Stage 1: Oviedo – San Juan de Villapañada


m. cumulative ascension


Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

Natalia has a very comfortable sofa. She lives in Oviedo, in a hushed area, and is a couchsurfer.

Couchsurfing is a social network of travellers, where people offer or demand accommodation, in a wholly altruistic way. It’s not just about travelling almost for free, but about interacting with local people you visit. Travelling is also meeting diverse people, new ways of understanding the world. And surely, the  also spares.

So well, Natalia is a couchsurfer, she has a very comfortable sofa, a lovely smile, and she welcomed me into her house.

He woke up early (mea culpa), we had breakfast, and he accompanied me to the cathedral. We have said goodbye, but it has been one of those farewells that are not a forever farewell but a see you soon. I wouldn’t tell you why, but I’ve had that feeling. Maybe, it’s the magic of the Camino.

The magic, however, has been short-lived. Exactly the time I have been walking from Natalia’s car to the tourist office, there are 3 minutes from the cathedral. I had to buy the credential, so that they put the stamps on it, but, above all, to be able to sleep in the pilgrim hostels. It was closed. On September 15, on Sundays, the office closes.

Catedral de Oviedo

Looking for the credential

I do not know if from September 15 or always, but it seems that on Sunday mornings Oviedo closes. All. It has been impossible to find a credential. Rather, find an open place to buy it. It has even been useless to walk the two kilometers that separate the Cathedral from the pilgrim hostel. The door was also closed, and everyone was unaware of the doorbell (yes, I was the one who called for ten minutes).

Tired of entering and leaving the Cathedral without knowing why (of entering and leaving, not of getting tired), I have started to walk the 29 km of the first stage at half past ten, which was late.

In Oviedo it is about following the shell that is on the ground. The direction is indicated by the narrow part of the shell, but in Galicia it is the other way around, so do not be distracted, or I see the rest of my days going back and forth from Galicia to Asturias and vice versa. It is not difficult (follow the shell), and from a certain street they are accompanied by yellow arrows. You walk inside the city for quite a while, and the road goes out to a park on the outskirts of the city. 

¡Starting to walk!

While leaving Oviedo, I was talking to Natalia that I lived on the edge because I did not have a credential. But especially for not having a battery on the phone. I had turned off the light by turning off the base of plugs where I had the mobile charging, and therefore little had been charged. So, I took advantage of the little battery I had left to call the hostel in San Juan de Villapañada and tell the hospitalier if he had credentials. He told me not to worry. And I have listened to him.

Later I discovered that everyone knew that buying the credential in Oviedo on Sunday is quite impossible. It’s what it happens to improvise the trip too much and not prepare anything. Really, I had just prepared the backpack, weighing everything I wanted to take, and discarding what wasn’t strictly necessary. That’s why it was the backpack-envy of most pilgrims: its 7 kilos were the result of the 15 that I carried through Scotland.

But I was quick to realize that I had left something essential, vital, of great importance. After the road goes into a forest, the trees begin to bombard you with their fruits. I don’t know if it’s autumn, bad karma, or we’ve already reached the same situation as Shyamalan’s film where trees rebel against human global stupidity; the fact is that I was actually bombarded by trees. That an oak throws acorns at you, look, is bearable, but when the one who attacks is a chestnut, you start to miss not wearing a helmet.


The first pilgrims

The day has passed on asphalt tracks slipping through killer forests of oaks and chestnut trees, views of green and leafy valleys, goats over here, photos over there, birds peeing, and a pilgrim who sang behind me until I turned around, and she has disappeared.

I’ve found her again in Grado, looking at a map. I’ve stopped to eat, and it looked like she hasn’t. As I had not talked to anyone for hours, and I also wanted to look at that map (you know my trip preparation… I was not clear about where I was …), I greeted her with a nice good morning, where you are going (in Spanish), a greeting that seems usual on the Camino.

She replied with a “I don’t speak Spanish”, so I translated the question into English, and she entirely ignored me. What a little pilgrim spirit, I thought, and I went on my way. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, it was very sunny and very hot, and I wanted to get to the hostel: it had been a long time since I felt two blisters under the sole of my left foot.

It was about six kilometres to the hostel of San Juan de Villapañada, highly recommended hostel, by the way. Before I arrived I met Hans, a seventy-eight-year-old German who has done all the way, and who was trying to understand what problem a young Frenchman who did not speak English had. Hans did not speak French, and neither did I, but in the end we understood that the young Frenchman had no problem. At most, no translation problem.

Albergue San Juan de Villapañada

Reaching San Juan de Villapañada

The hostel is to the right of the road. A few steps dug in the ground and reinforced with wood give way to a steep terrain at the top of which is the white hostel with the door frames and windows green.

Sitting on one of the steps, a girl with glasses, reading a book, has welcomed me with a strange accent “hola”. He wore fine, shiny trousers, with black and white prints; violet jacket, and mostly green handkerchief. At the time I didn’t know, but it was Leoni, and he really likes the green colour. She is twenty-three years old and French.


Leonie, peregrina

Sunday, the hospitalier, personally welcomes the pilgrims of the hostel of San Juan de Villapañada, offers them fresh water, and makes them sit and rest. Outside, the pilgrims were chattering while I burst the blisters somewhat away. Several languages were spoken, and the age range was broad. Later, Hans and the French boy have arrived. I think they were the last.

Someone picked up chestnuts along the way and Domingo boiled them for us. We have all gathered around the table to eat them. A Lithuanian girl, who has made tea for everyone with nettles harvested outside, is the first time she eats chestnuts. I don’t usually eat because I’m lazy to peel them, but here it seems that everything is different. Sitting next to Leoni, we have been peeling chestnuts and episodes of our lives.

It seemed to me that maybe, yes, there would be magic.

Supermoon from San Juan de Villapañada

The supermoon has started to appear, and a few of us have gone outside. The Lithuanian girl, the Danish girl, her father and I have been planted for quite a while, with nothing more to do but watch as the white ball was dwarfed as it climbed over the clouds.

But the eclipse doesn’t start until four o’clock at night, and for those of us who walk in the sunlight, it’s time to go to sleep.

Super luna en el Camino Primitivo

The track


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