Hey there folks,
If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been walking San Salvador these past few days. And I must say, it is worlds apart from Camino Frances. Case in point, this is the first time I’ve had an Internet connection in ~130km.
The trail was a tough son-of-a-bitch, lemme tell you, and there were many times I wondered why I left the safety of Frances for this maddened Way.
On your first day you’re dick-slapped with a 700m ascent, followed by an immediate cunt-punt of 1000m descent. The locals look at you as if you’re lost (which is completely plausible, given the markings), none of them speak English (or German, I’ve learned), and you won’t find much in the way of amenities along the Way.
You really must be mindful of what you’re packing, but you cannot forget food and extra water; half the fountains aren’t guaranteed to be potable and all the stores are closed willy-nilly. Better bring extra medical gear whilst you’re at it. You’ll pass through half a dozen towns with even fewer albergues.
The bars and restaurants along the Way (two, tops) don’t have Wi-Fi, pilgrim menus, or any local knowledge to exploit – and they close early. The steps are long, mostly uphill (or treacherous downhills), through uninhabited and undeveloped land, and you won’t see another Seeker the entire week you’re walking. And when you’re done walking your +25km day, you have to wait an hour or two before the hospitalero shows up to open the albergue because he’s still at work – thought you were getting a hot shower at noon, did ya? Ha.
It’s a bitch of a trail and it is completely different from Frances. In fact, apart from the shells and yellow arrows, I would wager this trail has nothing in common with Frances.
In short, fuck, sign me up again.
Lemme give you a few reasons why this trail stomps so much ass that they have to import colons from other countries just to meet the demand.
Let’s start with why this trail kicks so much ass: there’s no one else out here.
Holy shit, I walked five days on this trail and can count the number of fellow dipshits I met on one hand. That is an impossible claim to make on Frances. You’re sharing an albergue every night with +30 strangers but here, fuck, it’s the total opposite. My first three nights I shared the entire albergue with one other person (yet another chain-smoking Franciscan monk; is that what Franciscans do?) and on my fourth, hell, I had the entire place to myself. No Pants Day is a happy reality on San Salvador.
You can walk so many kilometers without meeting another soul, and when you do, it’s probably a bemused local looking at you as if you were in the zoo. You want to take a long, hot shower? Hell yeah – you earned it. No angry Chinaman is going to be banging on the door urging you to hurry up because that sucker is walking Frances. People fear new things – I say embrace what you don’t know so you can understand it. Walk San Salvador.
Why else does this trail kick so much ass? Fuckin’ mountains.
I will admit I’m more of an ass man than a boob dude, but the cleavage on these things, gods help me, they’re beautiful.
Oh you hiked the Pyrenees on Frances? Oh wow, cool. Shit, everyone’s done that. But have you seen these untouched beauties? It’s like walking Jakobsweg or Le Puy again – did I mention there’s no one out here?
Yeah, the initial climb is harder than a priest at a playground, but when you get to the top, or hell, even halfway up, the views are absolutely worth every ounce of sweat. Look at the following:
That was taken at 8AM. Looks like a damned lake. Nope, just me, sweating my balls off climbing this fuckin’ mountain. Where, on Frances, are you going to get a view like that? Where you spend two days crossing a mountain range to take such bitchin’ photos?
No where, that’s where.
But why else does this trail stomp so much ass? No Wi-Fi.
Now, I will admit I would have liked to have Wi-Fi at least one day as I walked, the better to get in touch with my Soul, write a post, and check email (things on the horizon!) but I accepted that Wi-Fi was a pipe dream out here: meh. What are you going to do about it, right?
I’ve met so many people on Frances who would absolutely flip their shit to realize they couldn’t look at cat videos every night – and that makes me laugh.
No, not the cat videos, the bit about people’s misfortune.
How incredible it was to be completely detached for these five days: no email, no Facebook, no Internet. Just me wandering around this Expert Level trail, wishing I could find a fucking bar with cold beer and free Wi-Fi. But I didn’t even get the former. It was nice, this disconnect, and I do believe we all need that in our lives at some point. And although I’m already a prolific letter and journal writer, I found the extra time to compose letters soothing. Journal entries, to me, seemed more meaningful when I wasn’t worried about if the Wi-Fi was around.
It’s an undeveloped trail and it certainly lives up to that. Not even the bars in the bigger cities (such as Mieres) had Wi-Fi. Sorry Facebook Phil, you’re SOL. Didn’t find Internet until Oviedo, and even then, I had to tramp around several streets, poking my head in here and there before I found a place.
Sadly, I know in several years’ time, when everyone decides to walk the San Salvador because of my bitchin’ post, and the hordes want their Disneyland, this will change. The San Salvador I’ve walked won’t be the same in five years.
Finally, San Salvador forces you to be self-sufficient.
The bars and restaurants are closed at ridiculous hours. Half the fountains are from Mexico. Shops and markets don’t cater to pilgrims. The Jews caused 9/11. Only the bigger cities have pharmacies. You can’t shower or do laundry until the albergue opens at 5PM.
This isn’t Frances, turegrino. This is San Salvador.
As I trudged up yet another mountain range, I thought about what my good Catholic missionary friend said to me. “Suffering is a lesson, and we must take that suffering and attempt to learn from it, to better ourselves.” Now I have always believed that pain is a reminder I am alive so it is not to be dismissed, but her words rang true: I’m suffering out here because I didn’t prepare.
Hungry? Should’ve packed more food.
Thirsty? Should’ve topped off at the last fountain.
Lost? Learn Spanish, cabron, and shell out for a map next time, you Jew.
Every single time I suffered out here was because I didn’t prepare. I thought, “Ah, the next village will have what I need! It’s Camino a hurdy hurdy hurdy.”
Yeah, like fuck.
The villages out here don’t cater to pilgrims, and the few that do have municipal albergues (which aren’t half bad, mind), don’t have anything else a pilgrim wants. Most places have a kitchen because the villages don’t have restaurants. Hope you brought some food with you; shame if you didn’t. You could just ask the other pilgrims – oh, wait, there’s no other pilgrims because there’s no one else out here. Enjoy your granola bars for dinner.
Anecdotes are not fact, I understand this, but the times I asked locals for directions I was typically addressed as if I were Don Quixote asking where the windmill was. I besought one old woman (who probably helped found the town in the 10th century) for directions to the church – I know that much in Spanish – and she merely prattled on without offering any aid. I pointed in various directions – here? here? – but she just looked at me like an idiot. Why don’t you know where the church is, mijo?
Because I’m American, wearing a Swiss shirt, speaking Spanish, in the People’s Republic of Astoria?
This is not Frances. It does not cater to your every whim and need. It is not Camino Disneyland. If you want to enjoy this Way, you’d best plan for it.
In closing, yes, give San Salvador a shot. It’s only 130km and can be walked in four to six days. The scenery is breathtaking, the experience is superb, and the pain is well worth your investment. Give it a shot.
Expect a proper write-up sooner or later. Otherwise, this will do.