I’m again just a bit behind on writing- I’ve actually just finished my 12th day of walking and am sitting in a bar in Santillana del Mar. But the post on today will come later- maybe, if the words flow and I write quickly, I’ll catch myself up again.
Wi-fi has been intermittent on the Norte, it seems like I find it every few days. It’s pretty nice though; I love checking-in after being offline for awhile and reading emails, seeing the comments on this blog. Speaking of those, I wish I could find time to reply to all of them, and I hope to catch up a bit or at least answer some questions (especially for those of you who are going to or want to walk the Norte!). But it makes me so happy to know that you are all reading and following along with me on this journey.
So, the walk from Guemes to Santa Cruz de Bezana. It felt like a day with a bit of everything: a little country walking out of Guemes; walking on narrow, winding paths on rugged cliffs along the coast; a few kilometers on the beach (my favorite!); a ferry ride to Santander (the perfect way to enter a city… no need to walk through noisy, congested industrial areas!); a walk through a bit city with shops and bars and restaurants; and the long slog out of the city.
We had a communal breakfast at the albergue in Guemes, and since the albergue draws so many people, there seemed to be a big crowd leaving together (and by big, I’d say about 20 or so were in the albergue the night I stayed there).
I tried to leave separately, but I soon caught up to other pilgrims… then others caught us, and we all tried to figure out how to take the ‘alternate’ coastal route towards Santander.
We figured it out, but I felt a bit trapped in the crowd. I was walking separately, but just ahead of me was Henri, and just behind was Guillemette. The walk along the coast was so beautiful, but I think I would have preferred to be completely alone. Maybe the Norte is spoiling me, with all the days of isolated walking. To have pilgrims surrounding me felt claustrophobic!
Soon I saw Nicole sitting on a bench, resting her feet. She and I walked together down to the beach that would lead us to the ferry that would take us to Santander; we talked as we walked on the hard sand, a cool breeze made the walking feel easy, and we ended up going past our turn-off. So we climbed over some sand dunes and found our way back on track, then boarded the ferry with some other pilgrims.
Nicole and I stayed together for the rest of the day: having a coffee in a bar with some wi-fi, hitting the supermarket, buying stamps, postcards, soap, finding an ATM. It’s so funny how sometimes (like the morning), I wanted to be completely alone. But others times, I don’t mind company. Often it depends on who the company is, and Nicole has become a good Camino friend. She’s someone I felt a bond with pretty quickly, and being in her company is so easy. So we walked out of the city together, through those awful industrial zones, and as usual here, the last few hours of walking were tough. It’s been so, so hot lately, and walking with the sun beating down and the sound of the highways all around us wasn’t fun.
The albergue we wanted to find was further away than we expected, and when we finally arrived we saw that it was next to a giant supermarket (which means we lugged chunks of cheese and packets of ham, peaches and apples and bread all the way out of Santander for nothing. But it’s good to stock up on food while you can!).
We were feeling just a bit defeated when we arrived at the albergue- I know that I was hot, tired, and wondering why we’d walked an extra few kilometers for an albergue that seemed to be practically on the edge of a highway. But then we walked inside and, like the albergue in Guemes, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The building has a small albergue on one side and a family’s home on the other: Nieves is the hospitalera, and she lives with her husband and two kids (I think). We were instantly greeted with glasses of cold water and the invitation to take off our shoes. Nicole and I were the first to arrive, so we each chose bottom bunks in the large, comfortable sleeping area.
After the usual chores- showering and washing clothes- I ran over to the supermercado to buy a couple bottles of wine and a bag of potato chips. We spread out in the small yard behind the albergue, to sit in the shade and drink wine and eat the cheese we had lugged from Santander. Jenna (New York) soon joined us; she and Nicole soaked their feet in buckets of warm water, the family’s two cats wandered in and out of our conversations, the first bottle of wine disappeared quickly.
There were only five of us in the albergue that night (two Germans joined us later in the evening), and together we had such a great Camino dinner. Nieves cooked for us: salad with tuna (yay! at some point I became known to a few people as the American girl who loves tuna fish), tortilla, rounds of goat cheese with strawberry jam, bread and wine and fruit. With just five of us the meal was so comfortable, and I truly felt like I had been invited into someone’s home and made to feel like part of a family, even if it was just for a moment.
After the meal Nieves sat us down to explain the next day’s walk (there were five different route options and one section involved a tricky railroad passing… more to come on that in the next post!). But this also made me feel so taken care of. You’re never really on your own here- I knew that last year, but in some ways I feel it even more strongly on the Norte. Maybe because it’s far less crowded here, with less pilgrims and less Camino infrastructure. So people look out for each other a bit more, you kind of know everyone who is walking within a day or two of you (and if you don’t you quickly introduce yourself), and care is taken to have tricky sections of the route explained to you. The locals continue to be wonderful- people wave as they pass in their cars, bikers shout “Buen Camino!” as they pedal past, old men with canes stop and speak to you in Spanish and you nod along, not understanding a word but knowing that whatever they say, it is from the heart.
By the end of the night, as I was in my bunk bed about to drift off to sleep, I was so happy. Even though I’ve been here 11 days, I still don’t know quite what to expect. Each day is a bit different: the places I walk through, the albergues I stay in, the people I surround myself with. But this day had so, so many things that I loved: a long walk on the beach, coffee in a cool bar in Santander, the company of someone who I know will always be a friend, sitting in the shade with a bottle of wine. Today I felt so safe, comfortable, content. A great, great Camino day.