So, like I said, we did a pretty weird camino. Last time I explained that we did three weeks on the normal Norte, just like everybody else. Well, normal except for all the alternate routes we found on Wikiloc that kept tempting us off the beaten path and onto those pretty, very unbeaten, occasionally confusing and quite often bramble-infested coastal paths. After three weeks of that we veered inland to Oviedo (nice city, lots of old stuff, weird statue of Woody Allen) where we immensely enjoyed a day off in an actual apartment. No hiking, no dorms, no races to the communal shower. Immensely.
The next day we were back on the move, still pilgrims, but now pilgrims on the Camino Primitivo. The name of which, incidentally, does not mean what we English speakers usually assume it means. While it is somewhat more basic and rural than some of the other Caminos, the name actually means “Original”, as in it was the very first Camino. Which seems to be a pretty important distinction for some pilgrims, I gather. Not these ones, though. The main draw for us was its reputation as a superior hiking trail to most of the others, meaning more time spent off roads and away from towns, often hiking in relative seclusion on soft forest paths or climbing rocky mountain trails. With roughly 10,000 metres of combined elevation gain packed into about 12 days it is considered much tougher from a hiking perspective, although the Norte is still the consensus #2 in that regard, considering we put in over 4,000 metres cumulative gain in just the first week alone before things levelled off somewhat. The Primitivo has a much different vibe, as well, passing through small rural villages as opposed to popular beach towns and, besides the obvious differences in terrain, we also noticed a complete change in the pilgrim demographics. Whether this is a regular trend or simply happenstance on the particular days and schedule we ended up walking is hard to say, but like flicking a switch we suddenly went from large groups of younger hikers (i.e. under 50), the vast majority women and on any given day at least 60% German, to almost exclusively older men (i.e. 50+), overweight yet noticeably competent hikers usually sporting neatly-trimmed grey beards, most of whom snore horribly, making many of our shared albergue dorms sound like a symphony of poorly functioning lawnmower engines like the ill-fated one I was tasked with rebuilding in Grade 10 Industrial Arts class. These men came in either Spanish or French, with plenty of both to go around.
Anyway, straight out of Oviedo we got immediately back into the swing of things, hiking close to 30 kilometres through a lot of pretty green hills and valleys. And yes, the math regarding elevation gain certainly seemed correct, as climbing and descending hills quickly became a recurring theme. Then we basically repeated the basic outline of that day 7 more times (the scenery and albergues changed, and my one chronic blister suddenly moved from my right pinkie toe to my left pinkie toe, but I can assure you all our clothes stayed exactly the same). Beautiful, difficult, satisfying, memorable. Which led us to another historic city, this time Lugo, which is not only surrounded by an impressive medieval wall but also features a Domino’s Pizza with a 9 euro “Tony Pepperoni” special and views of said wall. Then, instead of continuing 2 more days on the Primitivo in order to join the Camino Francés for the last 2 days into Santiago, like a normal person would do (presuming a “normal” person would actually find his or her self 650 kilometres into an 800 kilometre hike standing around wondering which way to go next), we instead decided to hop a bus to Baamonde. This involved a mere 30-minute ride (roughly = 7 hours of hiking) and took us across to where the Camino Del Norte had by now also turned inland and was making its own unique way down to Santiago. This left us exactly the same 100 kilometres from Santiago as before, but allowed us to meet up with our Norte friends to celebrate Anna’s birthday. She, Liz and Ella met us in Baamonde, part of the normal Norte route, and a booming metropolis of Baamonde: population 347, and home to a relatively famous and super-old artist who is best known for carving strange men into the trunks of trees (see below for pictorial evidence). Our Czech friend, Honza, also abandoned the final stretch of the Primitivo in order to come with us and enjoy celebratory drinks, birthday candles inserted into cheap doughnuts, then a few more drinks, and a less-than-ideal night in a giant dorm room that was, thankfully, only half-full. The downside being that in this instance half-full still meant roughly 30 roommates, plus we couldn’t find the switch to turn the light off, and I only realized at about 3 am – when waking to hear howling wind and a full-blown storm taking place outside – that I had left my towel on the line and decided that, as much as I loathe that rough, grabby little swatch of annoying fabric, it was really all I had so I’d better brave the dark stairs and inclement weather to rescue it before anything worse than a solid drenching befell it. In just my little quick-dry underwear and a head-lamp, no less. Restful is not a term you would use to describe that night, I don’t think.
