Oh I do like to be beside the Seaside…

Day Five- Probena to Castro-Urdiales 14.6km.

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Sleep came in short bursts last night, as the sound of twenty-two exhausted pilgrims engulfed the crammed Albergue. All in one room, we smelled delightful as well. Needless to say, we left the Albergue de Perigrinos before sunrise again. Luckily in this small sleepy town, a bar was opened to cater for the coffee dependent Camino crowd. We finally summoned the courage to begin the first climb of the day at 7.45am (sunrise was at 8.11am).

This stage began with a short 120 step climb to a recreational path, hugging the hillside, that use to be the railroad track that would carry iron ore to the waiting ships. Hence it was delightfully flat. For this first hour, we were alone with the moon guiding our way and the rising sun on our backs.  It was truly a stunning walk along the steep cliffs that fell away to the azure sea.

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A ladder to the Moon.

We had one decision to make; to stay on the coastal route or walk 5.3km longer into the countryside eventually rejoining the coast before arriving in Castro-Urdiales. Of course we chose the coastal route which may have at first entailed a few kilometres of road walking,  but after just one almighty hill climb, the rest was plain sailing down to this beautiful harbour town. The time went by so quickly as I chatted away with fellow pilgrim,  Marcia from San Francisco whom we had met in Pobena.  Before we knew it, we were walking on the promenade into town and it was only 10.45am.

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Yesterday, after noting the amount of pilgrims walking, I had decided to book our accommodation ahead to assure that we had a bed for the night. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best decision as it was another short day for us and we knew it was going to be a long day tomorrow.  However Michael was feeling a bit tired; the Pensiòn La Mer that we are staying in, was recommended by a few previous bloggers as a great place; and, we ARE on holiday. So this afternoon we relax and siesta like the locals and tomorrow we’ll see how far our feet will take us.

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Woke up this morning. Suddenly realised. We’re all in this together….(Ben Lee)

Day Four- Bilbao to Sestao (Metro) 17.8.
Sestao to Pobena (walking) 15.6km.

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We are so bad….and we are on a roll.

As I grapple with my conscious,  we continue to use the available public transport that evolution has put before us.  This new age pilgrim is moving with the times.  We had read on many web sites and blogs, how the markers throughout Bilbao were a little haphazard and people had gotten easily lost.  So with our track record of losing our way in the big towns, we decided to catch the Metro out to the suburbs and follow the yellow arrows from there. Luckily we were inundated by kindly locals who recognized the signs of confused perigrinos with backpacks turning in all directions. They guided us out from the Sestao Metro station, and then in Portugalete when the arrows led us around a church and then seemingly into the heavens, an angel appeared to show us the way again. From then on, it was a ten kilometre walk next to a bike way, boring as hell but leading us directly back to the sea.

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This mornings sunrise yhrough the fog and smog of an industrialized Bilbao.

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The Cathedral in Portugalete.

A few words about Bilbao before moving forward. It is a very pretty city founded in 1300, a few kilometres up the Rìo Nervìon on the Bay of Biscay. Now, most commonly known for it’s Guggenheim Museum and the giant flowery dog guarding its entrance, Bilbao is a modern city with plenty of free space for walking/cycling/skating locals to exercise around.

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After booking into our wonderful hostel last night, we left our washing in the hands of the guy who booked us in and vamoosed to enjoy the sights of this city. We wandered down to smell The Dog and then walked with the locals beside the river before entering the Casco Viejo. We had heard that this was the best place for food and we were determined to eat dinner which we eventually did. Rolling out from the restaurant, we entered the Cathedral of Santiago (built in 1571) before returning to our bed and clean clothes at the hostel. Like Goldilocks,  I noticed that there was the gear of an Italian motorcyclist staying in our room as well. We didn’t end up meeting this guy until 4am when he returned from his party, promptly turned the light on (“scusi”) and then fell into his bed snoring before hitting the pillow. So we woke early again. A simple but staple breakfast was provided by the hostel before we left loaded with helpful directions for the Metro.

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The Cathedral of Santiago.

As mentioned before, today’s walk was boring beside a highway for a while and then a well frequented bicycle pathway. On concrete and footpaths until the last kilometre across a sandy boardwalk to the Albergue de Perigrinos in Pobena.  Michael felt that he was missing the full perigrino experience and since we had only seen six walkers in three days, this donativo albergue was the place to be. We arrived early and at first thought that we may be the only ones here but after the doors opened at 1430hrs, two hours later, the albergue is completo. Twenty-two beds in one room. I hope Michael enjoys the sights/sounds/smells of this crowd. Where have you all been!

