Camino Primitivo Day 8- Grandas de Salime to A Fonsagrada
Today’s hike would be a total of 26km and would cross us from the Principality of Asturias to the Autonomous Region of Galicia. The first 10km would be all uphill. The destination is the town of A Fonsagrada with an estimated population of less than 4,400. It is a mountainous region with little vegetation. The town is tied to the Camino de Santiago going back to the 10th century. It is believed that King Alfonso The Chaste (The King who started the pilgrimage to Santiago) probably fought a battle near this area with the Muslim Army that had already invaded Spain and was trying to conquer the North. Of course, they failed. It also has a long Roman and Pagan history and is believed to date back to before the 4th century.
More of that wonderful stone slab fence along the road. It’s such a magical looking thing. Better than barbed wire fence.
The landscape leaving Grandas de Salime is gorgeous. This farm was obviously well manicured and so pretty to see along the way.
We passed the little village of Castro 6km past Grandas de Salime where, in the distance, you can see a prehistoric settlement (castro) that dates back to 800 B.C. The people were a Celtic group that settled in Galicia and Western Asturias.
About 3.5km further down the road we came across the little chapel to Saint Lazarus of Padraira. The site of a former leper colony.
The most amazing thing about walking a Camino de Santiago route is the overwhelming amount of historical remains you come across. This chapel above was reconstructed-not built, but “reconstructed”-in 1689. The Celtic settlement prior to that dates back to before the time of Christ. We are literally walking in the footsteps of history. Centuries of history. It’s hard not to imagine prehistoric or medieval people living in these areas. You can almost feel their ghosts walking through the fields. I wonder what they would think of all the modern day “pilgrims” walking along their lands decked out in the latest and most expensive gear modern society has to offer. Complaining of ankle pain and muddy paths. They were a different breed of people, that’s for sure.
8 km into the walk we reached a road. We had the option of going across and hiking up into the path or staying on the road. The road seemed flatter and cooler than hiking up into the wooded area so we opted for the road. As did an older Spaniard man who had obviously hiked this route before. I don’t know that it was a shorter route but it was a bit flatter and I was reaching a limit where my feet were in so much pain that I couldn’t handle an extra half kilometer. We reached the high point of Puerto del Acebo (Acebo Pass) which is at an elevation of 1030 meters (3380 ft). This also marks the Asturian-Galician Border.
About 15 minutes past this sign we came across the only bar that we would find on this day. It closes at 1pm and we arrived there at 12:30 so we barely made it in time for a cold water and a rest. Everybody was there. There were a couple of us who were in pain due to knee or ankle issues. We all wished we’d chosen boots over hiking shoes as our feet were feeling the agony from walking on hard pavement. Luckily I had no blisters or knee pain. Just that damn plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. Which literally felt like my feet were swollen to three times their size and on fire. Honestly, if someone had walked by and offered to sell me some Codeine I would have bought it. The pain was THAT bad.
We were still 11KM from Fonsagrada. You could see it in the distance. This was the worst day of my week so far. I wasn’t going to make it. The decision was made to call me a taxi and let Billy continue on alone with the group that was there. It was the right decision in hindsight. As I later found out, it was a grueling hike due to the sun deciding to make an appearance and the temperature spiking.
I made the walk of shame to the taxi and rode away. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat if you are going to make it all the way to Santiago. I’m certain that if I had not stopped when I did, I would have done permanent damage to my feet. Some people choose to push their pain and suffer the consequences later. I can’t afford that. I need to be in fit condition for my day job and can’t afford a long term injury that would keep me from walking or running. That kind of injury would pose a security risk for me at work. So it is what it is.
I arrived in Fonsagrada and thanks to the wonderful taxi driver, who drove me around looking for a place that had availability, I was able to get a private room at Pension Casa Manolo. Wonderful family run inn with en suite bath and comfortable beds. They were so gracious to me when I arrived (hobbling in). The taxi driver insisted on carrying my backpack inside. The owner sat me down and fed me a 3 course pilgrim meal and reserved my room. All before I had paid anyone for anything. I ended up giving the taxi driver a 6 Euro tip when he came back a little later.
The owners told me to try to contact the pilgrims that were still wallking and try to tell them not to take the marked path to the left as they approach the town. Some time ago the council had diverted the route over a steep hill instead of just taking the pilgrims to the right (toward Buron). The road to the right is significantly flatter and takes you right into town. Well, Billy wasn’t carrying a phone. Only I had one, so I went upstairs, showered, and headed to the main plaza just a short walk away. This is where both routes would converge and I could stop any pilgrim coming in and try to get word out.
Luckily, the first pilgrim that came in was the ultra marathoner Andy that was married to our Camino friend from The Canary Islands, Yami. He was walking at 4-5km pace and had made it into Fonsagrada in 2 hours! I knew he had a phone and so did Yami, his wife. She would be walking with Billy since she had continued on. So Andy called her and told her about the short cut. Unfortunately, her knee injury had significantly slowed her down and Billy had left her in the dust.
However, as had been proven time and time again, the locals would come to the rescue. Billy says that he came upon a farm with an old lady in the field. She told him in Spanish not to follow the high road. It took some effort to get the point across, but he got it. So he followed her advice and avoided the hill of doom. The locals said they are pretty pissed that the Camino was routed up that hill. They hate seeing pilgrims arriving exhausted when it isn’t necessary. So they go out of their way to warn as many as possible.
I waited for Billy in the square for what seemed like 3 hours. It was well worth it. I chatted with a girl from Quebec who was traveling alone and staying at the Albergue Cantabrico. But she wanted to be away from her group so sat down next to me in the church square in order to talk to someone new. An hour late a couple of old timers came along. That turned into a 90 minute conversation.
They told me about their siblings who had emigrated to Cuba. We all had grandfathers who fought in the War of Independence (Spanish American War). I spoke with a lot of old people in the last few days who welcomed me back to my ancestral home in Asturias and now Galicia. They actually have a festival in August that is the day of the emigrant. When they recognize all the family members that left Spain for Cuba and other places. Many never to return. They were darlings. I had to have a picture of us on the stone bench. The one in the left of the photo is 88 and the one on the right is 98 years old.
This plaza is situated on the back side of the town church. The Church of St. Mary. The town’s name “fonsagrada” is said to come from the Latin meaning sacred fountain. There’s a legend that says that St James allegedly made a spring flow with milk to help a poor widow who attended him. There’s a fountain on the church grounds that is supposed to be that location.
Eventually, Billy and everyone else started streaming into town. Looking exhausted and hot. But it didn’t take long before everyone had found a place to stay for the night and get cleaned up. Somehow, the regular group we had been more or less walking with since day one, all ended up choosing the same place to eat. It was sheer coincidence.
The food at this restaurant was fantastic. I highly recommend it. We ran into the group from Utah here as well. Like I said-everyone had chosen this place for some unknown reason. Probably the delicious smell that emanated into the street.
The day ended with this beautiful sunset. Tomorrow would be another day.