Day-128, Aug 27, Castro Urdiales to Liendo, Spain

Took one of two optional routes between these two towns and ended up picking the shorter of the two at 21.0 km (13.1 mi). Except for a few long climbs, this was one of nicest hiking days with some great views along the way.

I arrived at the albuerge at a little after one. The door was open and I was told that the hospitalero will come at 8:00 pm and stamp our credentials and collect the fees.

The first pic is in front of one of the rustic gates to keep the herd of sheep, goats, or cows in. The rocky path is not one of my favorites, but luckily it wasn’t very long either. The pics of the sea are the essence of the Del Norte Camino–can’t get enough of these kinds of views. The fourth pic is of the church at Liendo with the albuerge, the white two-story building, just down from it.

Day-127, Aug 26, Portugalete to Castro Urdiales, Spain

Some 40+ of us headed out this morning from the albuerge at Portugalete being treated by an escalator sidewalk to move us about 100 meter to the higher ground. Nice gesture! But we also knew that the albuerge here in Castro only had 18 beds. I didn’t want to get into the usual Camino race and simply took my time walking the 21.9 km (13.7 mi). When I arrived, I headed to the tourist office and found an inexpensive hotel in the center (30 €)–soooo nice not to have to wait in line for check-in, shower, laundry, etc. I did my chores and then went a few hundred meters up the hill to the main attraction:  the Gothic-style parish church of Santa María de la Asunción that looks more like a citadel than a church. I thought the arches across the nave were very different–one doesn’t usually see that.

Much of the walk was on a dedicated bike/pedestrian path that later switched to a “Camino” path. And I actually walked on wooden boards across the beach–yes, this was the path. The temperature was at least 10 degrees less than yesterday–high 80s–still, it was a taxing walk with some healthy uphill segments.

My hotel is half a block from the square that the last two pictures portray, just coming to life at about 8:00 pm. While sightseeing at the church, I ran into three other pilgrims I had chummed around with, so we all went for a tapas dinner.

Day-126, Aug 25, Bilbao to Portugalete, Spain

I could have sworn that I walked more than 11.5 km (7.2 mi)–crazy steep, very warm, but no problem finding water spigots. I barely came in an hour and a half before it hit 100 deg F. Had thoughts this morning of going another 10 km, but couldn’t have made it. Basically skirted the estuary on the west side. The first picture shows a transporter bridge high above the water in the town of Portugalete to allow cars and people to cross (the transporting car is the white container on right just above the water) and yet boats to pass underneath. This bridge is a world heritage site!

The town is so steep for pedestrians that they installed moving sidewalks (see the pic).

Day-125, Guernika to Lezama to Bilbao

Had a good walk of 20.7 km (12.9 mi), but when some of us arrived at Lezama we discovered that 20 had arrived before us so that we encountered the “no vacancy” sign. Two of us made a decision to catch the next bus to Bilbao, where we barely filled one of several rooms at one of the closest hostels and this is one of three hostels, probably best located. The pulse at Bilbao was over the top!

So many impressionable things I saw today: the Basque flag flying everywhere and statements about wanting their freedom; the fanciest Office of Tourisme at Bilbao that I’ve ever seen with marble floors and pillars, etc.; the Bilbao Museum we paid homage to (a Frank Gehry design); street celebrations with what seemed like thousands of people; and fireworks out of our hostel window (part of summer celebrations) to bring the day’s celebrations to a close.

Day-124, Aug 23, Markina to Guernika, Spain

Another taxing day of 24.1 km (15 mi) of up and down with intense heat in the afternoon. And what’s worse is that three of us missed a turn and ended up adding some 5 km to the distance–the receptionist tells me that most everyone does that. Many of the uphill segments I took sideways to spare my Achilles’ tendon from overstretching. It all worked out in the end–last of the ugly hard sections for a while. 

We were so grateful to find water sources at four strategic points to be able to rest, cool off with splashing water and rehydrate. 

Guernika (Basque spelling is without the “u”) is best known (according to Wikipedia) to those residing outside the Basque region as the scene of the April 26, 1937, Bombing of Guernica, one of the first aerial bombings by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. It inspired the painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

A couple of high points: the secluded Hermitage we encountered on the way in Ziortza-Bolibar, which is or was a monastery and allows pilgrims to stay over; a steep down hill section  was completely modernized with wooden steps and railings; and countless Basque farm houses with the red geraniums.

