starting the camino primitivo: walking from ribadesella to valdedios


it has been some time now that i have been thinking about changing tack and taking on the camino primitivo. i say “taking on” because it means taking the path to santiago via mountains, some of which will involve walking from sea level to elevations of just over 1000 metres. the experience of walking, particularly in these past few days has been so exquisite that i am on a high, and i want to go higher and higher up into the mountains. closer and closer to the endless sky. so, it seems that my heart is instructing me to leave the precious coastline that i have been following for the past month…..

the morning i leave ribadesella, i also leave mona behind. her feet are giving her serious problems and she must move more slowly….i leave the hotel (the albergue is closed) and go and sit at the beach for about half an hour and contemplate the waves’ endless movements in and out, towards me and away. like the people that i have met on this camino and throughout my life. coming near, then sooner or later, moving away. there are people walking, running, strolling along the boardwalk, creating lines of energy with their feet that cut the space between me and the waves. the lines are telling me to get up and get moving. the sun is yet to come out from behind non-threatening clouds, it is nice weather for walking ~there is no danger of overheating. i get up and walk to where i know the yellow arrows are. picking up the trail, it doesn’t take long before i am once again ensconced in a gentle silence broken up by birdsong. occasionally cyclists or walkers move past me, merrily shouting out morning greetings to me. soon, as i pass through the outskirts of ribadesella, i am enveloped in green again, one hundred shades of it. they are lines of green soldiers, opening the way in front of me, allowing me to pass through.

walking into a nearby village (vega), i stop to smell some pink roses that are bursting like perfumed fireworks out of a bush. the smell, deep and sweet, takes me somewhere else for a second as i close my eyes and inhale, cupping the rose in my hand. i always think of my mother when i smell roses. i think of her garden in australia. i think of her hands and her gorgeous heart.

it isn’t long before the sea comes into view once again, and so begins another divine chapter to this camino experience. i don’t know what overcomes me exactly, i can’t really explain it, but i enter a type of ecstasy as i walk along. is this what happens when the heart is truly open? nature has been working its’ magic on me since i started walking and now i feel like i am completely open, a channel of feeling. this beauty is sublime. butterflies and swallows fly past. i imagine them communicating with me, leading the way on this perfect blue day. this state of ecstasy is higher than anything i’ve ever experienced before ~it is like my heart will burst! predictably, tears are beginning to march close to the surface, in line with my footsteps, bringing me close to the sweetest sensation of perfect happiness and unity. i don’t know how much i can take of this! the feeling is so intense. interestingly, since then i have met many other pilgrims who have made similar comments about how they felt walking through this particular landscape (between ribadesella and la isla)……

the day ends (unfortunately) with 4 kilometres of asphalt into colunga, where i give up the ghost. again, there is no albergue so i have to get a hotel for the night. dinner is a plate of fried potatoes, fried eggs and chorizo. although this sounds like a heart attack on a plate, for someone from asturias, this is good eating. it has always been a favourite of mine- the perfect comfort food.

walking from colunga to valdedios, i begin to feel twinges in my left knee, twinges that expand and stretch as the day progresses, until they are a bubble of proper pain, impossible to be ignored or denied. a little scared, i go to the pharmacy in villaviciosa and buy a strap to support my knee. i take some ibuprofen, and the extra knee support helps keep the pain in check. i am starting to worry though. knee problems and mountains are incompatible. no!!!!!!!! it cannot be that coming this far i will have to miss out on the thing that i most want to do! the rational, self-loving part of me knows that if that is what has to be, then it is what has to be. ACCEPTANCE. mona comes to mind. she is a perfect lesson for me. her feet are giving her nightmarish grief. to see her limp along is to feel discomfort ~she is like a wounded bird. inside, she has the fire and the energy to do this walk. i can now begin to understand the type of frustration that she might be feeling. i hear the very words i have been saying to her these past few days ~possibly famous last words~ your first priority is to listen to your body. honour your body. is that going to be me? will i be able to take a bitter dose of my own medicine?

i keep my spirits high by singing as i walk. i sing to the trees, to the birds, to my knee. i sing to acceptance and honouring the body. i sing to staying true and being strong.

i call my aunt concha’s brother (jesus) in gijon and he says that he will come and pick me up in valdedios and take me up to my father’s birthplace in bimenes, so i can visit my grandmother’s grave. when he comes to valdedios, he asks if i would like to come and stay at his house for a couple of days. this is the solution, i realise. rest the knee properly for a day or two. figure out a plan of attack to keep it operational…..maybe that is all my knee is asking for ~a bit of respect and care……what comes then is a small hiatus in gijon, where jesus’s wife, pili, feeds me and pampers me, and i keep the knee elevated, applying ice every now and again. two days later, i am ready to go back to valdedios and resume my walk……..

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