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.
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.
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.
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…”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.