One day on the Camino, and I already can feel a change taking place over me.
Sunday morning, I woke up at 7 to shower and make sure I was out the door by 8 to catch my 8:40 bus to Irun. Bilbao was completely empty, a ghost town. I sort of liked it. I started reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which so far is shaping up to be a good book and listened to Mariah’s Me…I A Am Mariah…The Elusive Chaunteuse. The bus arrived to Irun about 15 minutes late. I looked at the map in the train-bus station and figured out a way to get to the Puente de Santiago, where I wanted to start my journey.
Irun is one of the most complicated and difficult cities to get around in. I’ve been there a few times before to change trains in Hendaye. It is the last town before crossing over into France, and it definitely has a border-town vibe. It has a bad reputation for being industrial, but I saw a lot of interesting places there today and would say it is a place of interest to return to to get to know better. After a second breakfast of tortilla de patata (my first was at home) and relaxing café con leche and stocking up on some frutos secos for the journey, I took off to get lost. All the times getting lost in Irun Sunday provided several extra kilometres, I’m sure. I was ready to give up, but I sojourned on, fighting that voice telling me it would be okay to give up. I eventually found the Camino and walked it in reverse to start at the Puente de Santiago at the border on the Bidasoa River.
I went into the first bar on the SPANISH side, and the woman at the bar spoke to me in French. I said “bonjour” and switched to Spanish, and she berated me for not speaking French when we are in the part of the Basque Country pertaining to Spain. Seriously. When I am in France, I use what little French I know and NEVER speak English unless I hear a “oui” to “Parlez-vous anglais ou espagnole?” So I was a bit disconcerted. I showed her the credentials and asked for a stamp, which she gave to me. I was off on my way an hour and a half after I had intended to leave.
On the way to Hondarribia, I lost track of the arrows. Now, Hondarribia is one of my favourite villages ever, but today I wasn’t looking for a return visit. After walking probably a kilometre out of my way, I finally found the damn arrows again thanks to the signs pointing to a place on the Camino: Guadalupe.
Hiking to Guadalupe came via a Basque back road, where people said “Aupa/Kaixo” and all you heard were Euskera. Eventually we got to a trail which took us to the Santuario de Guadalupe with fantastic views of Hondarribia. I swear you could see all the way to Biarritz in France. The lady at the souvenir stand struck up a conversation with me and stamped my credenciales. She was very impressed with my Basque (I know maybe 20 words, nothing to hold a conversation. Bilbao is the capital of the world, not the Basque Country (just the largest town as a population 350.000 does not make it a city), so I think they speak only Spanish in Bilbao out of spite toward Vitoria-Gasteiz. I digress.) and gave me some water for the journey. I helped her close up shop, and after a quick prayer at Guadalupe, I continued on my way. She would be the first to offer me a “buen camino”.
It was 10 kilometres to Lezo, and I was already feeling them. The path went through beautiful mountains, and looking back you could see a long way through the French coast. I was quite happy to say goodbye to views of Hondarribia as it meant I was finally on the Camino. It took a little over two hours. I saw some fountains with the word “ona” (good) in Basque written on them, and a lot of yellow arrows that reassured me. I took the easier of the two trails, as I didn’t feel I was an alpinista. Then, I had the choice to go through Lezo or straight to Pasaia. I was craving a café con leche, so I went through Lezo. It was a small one-horse town that was shut down except for a small food shop where I got my Aquarius fix, and I went ahead and walked the last kilometre to Pasaia.
Pasaia is another one of my favourite villages. It has a water taxi that you have to take to cross from one part to another for the small fee of 70 cents. I went to the tourist office to get a stamp, but she told me to go up to the albergue (hostel) to get a more official stamp. It was next to another hermita, and I saw that I have 825 km to go to Santiago. Joy!
The couple that ran the albergue were also super nice and we talked a bit about Bilbao, but I wanted to get on my way. Pasaia was my last stop today before returning to Bilbao so I could crash. I was feeling a bit like I wasn’t a real peregrino (pilgrim) as I was only starting out with one day, but this is going to be a journey, literally and figuratively. The woman at Guadalupe reminded me “poco a poco, no hay prisa, Santiago estará cuando llegues.” (Step by step, there’s no rush, Santiago will be there when you arrive.) I felt such inner peace while on the Camino, once I finally found my way in Hondarribia, as I was really close to calling it a day there. I was so glad I went on.
I cannot wait for day 2. I’ve already done the bit from Pasaia to Donostia (six km or so, about an hour), so I am thinking Day 2 will begin from Donostia, even if I feel like I’m cheating a bit.
Until the next etapa…