The Camino del Norte: Zarautz to Deba – 22km
I woke to the sounds of the city, it was 0730. It took me a few seconds to remember where I was. There were children yelling and playing in the narrow street below me. My clothes were still hanging in the window, drying. I looked over and noticed that Mary was still sound asleep. “Why am I sleeping in a room with a women I just met yesterday?” More importantly, “How am I going to explain this to Elaine?”
“Hi darling, how are you doing?”
“Great! Mary and I slept just fine.”
“Oh, she’s this girl I met on the trail, we shared a room together last night.”
Hmmm, maybe I got Mary’s name wrong, maybe it’s actually Mark.
Damnn! This pilgrimage stuff really prevents you from adjusting the truth, even slightly. Elaine is just going to have to understand. Besides, she knows there is little energy left at the end of the day for extra curricular activities. Food and sleep is all I can think about.
I need a shower. I climb out of bed and step into the bathroom. Opening the shower door, I find Mary’s socks and underwear drying on the faucet handles. I move them to a towel rack. “I really need to get out of here.”
As I’m packing in preparation to leave, Mary sits up in her bed with a smile. “Good morning!”
“Buenos dias, Mary. I hope you slept well. I’ll be out of here in just a second and you’ll have the whole place to yourself.”
“No hurry, I’m a late starter. I take my time getting ready in the morning.”
I finish stuffing my half-dry clothes into my pack and top off my water bottle in the bathroom sink.
As I’m heading for the door I say, “Maybe I’ll see you again on the trail. Buen Camino!”
The path out of Zarautz was much more than a path, it was a prominade! A wide, tiled walkway that wound along the coast for several kilometers between Zarautz and Getaria. It was perched about 5 meters above the water and provided gorgeous views of the rocky coastline. Walkers and bikers of all ages strolled along, including a number of pilgrims. In Getaria, the trail cuts inward, away from the shoreline and I start climbing up into the mountains once again. It was overcast, warm and humid. My clothes were soon drenched in sweat from the exertion. The trail wound through mountain pastures and small homesteads. There was almost a constant clanging of cow and sheep bells to distract me from my labored footsteps. The maximum altitude for today is about 1000 feet but if you count the ups and downs over the jagged mountains it was easily two or three times that amount in climbing and descending. I wondered how I could have been so unprepared for this excursion. I just hadn’t read enough about the del Norte, I went in with a cavalier attitude because of my Camino Frances experience. My backpack was loaded with extra gear, taking it to a total of 35 lbs, not counting any water or food I was carrying. My decision for the extra weight was based on last year’s experience. It hadn’t bothered me one bit when I started carrying Elaine’s gear to ease her foot pain. This year, it’s different. The extra weight of a laptop, camping gear and a good camera with tripod is taking a toll. I want to be able to post good pictures of this trip.
There are a lot more women on the del Norte than what I would have guessed. It’s probably a 60:40 ratio of women over men. Why is that? Walking through Zumaia, I met Emma and Frida, two Swedish college students taking a break for a week … to hike through mud and rain on steep mountain trails? This just isn’t normal. We walked together on narrow goat paths filled with mud. Each step, we’d be up to our ankles. It was thick and our shoes would stick, the mud threatening to pull them right off our feet. It was another long day as the three of us finally descended into Deba and started our search for the municipal albergue. This would be their last night on the del Norte. They were catching a bus back home in the morning.
The Deba albergue is located in an old, abandoned school located on the side of the hill overlooking town. It’s very large, each room holding about 10 bunk beds. Freda, Emma and I were assigned the last three beds in the first room. There were about 12 women and 5 men, excluding the three of us. We were pretty muddy so showers were the first order of business. It was a very strange bathing arrangement. The one and only shower was at the end of a narrow coed bathroom. I beat the girls to the small shower stall. It had a swinging door with no lock and it naturally wanted to swing to the open position. I proped it closed by wedging my underwear between the door and the frame. On the other side of the shower, opposite the door, is a large panoramic window overlooking Deba. No shades, no blinds, no frosted glass. I’m completely exposed. Two young Swedish girls, talking and laughing on one side of me and the entire town of Deba on the other side. I undress and reach for the faucets. That’s when I notice, it’s a double shower. There are two sets of faucets and two shower heads packed into the small space. “What! Now I’m suppose to be sharing?!?!”
Culture shock aside, I throughly enjoyed the hot shower. I washed my hair while looking down at the ocean, the sandy beach and the city streets. Finished, I dried off, got dressed and departed. Emma was next in line. As she squeezed around me I said, “There’s showers for the both of you in there.” Frida said, “Cool!” and followed Emma in.
I got settled in, went to the common area and hung my half dry clothes that I’d washed the day before. I was hungry and started thinking about dinner. Mary came walking in soon afterwards. She’d just arrived. “Hi, Joe!” We talked about the trail for a couple minutes then she asked, “Do you want to come have dinner with me?”
I said, “Sure, I’m starving, I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Just let me get changed out of these muddy clothes.”
The hospitalario showed Mary to the second room, which was empty of any other pilgrims. Frida and Emma then come out of the shower wrapped in towels. They asked, “Do you want to come have dinner with us?”
This is a strange world. I’m 57 years old, very happily married and NOW I’m being asked to dinner by three women in less then 5 minutes. I respectfully decline the invitation, saying, “I’m waiting for a friend. Maybe we’ll see you over there.”
After dinner, Mary and I return to the albergue at around 9:30. Exhausted, we say, “Goodnight” and retire to our respective rooms. My room, packed with pilgrims, was in the midst of some sort of social hour. Most everyone was talking at once. There was laughing and a bottle wrapped in a paper bag was being passed around. The few trying to sleep, like Emma and Frida laying next to me, had unhappy expressions on their faces. I shook my head, “No way”. I grabbed my backpack, my sleeping bag and headed for the other room. Mary was surprised to see me walk in with all my gear.
“Joe, I don’t think you can be here, this is the women’s bedroom.”
I laughed. She hadn’t seen the other room. I explained the coed situation to her, including the shower, and climbed into a bed on the opposite side of the room. Only a few minutes later, as I was putting in my earplugs, several more pilgrims came walking in to escape the party. As I lay in bed I started wondering when I’ll be able to get ahold of Elaine. The network connections have been very unreliable and I haven’t been able to get through to her yet.