Grado is a small town 25kms from Oviedo, the starting point on the Camino Primitivo. Set in a valley and surrounded by lush green hills, the weather is warm and a little humid. There is a thriving market place on Sundays famous for its local cheeses and attracting many tourists; restaurant prices increase on the weekend by as much as 50%. The townspeople regard us as just more tourists: however, the local business owners and waiters — once they know us — are very friendly, as is the girl working in the tourist office.
The 16-bed albergue is a refurbished alehouse which opened in May 2016, requiring 2 hospitaleros to manage and clean. Most peregrinos comment on how friendly and comfortable it is. Milio, the local town representative, is very supportive. The work of the hospitalero is not hard but the hours are long and we suffer a little sleep deprivation… up at 0540 to prepare breakfast, then off to bed after closing at 2200 hrs. The breakfast here is more substantial than in most other albergues I have stayed in.
We use a clock face and picturegrams to illustrate opening and closing times which work a treat: most peregrinos are impressed and even take photos. We are full every day and spend a lot of time assisting peregrinos to find other accommodation in town, a record set one day when we opened at 1400 hrs and are full by 1500 hrs.
It is surprising how many people are starting in Oviedo on their first Camino. The classic peregrino:
I want to go to the bar and it is raining do you have umbrellas?
can I have a Nespresso? (We serve filtered coffee with breakfast)
will you send my backpack to the next albergue?
and yes, we have been asked if we have a hairdryer!
I walked from Oviedo! (the clean shoes an obvious giveaway, let alone not needing a shower).
Last hours in Grado
The day before, Ann (an Australian) arrives all excited and nervous at the same time for her first experience as a hospitalera. We are full by 1530: two Spanish women arrive and are surprised there are no beds available. Later, three more Spanish arrive, a young lad struggling under the weight of a huge pack… they demand that we give them beds as they had phoned ahead and booked, and would not take no for an answer. They depart, but are not happy. At 2145 two young Spanish girls turn up – you wonder what they are thinking arriving at that hour – Jesus from Casa Teo picks them up in his car. Meanwhile the Social Services office next door is closing and the guy cannot start his Jaguar, the bat- tery is dead: he has a brand new spare but no tools, so I help him replace it and he heads off home… I must have nodded off during the training course when being a motor mechanic was covered!
Last day, we say goodbye to Begonia, the girl in the tourist office, then we return from lunch just before 1400. Already there is a queue of 7 at the door. One of them is Marylea, the other hospitalera from the US. We are full by 1450, a new record, and still they come. Milio, the convivial town representative, arrives with cake to meet the new crew. Later at 1830 he returns… San Juan Villapañada, the next albergue 4.7kms up the hill, has only 2 beds left. 30mins later the last bed at Casa Teo is taken and the only other option, the Hotel, is filling fast. Four young Slovakians arrive at 2115, and opt to sleep out but have no tents, so we let them use the showers and rest for a while. Then we suggest they try the covered music shelter in the park—but not before 2200, or the Guardia Civil might move them on. They depart, grateful for assistance given.
Next morning the mood has changed: all the peregrinos are up early, with the last is out the door at 0640—the rush is on to get a bed for the night. The Primi- tivo is no longer a road less travelled but a mini Camino Francés. It could be just a bubble, but I think not: it will be a busy summer on the Camino Primitivo. In 2014 when I walked the Primitivo, 8,000 pilgrims travelled this way. This year they are expecting close to 14,000, a greater than 70% increase in 3 years. Even that number may be surpassed.
Next morning catching the bus to Oviedo feels strange: I’m glad to be going, but sad to be leaving. I am sure I will be back.