The road took us into a village called Villamil, village of a thousand, and my first question was Mil what? It was just a small village, so I didn’t think it would be a thousand inhabitants. Could it possibly be mil vientos, a thousand winds, because we were close to the bluffs overlooking the sea? Or mil aguas, a thousand waters that you might see from an ocean overlook, waves shimmering below? Or mil cuentos, a thousand stories, because someone in the village was a good storyteller? Thousand Island Park of New York came to mind, too, where my grandparents once had a cottage, long before I was born. By then, as I was running out of conjectures, we had followed the signs for our trail and turned into a field, and I was distracted from my musings by navigating the uneven path between stands of corn.
It was midsummer and my running partner and I were on the Camino de Santiago, on the stretch called the Senda Norte, the northern path, which runs along the coast of Asturias. On a previous excursion we had done an adjacent stretch of the trail, from Peñarronda Beach to Ribadeo, just across the river in Galicia, and now we were picking up the segment from Peñarronda in the other direction to Tapia, hoping to run across the bluffs but quite possibly along the road. We hadn’t checked a map, so we were guided by the few signs, the worn track, and our sense of direction.
We found the way and at Tapia we trotted up a hill, past a beach promenade, along the main road, and into bunches of Sunday morning strollers. Half the people on the street were masked, as was everyone entering or leaving businesses, since the indoor face covering requirement was still in place. My running partner had a mask and a 20-euro bill tucked into a handy wristband pocket, and when he asked if I knew what the shop across the street was known for, I admitted I did—its pastries. Whatever you choose is fine, he said, and off I went to make the purchase. Everything looked delectable, but the pastry that called out to me loudest was a golden, multilayered wafer disk with a thick layer of meringue that was topped by another crumbly golden disk. It was the shop’s version of a pastry called mil hojas, a thousand layers. Standing on the street, we split the pastry, and then, because the fountains had all been disabled due to the coronavirus, we wiped our sticky fingers on our shirts. We turned around and started back, with an extra thousand calories between us to power us all the way. Villamil, I decided on reaching the village again, this time from the opposite direction and now with a thousandfold thirst, could mean whatever you had a mind for.
Soon we arrived at the car, guzzled water, changed from running clothes into bathing suits, and walked to the beach at Peñarronda for a swim, passing on the way over the boardwalk above the watery rush-filled estuary at the edge of the dunes, from where a thousand frogs chirped. A thousand rays of sun warmed a thousand grains of sand under my feet. But it was not a thousand waters I plunged into, just one, deep and cold. What a relief to emerge again into the warmth of the day in a world so full of so many thousands of things.
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