Camino del Norte Day 2: From San Sabastian to Zarautz to Getaria.

No music to wake up to this morning, only complaints of snorers that kept people awake most of the night.  I didn’t hear any snorers, only some partiers who came in late and were quite loud and rude.  I never saw that group of boys again.  I don’t think they were pilgrims, but somehow had passports that allowed them to stay the night.  They were in San Sabastian to have a good time.

The day before I had stopped at the first albergue that I came to after leaving the woods and heading into San Sabastian.  This meant that I had close to a 5K walk to get to the other end of San Sabastian before I would start the climb out of town and onto Zarautz.  As I walked I enjoyed the sandy beach views,

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but didn’t enjoy all the garbage… plastic beer cups, beer bottles, food wrappers and more all over the streets of San Sabastian.  I don’t understand why people feel it is okay to leave trash on the ground for someone else to pick up…

DSC05319.JPGI hope it was a good party.  The pilgrim life doesn’t exactly allow for crazy partying.   Most pilgrims are in bed by at least 10PM, if not 1-2 hours earlier.  And you will not be liked if you are arriving at 11PM, making noise as you get ready for bed.  Some Albergues will have a curfew and lock the doors at that designated time.

After viewing the mess, I headed to the beach, took off my shoes and walked the rest of the way through town on the beach.   Something you must try at least once.DSC05332.JPG

After the beach, I found the first open coffee shop of the day, with beautiful flaky melt in your mouth croissants (I may have had 2 or 3 of them).  Seeing the first open coffee shop of the day is always a delight!

After breakfast and a pick-me-up (coffee), I started the climb out of San Sabastian…DSC05349.JPG

At the top of the long hill, I ran into this lovely water/rest stop…

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Every now and then you will see places like this along the way set up by locals who live next to the path of the Camino.   This particular stop had a book to sign, plus a stamp for pilgrim passports.

The days walk was a mixture of cement and dirt trails, above the coastline.  Signs were plentiful marking the footpath well.

If you are wondering whether you can get cell phone reception on the trail, this guy apparently did… so it is possible!   Just FYI, it is very rare to see someone hiking and talking on their phone 🙂

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Besides meeting people, one of my most favorite things about walking along Camino footpaths, well most any footpaths in Europe, are the fury friends that I meet along the way.  This hairy cow stole my heart during a down pour.  He came right over and gave me a kiss and told me it was okay to take his photo. ADORABLE!DSC05399.JPG

I also met this loyal watch dog, on guard during a kitty nap.  UNBELIEVABLE!  I learn so much from our furry friends.

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The second half of this long day was through a rain storm, apparently there is a reason why this area is still so green in August!   A reminder to bring your rain gear!

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A few more rainy photos just so you know what you are getting yourself into 🙂

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The rain kept coming, creating a rather strong desire for a town to pop up with a warm coffee shop that served some pintos/tapas.  Eventually the trails led to streets which led to roads which led to crosses.  Many times crosses were in sets of three, representing Jesus’s crucifixion.  DSC05422.JPG

and then finally into a town where I found pintos/tapas to eat in a warm restaurant.

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I continued on in the rain to Zarautz, a coastal town with a long beach.  The beach is known for being the longest in the Basque country.  I had planned to stay the night there but the albergues were closed and hotels were close to one hundred dollars a night.  I decided I would keep hiking in the rain to the next smaller less touristy town only 3 miles away.

As I left the town I noticed signs on the building letting tourists know that this was the Basque Country, neither Spain nor France.  The Basque want all to know that they want to be free of Spanish and French control.

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As I walked on, the rain started to let up and I could tell a beautiful evening was in store.  I arrived in Getaria, a charming coastal town, with fewer tourists and available beds.  I was very happy that I chose to walk on and out of the more crowded tourist town.  Getaria had a much smaller beach, yet perfect size for a quick swim and chance to lay out in the first rays of the day.  I highly recommend staying in this town for those who like a quieter atmosphere, yet still plenty of restaurants, culture and places of interest to see…DSC05508.JPG

Next up… Getaria to Deba

Until next time, keep on trekking!

Camino del Norte Day 1: Irun to San Sabastion… hills, coastline, down pours, sun and jazz!

Waking to soft soothing music in the Irun albergue was unexpected and inspiring.  I woke before most, quickly got ready, had coffee and toast and was out the door before the sun was up.  The day before I had scouted out where the route started, so I was confident that I could find my way out of town and to the hills… I wanted the trail to myself for a while.   The first signs leading pilgrims out of town were unique to Irun… each major town or city along the route tend to have their own unique signs bolted into their sidewalks.DSC04933.JPG

The first half mile of the day was on cement/asphalt till we reached the first hill of the day where I met up with my Irish friend I had met the night before.  If you followed my Le Puy Camino Blog you will remember that I said I met 5 Irish women along the two Camino routes, each at transitional moments along my journey.  I met Fiona the night before the first day of my adventure, apparently Irish women were my sign that the previous segment of my journey had come to an end and the next was beginning.  Of the 5 Irish women, I only really got to know two of them, Emma (whom I met on day one of my Le Puy Camino ) and Fiona at the beginning of this Norte Camino.  Both strong independent Irish women, whom I feel fortunate to have walked with from time to time on these Camino adventures.

