Spain’s north coast

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

In the footsteps of the Camino de Santiago
The crossing to Spain we experienced without any control, and already we were – despite a stricter corona entry – in the huge country in the southwest corner of Europe. And, speaking of corona, in Spain there is an obligation to wear masks everywhere and this obligation is really being observed. The fear of further measures is extremely high; the daily pictures from the screened quarters and suburbs of Madrid really got under your skin. They want to prevent a second lockdown at all costs.

For us, Spain – in the northern part – was an alternating bath between modernity and old traditions, where people still travel by horse and cart and shepherds with large flocks roam the country. In contrast are the urban centres, mostly on the north coast, where people not only find work but the whole modern world with all its facilities is available.

If you leave a city, it immediately becomes lonely. Entire valleys or wide landscapes are deserted. The few people we met were mostly older, and with the disappearance of this generation it will probably become even lonelier. The many dilapidated houses speak a clear language.

Despite the sometimes sad present about the creeping decay, which generations before had laboriously built up, we were looking forward to our forthcoming journey westwards. We wanted to follow the tracks of the Way of St. James, which runs westwards through the mountains to Santiago de Compostela.

After the rainy days in France the weather forecast was very good and so we decided not to go west for the time being, but to follow a part of the southern side of the Pyrenees southwards. Here there should be a lot to discover for backroaders and also wake up the “child in man” (Tom). In any case, there were many off-road passages waiting for us, which gave us some thrills.

We chose appropriate routes for us and were always surprised what you can still do here on the mountain paths or forest trails. To our reassurance, there were other two and four-wheeled vehicles on the road, so that we never got the feeling of doing anything illegal. And no-driving signs? They are hardly to be found here, or have been deformed by some hobby shooters into a perforated pool.

After many meters of altitude difference through wide and lonely landscapes we reached the desert-like plain near Tudela, where the Ebro flows through the middle of it towards the Mediterranean Sea. In Arquedas there was also a forced break; Chantal moved back and forth between bed and toilet. For a long time we could not properly classify her stomach cramps. Many thoughts went through our minds at this place and our cramped space is certainly not suitable for a more serious illness.

After two days the whole stomach story was over and Chantal was ready for further adventures off the asphalt. Since we liked the area so far very much, we immediately planned an additional loop to the east through the further foothills of the Pyrenees. After all, you are not here every day!

Up to the Río Gállego we were accompanied by wonderful autumn weather and the trips over the mountains were a real pleasure for us (…mainly Tom). Shortly before the Los Mallos de Riglos the weather changed and the humidity from the sky led to another change of plans. After a short hike at the foot of the sinter towers of Riglos and a last night at the rushing Río Gállego we turned off again in western direction to get on our original way to Santiago de Compostela.

The further west we went, the better the weather conditions became and again we were tempted to take wonderful routes through wild areas, where probably not too many tourists ever get to. The few shepherds as well as hunters were always surprised about our appearance and we had to admire each other.

Over innumerable Sierras we went further and further westwards and demanded a lot from man and material. Some kind of crack at the front axle soon dampened our forward drive. Immediately we decided to interrupt the climbing passages and go to the jeep workshop in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Apart from finding the workshop, explaining our problem was an enormous challenge, which Chantal mastered perfectly. Our car was already thoroughly inspected and after half an hour the workshop manager assured us that this cracking was nothing extraordinary and that the play in the wheel bearing was still within tolerance. We were lucky!

From Vitoria-Gasteiz we took a zig-zag course over the Cordillera Cantábric again on a somewhat “crazy (off-)way” to the Atlantic coast, where other tourists and globetrotters were on their way. As soon as we had got used to the thundering Atlantic Ocean, we climbed up again into the mountain world of the Picos de Europa. After several rain showers the weather was again too beautiful to just follow the coast. This time we followed the developed roads, because other roads were hardly available; the mountain sides were simply too steep. Despite the asphalt roads, the journey up into the mountains was a completely different Spain for us; neither sand and sea nor semi-desert, but rather an immersion in an alpine landscape, where cows grazed with their bells along the slopes and hunters were on the lookout for stone game.

After the many metres in altitude and countless mountain valleys, we headed back to the north coast, where we soon reached the northernmost point of Spain, reaching far out into the rough Atlantic Ocean. Unlike in other countries, the Spanish do not make a spectacle out of such points as we experienced elsewhere, and only a simple marking pointed out the extraordinary geographical location.

After the northernmost point we headed straight for the westernmost point. The journey led us through many tourist places where there were hardly any guests at this time of year and where the shutters were closed everywhere. On the beaches there were only the surfers, who came from almost all directions and countries to the different bays to enjoy their surf ride. The stormy weather made for correspondingly high waves and even we enjoyed the view out over the rough sea. Since almost all tourist infrastructures were closed, in some places the motorhomes and converted vans lined up to form real castles of carriages.

The passage through Coruña reminded us of many places we had already seen, where the heyday was long ago. Apart from the impressive city centre, the many abandoned industrial plants and half-built buildings rather left the impression that the city was struggling with great economic problems.

At Capo Touriñán, Spain’s most westerly point, we held our noses to the fresh wind that swept over this headland from the southwest. Exactly 5200 kilometres west of here New York is said to be located and a commemorative plaque reminded us of the time of the great waves of emigration, where – as well as from other European countries – thousands of people moved to a new world and hoped for a better future there.

It was only a stone’s throw to Capo Fisterra and even after various odysseys over sea-side paths we reached this tourist hotspot. No sooner had we immortalised the photos in the camera than we were surprised by a cloudburst, but on the return journey the sun laughed at us again.

We didn’t really know beforehand that pilgrimages from almost every imaginable part of Spain lead to Santiago de Compostela, but after the suppression of the Moors, it was an important step for the Spanish authorities to return to the Catholic faith and stability. James was a part of this identification and therefore the whole pilgrimage became a duty for every real Spaniard. This is how these pilgrim paths were created in the Middle Ages, which today are an extensive network of long distance hiking trails.
The road from Cabo Fisterra to Santiago de Compostela is used by a great many people, as it is just over 100 kilometres long and therefore every pilgrim – or walker – can receive his diploma on arrival at the holy place of St. James. This was also the reason why we soon left the back road in the direction of Santiago and looked for other side roads; there were simply too many walkers on the route and we too would be more annoyed than delighted from this white jeep.

Over the local mountain, which is northwest of Santiago, we reached the city centre and parked our jeep once. For a long time we were against such sightseeing and crowds of people. But here, with James, we made an exception and were more than just enthusiastic about this city. Apart from the impressive buildings, the emotional moments of the arriving pilgrims, who always arrived here in front of the cathedral, were very touching for me. I have no idea where they started their journey, but the joy jumped over to me, even though I (we) arrived comfortably on four wheels. Maybe I will make such a pilgrimage as well; who knows!

In Santiago de Compostela, another decision had to be made; the weather outlook in western Spain was again somewhat sobering, and from Portugal, the renewed rise of the Corona pandemic caused us great concern. The Portuguese government wants to take more drastic measures again, which could have rather negative consequences for us tourists and severely restrict our freedom of movement.

We discussed for a long time into the night what would probably be best and with many open questions we lay under the warm blanket. It will probably not be easy and the words of a woman in Cee (near Cabo Fisterra), who warned us to be extremely careful, accompanied us far into our dreams!

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