The Walk of Life… (Dire Straits).

This is my last post of this Camino. Today we began the long arduous journey home; train to Santander;  bus to Bilbao;  different bus to San Sebastian;  overnight in the gloriously extravagant Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra; morning flight to Madrid-> Dubai-> Singapore-> Home. So this morning we took one more walk around the coastline of Llanes, for old time sake.

image

image

A different symbol to follow on this mornings walk.

As we spend the next six hours travelling on public transport back over the route that took us twelve days to walk, I give you my thoughts on the Norte.

image

The first few days are the hardest. That is of course if you are starting from Irun. I suppose with all walks, it does take a while to build up your strength and get into a rhythm. That being said, that first climb on the alpine route out of Irun was a killer. Great views, of course, but murder on the thighs. Also the steep descents into San Pedro and into Deba can also be a bit harrowing.

image

Don’t always believe the guide book. We used the popular (and latest edition) Pilgrim Route- The Northern Caminos by Laura Perazzoli and Dave Whitson. Most English speaking walkers would flip out this book and scratch their heads at some of the directions.  Our French-speaking Canadian friends had their own easy flip guide including the elevation diagrams which they seemed to like and the Germans seemed to be happy with their slightly different version.  Sometimes ours would give detailed descriptions then at the end of the paragraph say “but only when…”.

image

You can mostly trust the yellow arrows. I know this may sound a bit wishy washy but on rare occasions, the arrows would be tampered with; some painted over in blue; some leading down to the local shops, etc. In Cantabria,  the local government has addressed this confusion by cementing in official plaques with arrows so that you know for sure the way through this region. It also gets tricky when there are different Caminos who have different coloured arrows to follow. The Camino Lebaniego follows a red arrow from San Vicente de la Barquera to Santo Toribio de Liebana.  If doing the Norte or Coastal route, always follow the yellow arrow. The shells also guide your way through Asturias where the apex of the shell points in the direction of travel. Apparently this is reversed in Galicia. Again, number one rule- follow the yellow arrows.

image

Buen Camino greetings are said more between pilgrims than with locals. The Spanish people are very friendly and if you smile and say “Hola” or ” Buenos dias” to them as you pass, they will always return the greeting. The biggest reaction I got was when I learnt the Basque thankyou- Eskerrik Asko. Even when I stumbled over the pronunciation,  the Basque always beamed with pride over their language being shared.

image

The early morning walkers always had a smile and a greeting.

I wish I knew more of the language. Knowing just the basics can help a lot in the northern regions. A few of the hostelerios only spoke Spanish which made it hard for us and frustrating for them. That being said, I found that there were far more Spanish pilgrims on this Camino than on the Frances. There were also a lot of pilgrims who didn’t want to socialize or interact with other pilgrims.  In fact they chose this Camino as they knew there would be less people on The Way, leaving them with their own thoughts and personal demons.  Always respect other pilgrims privacy.

image

The towns in the North will survive without The Way. I noticed last year that there were some towns on the Camino Frances that solely survive on the Camino tourist dollar.  This isn’t the case for the Norte. Yes there are little yellow arrows everywhere, but the locals don’t seem to notice that we are here. They are still farming or working in the larger towns; raising families;  exercising along the same pathways that we walk. I didn’t see any Camino shell bracelet or any tourist shop item dedicated to the Camino. It isn’t a business here, it is a way of life. 

image

Training in the shoes that you will walk in is imperative. On day eight, Michael received the best compliment about his pristine feet and he was justifiably proud. You see he trained for months in his Camino shoes even when he got two blisters from a 30km hike. He learnt that it was best to tape up his heels with leukopore to prevent any problems developing as well as wearing two pairs of socks. Of course even with all this preparation, you could still develop some nasty blisters (just like poor Tania did last year).  We met so many people who’s feet were a mangled mess, including the serious Quebec-ites, with all the bells and whistles, they were still affected by blisters. The debate continues whether to take boots or trainers. We managed fine on our trainers, although my tread is seriously depleted now. By the way, I too was blister free, again. I must just have tough feet.

image

Blister free feet.

