The Camino del Norte: Deba to Markina – 24 km
Once again, there was not a single pilgrim in sight. Was I too early or too late? I’d left the albergue early to go find a cafe. On the way out, I said goodbye to my new friends; Emma, Frida and Mary. Several minutes later, I was in a downtown cafe. It was packed with locals. I struggled to communicate amid the noise of a dozen conversations going on at once. “Cafe Americana and croissant chocolate, por favor.” After filling myself with caffeine, sugar and fat, I hoisted my pack and headed out. I felt good and strong, the trail was hardening my muscles, my stamina was improving.
It was another cold and rainy day. Ahead of me were three mountain peaks, the highest at 1500 feet, the assents and descents totaled around 2500 feet up and 2500 feet down. The rain shifted back and forth. One moment a deluge, with the path turning into a river. Later, a heavy mist flowing through the tress and down the side of the mountains to collect as thick fog in the depressions. Walking for a couple hours, it was about 11 am when Olatz appeared out of the gloom. It had a small café nestled in between several of the farmhouses. I went in for some shelter. It would be hard to describe Olatz as a town or even a village, the only other structure besides the farmhouses and the café is a small church.
I sat and enjoyed another coffee along with a homemade potato omlette. A few minuted later a family of pilgrims came walking in. A mother, father and two teenage daughters. They were from France. We exchanged pleasantries as we all tried to dry off and warm up. A few more minutes later, Mary came in. She’d once again made much better time than me.
Mary and I walked together for the remainder of the day. It was a mix of narrow paved roads and mountain paths that wove in and out of the hills, the forests and farmland. At one point, a herd of horses emerged from the mist. It was surreal. They approached at first and then drifted away. I glanced over, looking through the trees to my right, there were more grazing. A mother and her young foal. To our left, on a small rise, a lone stallion was overlooking his herd. We walked on in silence.
We arrived at our destination around 3:30 pm and found the Albergue de Markina. This is a pilgrims-only albergue that’s located in an old monastery behind one of the local churches. The hospitalario was very welcoming; carrying peoples backpacks to their rooms, hanging their clothes to dry and giving lots of tips on where to go eat and what to watch out for on the trail tomorrow.
The next order of business was to go find the wifi. I’d gotten spoiled last year on the Camino Frances. Wifi was readily availabe in even the smallest of towns. I remember sitting with Elaine last year on a park bench in the center of a farming village. The population couldn’t have been more than a hundred people. We were eating a lunch we’d packed the night before after being warned that there would be no place to stop for food. As we ate, I glanced up at a telephone pole about 50 meters away. Mounted on the top of the pole was what looked like a “patch” antenna, which is commonly used for wifi networks. I pulled out my phone, turned on the wifi to test my theory. Not only was there a signal, it was free! In the middle of 100 square miles of farmer’s fields with this one little village in the middle, I was downloading emails.
The del Norte is a bit more primitive when it comes to internet access. Unless you are in a decent-sized town, it will be hard to find. But, we were in a decent-sized town. I asked the hospitalario where the closest wifi was. He explained how the only place that has wifi was at the town library. Mary, two pilgrims from Berlin, and I headed over to go catch up on the world. I also had an important call to make. Arriving at the library, it took a team effort to figure out the wifi. No one spoke each other’s language and it was a complicated system of hidden networks, usernames and passwords. It took about a half hour, but everyone finally got linked up. I dialed Elaine.
“Hi, darling, how are you doing?”
“Oh Joe, hi! I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too, this was a bad idea. This isn’t a whole lot of fun without you here.”
“So what have you been doing with yourself”
“You mean, besides sleeping with strange women?”
“The woman I’d met, Mary, we’d walked into town together yesterday and when we went to the albergue, it was full.
“So, we walked back to the center of town and stopped at a pension. They only had one room available and it was 80 euros. Neither one of us were willing to pay that.”
“We’ll we remembered seeing a hostel down the street, so we walked over and asked about some rooms. They only had one left as well. That got us a bit nervous. We then explained that we weren’t together. She told us, ‘no problem, the room has four beds, it’s 20 euros a person, and you’ll most likely have company!’ We got the room but no company. I woke up this morning with a strange women in my room.”
“How strange was she?”
“It was kind of weird, I felt uncomfortable.”
“It seems like you’re spending more time with Mary than any of the other pilgrims. I trust you but I don’t know how much I should let this go on. You should be spending time with other pilgrims too. So, now what? “
“Well, I’m in Markina now, there’s just a little group of us here at the albergue, maybe a dozen or so. It’s a small town and only one restaurant with pilgrims meals. I guess we’ll all end up going over there.”
Elaine and I talked for at least another hour. It’s funny how we never seem to be at a loss for words, we can talk forever. I missed her a lot. It was dinner time by the time we hung up and I was hungry. I went in search of the three women I’d walked in with. I found only Mary, the two German girls had already left. Mary was sitting in the childrens section of the library. I told her I was going to head over to get something to eat and she joined me.