It’s now three days later and already my memory is foggy: where exactly was I for the past few days?
The two days after Sebrayo were an ‘in-between’: I left the Norte sometime during the day after Sebrayo, and took the link from the Norte to the Primitivo (which officially starts in Oviedo). So until I left Oveido, I wasn’t really on any Camino at all: not on the Norte, not on the Primitivo. I was just in-between.
And I felt it. There were points when I asked myself, “Am I doing something wrong? Does everyone else know something that I don’t?”
After I left Sebrayo I walked almost totally alone. I saw a few pilgrims ahead of me on my morning’s walk, but when I arrived at the point where the Camino’s split (there’s a marker that leads straight on for the Norte and turns to the left for the Primitivo), the other pilgrims continued on the Norte. As I turned onto the Primitivo, I was all alone.
I had some hesitation about taking the Primitivo. I knew that I wanted to walk this route, but I could feel, with a finality, that I was leaving behind everything that I had experienced for the past 18 days. The coast and the towns and the solo-walking and, most importantly, the people. Really, I had left everyone days ago, but there was always a chance that they could catch up with me. But most of my friends from the Norte are continuing on the Norte; by branching off to a different Camino, it is sure that I have lost them.
But I turned left. It was always what I was going to do- the other night, Reto from Switzerland said to me, “I know you, you are going to walk the Primitivo” (then he hesitated and said, “Well, actually, I don’t know you at all, but I know enough to know that your mind is set”).
And he was right, the Primitivo is what I want to do, even if it means needing to meet new people and starting a new Camino. But when I turned onto the Primitivo, I was very alone. The only other pilgrims I saw on my walk were two men who were coming from the opposite direction, who had already been to Santiago and now were headed back.
I arrived at the albergue in Pola de Siero and it looked like a great place. It was on the edge of the small city, and the property looked ideal- a small building with a yard enclosed by a big stone wall. Once I was inside, things got better: the hospitaleros were outstanding (one of them handed me a glass of coke minutes after I arrived, and later gave me a detailed map of Oviedo as well as info on the Primitivo), the facilities were modern, the bathroom looked brand new, I was given sheets for my bed, and the outdoor space was better than I could have imagined: picnic tables and umbrellas and benches under large trees. It was an oasis on the outskirts of a small but bustling city.
The only problem with the albergue is that, at 4:30pm, I was only the second one there. I talked with the girl who was resting in her bunk (Aranca, from Mexico), and she echoed my sentiments: “Am I doing something wrong? Why am I the only one here??”
I showered and washed my clothes, then headed into town to find a grocery store. I didn’t have to go far, and I picked up just a few things: a small chunk of cheese, a new pack of gummy bears for the coming days, a yogurt for the morning and a can of Austurian stew for dinner (the “kitchen” was, like in other places, just a couple microwaves and a fridge. So my cooking options were limited).
I came back to the albergue and Aranca and I were still the only ones there. She had gone out for a drink so I settled in at the picnic table out back- I poured a glass of wine and cut up some cheese and an apple and started to write in my journal.
First, a note about the wine. I had bought it 40+ kilometers back, in a town just before Sebrayo. I had been anticipating a complete lack of facilities in Sebrayo and wanted to have some wine to celebrate the end of the Norte. I thought that maybe Richard would be at the albergue, and maybe others, as well. But in the end I had eaten at a restaurant alone, and had plenty of wine there. I wasn’t sure what to do with the bottle I had already carried for 10 kilometers… I’d spent a solid 6 euros on it which, for the wine here in Spain, is a lot. 2 euros is typical so 6 euros means a really decent bottle of wine. There was no way I was going to leave it behind.
So I carried it for 30 kilometers today… up a really, really big hill and I could feel the weight with every step. I didn’t want to keep carrying it with me, so even though I was alone at the albergue in Pola de Siero, I opened it.
And, almost perfectly, Guillemette appeared. I’d thought she had ended her day earlier, but here she was: the third person in our albergue. She sat outside with me and shared the bottle of wine, we ate our dinner and we talked for a few hours. Even though I’ve seen Guillemette on and off since Bilboa, we haven’t been close. But on this night, it felt so good to sit with her and share the evening- a quiet, quiet evening of an in-between time.
In the end it only ever WAS the three of us that night. I had my best sleep yet on this Camino: no one snored, no one tossed and turned, we kept a window open for fresh air and we all went to bed around 10:00.
The next day, Day 19 to Oviedo, was a short one. More than that, it almost didn’t feel like I was on the Camino. The walk was fast, I arrived in the city and stopped by the tourism office for some information. I was directed to the new albergue (which I think just opened 5 days ago because the other had a roof leak… if I got the information right). The albergue opened at 1:00 and I was the first one there. I showered, washed my clothes and headed back out to the city.
Normally I don’t really spend a lot of time sight-seeing on the Camino- there’s just too many other things to focus on- but I’d wanted to get to the city early because my friend from college, Lani, was coming up from Leon so we could hang out.
Seeing her was just what I needed, the timing was perfect. I’d just spent several quiet days either all alone or with only a few others, and I was craving the company of someone I could be at ease with. And the next day would be my official start of a new Camino, so stepping outside of the Camino for an evening to see an old friend felt like a good separation between the Norte and the Primitivo.
And the evening was so, so good. Lani is a friend who I don’t see too often but who I can pick things up with as if no time has passed. We spent hours moving from one bar to the next- for drinks, for food. The night was wet and chilly but it didn’t really seem to matter, we stayed indoors and settled in at our tables and talked and talked.
It was 9:30 and we were in the middle of a meal when I realized that I would need to hurry if I wanted to make it back to my albergue before 10:00, and not get locked out. I gave Lani a fast hug and ran through the wet streets of Oviedo, back to the albergue. I made it with 5 minutes to spare and once inside it was like I had entered another world. The place was packed, and I didn’t recognize a single person. Part of me- a large part- wished I could stay with Lani, and part of me wondered if I really wanted to start a new Camino. There was something so very comforting about being with an old friend but now here I was, surrounded by 20 strangers. I went to to bed and wondered what the next days would bring.