The previous day I had taken a slightly alternate route to get to the albergue in Tapia, the one with the million dollar views. Well, I’m not sure if it was an alternate route or not- the guidebook says it was, but in the meantime it seems as though official Camino markers have been placed all along the path. In any case, I was taking the E-9, which runs more closely along the coast (and is an option at other points on the Norte as well). I continued to follow the E-9 out of Tapia, hoping that I would have more coastal views, but mostly it ran through endless corn fields (which, incidentally, I loved).
But then the path wound down to a small beach and I happily walked on the sand for 10 minutes; this was the last day that the Norte would be along the coast, the last moments, actually. As soon as I reached Ribadeo, which I would in about 8km, the Camino would move away from the water and into the mountains.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I returned to the Norte this year; I remember that last year I was a little sad to veer off onto the Primitivo, and regretful that I would miss more coastal walking. But since coming back to the Norte, views of the coast have been slim, and the official Camino path stays frustratingly far from the water. Really it had just been this one day- the night at the “albergue with a view”, and the morning’s walked that dipped down to the beach (and, I suppose, that day that offered a couple close coastal views).
I wished I could have had more coast time, but I soaked up what I had. There was a bar that overlooked the water and I stopped here for a good long cafe con leche break. Once again, I was feeling strong that day, and even stronger after the coffee and toast.
I crossed a long bridge into Ribadeo, and as soon as I reached the city I met a couple from New Zealand, who must have been in their 70’s. We walked together for about 10 minutes until they found the bus station- they were frustrated with never being able to find free beds in albergues, and were giving up on the Norte. As we said goodbye they shook my hand. The man gave me a long look and said, “I wish we had met you before this.”
I continued into the city and promptly got confused. The Camino markers completely disappeared, and I complicated things by making a few turns to find a grocery store and an ATM. I think I started to walk in circles but then found another pilgrim and we walked together for awhile until she turned off to get a coffee. I finally found the tourism office, asked for a map, and was given good directions to get out of the city. On the way, I saw a pilgrim far behind me who had been at the albergue in Tapia. He looked confused, so I waved my arms over my head for a minute until he saw me, and then pointed to the path I was on. Either I helped him, or he thought I was crazy. Maybe a little of both.
Once out of the city the fuel came back into my legs and I powered on. I walked for a little bit with Roman, from Luxembourg; he had brought a hamock and was spending most nights in a bed strung between the trees. “It’s better this way,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about the stress I see in all these other pilgrims, who are searching for a bed.”
All of these interactions were good for me. I think I expected to come back to the Norte and instantly be surrounded by a pilgrim communiity- maybe I could even find the one I left behind last year. But it takes time, and I needed to settle back into this, or maybe I just needed to find my footing again and get out from under the cloud of sickness, to have these kinds of interactions.
When I crossed the bridge into Ribadeo, the Camino left Asturias and entered Galicia. And strangely, almost as soon as this happened, it seemed as though the crowds and the craziness disappeared. The route wound through the countryside, and there were several albergues scattered along the way. I poked my head into each one, the first two were empty. I had planned to stay at the second but there was another only 2km away so I decided to continue on in hopes of finding more people.
But even that third albergue was quiet, with only 3 other people there when I arrived (it filled in a bit, but was never close to full). Nearly everyone else there was German, so my evening was quiet- the restaurant in the village was closed because of a fiesta that night, so I cooked up some pasta and ate outside, listening to conversations I couldn’t understand. It’s funny how a little time and experience can change things; last year, this would have been frustrating to me. But now, I was just happy that I had a bed and a meal and was around other pilgrims.
The fiesta was less than a kilometer away- up a small hill and in the middle of an open, empty countryside. The festivities didn’t start until 10:30- past my bedtime- but I could hear the music until late into the night. 3am, maybe even later. It didn’t keep me up, not really- instead I think it entered my dreams, a Spanish soundtrack to my Camino sleep.