Day-123, Aug 22, Deba to Markina, Spain

The hills just get steeper both up and down–we’re talking better than 20% grades where you go up and down sideways! It was 26.8 km (16.8 mi) and many idyllic scenes. The path is more inland–no ocean views today, but the occasional cool breeze made the warm weather more tolerable.

Our albuerge filled up and offered only sleeping on the floor on your own mat. I had to take a picture of the crowds standing in the check-in line and the dozens of shoes lining the hallway. The spin dryer was a welcome gadget to spin extra water from your laundry so it dries faster–it seems to be standard equipment!

And above all, the international spirit of the Camino prevailed at our dinner table: USA, Belgium, Australia, and Denmark–and that’s just seven of us.

Day-122, Aug 21, Zarautz to Deba, Spain

Am on the north coast of Spain, today one of the best Camino days: 26 km (16.3 mi) of steep climbs and descents that created unforgettable views of the local landscape and ocean coast, with cool weather, great paths–some rocky, but no mud. At the end of the day I felt a genuine Camino accomplishment. Although I had a few moments of doubt, I feel I can make this route–I love it because it reminds me so much of California’s Pacific Coast Route. The land kisses the sea and the sea hisses back in a continual, unpredictable motion with forces beyond one’s imagination.

Deba has a long history of being a port town, but it already remade itself into a tourist attraction as early as the 19th century. It offers tourists and pilgrims alike a quaintness and resting  place to enjoy. The view from the second story is from our albuerge as I lust after the beers folks are having below.

Day-121, Aug 20, Donostia-San Sebastián, to Zarautz, Spain

A 21.2 km (13.3 mi) day, much of it uphill, half in the rain, a fall in the mud that bent my walking stick left me with one of the warmest of memories and it’s the only pic I’m attaching.

At about an hour out of Donostia-San Sebastián after much climbing, this man had a stand in front of his house with water and pictures and the possibility of a stamp. We started talking and he mentioned he had visited Orinda, CA as well as Yosemite, etc. I told him I was very familiar with Orinda. And in jest said where’s the coffee? Well, he took me aside 10 steps down to his house and served me a big mug of coffee, a dozen cookies and homemade jam. After telling him about my four Caminos and this one starting in Poland, he opened up with having done 10 Caminos and he had visited over 1500 nursing homes in Spain to entertain with the folks with the guitar. We just hit it off and touched each other’s soul then left with a big bear hug. I was so deeply touched by this man–unbelievably so. And so, I close with: que Dios te bendiga (May God bless you) and attach his picture in his honor:

Day-120, Aug 19, Irun to Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain

Today I started out at sunrise and it was my Camino entrance exam: only 18 km (11.3 mi) but the climbs and descents taxed me most along with a rocky path for much of it. On a pass/fail basis, I think I passed. 

Oh, there was also a patience part. When I called to make a reservation, the fellow told me they were full and I need to go to the Corazon de Maria and they will provide me with a bed. So I imagined this completely different place, Googled it, and went on a two-hour chase into the steepest parts of San Sebastián that was the wrong place! My energy and patience were nearly gone. It turned out, the place I called was the Corazon de Maria, and they didn’t even take reservations! When I arrived there they were still closed, and I easily got a front-row bed–I’m facing a basketball court. The place is huge with rooms elsewhere, too. Right now they have 80+ pilgrims.

The views from the walk as well as my “extra sightseeing” were gorgeous. The hills on the other side are the Pyranese. The cathedral, the El Pastor Cathedral, while relatively new (1897) is one of San Sebastián’s major icons.

Day-119, Aug 18, Bayonne to Saint-Jean-de-Luz (France) to Irun (Spain)

As Seniora Socorro drove her husband to an appointment, she offered to drive me to the Chemin de St Jacques, their house being somewhat off the route. Well, that offer turned into a tour of the area that ended up taking me 33 km “down the road” to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. And from there I walked a short 14.4 km to Irun–yes short, but with some steep climbs that gave my tendinitis a good test. So far so good. Although I won’t be crossing the Pyrenees mountain range, some of its rolling mountains were visible in the distance.

Biarritz was most interesting with its conspicuous wealth everywhere  especially the Hôtel du Palais originally built for Emperor Napoleon III’s wife Eugénie. Somehow, the Chemin de St Jacques is conspicuously not routed through Biarritz! At the town of Budart, one could see the Basque language and architecture everywhere.