So that is all for now. Thankyou all for your kind words of encouragement and praise. On the tough days, it was always lovely to read your comments. I leave you with one last photo from our hotel room.
Cheers!

image

San Sebastian

Advertisements

Something so strong, could carry us away… (Crowded House).

Day Twelve- Buelna to Llanes 15.8km

image

Goodbye to our shadow friends.

This was our final day on the Camino del Norte. We have walked an impressive 267.2km in twelve days and more importantly,  have had a fabulous time along the way. We have had great conversations with each other and have met some wonderful pilgrims from all over the world.  This pace of life forces us to slow down and appreciate the small things that mean so much- like a warm and dry bed at night; enough food to appease hunger; cool and refreshing, drinkable water; sharing all the above with appreciative and like-minded companions.  There is something so special about the Camino way of life that keeps pilgrims coming back for more.

image

Bruno from Portugal, on his third Camino.

We started today’s walk a little later than normal (maybe we are finally adjusting to Spanish time). The day looked perfect. A little overcast but no rain clouds around. We bid farewell to our Camino family of the last few days; six Canadians and our Spanish friends,  Yolanda and Franco. Yolanda especially was such a sweetheart,  opening up about her health issues and translating all our conversations to Franco. It was also a sad farewell for the lovely hosteleria at the Albergue de Perigrinos who was so kind and considerate to everyone and their needs.

image

We walked through the sleepy town of Pendueles before joining the long distance footpath that took us close to the coast including past the Bufones de Arenillas, a geological series of blow holes. When the sea is rough enough it can spout an impressive 20m into the air. However today the spray was minor even though the sound of the air passing through these caves was truly powerful. 

image

Walking towards the Bufones.

image

It was a shame that the sea wasn't rough enough to send up a spray but the breeze was tremulous.

The approach into Llanes was breathtaking. With the sea to our left and the mountainous Pica de Europa out in front, the scenery was simply stunning.  Walking on a path next to the golf course for about 2km, high above the coast, we thought we would never descend into the town. Then with just one downward turn, we were walking into this beautiful seaside town.

image

Llanes.

image

Pica de Europa ahead.

We were in our hotel room (a celebratory splurge) by 1pm, then summoned the strength to explore the town after a late lunch. We attempted to purchase our tickets for the long ride back to San Sebastian tomorrow. Alas the station was closed. Seista you know.  We’ll just have to get the tickets tomorrow.  Ah mañana…see I am finally becoming Spanish. Now I’m off to get my chocolate con churros. I think I’ve walked enough for this delicious treat.

image

One of those buildings is our hotel.

image

image

Lets enjoy it while we can, On the bright side of the road… (Van Morrison).

Day Eleven- San Vicente de la Barquera to Buelna 24.9km

We have entered Asturias.

image

The shells in Asturias show you the direction of travel.

This is the third region in northern Spain that we have wandered through on this Camino. There are in fact four regions that are travelled through on this Camino del Norte; Basque Country (from Irun to Pobena); Cantabria (from Castro-Urdiales to Unquera); Asturias (from Colombres to Figueras); and finally Galicia (from Ribadeo to Santiago de Compostella). So we are excited to see a sampling of this region, even for just two days.

Before bed last night we wandered around the 13th century Gothic church of Santa Marìa de los Angeles,  which was situated just above our Albergue de Perigrinos and were treated to a spectacular sunset over the moors of the Brazo Mayor. It was absolutely breathtaking.

image

image

Today’s walk again featured plenty of farm life with cow’s and cattle galore. We also crossed a couple of rivers and walked for a distance beside the train tracks. There was an incredibly long slate path that led from the river at Unquera, up to the outskirts of Colombres which took our breath away in exertion and scenery.

image

A place to leave a message to other pilgrims.

image

image

This is the bar at Pesuès. We were passed by a flotilla of very old bikes and bikers.

image

We walked up the hill from the bridge at the Ria de Tina Menor.

image

Walking up from Unquera.

