The First Day
Something about the first day of a Camino, everyone is excited and rearing to go. I didn’t see it in Le Puy-en-Velay, but I saw it in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port even with everyone heading a different direction from me, and I certainly saw it the morning leaving Irun in Spain. Around 5:30 AM, the other three men in my room started stirring, and by about 5:35 promptly turned on the light. It was just as well, though, as at 6 AM one of the voluntary Spanish hospitaleras, the people who help to run the donation-based Gites, albergues in Spain, started marching up and down the hallway banging a spoon in a pan yelling Buenos Dias, while another hospitalera started playing some music from the radio in the kitchen loudly.
Something about the first day though, most everyone is fresh, hasn’t yet walked a day, just full of energy for the walk ahead. For a walk that’s supposed to be about taking your time, or at least going at your own pace, people jumped out of the gate as though in a mad rush to nowhere, walking faster than they could keep a pace at. People are also a little more standoffish at first, but I’m sure all of this will change within a week or so of people walking, the same way I began to change.
Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is significantly more hilly than the Camino Frances, the main route a hundred kilometers south. The Pyrenees was a good training ground for me then, as the 750 or so meters seemed easy compared to the day before.
Just crossing the border, or perhaps because the trail is now right on the ocean, the sunrises even looked different. Or maybe I’m just seeing differences everywhere where it’s not really that different.
The trail followed a hiking trail with two options, one up a mountain and the other around the mountain on flatter terrain. I took the mountain way as did most people, and was rewarded with great misty views back to Irun where I’d started and a bunch of ruined towers and random buildings right on the trail. They appeared completely abandoned and most were without an entrance except for climbing the walls.
After dropping down to two towns on either side of a canal, Pasai Donibane and Pasajes, pilgrims or other visitors, perhaps even commuters, take a minute long ferry ride across the canal at the cost of 0.70 Euro.
After another rise, clear views of the rocky, rough Atlantic coast.
Afterwards, The Way dropped into San Sebastian, a massive city compared to what I’ve been used to that just seemed to go on forever. It’s set along a nice crescent bay with a massive beach, packed everywhere with swimmers, interested onlookers, volleyball players, young aspiring soccer stars, everything. At one end of the beach is a large jutting rock with a statue of Jesus or Mary or some other figure at the top, kind of like Rio de Janeiro, but smaller.
The longer I’m walking now, the less interested I am in seeing the cities I visit, or at least trying to visit any attractions in what little time I have. Churches are nice, but so far in Spain they’ve been closed at most times. The interest has become in the nature, in watching and meeting the people, but most of all its become about the walk more than anything else. It becomes like an addiction, all that you think of even when you aren’t doing it, the act which everything else centers around. One of my biggest difficulties in life is doing the same thing every day, but in walking, it’s hard, for a change, to think about doing anything different but the same thing. Some day, I think I’ll just walk late and sleep right on the beach like many people do, try it out for a night or two and see how I like it.
Day 2 (August 27th, 2016)
You’ll see a pattern emerges in my pictures of this walk, with frequent views into coastal cities with expansive beaches. That’s because the Camino del Norte regularly drops down into cities where numerous rivers from the mountains of Northern Spain empty into the ocean, then rises back up to hilltops until the next city. Some cities are old port towns, or appear that way, others look like modern metropolis’ of various sizes, all built specifically for the Summer vacation. San Sebastian, Zarauz and Zumaya looked like the latter to me.
But after leaving Zarauz, The Way walked along a boardwalk for 3 or 4 miles to Guetaria, a much older looking town that had a lot of character, with seafood delicacies around every which corner and people sipping wine or cider or some other beverage everywhere in the middle of the street at 2 PM. The church was built so that the normal cross shape was slanted, and the floor of the building sloped upwards.
I’m finding that the food along Northern Spain is heavily influenced by fresh fish, sardines, anything from the sea. Spanish staples are also present in most cafes and bars. The most interesting for me have been the cafe con leche I’ll no doubt regularly drink whenever I pass a town, as well as the bocadillo, the various small plates of small sandwiches, a Spanish type of quiche, plates of olives, more that I’m forgetting, all of which line the counter of any cafe or bar you enter throughout the day, with the bocadillo selection changing depending on the time of day.
As to Basque Country, although I’m walking through it here in Spain, it’s hardly visible to me except for the signs with words in Basque, the occasional reference to Basque food in a restaurant or Basque souvenirs. But in the big cities here, the very noticeable Basque culture I’d seen in the French Pyrenees just isn’t discernible to my untrained eyes anymore.
Finally, here’s the inside of a Spanish church from where I stayed the night, Zumaya.