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The beach at La Arena.

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Walking into Pobena.

Mostly Spanish, there is also a young couple from Germany, a Korean gentleman, a lady around sixty from California,  and a young girl (late twenties) from Victoria,  Vancouver Island. I spoke with a lady from Barcelona who luckily understands English well, who thought that the reason that we had seen very little pilgrims was that we had started late in the season and now that we are three days ahead, we have caught up with a crowd.  We’ll see how this band of gypsies travels.

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Me and my Shadow…. (Frank Sinatra& Sammy Davis Jnr)

Day three- Getaria to Deba (17.5km) then a train trip to Bilbao.

We seem to be stuck in a time warp.

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With the sun rising behind us, standing in a vineyard. Bliss. (Yes I'm using my walking poles as a selfie stick!!)

After an exhausting day of walking, it is impossible for us to stay awake long enough for dinner, especially as the Spanish don’t eat before 8pm and don’t rise before 8-9am. For the last two days we have missed breakfast and dinner. Last night we walked around Getaria, even partaking in a glass of the local wine called Txakoli. We were a little early, so decided to go back to the Pensiòn and have a little nap…..which lasted for eight hours. We were both up and hungry at 4am but neary a mouse was stirring. The Pensiòn’s breakfast started at 9am but when we stood at check in, almost catatonic with this information, the innkeeper told us of a nearby cafe that would be open at 7am. Only three hours to wait, but in the end it was worth it.

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Downtown Getaria.

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Cheers for Txakoli

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Finally, a breakfast worth a photo.

Hunger satiated,  we set forth up the first hill towards the setting full moon at 7.45am. We had plenty of time to plan today’s walk, so we set off in high spirits. The scenery was stunning.  Lots of rolling hills with no one in sight but our shadows, and most importantly,  we didn’t get lost. The first town of Zumaia came up quickly with plenty of views to make us stop and count our blessings. We stopped here for another coffee- two in the one day was almost gluttonous compared to none in the last two days. We were on a roll, but so were the hills.

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Walking towards the moon, out of Getaria.

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Walking into Zumaia.

We had to make a decision at the top of one hill whether to take the yellow arrowed “proper” Camino route of 10km or the more strenuous but very scenic coastal route of 7.6km. After day one’s decision of the scenic alpine route almost turned into a disaster where I was seriously contemplating using my walking sticks as a cross on Michael’s grave, we choose the easier but longer option (as per the guide book). If this route was easier, then the coastal route would have definitely killed us. Lots of ups and one massively steep down into Deba, that would rival the steepest street in the world. We arrived weak in the ankles but grateful to take the free elevator down from upper Deba to the town.

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The elevator into Deba.

After five hours of walking and 17.5 km covered, we were pooped. I had read about the must-see Church of Santa Marìa that we happened to stumble upon when making our way to the Turismo Office. Well worth a visit (you were right this time guide book). Then it was a quick drink of Aquarius (like a Solo drink) and potato frittata before catching the train to Bilbao.

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The Iglesia de Santa Maria in Deba.

Aghast you say.

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Train travel isn’t part of the Camino spirit but then again, this isn’t the same as last years effort. We seem to be alone on our pilgrimage as we continue to only glimpse a passing pilgrim each day. Today we saw a couple, well into the distance, but couldn’t catch up with them before Deba, and didn’t see anyone else with a shell on their backpack walking though the town. We had read that the next three stages (84km) was leaving the coast and heading inland. We love walking beside the sea. So we decided to jump ahead to when that would happen again; the day after Bilbao. However we felt that we still should still pay a visit to Bilbao with it’s Guggenheim Museum and old world town.

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The bags enjoying the train ride without there sweaty owners attached to them.

So that is where we are at the moment.  Laying on one of the six double bunks in the room at the Bilbao Central Hostel. I think there are five people staying in this 40 bed hostel. The guy said that we will be the only people in the room for the night and (bonus) there is a washer and dryer here. Tomorrow we won’t have to walk with our knickers drying on the back like the last two days.
Classy!

I will follow you… (Sister Act).

Day two- San Sebastian to Getaria 27km (counting getting lost…again)

I’m going to skip over the part were I tell you that my washing didn’t dry from the day before and I had to wear wet knickers. Also I will omit the part were we got lost going out of San Sebastian as we walked and rewalked the stretch of La Concha beach Boulevard weaving in and out of the all night party goers calling out Buen Camino. No I shall start now..

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Another kindly local took this photo nearing the end of our day. Note the land in the backgound-as far as the eye can see, we walked that.

