DAY 20: La Isla Bonita

My feet pounded down the steep mountain side, ricocheting off the hard concrete path like a poor ball trapped in a pinball machine. Every step sent a jolt of pain racing up my legs in time to a high chorus of melodic “OW’s!” Yesterday’s 32 kilometres (19.8 Miles) were really taking a toll on all four of us and as our fellow Australians would say, “We were stuffed.” Even though we had just taken an early lunch break by the dark grey waters of the town of Ribadesella (7km from our starting point) where we had amused ourselves by watching a large group of kayakers circle around the headland, it was hard to deny the facts: all of us were battling individual niggles, sleep deprivation and the overloaded burden of backpacks. I tucked a sprig of rosemary behind my ear and inhaled its sweet scent. “This is where we have to dig deep!” Dad had motivated us as another large and rocky hillside appeared in front of us, waiting tauntingly for us to scale it. I muttered back, “Yes, but how deep must we dig?”


Ribadesella 2


Uphills and downhills near the coast

Scenery after Leaving Ribadesella


With limbs throbbing in time to the anxious beating of our hearts, we entered down into a small village of the Asturias, that I had spotted earlier on in the foggy horizon. We would be crossing our fingers and toes if they didn’t ache, but instead I began chanting under my breath, begging for our wishes to be answered…the wish to find a small cafe of sorts where we could quench our thirst with sparkling mineral water and abate our hunger with hot chips/french fries. The sight of a cluster of faded red umbrellas had us figuratively jumping for joy, as expending unnecessary energy at this point would have been ludicrous. The sun passed its highest point in the sky by the time we moved on with full bellies and full smiles.



cider house asturias

A raised apple granary in Asturia

Playa de la Vega

Coaxed on by the thought of bunk beds waiting for us in an Albergue, we continued on making our way over and under the bumpy green and gold hills that looked as if they had been pulled straight out of a Dr Suess book, while a small fairytale-like sunbaked bridge had a babbling brook racing underneath its curved arch. It looked like it had been brought to life by the magical fairy godmother of Cinderella with a simple Bippity, Boppity, Boo!


Towards La Isla

Track to La Isla



Climbing over a final mammoth mound of Earth we found ourselves looking down upon what looked like a beautiful island. A long strip of pure saffron-yellow beach stretched across a bay of indigo-blue waters that occasionally dashed itself upon a guardian circle of jagged rocks lining the coast. Then I saw them. Was it the Polish women just out in front of us? How could they have gotten so far in front of us??? One of them was nursing a badly swollen ankle on which she was only able to put the most minimum of pressure.

I had again fallen into the trap of counting how many pilgrims we saw along the path during the day. According to today’s Eroski Consumer Guide to the Camino, I had calculated that we were close to the last few pilgrims who would find a bed of the available places in the Albergue ahead. I started to increase my pace, frustrated with the lack of back up I was receiving from my family. They were content to just go at the usual pace. My increased pace turned to a jog, and then a run, when I noticed another couple just behind the Polish women. I screamed and sprinted, with the burning sensation of fire under my feet powering me along. I had nearly caught up to the couple when I looked back, only to notice that I was about 800 meters out in front of my family, who were still sauntering along as if they were on a Sunday picnic! All the frustration welled up in me and I felt like I was alone in my quest, as if getting a bed didn’t matter to them at all, but I just couldn’t face the prospect of having to walk another 8 km up the road to the only other Albergue on this route. I screamed at the top of my lungs in frustrated rage and it was this action that snapped me out of my delirium and brought me back to reality. I gave in. What would be, would be. It was then that I noticed that only about 300 meters ahead the Polish women were sitting in the valley below, of lime green lawn, dotted like a Dalmatian, at one of the inviting wooden picnic tables. 


La Isla


Like a valiant knight, the town of La Isla in the distance, with its amber antiquity, protected the people down below from the minuscule tear droplets of rain that threatened to ruin a perfect summer’s day. I stopped to wait for my family to catch up. We took in the warm and inviting view of the beach below.

Humming softly we floated down towards our final destination for the day;

“Tropical the island breeze, all of nature wild and free, this is where I long to be, La Isla Bonita”

Madonna had gotten the picture perfectly right, even if it wasn’t intended to be in Spain.

The couple in front us turned in to an alfresco restaurant by the beach, so we easily passed them and then we walked up to the Polish women, who had also spent the previous night in the same Albergue as us. We asked the one with the bad ankle how she was. The answer was not a positive one and I could see from the grey pallor of her face that she was in much discomfort. They proceeded to tell us that they tried their very best to continue on the walk, but that within 1 km of leaving the Albergue they could not continue on. They found their way onto a trusty ALSA, the official bus for those unable to walk on. They had gotten off here and consulted a doctor, but the prognosis was not a positive one. It was for extended rest, two weeks, and they had a very short time schedule in which to complete the journey. I understood now why her face was so devoid of colour. It was not really the pain of the physical that had drained her complexion. With a heavy sigh of empathy, we wished them well as we walked on.

One hour later we were standing outside the white-washed walls and brown thatched roof of the Hospitaliera’s house. We were made to wait for about ten minutes before we were met by an elderly, rather stern woman, one of many who now seemed to be a regular lot of eccentric Hospitalieras. There must be something about the Camino and the Pilgrims that drive them a little batty. While she was fine with us, the steady stream of complaints about her staunch strictness were starting to waterfall in from the other pilgrims at the Albergue as they started to arrive. We heard that she even turned a few people away without explanation. It turned out that we weren’t last to arrive at all. In fact, we were amongst the first few pilgrims today. Letting our backpacks fall onto the dewy grass as the burning in my feet now cooled, we all collectively sighed, a breath filled with relief, happiness and accomplishment that now blew away in the cool breeze. Another day on The Camino de Santiago del Norte complete.

2 Thoughts to DAY 20: La Isla Bonita

  1. nagymama says:


  2. […] DAY 20: La Isla Bonita […]

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