Trail Day 2: Alone on the Rocky Cliffs

Cliffs Over the Bay of Biscay

Photo by: J W Foster

The Camino del Norte: Urrugne, France to Irun, Spain – 16 km

I’d slept for twelve hours and woke to the sound of construction in the central plaza, I quickly showered, dressed and headed out the door. The hospitalario had drawn a small line on a map indicating the route I should take to Irun, Spain. The path wound through lush forests, leading me to the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The weather was overcast and I was the only pilgrim. I walked along the cliffs heading west with the surf and jagged rocks hundreds of feet below me. It felt a lot like Maine. A cold, wet, rocky coast with pounding surf. Several hours later I entered a small coastal town, the inlet on the far side separating France from Spain. Cafes were just opening up so I sat and rested, ordering a warm meal, fresh bread and a French Bordeaux. There I found a ferry to carry me across. I boarded. Along with myself, was a young couple with a baby that sat down across from me in the cabin. They appeared to be upper class English tourist judging by their dress, their accent and the amount of pictures he was taking. The baby started crying, so the young mother opened her blouse and began breast feeding her. It was such a natural act, no hesitation or embarrasment. The husband continued taking pictures; of the boat, of the baby, of the shoreline. He then asked me to take a picture of the three of them. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before; taken a picture of a woman breast feeding her baby on a ferry between France and Spain. I don’t imagine the opportunity will ever present itself again either. For a second I considered asking them if I could take a picture with my camera but decided it might be a little tacky. He did offer to take a picture of me though.

I stepping off the boat and into Spain, then wandered the streets for a couple hours, asking several people for directions to the Camino. Nobody seemed to know. Finally, an elderly man on a scooter pulled up to me while I was standing on a corner studying a poorly drawn, hand-written map. Seeing my backpack with the Camino de Santiago patch sewn on the back, he knew what I was looking for and quickly directed me to my path. Another hour of climbing up into the mountains and I found an albergue for the night. It was an old converted flour mill with a stream running through the center of the structure. The young hospitalero introduced me to several other pilgrims and I settled in. One of the pilgrims was Patrick, a retired police officer from France. He was walking the Camino as therapy for the loss of his son, Jacque. Jacque was in the French Special Forces, a true athlete, competing in Iron Man events around the globe. He died of cancer last year, leaving behind a wife and new born baby. Patrick said, “My ex-wife goes to therapy every day and I’m walking the Camino, I started in Paris 40 days ago.”

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