It was all uphill again (ugh) as we walked out of a waking San Sebastian Sunday morning.  We hugged a coastal road for a bit passing the odd (tempting) bus stop until we began the undulating trek through the farmlands rimming the blue waters of the Bay of Biscay. Our first morning passing pilgrims were Spanish locals out for a meander along the coast. We followed these three musketeers as they pilfered anything that hung over the path. I tried my first (very fresh) fig as we caught up to them snacking on this forbidden fruit. It was delectable.  Alas most of our fellow non-backpack carrying walkers easily passed us as they talked non stop whilst going uphill.

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Michael following the three musketeers.

Then we finally met two dinky-di pilgrims.  The first was a German man from Munich,  Fulcko (?), that started in Hendye (on the French border with Irun), on his third Camino and carrying a 13kg pack. We thanked him for being the only other person carrying a bigger pack than Michaels (10kg) as he zoomed past us. Then there was the retired Odilè who walked out of her door in Avignon six weeks ago and was setting a cracking pace as well. The rest of the hordes of day trekking locals who constantly passed us, were admired for their stamina and endless chattering. 

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Michael took this photo of me as I tried to dry my knickers on my backpack.

Our first stop was just before lunch on a little town nestled on the river called Orio. Cute but absolutely crazy in the preceding two hours to get there.  Walking on uneven stones/boulders is not an easy task. Then add a descent of 20%, well let’s just say that our toenails needed extracting from our shoes in Orio.

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A difficult walk.

Then another walk up and down to Zarautz, weaved us around the river and then through a vineyard. The descent into this popular summer town was breathtaking. Zarautz is rimmed with the regions longest beach-2.8km of course yellow sand dotted with brown Spanish bodies is a marvelous site. Yet we didn’t stop as were on a mission.

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See how happy Michael is doing another uphill stretch.

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The view into Zarautz.

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Zarautz beach.

Zarautz was suppose to be the end destination on our Camino guide for the day but even though we were akin to walking zombies,  we thought we might just have the last 6.8km stretch of flat coastal walking in the bag. So we continued on to Getaria and into the welcoming arms of another Pensiòn.

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I end with a small history lesson. In 1519, Magellan and a fleet of five Spanish ships set off to circumnavigate the globe. Even though the kudos of discovery was given to this famous explorer, he actually died in the Philippines, and the little known Juan Sebastian Elcano , from this little sleepy town of Getaria,  returned to Spain three years after leaving,  with just one ship and eighteen crew. A true hero in my books. Not so back then as the cause of his death at the tender age of 50 was malnutrition.  So I stood at the foot of this deserving statue and praised the adventurer to whom all credit should be applauded.

Our adventure will again begin tomorrow and you guessed it, it starts with an uphill climb…best to keep that info from Michael.

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Whenever I fall at your feet… (Neil Finn)

Day one- Irun to San Sebastian 26km (or so).

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Just minutes before it rained, a kindly local took our photo from one of the many hilltops we traversed today.

The sun rises at 8am here on the northern Spanish coastline.  Way too late for us early risers to get moving, however by seven, we could wait no longer. We strutted out the door of the Pensiòn Lizaso with a spring in our step and excitement a – foot. Michael had been studying the way out of town for months now and thought he had it all in hand, until the fourth turn and we were lost. It was a bit difficult finding the yellow arrows in the dark, so we missed one. We ended up only walking a few hundred metres extra that time. Once back on track, we followed the path through the wetlands before the UP started.

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I should have known by the sky- red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!

We began to think that we were lucky that it wasn’t raining, as the track in some parts was reminiscent of the quagmire that I trudged through on my first day, last Camino. It had rained just two days prior and the muddy ground was still at large. As the sun rose over the nearby Pyrenees,  we climbed higher into the clouds . That was when the clouds dumped their load before heading out to sea. We had decided to continue on the more challenging Alpine route, a decision Michael was to curse about for many a kilometre. The views were stunning, the conditions poor, the sweat factor rivalled the rain in its intensity.

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Slip sliding down the stoney slopes.

Michael fell twice as we slowly made our way along the track. I skinned my knee on a fall on the road as we made our way into Pasajes de San Juan. For when you have a steep up, a steep and slippery down will follow. We had been passed many times on the trail by locals either jogging (“madness” mumble Michael with each passing jogger, mountain biker or just quick paced local). It wasn’t until five hours into our eight hour trek that we kept pace with two French pilgrims about our age. He was carrying a javelin as his walking stick and smoked enough for us to always catch them on his lasf puff. We took it in turns to be leader up to the Tourist Information Office in San Sebastian.  We knew that there were going to be less pilgrims on the track in compared to the Camino Frances but we had been told at the Albergue de Perigrinos in Irun last night, when we were getting our Credential (stamp book to ensure cheap hostel stays to come), that there were twelve already booked in to start and who knows how many would have stayed in Pensiòn’s (like us) last night. So we’ll hopefully see more on the track tomorrow.

