It was raining as we set out on the Camino del Norte from the Pitis Hostel but it didn’t phase us even one bit. We had slept well – the first good sleep on our pilgrimage. Since there were only fellow pilgrims in the hostel, everyone was in bed early and up and at ’em in the morning. Lizz and I were the last to leave at 07:30.
We would find this to be a common occurrence. We just liked to start later, take our time along the route, and arrive later. And that’s OK. Every pilgrim is different and, therefore, every pilgrimage is different.
We stopped in town for coffee and double-checked our route. While we were mentally preparing to push forward 15 miles, or so, we knew that we might stop earlier in a town called Mendata where, rumor had it, the hostel had a washer and a dryer. We had yet to get our clothes completely dry, so this sounded like a heavenly luxury.
Right out of Mendata, we somehow took a wrong turn. It is not unusual on The Way to be guided by a yellow arrow through personal property or on a rather overgrown pathway. This is understandable considering that much of the waymarking is done by locals on a volunteer basis.
Anyway, we didn’t think much of the meandering path we were on until it started to go straight uphill while the overbrush grew higher and higher and the path grew narrower and narrower. About halfway up the hill as I was hacking at the brush with my walking stick to clear a path, I knew we had taken a wrong turn.
I heard Lizz hollering for me, so I waited and watched while she hacked her way toward me. We weren’t quite laughing yet. The thorns were ripping into our clothes and we had no idea how much longer this path would lead uphill. One thing we did know: we had gone too far to turn back.
When we finally reached the clearing at the top of the hill, we found ourselves on a farm with a large dog eyeing us. Suddenly, two young women appeared from around a tree in an agitated state. They were clearly pilgrims and they were also clearly lost. Blood dripped from the legs of one woman who had the misfortune of wearing shorts on that thorn-lined detour.
“There are no arrows up here,” the girls informed us grimly. We had gone way off route.
We busted out our Buen Camino apps and confirmed that we had taken a rather substantial detour. The problem was that the only way to return to the route was back through that thorny, weedy Hell we had just come through.
That’s when the owner of the dog showed up and gamely led us through his land to a shortcut by the river which, he said, would ultimately reconnect us with the Way.
The girls were named Marlena and Alicia and they would turn out to change our Camino in the coming weeks. Maybe the Camino brought us all on that detour for a reason.
Still teamed up with Marlena and Alicia, we walked through the Monastery of Zenarruza in the hopes of finding something to eat. There was no food, but we did encounter a very friendly monk who told us about his sister in America and gave us plenty of unexpected and – as it turns out – much-needed hugs.
Later, over a communal dinner, we would learn from other pilgrims that he hugged most people who came through and that he claims to have a sister or a cousin in every country!
We finally found food in Muntibar at the only little snack place available. Though there was no warning in our guide books of a lack of supplies and, though the route appeared dotted with towns, day four was one of the harder days to find food along the Way.
At the snack bar in Muntibar, a fellow pilgrim asked where we planned to stay. We told him that we thought we would stay at the albergue in Mendata, forgetting entirely that we are in a bed race with these folks! I watched as he conferred with Marlena and Alicia but thought nothing of it. Later, as we continued walking, I listened as Marlena called somewhere asking for “dos camas” but again thought nothing of it since the girls planned to push on farther than Mendata.
Marlena finally took pity on us and let us know that they did intend to stop in Mendata and that they had booked the last two beds at the place where we were heading.
When we all arrived together at the Andiketxe Albergue, Marlena and Alicia actually offered to give up their beds. This was sweet, but we acknowledged that we had gotten beat fair and square in the bed race and prepared to walk on. That’s when the nice albergue owner took pity on us and found space.
We lined four mattresses on the floor in the attic and had a little slumber party. It was actually great. We had our own space and far preferred the mattress on the floor to the communal bunk beds below. Win-win!
This was our first official albergue experience. That night all the pilgrims sat around a large table, and we ate beef cheek, a traditional dish in the Basque Region and drank wine. We laughed with our fellow pilgrims, some of whom had encountered the very friendly monk, others of whom had encountered the detour, all of whom enjoyed a meal together with fellow pilgrims.
Stage Miles: 10.93
Actual Miles Walked: 12.6 (20.2 kilometers)
Bus forward Miles: 0
Total Miles Walked So Far: 58.8 (94.6 kilometers)