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After a long climb, we reached a look out point.  This was my first sighting of the coastline.  I hadn’t realized that Irun was so close to the coast.  I had entered through part of the city where the coast was not in view.  I wished I had explored more the day before and taken a dip in the sea.DSC04947.JPG

Rain was brewing, I knew before long I would get wet!  Despite the clouds and rain it was beautiful.  Further up the trail I came to the place where you can choose to continue hiking higher up a steep path that eventually rewards the hiker with panaromic views or maintain the height gained looking out over one area and walking through paths shaded by trees.  I wanted the panaromic views of course, so up I climbed.  The trail I took is the one to the right that is called “Alpinist pilgrim” path.

The path is quite steep and a bit rugged for about 1km, but after that it levels out for the most part and dazzles you with incredible views of the ocean on one side and mountain and hills on the other.

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As I climbed up I ran into Fiona again, we had separated because I stop to take a lot of photos and Fiona was a fast walker, so I couldn’t keep up 🙂  However I met up with her again because she had originally chosen to take the lower route, but found it a bit dull so she decided to make her way through the bushes and trees to the upper level.   When I found her she was taking her shoes off so she could walk barefoot on the wet ground…  A true adventurer.

We passed ruins and an ancient dolmen, farm animals and more…

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As we hiked fog rolled in and so did the mist and eventually the rain.

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With the rain and fog we messed up a bit on the route.  This was the only time on the trail where I didn’t manage to follow the signs successfully.  We ended up coming down off the hill too soon and entered into a town just before the town we wanted to end up at.  Despite our mistake, we quickly found our way to the next town and back on the Camino route thanks to some help from the locals.

The next town, Pasajes de San Juan, was charming and a prominent port town for centuries.DSC05108.JPGTo get a across the water way we took our first boat ride of the journey.  Luckily the charge to get across the water wasn’t much, only .70 euros.

The rest of the day’s hike heading to San Sabastian was full of hills, stairs, rain and some sun!  This was definitely one of the tougher days on the trail.   The following photos should help you understand what the terrain on this day is like, helping you to know how to prepare for your trek!

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As I got closer and closer to San Sabastian, I began to hear music.  It turns out that we arrived during the summer Jazz festival.  There is nothing like walking out of the woods catching your first glimps of  San Sabastion from above with Jazz music floating through the air.  An amazing welcome!

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We stopped at the first albergue we came across as word on the trail was that the other albergues were full.  This donativo albergue was most likely seasonal, only open in the summer months, as it was part of a school.   Bunk beds were placed in the gymnasium.    Along this Northern route there are many donativo albergues to help keep the costs of your trek down.  You pay what you feel the experience was worth or what you can afford to pay, anywhere from a few Euros to around fifteen.

When I arrived the donativo was not open, so we waited in line till we were let in as we wanted to make sure we had a place to sleep that night.  After claiming my bed and taking a shower, I headed out to explore San Sabastian.  Below are a few photos from my afternoon stroll through town, as you will see the rain did not keep people indoors…

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That evening I enjoyed the sunset over the surfers…

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Next up San Sabastian the morning after a big party, and then on to Zarautz and finally Getaria, a quaint coastal town…

 

 

 

 

 

Camino del Norte Pilgrimage to Santiago

The 507 mile Camino del Norte pilgrimage to Santiago starts in Irun, on the northwest coast of Spain.  This pilgrimage route travels through three regions; the Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias before turning inland at Ribadeo through the region of Galicia.  After about six to seven days of inland trekking the path meets up with the Camino Frances at Arzua.  The last few days of the pilgrimage to Santiago are shared with 100’s of others who began their journey somewhere along the Camino Frances.  It is possible to start this journey in Bayonne, France, but most people start in Irun, Spain.

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A bit of history about this transformational journey:  The Camino De Santiago means the Way of St. James.   The Way of St. James is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain, where legend has it that the remains of Jesus’s apostle Saint James lie.  It has been a Christian pilgrimage for well over 1000 years.  It was Christian belief that by doing a long arduous pilgrimage to a holy site such as Santiago, Rome or Jerusalem, that one would be freed from the penance due for sins, but others were sentenced to do it as criminals, and others walked it for pay so that someone rich could essentially buy their forgiveness.

The Camino Norte became well traversed when the Camino Frances was too dangerous for pilgrims (threats from the Muslim Moors).  Pilgrims would find their way way North to the coast where it was safer.  Those coming from England, Ireland, and Scotland would have started along the Norte Route as well.

Today the trail attracts people of all different faiths and belief systems.  Reasons for doing the Camino range from spiritual to religious to adventure, history, health and more.  The great thing about this journey is that all are welcome.  In 2016, of the 277,913 pilgrims who finished the Camino only 17,313 walked the Norte Camino.  If you are not a fan of frequently seeing people as you trek, the Norte may just be the Camino for you!