Unfortunately it again rained off and on for a few hours. We sought shelter in Colombres in one of the bars, to find that a few other walkers were there as well enjoying some lunch. For the last few days we have been keeping pace with six French-speaking Canadians from Quebec.  One of them is bilingual so we have been exchanging friendly banter with them since Santillana del Mar.  We also caught up with Fulcko,  the German man who we first met on Day Two when he breezed past us with his 12kg backpack.  Where we had skipped three stages ahead from Deba to Bilbao,  he has continued walking, averaging thirty kilometres a day. After lunch he set off at a cracking pace but decided to carry on rather than stay here in Buelna (he wanted to keep up to his average of 30km). We also met a lovely Spanish girl and her companion who we met yesterday that have decided to stay here as well. So we have a bit of the old travelling community spirit happening. All just in time as we have just 15km to go before tomorrow’s end of Camino for us.

image

Could this be Michaels doppelganger?

Tonight we are in another Albergue de Perigrinos run by a little Spanish lady who has already given me two hugs. Concerned that we might wake up our friends with our incredibly loud breathing/ some may say snoring, she put us in our own special room. Apparently this is the snorers quarters.

image

Who cares? We are all happy to be warm and dry in such a lovely Albergue.

image

Not far to go now.

To dream the impossible dream…

Day Ten- Còbreces to San Vicente de la Barquera 21.4km

Today started out as an impossible scenario on many levels.

image

Firstly, today is our thirtieth wedding anniversary.  Through thick and thin, good times and hard times, we have forged through life’s challenges together. It may not have been all plain sailing but it has been our journey together. Much like the Camino, we have taken each stage, one step at a time to achieve our dream. We are both grateful to have each other in our lives as we continue to persue a life of love, happiness and togetherness. 

image

This is what thirty years of marriage looks like- even with bumps in the road.

Secondly, we woke up to a blackened sky and a rainy day Monday.  The forecast was looking grim as we googled the weather map and saw a thick band of rain over this part of the Norte. We were starting to make contingency plans for a shortened Camino, when the rain ever so slowly,  started to ease. On our distance tally, we had walked 196.1km and we both wanted to get over the 200km mark- an achievement for us to look back on. So again, donning all our wet weather gear, we walked out of our comfortable and cosy room at the inn and into the now easing storm. Our aim was to walk the 10.1km to Comillas, a larger town with a bus stop, and then make a decision to continue or to cave in. We continued.

image

Walking in the rain.

By the time the sun appeared, the humidity was liquidable. The scenery was an absolute joy to flow through. We passed through tiny towns like La Inglesia, Pando and Concha, that would simply be missed if driving on the highway. It took us nearly two and a half hours to reach Comillas for our coffee hit and a chance to dry off our sweat-soaked clothes. Being a Monday, a lot of the shops are closed but we stumbled into a small supermarket and purchased some bananas, chocolate and a Powerade (which came in use after sweating up a hill about an hour later). We also saw a couple from Poland who we had first walked with three days ago in Laredo. It was great to catch up with this husband and wife duo who told us that they had walked 40km yesterday to get to Còbreces.  Ouch, we would never have that much stamina. We walked together for about a kilometre when the husband said that he had to take it slow as his legs were still sore from the day before, so we walked on.

image

La Inglesia.

image

The bridge into Comillas.

image

This was an entrance to a golf course that we walked from the back into it.

image

Part of the golf course and the looming mountains.

We arrived at our final destination, San Vicente de la Barquera,  by 2.30pm. The walk into this fishing/resort town is spectacular as you cross the Puenta de la Maza. There is an eighth-century castle that dominates the skyline of this bustling town. The albergue has a wonderful view of the river but of course to get a view,  you always have to go up.

image

San Vicente de la Barquera.

image

Walking up to the Albergue.

image

Our home for the night.

We are a couple of happy pilgrims tonight.

Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you… (Crowded House)

Day Nine- Polanco to Còbreces 23.4km.

The rain that has been threatening to put a dampener on our Camino arrived this morning. We left this morning in full wet weather gear, prefering to walk in the rain than stay longer in the tiny Polanco Albergue. Walking even slower than zimmer-framed geriatrics,  we inched along The Way, being careful not to fall on the slippery paths. The worst offender, identified as the place of highest fall potential (in our opinion), is anywhere near a fig tree. With so much fallen fruit, the tree’s are danger zones for the sliding pilgrim. Word to the wise- these are definitely places to avoid.

image

Weather - proof.