So we spent a few more days back on the Norte, like returning to visit a comfortable old friend. Kind of like that, I guess, if you then learned that the friend doesn’t live at the beach any more but instead hops from village to village renting rooms from ebullient old ladies who really love doilies, while occasionally stopping at a pretty cool old monastery. This iteration of the Camino meant we would spend only a single day walking along the busier Francés, an upside in our mind since this is now the type of route where every single Camino distance plate has been pried off the cement trail markers, and you can’t swing a snarling Spanish dog without hitting at least half a dozen pilgrims, and each town has at least a dozen albergues (as opposed to one, with a total of 10 beds, like our last stop on the Norte). On the other hand, it does have a hugely appealing abundance, according to Honza, of young single women. You could practically see his mind rushing back to that fateful past moment in time when he decided to walk the Camino less travelled…
Our final walk into Santiago, which is meant to be exciting and triumphant and just a massive, well, relief, unfortunately turned into a bit of an anti-climactic slog when A) I woke up feeling sort of off, then had considerable trouble getting through the eggs of our huge final morning breakfast Laynni put together for us, a feeling that progressed into a fever that weakened my legs, meant my back ached while I remained constantly freezing, and lowered my appetite to the point that lunch consisted of a single old banana generously provided from the top of Anna’s backpack. B) It rained all day. Throw in the impressive ground to peak scaffolding which currently envelopes almost the entirety of famous St. James cathedral, as well as the intense urgency most were feeling to race over to the Pilgrim Office to get their place in the often several-hour line to receive your “compostela” (physical evidence of both completion and likely mental instability) and the whole finale fell a bit short of “the happiest day of my life”, celebratory beer that was more chore than cheer. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone excitedly say “I just won the Super Bowl, now I’m going to take a really hot shower and sleep until someone forces me leave the room”. The shower was pretty nice, though. And probably the sole reason I was able to get my shit together long enough was to meet up with Leigh, who we hadn’t seen in over two weeks, before his flight out the next day. Sure, it wasn’t much of a showing on my part, considering Laynni drank two grande beers to my two tiny glasses, and it took me, like, twenty minutes to fight my way through a small bar toastie for supper but, hey, I was up and about. I have proof. Thankfully I was much improved the next day, enough that I was actually able to drink normal-sized beer at our big final night celebration with our usual group and a couple others we hadn’t seen in ages (Welsh Jim and English Joe). Cheers! Salud! Prost! Nasdravi! Etc!
After the revelry had been satisfactorily completed, the idea was to head out the following day and hike to Finisterre which, as I explained last time, isn’t actually the end or western-most point of anything, but old people with questionable science and geography thought it was, hence the name. But I still wasn’t anywhere near up for that, and Laynni seemed to be teetering on the verge of something similar. It’s one thing to suck it up and suffer long enough to experience the glorious culmination of an epic 5-week journey, and another thing completely to walk yet another 100 kilometres just to get back to the ocean again, basically for no other reason than walking was all we seemed to know how to do at this point. In this particular situation, however, we soon learned that a bus will get you there as well, and roughly 70 hours sooner. We weren’t letting our bodies completely off the hook, however, as the moment we started feeling a bit better we decided we’d best start walking again, if only to do a couple relatively “short” 15-20 kilometre hikes along the coast to the fellow beach town of Muxia. Good choice – great scenery, quiet coastal trail, and our stay in Muxia highlighted by a reunion with Honza and Peter (another Czech pilgrim friend) and accidentally ordering an entire plate of sliced beef we unexpectedly needed to cook ourselves on a portable grill they brought to our table, bookended by both a stunning sunset and equally beautiful sunrise. And, finally, another bus, this time back to Santiago.
Because we were DONE.
Final tally: 41 days, 34 of those days spent hiking, 810 kilometres in total, one pair of hiking shoes, two rain ponchos, more than a few Band-Aids, unforgettable views, bed bugs… twice… we think, roughly 41 hard-bread bocadillos, and countless cuts to our gums. #caminolife
Next time I’ll share some of the more interesting miscellanea – stories, oddities, weirdos, shower laundry, etc. Then eventually move on to our brief time in Madrid and Germany, and much longer stay in the Canary Islands (currently basking in its glory outside our window).