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Trail Day 4: Where Are the Pilgrims?

The Approach into Zarautz

Photo by: J W Foster

The Camino del Norte: San Sebastian to Zarautz – 20km

I must first apologize for the huge lag in my blog posts. This Camino del Norte is very different than the Camino Frances. Even when I took a day off here and there my need to write was way overshadowed by my need to recuperate. I’ll continue to post as if there were no lags or days off, pulling from my notes, my pictures and my memory the essence of these daily journeys. You will soon understand the delay.

I felt so much stronger. I’d recovered after sleeping for ten and a half hours. Even with the snoring and some late pilgrims arriving at midnight (I think they’d stopped for a bit of partying). I slept like a baby. The youth hostel in San Sebastian had been crowded with all varieties of travelers, including pilgrims. Once I stepped out the front door that morning they all but dissapeared. I couldn’t decide if they were in front of me or behind me. I walked to the foot of the mountain trail with the familiar yellow flechette pointing the way up and out of the city. The skies were overcast and threatened rain. It was cold at first but within five minutes of climbing I was warm and unzipping my jacket. It felt good but my muscles were stiff. The steep climb allowed me to warm up as well as get the most difficult part of the trail over-with in the beginning.

Reaching the summit, the trail wove along the crests of the mountains, along the rocky coast. One minute it’s meandering through a tunnel of lush vegetation and the next I’m presented with a vista of cliffs, crashing waves and the ocean horizon over which lies the shores of England. As the day wore on and the sun came out, I passed not a single pilgrim; I had this world all to myself. I turned west for the next destination, Zarautz, 20 km away.

I continued to climb the range of mountains at a much easier pace now that the slopes had eased off and I was walking along the ridge. For a few kilometers I’d have a view of the ocean to the north and surf below. Then, the trail would dip down through a small pass and I’d have a view of the mountain valleys to the south with small farmsteads, grazing sheep, cattle and horses. I eventually descended into another one of the many coastal towns, Orio. It was 1300 hours, a perfect tim to stop for a mid-day meal. I found a cafe with some pilgrims sitting at a table outside and made myself at home. They were the first pilgrims I’d seen for the whole day, a young spanish couple and a young Dutch man who had teemed up with them. They all spoke good english so we were able to socialize for a bit.

The waitress approached me and asked what I’d like for lunch. It’s amazing how necessity brings awareness of words I never knew I knew. They would just surface when faced with a quick decision. Sometime in French, sometimes in German, sometimes in Spanish. The waitress saw I was trying hard to communicate in her own language. She spoke perfect English to me and I ordered lunch. She served me a huge salata mixta; a salad loaded with tomatoes, asparagus and tunafish. She also placed a bottle of wine on the table. Next came the main course; a steaming, homemade lasagna with béchamel sauce ladled over the top. I finished my meal with a fresh flan and a coffee while I talked with the young pilgrims next to me.

Departing Orio I had one more small hill to summit and then into Zarautz. At the top of the hill, just before entering the town, I sat down to enjoy the view and to remove some layers of clothing. The sun had come and I was starting to overheat. As I was changing my socks, a good practice when hiking long distances, along came Mary, the American I’d met the day before. I was surprised she had caught up with me, she was leaving San Sabastian a hour or two behind me, needing to find a post office to send some unneeded items back home. As we walked together into town, I soon found out why she’d caught up so quickly. She walked with a huge stride and powered forward all the way into the city. I was struggling to keep up with her.

We walked directly to the municipal albergue, reaching it at 1645. We knew it closed at 1700. Walking up to the front doors we saw the sign “Completo.” Unbelievable! The doors were locked and the albergue was full. We didn’t belive there were enough pilgrims on the trail to fill-up an albergue, but obviously there was. We wandered back into the city center. Stopping at one hotel, a women told us she had one room left and it would be 50 euros apiece. We shook are heads, “Dos camiera!” (we needed two rooms). She shook their head, “No.” We moved on and soon found the Hostel del Norte. They also had only one room left. It was a large room with four beds and it was 20 euros apiece. This felt a bit awkward, we didn’t know if there would be more pilgrims with us. I hardly knew this women, but we accepted, there didn’t seem to be many other options. Mary and I settled in and then we went our separate ways for the evening. She; walking the beach, finding a bite to eat, the going to bed early. Me; washing clothes in the bathtub, finding a pharmacy and a good internet connection and finally, a nice meal at a local bar. When I returned to the room Mary was fast asleep.  Minutes later I was asleep as well.

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Photo by: J W Foster




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