After a relatively relaxed day in San Sebastian yesterday (only 8km walked around the city) I thought it would be appropriate to push myself and combine two stages into one 44km day. As it turned out, though, this ‘relatively relaxed’ day included a pintxos tour of the old city – run by the hostel – which turned into a lot of food and many, many drinks. So, it was at 6am on Friday morning that my alarm went off, having been in bed at 2am after that most shameful of drinks – tequila shots. I ended up walking about 32km today, so less than my original goal, but I think there’s still something masochistically amusing about four hours’ sleep, hard liquor and long-distance walking. Who said youth was wasted on the young?
Leaving San Sebastian at dawn
More rugged Basque coastline
Helpful reminders of how far we’ve left to go…
‘The road to Santiago is paved with wine’
After setting off in the dark and climbing into the hills past San Sebastian, I met Eduardo, a Spaniard from the Canaries who owned a bar on the main island, Gran Canaria. He proudly showed me live video of his bar at 8am: a surprisingly high-resolution feed of a waiter cleaning the dining room. I thought it was comically Orwellian, to have your boss watching you on the CCTV from a religious pilgrimage 2,000km away. Much like the first day, we walked through chestnut forests and pine groves, the occasional water spring with ‘agua, muy bien!’ scrawled in yellow paint. Cloud persisted in valleys here and there, lending a definite Swiss-mountain-chalet feel to the area. The green hills, livestock and farmsteads dotting the landscape could have been anywhere in Europe, really – if not for the harsh Basque script (‘ch’ becomes ‘x’ and there’s an overabundance of ‘k’s) and semi-frequent nationalist graffiti (‘Basque independence or death!’ etc).
On these first few stages, I found it easy to forget the stunning landscapes you’re walking through. Instead, you’re occupied by the burning in your thighs, the unfamiliar weight of a pack on your shoulders, the pounding of your feet on the pavement, the question of both ‘where will I end up sleeping tonight?’ and, more importantly, ‘when’s lunch?’. But, truly, the endless postcard vistas are amazing. They give you a tangible sense of the ruggedness of the Basque people and identify – if the coastline, swell and food of San Sebastian weren’t enough proof already.
My three Canary friends, muy divertido
We strolled past vineyards heavy with fruit – in particular, row after row of green grapes for the local white wine, txakoli. The odd fig tree and blackberry bush beckoned. And, of course, the odd cafe con leche and bocadillo stop:
Bacon, queso y pimento – a hearty breakfast
Perfectly ripe, plump little wild figs. Clinging to a hillside next to a highway, of all places
Canine companions would occasionally trot alongside us for a few hundred meters before turning back to better prospects of scratches and treats
One of the many Basque beaches along the northern coastline… this one in Zarautz quite famous for surf
A tidal dry dock; evidence of rough seas and a wild coastline
Arriving in Zumaia after 32 mountainous kilometers, with throbbing feet and sweat running down our faces after a climb through the seaside village, was not a gracious event. Our albergue for the night was a donativo, run by volunteers and located in an old convent. We weren’t sure what to expect but were very impressed by the ancient wooden rafters, still solid as the day they were built. I think the building dates back to the 1300s or so. Huffing and puffing up a hill, it’s easy to forget that the cobblestones you’re walking over are at least seven centuries old. It’s a little mind-boggling, the scale of the age of the whole Camino. You’ll pass barns older than Australia.
Just three to a room! And no bunks, either.
A late lunch at the albergue. In San Sebastian I picked up a hunk of iberico and some excellent local sheep cheese, paying about 30% more than the bargain-basement reconstituted ham/cheese. It was definitely worth it – the cheese was somewhere between pecorino and parmesan with a fantastic sharpness. The iberico was neither large enough to cut properly, nor did I have a sharp enough knife – but the flavour was still there.
The local church
Welcome to Spain – a civilised country, where you can buy sensible portions of jamon in your local supermarket
Later on in the albergue, people gathered in the small garden to share cider and vino tinto and beers and snacks – and tales of the day’s walk. I recognised a few of the pilgrims from the Irun, though I had accidentally lost Esteban and the Canaries.
Discussion turned to walking techniques and gear, and I acquired a pair of nylon inner socks (literally just cut-off stockings) which supposedly completely prevented blisters when worn inside regular socks. I had heard they were excellent but hadn’t got around to finding any. More vino tinto and supermarket Spanish omelette was consumed, and before long friendly chatting had turned into field surgery. Those unlucky enough to have already developed blisters were instructed to hold still while someone fetched the betadine – another held an iPhone in one hand and a cigarette in the other, gleefully taking pictures of the quasi-surgery.
Definitely-not-sober blister management
The night gets a little blurry after that. Well, at least until the elderly volunteers came and shut it all down at 10pm on the dot. Good thing, too, lest we start gleefully amputating one another’s limbs. And this is just day two of walking…
‘Til next time,