Thursday, May 2, 2024

Spain's Camino Primitivo: Day 1 - Oviedo to Grado

My first day of my Camino journey started relatively late - just before 8:30 AM on March 20th.  But it was still a little dark and overcast when I arrived at the Cathedral as Spanish dawns are much later than in the U.S.  And there were relatively few people on the streets when I started.  There is a split in caminos very close to the cathedral, but I had a secret weapon on my journey - I had downloaded other people's camino routes onto my phone and GPS to help me in case I got turned around.  On the phone, I used the GaiaGPS app, premium edition, which featured a great map of Spain.  My GPS also had a map, though it was not as good.  I used the GPS primarily to record my route and measure distances walked.  Having routes previous hikers had uploaded to the internet helped me determine when there were variations in the route, and was really helpful in cities like Oviedo because it was often hard to follow the route through the streets of the city.

Since Oviedo is a large city, it took me an hour walking along the Camino route before I left the city - 2.6 miles.  This included a stop at a panaderia (bakery) right along the route, where I picked up a breakfast donut and a baguette for the trail.  (Note the shell in the sidewalk right next to the bakery.  In the province of Asturia, the shell's lines point the direction of travel, so the shell is upside down to the direction traveled.  This switched later in the journey, when we passed into the province of Galicia. This photo is looking at the direction I had come.)

On the edge of town I started seeing markers for the camino, and these would guide me over much of my journey.  

Leaving town the overcast skies started to burn off, and the day turned wonderful as I journeyed into the countryside.

Sometimes along the way, it felt like the Camino went right through people's yards!  I would always check the route on my phone before proceeding too far.  The Camino here went between this person's house (and dogs) on the left and the grain crib on the right.

I was amazed that I was finally on this journey that I had planned for so long!  Walking along these rural roads was endlessly interesting - so exotic compared to walks back home.  For a short time, I even followed another hiker and a man leading a horse.  I never determined whether the hiker was a pilgrim - I did not talk to him.  But he could have been a guy I ran into again several days later.  Not sure, because that later guy was walking with a woman companion.

Otherwise I did not encounter another pilgrim until I met up with Antonio 10.6 miles into my first day's journey. He was laying down on a bench at a picnic area when I passed by it just before 3PM.  

Antonio also asked whether municipal albergues required Camino passports, as like me, he planned to stay in the Grado albergue that night.  I responded that they do, but I had purchased an extra!  So he bought my extra (I tried to simply give it to him), and he was suddenly an "official" peregrino.

We walked together to the hostel that night, and I ended up hiking with him for the rest of his journey.  Antonio is a Basque - bilingual - and I was very grateful for his presence and the assistance he gave me along the way.  At one point later this first day, a woman came out on her balcony and started speaking to us in rapid fire Spanish that indicated great urgency.  Antonio told me that she was letting us know that we had missed a turn on the route, so we retraced our steps.  Thanks for your language skills Antonio!

The wrong turn was at the fork shown in the distance in the photo below. We should have gone right, but went left instead.  With so much to look at, we missed the critical arrow.

We ended the day at the municipal albergue in Grado. Grado is a lot smaller than the cities I had been staying in - only 7,300 residents. Below is a photo of the bedroom in the hostel.  Only four people ended up in this room, so it wasn't as crowded as the number of mattresses made it seem.  Each of the three other people staying with me were pilgrims that I encountered daily over the next week or so, including two from Basque, and one from Israel.  I would get to know each of these people much better over the following week.

Along the way, very few people camp.  It isn't worth carrying a tent, though some municipal hostels offered camping space outside of their buildings. I never saw anyone with a tent.

Part of the balance in choosing a camino is the infrastructure along the way.  More popular caminos offer more restaurants and hostels along the way.  When planning a camino at the very beginning of the season, I had to be careful to look for whether hostels were yet open for the season.  I contacted several for confirmation, using Google Translate.  Private hostels are usually a little nicer and offer more amenities - such as charging plugs for every bed and night lights, while municipal hostels are less expensive.  Private hostels are also reservable in advance, while municipal hostels are not.  Municipal hostels are often - but not always - open year round.  This was very reassuring to me, as the Primitivo has municipal hostels at reasonable intervals for a traveling pilgrim in good shape.

All hostels supply a mattress and a pillow.  Some hostels provide sheets - often these are paper, single use sheets.  Not all hostels are heated!  Traveling in March-April meant that I had to haul a heavier pack, as I brought a better sleeping bag than I would have a month or two later, in case there was no heat.  And I needed clothing that could cover both warm days and cold mornings.

Under Spanish law, every hostel is required to log information about the hiker.  As a U.S. citizen, I had to provide my passport when signing into a hostel every night - public or private.

There are online resources which give pretty accurate information about each albergue, what it offers, and what it costs.  My favorite one was this one:  Link.  The costs had often increased from what was reported, and very few albergues now do not offer Wifi, but otherwise this link provided great advance information about each option along the Camino Primitivo.  I constructed my own spreadsheet, which I had on my iPhone, containing the viable (and open) options in each town, and I further looked at resources such as Google Maps, which could give me user opinions about the options.  If a hostel had particularly good reviews, I would highlight it in my spreadsheet. 

Below shows me in front of the municipal albergue in Grado.  Our bedrooms and showers were upstairs, and the kitchen and common area were located downstairs.  I believe that I was charged 8 euros in cash to stay there for the night. (Many municipal albergues do not accept credit.) Antonio helped me check in, because the woman running the hostel knew very little English.  But later, another Camino volunteer showed up, and he was from England and was bilingual.  So I would have been ok either way.  The Englishman strongly recommended a private albergue for our next night's stop.  These two volunteers provided a sense of community that I appreciated and was never replicated later on the Camino.

I encountered my first example of the famous Spanish "siesta" when I went out to get dinner at about 4:30.  The bar waitress said that the cook would not return until 8 PM.  Too late for me after a long first day!  Fortunately, they had some sandwiches available, so I dined on a sandwich and a beer.

Day 1 Camino stats:

Date: March 20, 2024
Distance: 16.4 miles
Time: 6 hours, 31 minutes
Start time: 8:28AM
End time: 2:59PM
Total daily steps: 38449

Day two on the Camino Primitivo is found on the next posting.  Link

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