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Walking out, the up, from Pasaje de San Pedro.

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Finally the sun came out and provided us with a gorgeous few hours to end the day.

Stumbling into San Sebastian was akin to leaving a desert and arriving in the middle of a bazaar.  People were everywhere promenading up and down the two beaches and the Alameda del Boulevard.  Plenty of interesting folk around as well, as the San Sebastian Film Festival wraps up today. We even trudged our muddy shoes over the two red carpets outside the main cinema. What can I say, we were following the yellow arrows, they made us do it.

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Looking toward San Sebastian with Playa de Zurriola (beach) in the foreground.

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The church we got our stamp from. Impressive hey?

We arrived at our accommodation,  another private hostel just back from the beach, beyond exhausted as Michael was by now speaking in tongues that even I was unaware of. After a shower and washing our clothes, we wandered back into the maddening crowd of the main Boulevard to get our stamp (our hostel doesn’t give stamps!), then it was a big Mac before a gelato and finally rest.
Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us.

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Michael either gripping the handrail to stay upright or looking ahead to tomorrow’s walk. I see that hill in the distance in our future!

Kiss today Goodbye, and lead me t’ward Tomorrow. ..(A Chorus Line)

Where does the time go?

After leaving home and travelling for thirty-four hours via car, train, plane, plane and 2km walk, we have finally made it to Irun. Not quite Fantasy Island but a place with a bed to my name and the start of tomorrow’s Camino del Norte. The journey from Australia is always laboriously long but compounded by a fourteen hour flight crammed into cattle class in a seat with no ability to recline let alone mold to my body, made the trip more strenuous. The final flying leg into San Sebastian Airport, which ironically is closer to Irun than San Sab, Michael became impatient waiting for the bus, so we ended up walking into Irun. We even spotted our first yellow arrow. In the end of a very long day, we mercifully made it.

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Passing through Dubai.

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A bit too close for comfort over the French Riviera.

So now you may be asking why, oh why Michelle would you walk another Camino. I mean, I came, I walked, I saw the bones of St James last year on the highly popular Camino Frances.  However the allure of walking another less travelled Camino was always strong in me. I also wanted to share this spiritual journey with Michael (in the hope that he will mellow out a bit maybe). So it was the Northern Way we set our sights on.

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In fact there are many Ways to St James, crossing Spain, Portugal and the wider Europe, that are becoming more inquisitive to us wunderlusted vagabonds. A Camino can be a very spiritual pilgrimage to some but for me, it is an opportunity to remind myself about some of the best values a human being can have living and sharing with people from different cultures and origins. In this maniacal mayhem of everyday living, it is a chance to slow down the pace and find peace in its simplistic form surrounded by natures beauty and a travelling community of like minded souls.

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Our first yellow arrow.

Mamma Mia, here I go again…(ABBA)

My my, how can I resist you?

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I have fallen under the spell of the Camino. After last years effort of walking the 790km from St Jean Pied de Port, to the bones of St James in Santiago, with the wonderful Tania, I have dreamt about returning to the Spanish trails again. This year I will be walking beside my beloved husband of nearly thirty years as we traverse the quieter and some may say, more picturesque Camino del Norte. Alas with just two weeks planned including flight times from Australia, we shall only be walking at most twelve days. We know our starting point is the town of Irun on the Spanish – French border but the finishing post will remain a mystery only known by the power of our legs and feet.

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We have completed a few training walks but have yet to break the thirty kilometre barrier, with a loaded backpack, in the pouring rain. Most of our walks have been beside the beach on gorgeous sunny days with a few climbs up heartbreak hill on Panorama Drive in Tallai (which family and friends know the pain of all to well). I feel more nonchalant this Camino. I have already proven that no matter what the pace or the conditions, I have the determination to get anywhere. Michael is a different variable altogether. Sure, at 63, he is a very fit and able man but when the going gets tough, Michael might not want to get going. At least he has promised not to complain about the heat no matter how hot it gets, as he knows that I will sooner hog tie him to a nearby post than continue on with the complaints. (Thirty years of love and understanding there folks). Lucky for both of us, the weather forecast is looking “delightful” (their word).

So strap yourselves in for another walk across the top of Spain with this wunderlusted soul as your guide. Our first flight is due for take off in a few hours. So the journey continues…