Walking the Camino Del Norte: San Sebastián to Zarautz

The Day When it All Began:

We were all anticipation as we set out for our first day of walking the Camino del Norte. Two utter and complete bundles of nerves and excitement. Would we be up for the task of walking 14 miles? Would our bags be too heavy? Would we kill each other? We didn’t know, but Lizz and I set out feeling absolutely giddy.

We wouldn’t always feel the same way on the same day, but today we mirrored each other with our nerves and with our surprise at just how easy the walk was.

What Was Hard About Walking the Camino Del Norte on the First Day?

It wasn’t all easy, though. What was hard about the Camino del Norte for these rookies? Packing our bags in the morning!

By the end of our pilgrimage, we would be up and out the door in 10 minutes flat. But on day one of our adventure across Spain, we fumbled about, trying to shove our clothes in our bags and strapping and re-strapping our backup shoes on our packs. It took us forever to get out the door.

The Camino will Provide

There is a saying common on “The Way” that the “Camino will provide,” and we saw evidence of that nearly immediately when we finally got out the door. As we maneuvered down a steep hill from our hostel in search of both caffeine and the trail itself.

We didn’t yet know how to search for the yellow arrows that serve as waymarking signs for the Camino (a fact that now sounds laughably insane but, hey, we all start somewhere!), so we weren’t sure how to actually find the route!

Yellow Arrow painted on the street along the Camino del Norte
Yellow arrows mark the way!

Then along came Anna, dressed just like us and moving at just about our pace. She was clearly walking the Camino, so we lobbed a tentative “buen camino?” at her, our first of many greetings using the universal language of the pilgrim.

View from the camino

Anna was also looking for coffee and she knew exactly how to find the route. A native of Catalonia, Anna was fluent in Spanish and even knew a little of the baffling Basque Language called Euskera. She was even a native of the Camino, having walked portions of it in previous years and she was a huge help to us throughout the day as we navigated the learning curve of the Camino.

The Awe of the Camino de Santiago

As we walked, everything seemed amazing. The animals that we saw, including a goat on its hind legs plucking fruit from a tree, the sweeping coastline views, the fellow walkers with their chiseled legs and massive packs including sleeping bags and tents, it was all so much to take in. I must have taken hours of video on this day!

Goat Yoga?

By the end of walking the Camino de Santiago, I would zip past cows, goats, dogs, and breathtaking views without even noticing. (See video below)In the final days of walking, it would take a random peacock or an angry cow charging at a fellow walker (this actually happened) to get me to pause.

But on the first day, everything was magical.

Animals along the Camino del Norte

Arriving in Zarautz

Even though we knew the saying – that the Camino de Santiago would provide – we booked a room in advance in Zarautz. This would be the hardest part of the Camino for me, wrestling with my Type-A, slightly obsessive need to plan ahead and the inability to know where you will lay your head down to sleep the next day.

But this time, we knew exactly where we would sleep, so we said goodbye to Anna who was bed racing and needed to get to an albergue stat, and we headed for the beach with our backpacks still strapped on.

That water on my feet felt amazing. Lizz was braver than me and plunged right into the frigid waters, but I just waded in a bit and reflected on what was behind us and what was in store for us.

Then Lizz and I enjoyed the sunset with a live band and our first “buen camino” cheers before heading to buy walking sticks (these would prove to be everything) and turning in for an early night.  

Closing thoughts from Day 1 on the Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte Route)

Lessons Learned on the Camino del Norte:

  1. Yellow arrows will guide your way! Look for them (but also download the Buen Camino app for those moments when there are no arrows, remote roads or wrong turns.
  2. If you do not have a bed booked in advance, prioritize finding a bed before doing anything else, no matter how tempting that beer might look or that ocean dip might be.
  3. Look for albergues or pilgrim-centric hostels. We booked a bed in a hostel where people were partying late into the night, a problem when we needed to get up in the morning.  Also, we missed out on the pilgrim culture, which we would soon learn is a beautiful thing.
  4. Do not wash your clothes if there is no “spinner” or dryer. We didn’t know what a “spinner” was yet (that lesson comes on Day 4) and we also didn’t know that our clothes would not dry overnight without a spinner. We walked with wet clothes strung to our backpacks on Day Two.
  5. When you find a shoe or an item on the road, it has likely fallen off someone’s backpack and they will come looking for it. Leave it on the nearest mile-marker post or tie it to a street sign or post in a way that is very clear and obvious.

Pilgrim Tips from a Post-Camino del Norte Perspective

  1. Eat it up on the first day. You may not again feel this kind of giddy excitement or complete awe at what you are doing until you arrive in Santiago. This is the day where everything feels possible. There is no pain yet. Just plain and simple awe. Enjoy it.
  2. On the first day of the Camino de Santiago, you may hesitate to take your backpack off. You will fear that you won’t want to put it back on or that it will take you forever to strap it on and off. So, you may stand around with your backpack on when you aren’t walking. Forget that. Take your backpack off at literally every opportunity. You will get very good at stripping it off and slinging it on. Might as well start practicing now!
  3. The first week of the Camino del Norte (the northern route of the Camino de Santiago) involves popular tourist spots. It’s harder to find a bed and far more expensive. Plan ahead and book a bed in advance for the first week.

Our Camino del Norte Pilgrimage Stats After Day One:

San Sebastián to Zarautz

Stage Miles: 13.67 (18.5 kilometers)

Actual Miles Walked: 14.8

Bus forward Miles: 0

Total Miles Walked So Far: 14.8 (23.8 kilometers)

Up Next: Day 2 on the Camino del Norte Zarautz to Deba

2 Comments on “Walking the Camino Del Norte: San Sebastián to Zarautz”

  1. Pingback: Walking the Camino Day 10: Islares to Laredo | The Lens of Jen

  2. Pingback: Walking the Camino Day Three: Deba to Markina | The Lens of Jen

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