It took us nearly two and a half hours to walk the ten kilometres to Santillana del Mar, which was described in the guide book as one of the most picturesque stopping points on the Camino del Norte. Well not for us. Certainly it has it’s charm, as evidenced by all the tourists spilling out of the busses and walking around the cobblestoned streets. In the rain, these streets are a fracture just waiting to happen.  We stopped and got a stamp for our credentials from the Turismo Office;  had a coffee from the cafe whilst using their wifi; then continued on, when there was a break in the weather.

image

The Plaza Mayor in Santillana del Mar.

image

The Way out of Santillana del Mar.

Wandering through the countryside again, we were at times, blown up the hills with the prevailing wind gusts. We were so glad that we didn’t have this weather yesterday when we were walking beside the cliffs, otherwise it would have been adios amigos. However there were so many beautiful churches and stunning vistas to enjoy on today’s walk through Cantabria.

image

Ermita de San Pedro

image

A local from Oreña.

image

Walking towards San Martin de Ciguenza.

image

Walking through the autumn leaves.

After saving money on last nights accommodation (10 €),  we decided to splurge and stay in a Posada. Not quite the opulence of a Parador, which we walked and drolled past in Santillana del Mar, but still a nice comfortable inn/hotel to recharge our batteries and hang all our washing all over the room without offending anyone. The Posada Las Mañanitas in Còbreces is a great choice. The view out of our window, over the town and out to the sea, is worth every penny. It’s nice to splurge occasionally.

image

image

image

One step forward, two steps back… (Paula Abdul).

Day Eight- San Miguel De Meruelo to Somo 24.5km (walking).
Ferry-Somo to Santander.
Train- Santander to Requejada 27km.
Requejada to Polanco 1km (walking the wrong direction).

Sometimes the closer you get to your destination, the further away it seems. Today was one of those days.

image

Our first glimpse of Santander.

Unfortunately, but surprisingly, we were not alone in our Albergue last night. A taxi pulled up to this isolated guest house at 8pm and out fell two German girls that we had briefly met the night before in Larado.  Julia and Mikka are fun-loving, easy-going, vegetarian,  animal lovers who travel on the beat of their tambourine.  They had been swimming off one of the beaches and lost all track of time. Not liking the vibe of the accommodation available in the next two villages, they followed their guide book to our little haven. All wasn’t too bad though, as they were great company until “lights out” 10pm. They plan to swim at each beach they stumble upon. Judging by all the beaches we passed today, we won’t be seeing them again.

image

Good morning. ..and goodbye to Bareyo.

We woke to a cloudless pre-dawn sky and strode up the first hill, out of our valley, and into Bareyo. I don’t know how we did it but by the 1.5km mark, we were lost. We ended up lapping this small blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town adding an extra twenty minutes to our day. The arrows on this Camino can be somewhat confusing. Anyway by the next hour we passed the turnoff for the famous Guemes Albergue and we both wholeheartedly agreed that we would have never made this extra seven kilometres yesterday and still been able to walk today.

image

Guemes in the distance. ..we think.

After a week of walking, and 147km covered, you’d be incorrect in thinking that we are improving by the kilometre.  We still wake up a bit sore and sorry for our aching limbs. By the first half hour we are enjoying the day; by the first hill, we are not; after a beer and tortilla patata, we are ready to conquer the world; by 2pm we want to sleep. As you can see our day is on an ever spinning spectrum of delight and torture.  I wonder how we will be by our last day.

image

Going loopy with shadow puppets.

Anyhow, the delight-ometer was on full tilt as we made the decision to take the longer coastal route to Somo before catching the ferry to Santander.  This  12km stretch, first through Galizano, then bee-lining to the coast, was absolutely spectacular. The dirt paths rimmed the sheer drop cliffs, with the crystal clear ocean occasionally broken by small stretches of pristine beaches. Not a fence or guard rail protected the many people out enjoying this sunny day. We could see Santander from a distance for most of the day. A very frustrating phenomenon, however we really did enjoy this cliff side walk. The Camino path ended up leaving the cliffs and lead down to the beach. We walked for a while feeling the sand fill our shoes before returning to the road that lead us into Somo. By now it was 2pm (our nap time) and we had walked 24.5km. We were exhausted. 

image

image

Getting closer!

image

We can still see you Santander.

image

The optical illusion of Santander!

