, bawling, chanting and singing in such a way as to render themselves thoroughly obnoxious to their neighbours. It struck me as odd that the security staff took no action to quieten them or even, if necessary, to escort them from the premises.

The compostelle once obtained, I went to the Seminario Menor, just off the Avenida de Lugo, where I'd booked a room at the modest price of €17. It's not a bad place to end a pilgrimage, being quiet and set in its own attractive gardens. After an undisturbed night's sleep, I checked out on Sunday morning and joined the long queue for the Pilgrims' Mass at the Cathedral. Many of my fellow worshippers were in town for a demonstration against a proposed new mine in the Touro-O Pino area. They were raucous enough while waiting in the queue, but respectful of the service itself. Though I've attended a half-dozen such Masses, this was the first time I saw the much-hyped censer in use; evidently someone in the congregation had stumped up the €400 this now costs to arrange. Speaking as a Catholic, I'm bound to say that it strikes me as something of a gimmick, with little or no spiritual significance. Nor am I persuaded that it originally served the purpose of fumigating the premises, so to speak, back in the days before showers and deodorants were as prevalent among the pilgrim population as they are now. Standing at the back of the south transept, I was unable to detect as much as a whiff of incense; I fancy the operators would have needed to be swinging the device for half an hour at least, with several refills, before I might. It's a good story, anyway. Just the same, if this tradition were to be discontinued, I don’t think that either on historical or liturgical grounds I would be inclined to shed a tear.

Mass once over, I departed for the airport. I'm always glad to get as quickly as possible out of the centre of SdC, a place where spirituality is at best commodified, and at worst burlesqued. However, the destination for me is the least significant component of these pilgrimages, and one that at this stage of the game I'd just as gladly give a miss altogether. The places of faith, hope and charity are elsewhere: a little impromptu shrine on the side of the trail, where handwritten prayers and Mass cards are left under a small pile of stones; the bedroom of an albergue where packets of chocolate biscuits, blister remedies and the first cherries of the season are passed around from one bunk to another; a tiny mediaeval chapel at the top of a hill where nobody has lived for centuries, but where candles are still being lit and the flowers still being kept fresh. One has to end a pilgrimage somewhere, and SdC is as logical a place as any, but even from a religious perspective getting there is not the point. It never was.
Thank you Aurigny for summing up so eloquently what pilgrimage is about and for taking me on the Primitivo once again. I have enjoyed each post which resonated on so many levels. I wish you a safe return home, and many more Caminos.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2014- 2017)
Primitivo June 2018
#61
Muchas Garcias. Leaving Campiello for the trip over Hospitales. Very misty but there is a group of 5 or so of us travelling together. Hope it clears when we get higher. Hasta Luego
Hola everybody. What a trip! One of the group had a “Fitbit” and clock the route at 32km? About 4km more than anticipated. Allowing for stops/rests etc we still managed c4km per hour.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t improve until after we passed Alto de Palo (at 1146) and then only marginally. We estimated that when we reached the top it was easily 1200+.
Despite the weather, mist, etc we really enjoyed the hike. Definitely a challenge but a memory of note.
 

Yoginee

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
No past. But "2016" is the year for me. "April 2016" - any other fellow walkers?
#62
Oh my god. What an amazing read. Thank you soo much Aurigny. I start the Primitivo next Tuesday and so looking forward to it after your blog here. As others have mentioned, you really have a way with words and prose. Excellent writing. I hope you do write a book one day. It will be a wonderful read.
 

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