So I think I left off saying that I would be back with photos from the gorgeous views that I was bound to get from the first day’s walk on the Norte. I’d been checking the weather for a week, and Friday in Irun and San Sebastián looked sunny and clear. The perfect weather to start a Camino!
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I walked in rain for the entire day- it started as a mist and then became a steady rain, and it was worse- way worse- than anything I walked in last year. I think every inch of me was wet by the time I hobbled into the hostel in San Sebastián.
Buen Camino, and welcome to the Norte!
I arrived in Hendaye, France yesterday evening, and after I walked out of the train station I wandered towards a bridge that would take me across to Irun, Spain. I could have stayed on the train and gotten off in Irun, making the trip just a bit shorter and getting to the albergue easier but the thing was, I wanted to walk into Spain.
Having been up for over 24 hours, I was exhausted. I knew that adding a couple kilometers to the end of my travel day probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but I ignored reason and started walking across a bridge. I kept my eyes peeled for the marker that indicated the line between France and Spain, but I didn’t see one, and suddenly I was in Spain. And I started seeing yellow arrows.
Oh man, to see those yellow arrows again! I had a big grin on my face as I started to follow them, as I once again walked through a beautiful Spanish town. I had a spring in my step, I was snapping photos left and right, I no longer felt tired.
But then I realized that I wasn’t sure where I was going. I was following the arrows, but the arrows weren’t taking me to the albergue. They were taking me, I suspected, straight out of town, heading west. It took me awhile to figure out where I was and to find the albergue but I made it.
Walking into the albergue was strange. All of last night was pretty strange, in fact. I felt overwhelmed and flustered, and shy and uncertain. I was back on the Camino (well, almost), but it didn’t feel like the Camino yet. And I didn’t like that. Maybe I expected a continuation of my journey from last year, that I would step into Spain and step right back into my first Camino experience.
As soon as I walked into the albergue I ran into Elissa, a fellow Camino blogger whose writing I’ve been following. She walked the Frances last summer and, like me, was gearing up to do the Norte this year. About a month ago we realized that we would be starting the Norte on the same day, and so we knew to look for each other in Irun. And seeing her was also strange- great but strange. Because here’s this person that I kind of know, but don’t actually know, another American, meeting her in Spain. It was a lot to wrap my mind around, and my mind was tired.
The hospitalero put us into a double room when she realized we knew each other (a double room! What luck!!) and I sat on the floor and opened my pack and took out some things and just stared at it all. I wasn’t sure what to do. The routines weren’t back yet. Do I set up my bed? Do I shower? Do I try to meet people? Do I find wi-fi and check in with family?
I sorted myself out but there were a few moments when I wondered what I was doing. I was sitting in a bar around the corner from the albergue, a tinto de verano in front of me and local men playing cards at the table next to me. It was a scene out of last year’s Camino but it was different. I didn’t feel comfortable, not like I did last year. I wondered if maybe I was wrong, if maybe the Camino magic really only happens once, if the Frances was where I belonged.
But then Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ started playing in the bar: “How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown?” This song was like an anthem to me when I studied abroad in France all those years ago. And I felt the lyrics deeply this time, too. How does it feel? Honestly? Even though I’ve already done this once, it feels a little scary. A little crazy. A little exciting. A little freeing.
So lets jump to today’s walk, while I still have time before we go out for pintxos in San Sebastián tonight. All at once, the Camino came back to me. And of course it came back in almost the instant that I started to walk. Out of the city and past farms with grazing sheep and ponies. Uphill, following the yellow arrows. I passed a Spanish girl who was putting on her rain coat and she said, “I feel like I’m home” and I could understand what she meant. It felt familiar again. It felt good to be walking.
So, walking in the rain. Oh boy. Lets just say it was a completely different experience than anything I had last year. On the way to Finisterre I walked in rain, but this was a different kind of rain. At times it was a driving rain, a soaking rain. I chose to do the ‘high’, alternate route, which I’m pretty sure everyone would have done if it was a clear day. But as it was, other than three Irish guys who passed me while I was wringing out a pair of socks, I didn’t see a soul. I could barely see in front of me, and at times I wondered how wise the decision was to take this path. Up, up, up a mountain and then along a ridge, every once in awhile stone ruins would suddenly appear, practically on top of me. Sheep appeared too, and cows, blocking my path. I would hear their bells before I could see them.
When I stood on the summit of the mountain, the rain blew into my face, the wind pushed back the hood of my raincoat. And I felt so free and so alive. In that moment I didn’t care that it was raining, I only marveled that I was able to get myself back here, back to this place where I could walk for hours everyday, surrounded by beauty, feeling energized.
And then I started the descent, and things went downhill (ha!). I realized that my socks were soaked, I could feel the water squishing out of them with each step I took. I was walking slowly, nervous about slipping on the wet rocks or sliding in the mud. I planned to stop in a town before San Sebastián, making this day a short one, and all I could think about was getting there as fast as I could and getting out of my wet clothing.
When arriving in this town (my guidebook’s not on me and I’m forgetting it’s name), I saw that the albergue didn’t open for another 5 hours. Pilgrims were gathered in a bar and everyone decided to keep walking. I drank a large cafe con leche and ate a slice of tortilla and I felt my energy coming back. The walk into San Sebastián was stunning, and that’s WITH fog and rain and grey skies. I think I’m going to love walking by the water.
The last hour of my walk was with Amy, from London. It felt a little like meeting Mirra, last year- falling into step with someone at the end of my first day of walking. We stopped for a coffee in the center of town and then walked together to the youth hostel. It seems like most pilgrims are here, already I’m recognizing faces. I’m still very curious how the social part of this year’s walk will compare to last year, and it’s hard to put my finger on it, but it seems like it’s going to be very different. We’ll see.
But for now that doesn’t really matter. Now, I’m showered and clean and dry. I’m finishing up this blog post and sitting at the table with me is Eva, from Germany, who’s writing in her journal. Elissa is here, too, and so is Amy and a French guy whose name I don’t know, and in an hour we’re heading into the city for some pintxos (what tapas are called in this region).
It was a good day one. Very challenging, lots of up and down (and the ascent when I started the alternate route? Lets just say that at one point, I turned around, looked at what I had just hiked up, and said to myself, “Nadine, there’s no way you can climb back down that without sliding or falling in the mud.”) Squishy shoes. Wet underwear. Pants so weighed down by the rain that I was afraid they would fall off.
But also so much beauty, so much energy, so much excitement for what’s to come. It’s good to be back, Camino, it’s good to be back.