The decision was made last night after much research and many hours of walking/talking, to miss the bright lights of Santander and train on ahead, bypassing the much written, boring outskirts of this sprawling city. We chose a very cheap albergue in Requejada that was advertised as being open all year. (Many albergues close after the summer Camino rush). By 4.15pm we boarded the train for the twenty minute journey that saved our legs six hours of pavement walking, and arrived to find the albergue closed! We were directed to walk one kilometre back towards Santander to another albergue that we eventually and unbelievably stumbled upon. So here we sit alone in our bus shelter designed albergue; two rooms just large enough for their triple decked bunk beds to squeeze into, a bathroom and a foyer big enough for a bench. The matresses, about an inch in thickness, lie over thin wooden slats that screech on any movement.  The very top bunk is out of the question as someone has put their leg through and broken a slat. It all looks like a bed bug haven, which will test the limits of our bedbug guard. This is also the first day that we will use our sleeping bags as the one blanket provided has definitely seen better days.

The key keeper of this albergue, a lovely elderly lady who lives up the road, speaks to us in fast-paced Spanish as if we understand her, occasionally throwing in an ok so we can agree with her instructions,  however not knowing exactly what she is talking about. Luckily there is a supermarket down the road to buy something for dinner as there isn’t a restaurant around but we don’t have a fridge or even plates to use. There is electricity and lights but as you can now probably imagine, no wifi, hence the lateness of this blog post. All is not so grim though- we have each other.

The highs and lows of a pilgrims life.

image

Our lonely hostel, jammed between a freeway and the off ramp. Magic!

You know you’re near your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away… (Simon & Garfunkel).

Day Seven- Laredo to San Miguel De Meruelo. 22.5km.

image

The start of the day.

After last night’s Pilgrims Mass, where only four of us received a blessing, someone must be looking out for us. While we were having dinner post-mass, the rain began to pour, then stopped as we went to leave the restaurant and walk back to our bed in the monastery.  We had heard the rain off and on during the night and wondered how we would go sliding through the slush today.

image

The view on Playa de Laredo o de Salvè.

image

On the four kilometre was on the Promenade to the ferry.

After the nuns laid out our meagre breakfast of coffee and cake, we  meandered down the promenade beside the beach to catch the first ferry across to Santoña. Paying the ferryman two euro for the ten minute ride, we were deposited near the centre of this little town, famous for being the birthplace of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Marìa. Here we had our second breakfast of the day whilst donning our raingear for the coming shower. By the time we passed the long walls of the prison and went on the beach at Berria, the sun was out and the raingear was again off, for the day’s climb was about to begin.

image

On the ferry crossing.

image

Santoña.

We had been warned about this scramble up the red-earthed hill that devided the beaches of Berria and Noya. The path was billy-goat rated. The views were stunning, but on the way up we realised that the descent would be on a slippery slope which indeed Michael proved. He fell not once but thrice on the way down. Out of five of us traversing the path at the time, Michael was the only fall guy. Luckily he was not injured on any of the falls except for his bruised ego. We were all pleased to reach the relative safety of the vast Noja Beach, which subsequently took over an hour to walk into the town.

image

Part of the hill climb!

image

There are 2 goats in this picture. ..as well as Michael.

image

The view from the top....before the 3 falls.

image

Reaching the beach.

The rest of the day was spent weaving in and out of farmland on rural roads. Our plan was to continue on to an albergue in Guemes which was described in our guide book as one of the best on the Norte. Alas that would have made it another thirty kilometre day. We were both weary and the sky was threatening with rain, again. So by 3pm, whilst walking towards the Albergue de Meruela, something told us to stop. We are the only pilgrims staying the night in this lonely Spanish farmhouse and are currently waiting for our pre-paid  home cooked meal.

image

image

The town of San Miguel De Meruelo.

image

Our Albergue.

Someone is watching over us for sure.