This is the third part of our trip “A dedo por la Península Ibérica”, our hitch-hiking trip around Spain and Portugal which we are currently undertaking. Read the first trip update – “In the mountains of Aragón”. and the second update – Navarre & The Basque Country by following the links.
Day 13 (128km) – Santillana del Mar, Cantabria
Our trip through Spain winds its way through the lush verdant rainswept north. Away from the busy industry of the Basque country, towards the more rural, peaceful and forgotten corners of this vast land. The hills rise and the valleys fall, and the rain continues to beat down upon our heads. The foothills of Cantabria, a promise of the peaks to come, rise up so close to the sea that they almost loom over the water. Spanish flags appear and other languages disappear, true Spain, undeniable Spain.
Day 13 of our trip and a hitchhike from Bilbao to Santillana del Mar that took 6h and 7 lifts, slow going. Apart from the obvious sightseeing musts, Ania told me a lot I didn’t know about slugs, and we learnt to mistrust “free” bread put on our table.
Cantabria, one of the smallest of the Spanish regions, is home to some of the earliest traces of human activity and together with Asturias is one of the fastest growing destinations for internal tourism.
Days 14 – 17 (82km) – Picos de Europa
Day 15 and we approached the Picos de Europa in Asturias. The landscape developed a rugged look and the millennia old canyons rose up as we dissected them on a 2.5h hitch-hike involving 4 lifts.
The only area not to be fully incorporated into Islamic Spain, due its impenetrable terrain, Asturias was the stronghold from which the Reconquest (Reconquista) was launched. Together with the other northern regions, the economy of Asturias is undergoing a dramatic change, as the death of the steel and coal production is having a large effect on the local populace.
The next three days were devoted to hiking through this stunning range, drinking in the nature, feeling insignificant in the face of such awesome scenery. Our hikes were punctured by squeals of delight from my better half as we got up close and personal with the free roaming animals of the higher plateaus. Goats being a particular favourite.
Days 18 – 20 (100km) – Oviedo, Asturias
Day 18 and the peaks are a distant memory viewed over our shoulders. Our attempt to hitchhike to the Asturian capital of Oviedo ends in defeat, 4 rides and 4 hours later we are left in the arse end of nowhere, Llovio. An alternative sleeping arrangement is made and we pass the night 50m away from the motorway, in a tent, behind a bush and on grass we flattened by walking in circles on.
Oviedo, both rural and urban at the same time, was a pleasant place to spend a few days with our couchsurfing host Gonzalo. We talked, ate food and drank some beers, and I hope that he has all the luck in the world on his new life in South America. Oviedo has enough people to be a city but lacked the buzz of commotion I associate with ‘the big smoke’. However it retained some charm and was definitely not the worst place I’ve visited.
Days 21 – 22 (331km) – Santiago de Compostela, Galicia
Day 21 and time to move against the rising sun. Our hitchhike to Santiago de Compostela was the longest we had planned thus far and the seven and half hours it took, came as little surprise. Two lifts of notes should be expanded upon. 1 ride with a guy from the Basque Country, who drove us for over an hour. I understood about 3 words he said. It’s sometimes hard when you are expected to make conversation and the 50/50 decision whether to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to his mumbled questions. The other being a lovely couple who decided that we really needed to see the coastal village of Luarka, and insisted on driving us around this charming place before driving us back to the road to start hitching again. Lovely people.
In total 7 people helped us, and we arrived in Santiago as the evening sun cut dramatic shadows across the stone buildings. Galicia, with its separate language and customs, is one of the poorest corners of Spain, lacking the industry that defines other northern provinces. The sea in many ways defines Galicia, and its long and scraggly coast is punctured by countless inlets that give it a unique and weather-beaten appearance.
Santiago, teeming with pilgrims and tourists, constructed of sturdy stone structures built with the money of religious benefactors, was a breathtaking place. The elation of completion was evident in the streets, as new friends hugged and cried after completing the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way) a religious pilgrimage that snakes across the north of Spain from France. Having not completed the pilgrimage, being in Santiago, at times, felt like cheating, like taking the bus to the end and still claiming the gold medal. However, the atmosphere was a jolly and the cathedral itself stunning, especially when the façade was used for a late night projection spectacle.
Our trip through the three Northern provinces took 10 days and saw us rack up 641km. We were surprised by the weather which was very unspanish like, and also by the kindness of the people. We tried mountainous cheese and visited beautiful nature, stunning cities and picture-perfect villages. The next part of our trip would take us away from the rolling green hills and onto the flat, yellow plains of Castille, away from fish and pinxos towards meat and tapas.
written by: Jon