Thursday, May 2, 2024

Spain's Camino Primitivo: Day 5 - the Hospitales Varient

 This was the "money day" of the journey.  If we had a clear day, we were hitting our highest elevations (4,000+ feet) and walking for several miles above treeline.  There was a cost - the first 7+ miles invoved an ascent of 2340 feet, but the views would be worth it.  It turned out that I could have taken a thousand pictures on this day.  The hike I've taken that this most reminded me of was the Presidential Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

We left the albergue at 8AM and continued on the busy highway for nearly a mile before the route took us off onto a smaller road.  The sky was overcast and the mountains were in the clouds, so we weren't sure when we left if we would have the opportunity to hike through the high elevations.

The travelling was better once we got off of that road, and soon we passed through the small town that had one of the albergues that was full the night before - Borres.  Here, a couple of Argentinian hikers joined us for the first time - Roberto and Cande (short for Candelaria, which I could remember because there was a Pittsburgh Pirates reliever in the 1970's with that last name).  They had stayed in Borres, and hiked with us, staying in the same albergue that night and the next night before taking a bus because they had to get back to their real lives.

Shortly after Borres, we came to the fork in the road.  To the left, the Camino Primitivo followed a lower elevation route, and to the right, the Camino went over the highest mountains tracking the ancient route to Santiago.  The option to the right is the choice that every sane pilgrim makes if the weather is clear - it is the reason that many pilgrims hike the Camino Primitivo.

As you can see from the photo below, showing the route split, the weather was still cloudy when we reached this point.  But it was still good enough that it was an easy decision to take the high route.  

Another concern that many pilgrims have is the remoteness of this route.  The rest of our journey that day had no water sources, albergues, or restaurants that we would pass by.  This was not an issue for me, as many hikes in Shenandoah National Park near my home have nothing like that level of civilization, so I am used to packing my needs.  None of my colleagues seemed too concerned either, but is something often mentioned about this section on the chat boards and videos I had reviewed when researching the trip.

From here, we started really climbing.  You can see Borres in the back of the photo below.  This area was hit by a forest fire in Spring of 2023, and the damage was evident on our climb.  You can see it to the left in the photo below.

As we continued to climb, the views became more spectacular! 

The route the entire way was well marked.  We did not have to worry about losing our way.

We stopped for lunch at the site of ruins of a midieval waystation for pilgrims and simply enjoyed the vistas.  By this time, the overcast conditions had given way to bright blue skies.

After lunch we trekked across a vast, treeless route at high elevations.  Far off in the distance, we could see higher mountains that still had snow on them.  I believe that these were the Cantabrian Mountains, between Leon and Oviedo.

At the 9.7 mile mark, we dropped down slightly to a road crossing.  This is where the other camino varient reconnected.  We climbed again to within 10 feet of our high point before beginning a descent at the 10.9 mile mark.  We descended fast, crossing a larger road twice along the way.  

Then we traveled along a ridge, as you can see from this photo looking back towards where we had come.

Just before Berducedo, our destination for the night, the trail flattened out and we traveled though a pine forest.  The soft pine needles were a welcome change!

Over the last several miles of the trek, we encountered several unhappy hikers, all high school aged. I was surprised that their group leaders left them to walk on their own, but was glad for a municipal albergue that did not accept reservations.  I assumed that this was the group that had filled up the private hostel the night before, and later confirmed with one of the hikers that they were the same group.

Berducedo is larger than the small group of houses we stayed in the night before (Berducedo's population is 166), and after a long day and night in the previous spot with nothing to do, it seemed great!  I really enjoyed this alburgue; it had nice facilities and there was a wonderful sense of community among our hikers - including a new hiker from Belgium (who may have been the same hiker I saw the first day).  Below are some scenes from the hostel.  

Unfortunately, my cell phone connectivity problems continued, but this opened up time for other reading, and I picked up a wonderful book here that accompanied me for the rest of my trip and back to the States.  You can see it on the shelf below the table in the photo below; this photo was taken while the albergue host was checking us in to the hostel.  

We later saw him at the bar in the nearby restaurant, where I had my favorite meal of the entire journey - an Aquarius sports drink, patatas fritas (potato chips) and an egg sandwich. Heavenly!

Day 5 Camino stats: 
Date: Sunday, March 24, 2024
Distance: 17.2 miles  (8.4 miles more than the previous day)
Time: 7 hours, 25 minutes
Start time: 8:03AM
End time: 3:28PM
Total daily steps: 41,320 steps (the first of 5 consecutive days of 40k+ steps)

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