August, 2016

Day-132, Aug 31, Santander to Mogro (by train) to Santillana del Mar, Spain

A number of us took Father Ernesto’s advice at the Güemes Albergue to take the local train out of the industrial part of Santander up to Mogro. So I rode the train for 13.1 km (8.2 mi) and walked the remainder of 16.3 km (10.2 mi) through moderate rolling hills. The weather was comfortable in the low 70s and the path was along small country roads.

Since I was nearly last to leave the albergue, I expected my compatriots to all be here when I arrived, there was only one familiar face and one came later. Now at 6:30 PM, the albergue has long filled its 16 beds. So I’m not sure where they are–but that happens on the Camino.

Now for the surprise: In Jean Sartre’s philosophical novel “La Nausée”, Sartre described Santillana as the prettiest village in Spain (“le plus joli village d’Espagne”)–I quote Wikipedia. After walking up and down the few streets, I tend to agree, but the town has become a little kitschy with the many stores trying to sell tourists their souvenirs–as, by the way, has Santiago become, or all beautiful destinations, for that matter. The pics I include are all from Santillana, the first being the Colegiata, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery and the others being a sample of the medieval flavor of Santillana. I could have posted a dozen more, but these will do.

Day-131, Aug 30, Güemes to Santander, Spain

Hated leaving that beautiful albergue, but knowing it would be a scenic walk near the ocean and ferry ride to Santander got me going. Several of us covered the 21 km (13 mi) in just over 5 hrs. and then had to wait several hours for the albergue to open (either at a cafe or in front, as you can see from the pictures). We found the Santender albergue extremely cramped–so much so that we couldn’t bring our backpacks into the little 8-bunk rooms. They barely had room to turn around.

After we got settled, we toured the Cathedral and had time to visit the Santander Prehistoric Museum that was most interesting in that its focus was on the Cantabrian Region (that we’re in).

Day-130, Aug 29, Noja to Güemes, Spain

The three of us who roomed together last night decided to leave at 8:00 AM so as to get breakfast at our place, but our place was still closed. Bob then hobbled to the bus stop, Susanne and I walked the few kilometers on the way into town for breakfast then put on our panchos for the light drizzle and parted ways because she had a much faster  pace. The trek was a comfortable 17 km (8.8 mi) and ended at an amazing albuerge, arguably the best on the Camino! I include here the URL to the albuerge:

When I arrived at a little after 1:00 PM, someone greeted me, told me to put my backpack down and showed me to my place at the dining table. I already knew most of the other 20 or so pilgrims from before. They were already serving food and wine. After the meal, they registered me and showed me to my bunk. It’s an 11-bunk room (one of many) each bunk having lots of head space and, get this, its individual electrical plug for charging smartphones, etc. It’s the amenities that are so outstanding: washer, dryer, clothes lines, everything!

A piece of artwork at the bottom of the stairs, included as the last picture, is captioned at the bottom: CAMINO UNIVERSIDAD DE VIDA (CAMINO UNIVETSITY OF LIFE). It seems so germane! 

Day-129, Aug 28, Liendo to Noja, Spain

Left the albuerge at Liendo at about 8:00 AM for the 19 km (11.9 mi) trek to Noja via Laredo and the small ferry over to Santoña. Hate getting up while it’s still dark, so I just delay until someone turns on the lights. Right from the start at the albuerge it was a steep climb which stressed out my tendinitis for the rest of the day. 

Top two pictures were of the ferry and me riding it across the ocean inlet between Laredo and Santoña. Then I followed a bike path that skirted a huge penitentiary in Santoña. On arriving at the albuerge, Bob and Suzanne (from Denmark) were already there. I had made reservations the day before. A young fellow from Quebec joined us for a pilgrim’s dinner menu. 

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.