At the moment, all my Camino plans are on hold for various reasons. That doesn’t mean I have given up on arriving to Santiago nor have I lost my love and interest in the Camino. It just means good things come to those who wait. This is where I complain about how tired I am of waiting and admit that my dream of doing the Camino may never come true.
With a “heat wave” on the north coast (the rest of Spain is wishing they only had 34 degrees), I decided to check out the alternative Camino that leaves Bilbao, the one that snakes around the right bank of the river this weekend. As it was not a real Camino day, I went with my smaller backpack and had my iPod cranked up and had no plans on reaching Portugalete. I just went as far as I felt like it.
This route goes along the Nervión estuary, la Ría de Bilbao and passes many bridges, the Guggenheim, the Torre Iberdrola and through Deusto.
For those not familiar with Bilbao, I’d recommend not going along the sidewalk that goes along the ría, as this will make you apt to make a mistake and go to the island of Deusto, which is a dead end. Instead, follow along the other side of the street, and you should be fine. As I knew of this, I went along the river. I was happy to see an arrow by a private albergue, meaning that this alternative stretch is Camino.
As you finally leave Bilbao (it takes about an hour from my flat to the end of San Ignazio and where Erando begins), the sites of the ría become quite beautiful.
This part of Gran Bilbao has a bad reputation, but I really liked the views of the river. In fact, so much that I ended up deciding to stay a while on a bench and read while the sunset before catching the metro in Erando back to Bilbao.
That meant I went back the next day to finish this part. I only had an hour or so until I reached the Areeta metro (which I took to avoid the crowds coming back from the beach on a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon.)
The stretch from Erandio to Getxo follows the ría for a bit more before going in to walk along the metro. A few nice views of the ría, but nothing spectacular. The day would normally end by crossing the famous Puente Colgante to Portugalete and looking for their albergue (it’s not too hard to find, but the last time I crossed the bridge I went in a different direction.)
Which would I take? It depends on a lot. If you’re doing a longer day from Lezama or something, I’d recommend this alternative route as it’s shorter and no hills to climb. It also avoids having to walk through that shopping centre. You also get to see all the sights of Bilbao (and I honestly feel that the outside of the Guggenheim is prettier than the inside any day!)
If you’re a Camino purist or doing a shorter day, the traditional Camino does have some nice scenery, like the Puente de Diablo and the park in Barakaldo. It’s a bit more strenuous walking, and again, that walk through the mall past Ikea is a nightmare.
Either way you leave Bilbao has its pros and cons, just like every decision. For the indecisive like me, flip a coin.