Well, today made me miss the Camino Frances, and all of the great information about that route. I’m using the Cicerone guidebook, and while it’s helpful in some ways, it’s lacking in others. For instance, this whole Bilbao thing.
I’m at the albergue in “Bilbao”, but really it’s this old building up on a hill in a rundown area far away from the city. Well, maybe not that far, but it’s definitely on the outskirts and there’s not much around. It’s not even open yet, so I left my pack there with some other pilgrims who were waiting and I made my way to a small bar to sit inside and have something cold to drink.
Here was my plan: my albergue last night was about 25 kilometers from Bilbao, so I planned to walk to the city, maybe eat a real lunch in a restaurant, walk around the city in the evening. I knew that the albergue wasn’t in the city center, but I underestimated just how big Bilbao is. The route I took through the city bypassed the historic region, so I didn’t even see anything too great. I kept walking kilometer after kilometer, passing by nice bars and restaurants (and other not so nice bars and restaurants), hoping the albergue would be close. Eventually I noticed some other pilgrims and I said hi, and asked if they were headed to the albergue. They were, so I walked with them, grateful for some company after navigating the complicated waymarking in the city.
We climbed up and up and the area was becoming pretty sparse, and I started to worry about my plan of checking into the albergue and then finding some food. When the others told me the albergue didn’t open until 3, I almost turned around. But the walk had already been so long, it was so hot, the blister on the bottom of my foot was making my every step painful. So I continued on, we reached a clearing that looked out over the city and I realized just how far from the center I was. Far.
What poor planning today. I’d eaten just about all of my food last night and on the walk today, and I’m not really sure what the food options might be like at this albergue. Judging from the outside of the building, it doesn’t look good. But one of the women said that they might cook a meal there, so we’ll see. Otherwise, I have a loaf of bread and some chorizo that I picked up in a tiny shop nearby. (That, along with Maria biscuits and gummy bears, will make a fine enough dinner).
The others waiting there are all Spaniards, they met each other in Irun and have been sticking together for the last week. They started one day ahead of me, so at some point I think I got a bit ahead. The girl said they had become a family, and feeling a little sorry for myself I began to wish that I hadn’t separated from my own friends.
But I’m reminded of something I learned on last year’s Camino. It’s just one day, just one night. The beauty of this is that tomorrow I can move on. And I should end up in a town near the coast tomorrow night, and maybe- hopefully- it will be better than where I am now. Maybe people I know will be there, maybe it will be beautiful, maybe I will have a sit-down meal in a restaurant.
So this Camino continues to throw me some curveballs, some unexpected situations.
(A few days later)…
I wrote that part of the post in the run-down bar near the albergue on the outskirts of Bilbao. At the time, I was feeling kind of down about how the day had been working out, but by the end of the night I was amazed at how, once again, the Camino managed to come through. And how I need to practice letting go of expectations for this pilgrimage.
Christine, the French woman, showed up a few hours after me, and we took the bus back down into Bilbao. It was a quick trip because we had to be back up at the albergue by 8:00 for a communal meal. We walked around the city center and did a quick tour of the cathedral, I bought a few postcards, we stopped by a shop for some fruit.
And then once we made it back to the albergue, we saw a bunch of people we’d met at the monastery. I started talking to a girl named Nicole, from Austria, and eventually we all sat down to one of my favorite meal experiences on the Camino. The albergue is donativo, and what one day’s pilgrims donate is used to cover costs of the meal for the next day’s group.
There were large platters of salad: lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, tuna. Then garlic soup (sopa de ajo), melon for dessert, bread, wine, beer. There was so much food and so much laughter; a dozen different times someone stood and raised a glass and we toasted. There was singing and different languages shouted across the table.
I went to bed thinking about how different my experience turned out to be, how unlike what I expected when I arrived at the albergue. It reminds me to keep an open mind on this trip, to not judge a place- a town or an albergue- by how it might initially appear, to not write off an experience because I don’t know anyone.
Day 6 was a slog into the city, some low spirits and feeling a bit lonely, but then a surprising end to the evening with so much good food and good company.