A few things that will help you along your journey…  The Cicerone Guide Book:  The Northern Caminos by Laura Perazzoli and Dave Whitson.  However, this book needs to be updated as much of the construction they talk of has been completed, new alburgues are popping up all the time, and the signage is much better than the book claims.

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I had to get the photo of the area they used for the cover of he guide book.  My photo doesn’t look quite as good as theirs though 🙂

 

The other thing you will need for this journey is your Camino Passport also known as your credentials.   You can get your Camino Passport in Irun at the Albergue de Peregrinos or order it ahead of time at santiagodecompostela.me

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The passport will allow you to sleep in the Pilgrim Albergues, similar to hostels, basically a building of some sort (someone’s home, monasteries, old gymnasiums etc) that has one or more large rooms filled with bunkbeds.  Beds range from a donation to 15 Euros.

The path is very well marked with yellow arrows and shells showing you the way.

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It is difficult to get lost along this route, however it is possible in a couple of places, (I will talk about those places in my day by day blog).

Prior to my journey along the Norte, I was told that it was not well marked, stages were long, the majority of the trails were cement and it was a very rugged tough trek.  I found only one of these to be true, a large portion of this trail is on cement or asphalt, by far the biggest complaint of this trek.   As far as the pathway being tough and rugged… well some sections were rocky and from time to time quite hilly especially the first 5 days of the trek, but overall I wouldn’t say it was a “very rugged tough trek.”  If you have trained on hills and uneven surfaces, built up your mileage and built up the weight in your backpack to prepare for the typical long days that you can find on any Camino adventure, performed trek specific strengthening exercises to help you traverse the ups and downs and also walked many of your training miles on cement this adventure shouldn’t feel “rugged,” but like any other Camino adventure, a fun and beautiful challenge!  The stages are not as long as they once were as more alburgues are popping up along the way, however if you go in the off season (fall and spring you may have to walk longer as not all albergues will be open).  And last, the current signage is fantastic.  I am assuming that at one point in time it was not, but now it is great!

As for the rest of the information you may want to know about this journey… follow my day by day blog that I will be writing over the next six weeks!  I am hoping to be finished by June 20th 2017!

More to come soon!

 

 

El Norte Camino here I come….

After completing the 457 mile Le Puy Camino through the hot farm and wine country of France, I was excited to head to the coast line of Northern Spain to cool off!  This Camino route was a bit longer at 507 miles, a good odd number just like the Le Puy!

Monica and I left St. Jean that morning to catch the train to Hendaye, France only a 5-10 minute walk to Irun, Spain, the start of the Norte Camino.  Monica was meeting a girlfriend as they were going to walk the first week of the Norte together.   Walking out of town to the train station reminded me of my first Camino journey.   Both times I left early morning when the town was still asleep, taking in the beauty and charm of a town that had that air of many adventures yet to come.

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The train station is just under a 10 minute walk from the old town.  When we arrived we realized there were no trains heading to Hendaye, France that morning only buses.   The bus took us to another train station to transfer to a train that would take us to Hendaye. Once at the Hendaye train station we were only about a 5 to 10 minute walk from the border of Spain and France.

I couldn’t wait to be in Spain as I knew some of the language, could count on tapas all day long, and knew cooler days were in my future!  Crossing over to Irun from Hendaye felt great!

We entered the heart of  Irun and came across the first church where I had to have my photo with my Norte guide book in hand…

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The guide book I used is called: Pilgrim Route The Northern Caminos: The Norte, Primitivo and Ingles routes.  I had ripped out the Primitivo and Ingles routes to decrease weight in my pack, as I knew I wouldn’t be walking along those routes and less weight in the pack is always a good thing.  After the photo of the church, Monica and I went separate ways as she was to meet her friend at a specific hotel.   A few gals that we met up with at the train station were starting the trek that afternoon so we all said our good byes and I was on my own once again.

As I walked through town, following the yellow arrows of the Camino route, I saw young men and women that looked to be about college age participating in a dance.  They waved flags that I am assuming are from their region of Spain or flags of the Basque country.  I have yet to find this particular flag online, so I am not sure the meaning or who or what the flag represents.

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After a long walk through the heart of Irun, I came to the Albergue that I would stay at for my first night on the Norte Camino.  This was the alburgue that most pilgrims spend their first night at along the Norte Camino… the Albergue de Peregrinos in Irun.  For those who were just starting their journey,  a pilgrims passport was handed to them with their first official stamp of the journey.  I already had my passport so I was able to forgo the line that had formed and quickly get my stamp and bed for the night.

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I will say the albergue was nothing special and one of my least favorite places I stayed in along the way.  Trying to fall asleep that night was tough as there were no doors to the bedrooms and the bathroom was right next to our room.  Smoke floated into the room from smokers who decided to have a late night puff on the balcony.  I could also feel the springs of the mattress as I tried to fall asleep.  Despite this, the morning was a delight… soft music played to wake everyone up, breakfast was part of the donation and the volunteers were wonderful, making sure enough coffee was available for all.

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Next up, an explanation of the Norte Camino, maps of the route and more…