The Day When We Nearly Turned Back:
Day Two on the Camino del Norte was rough. Writing from a post-Camino perspective, this was my hardest day of walking – with the exception of the day when I had food poisoning. Our bodies ached from the 15 miles we walked the previous day and we woke up in a hostel that was friendly to pilgrims, but not focused on pilgrims. Big mistake.
Here’s why pilgrim-focused accommodations are key:
Hostels that are pilgrim focused are called albergues and they bring together walkers in a shared experience of pain and joy. There are communal dinners at night and breakfasts in the morning, shared bottles of wine with stories swapped from the trail, and there is always someone who can provide a bit of Compeed, the go-to blister prevention aid on the Camino. Also, everyone is in bed by 22:00 and out the door by 08:00 the next day.
While our hostel provided us with the stamp that you get at every stop in your Camino Credentials, the place was filled with the sounds of partying from the communal room late into the night.
Come morning time, Lizz and I found that the communal toilet was clogged, something that is a serious issue because, as we were about to learn, when you walk a lot, you need the bathroom…a lot.
With the combination of our clothes that were still dripping wet and our need to linger at the café next door to use the facilities multiple times, we got a later jump than desired.
Lost for the first time
We would get lost multiple times on the Camino, even with the help of our Buen Camino App and Google Maps, and we would come to handle it with laughter – even crawling under barbed wire and walking along train tracks with a smile. But this first time, we were annoyed.
There are often multiple routes that are considered “the Camino” and on Day Two we wanted to take the flatter coastal detour rather than the more beautiful and mountainous “official” route. But every time we headed for the coastal detour, a well-meaning local pointed us back toward the traditional route and, rather than following our gut and our maps, we ended up walking straight uphill.
I told Lizz that this is the way the universe pointed us and we should embrace it, but we were both so achy that it took us weeks to laugh at this “wrong” turn that took us on the more difficult official Camino route.
I also felt the first sign of “hot spots” on my feet, though I didn’t yet know what hot spots were. (For the novice hiker like myself, hot spots are blisters starting to form and they should never be ignored!)
Fueling up for a climb
We found a lovely little spot for lunch right on the route in Zumaia where we ate pintxos and smoothies before setting out on the brutal climb out of Zumaia– right in the thick of the afternoon heat. The hot August sun pelted us as it bounced off the pavement and into our faces. It was important to get an early start this day in order to avoid the afternoon heat for this part of the walk.
If we had gotten an earlier start, we probably would have enjoyed the climb to Itziar a lot more. This climb was a beautiful, forested, shaded walk. But we were too sore, hot and angry to enjoy it.
Arriving in Deba and Striking Out on a Bed
From Itziar it was straight downhill into Deba where there are actual elevators into the town! But it really was downhill into Deba in a metaphorical sense, too.
This was our first day in which we engaged in the “bed race,” racing to the limited beds available in pilgrim-focused albergues rather than booking in advance – and we failed miserably. We showed up at the tourist office late in the afternoon and the man behind the counter actually laughed when we asked about a room.
There was a huge festival going on in Deba, which included a bullfight that was taking place right when we arrived in town. Residents dressed in blue bandanas flowed from every restaurant and pub toward the bullfighting ring and the beer flowed just as freely.
On any other day, we might have taken in the spectacle with interest and enjoyed a beer. Instead, we slumped into the only restaurant that would open its doors to pilgrims and begged them to open the kitchen while we waited for a bus that – in two hour’s time – would take us to the nearby town of Ondarroa, which was the only place that had two beds.
The party in Ondarroa was also going full steam ahead. We walked past the revelers and climbed the stairs to the hostel which, just like the night before, was pilgrim-friendly but not pilgrim-focused.
The party thumped on below and was still going strong when we left at 7 in the morning the next day. In the meantime, we held pillows over our heads to drown out the sound and used tablecloths for blankets since none were provided and the windows that overlooked the sea were flung open all night long.
All would start to look up on Day Three, but there is no doubt that Day Two was a bitch.
Tips from a Post-Camino Perspective:
Stage Miles: 13.5
Actual Miles Walked: 14.8 (23.8 kilometers)
Bus forward Miles: 0
Total Miles Walked So Far: 29.6 (47.6 kilometers)
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