I’m sitting at a table outside of a bar in Islares. It’s a weird place- not really a town at all, just a few long streets of houses, a big camping area, a few bars/restaurants and then a small beach. It’s basic and rustic, very down to earth and almost a little gritty. But it’s okay, it’s good, actually, and this continues the trend of every day being very different here.
The albergue is small, with 16 beds and an area in the back full of tents, where overflow pilgrims can camp. Thank goodness I was the 5th one here- I’m not against camping if I have to, and I love that some albergues provide this option, but I like having a mattress to sleep on.
And speaking of mattresses to sleep on… it’s finally happened. I’m on the top bunk of a tier of three. A triple bunk bed! I immediately jumped at the chance to take the very top bunk. I took one by a window, and once I climbed up and looked out, I realized that I had a view of the sea. So even though the albergue is… basic… (one shower, we wash our clothes in the bathroom sink), I like my sleeping situation.
A few minutes ago I was writing in my journal, and the guy at the table across from me called over. “Are you writing a book?” he asked. I think he’s a local, I’m not sure. In any case, I remember being asked this last year, too, when I was writing at San Nicolas. I can’t remember how I answered then, but this time I said, “Maybe. But right now I’m just writing in my journal.”
The guy nodded, and then a minute later said, “This is how Ernest Hemingway started.”
I liked that he said this- last year I felt sort of connected to Hemingway after passing through Zubiri and Pamplona. Later in the year when I was in Venice, I tracked down a cafe where he used to write. Spending all of this time in Europe, lately, makes me think a little of the expat artists who spent time here: to be inspired, to write, to paint.
And man, is this area inspiring. On my walk this morning I passed through Onton (I think), and it was just this winding street with old houses and overflowing gardens. Just before the houses I had stopped by a small “beach”, but really just this rocky little inlet. I walked around it for a few minutes collecting tiny pieces of green sea glass, and the area was deserted except for one man who passed by me, dragging a kayak.
Later, when I walked up through the streets, an old woman had just pulled leaves of lettuce from her garden. Her arms were full of vegetables as she was slowly walking back to her house, and when I passed she wished me a ‘Buen Camino’. Then she began speaking, in Spanish, giving me directions for the Camino. From what I could understand, there were two different ways I could walk, and she was trying to tell me which route was better.
As I walked away I thought about what it could be like to stay there, just for a month: if there could be a spare room in one of the houses, where I could spend my days writing and sitting on that little beach, kayaking around the water. I saw a food truck stopping by the homes, to deliver groceries. Maybe a fresh loaf of bread could be delivered to my door every day.
So those were a few of my thoughts as I walked today. I loved so much of the walk: right along the coast, winding around curves and bends, staying close to the water. There were a few pilgrims ahead of me and one behind me, but we were so far spaced out that I felt very alone. It was a good morning walk.
I passed by a second beach today, this one was a little larger but at 10:30, only a few people were out. I walked over the stones and down to the sand, where I took off my backpack and peeled off my socks and shoes. Two Austrian pilgrims were just behind me, and when they saw that I was taking off my shoes to walk in the water, they did the same. They took a photo of me and I took a photo of them, and then later, when we were drying off our feet we talked about where we were from and how many days we had been walking.
They were continuing on to Islares, and I told them about the blister on the bottom of my foot and wanting to walk further, but most likely needing to do a short day. They nodded in sympathy, and then went off to retrieve their packs.
Just as I was about to leave, one of them came over. “My name is Herman,” he said, “and here is something for the pain.” He held out his hand, in it was the cap of a bottle, filled with a clear liquid. In his other hand was the bottle, a flask of alcohol. He was offering me a shot.
I laughed and accepted the drink, and the other Austrian pulled out his camera to take a photo of me with the drink. I held the cap up high and then swallowed the liquid quickly, hoping it would spread through me and down to my feet, where it could work it’s magic and heal my blister.
My blister hurt throughout the day, but here’s what I do know: that drink helped. It was one moment- out of a dozen moments- of kindness and generosity. I’d taken a shot of alcohol from two Austrians on some tiny beach on the north coast of Spain. Just over a week ago, this kind of situation was so, so far out of my reality. But here, things like this can happen all the time. It still amazes me how kind and open people are: Christine gave me her bottle of foot cream last night, Nicole gave me an extra needle and thread (for that blister, iiieeee!), Annalisa gave me half of her banana at breakfast this morning. And the Austrians gave me that drink.
Last night and for so much of the day today, I felt the Camino. I felt it so strongly: recognizing pilgrims in Castro-Urdiales (the big town before Islares), going over and sitting with them and having a coffee, talking about making a meal together in the albergue tonight, planning out stages and talking about blisters. Walking alone, walking a bit with Christine, feeling comfortable here, finally settled into the routine.
I didn’t do my small day after all; I totally missed the albergue I wanted to stay in, I was in Castro-Urdiales before I knew it, and decided to just push on another few kilometers to Islares.
I still haven’t seen my other friends, my “Camino famly”- Iria and Richard and Amy and Misako. I think they are probably at least a day behind me, and while I wish they could be here, now, I also see the beauty in this: a town behind, a town ahead, the town I’m in: I know people in all of these places. I think I can always find time alone, but I also know that my friends are all around me. And if I stop in a place where I don’t know anyone, I will make a new friend. I really felt the community of the Camino today- last night and today- and it’s made me so happy.
So, that’s Day 8, the start of my second week on the Camino del Norte. A big blister (which I doctored up this afternoon so hopefully it will be better tomorrow), lots of community and friendship and kindness. And beaches! It’s good to be back on the coast.