My second day on the Camino del Norte was breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful, yet equally as frustrating. Not all at once of course, but in chronological order.
As with any journey, there can be a mixture of good and bad experiences. The good, on this day, was the rugged ocean scenery and the detour I took. The bad, which could have been avoided if I’d planned ahead, happened after I arrived in San Sebastian; however there would be a silver lining.
The day started off great. I left the albergue with Ivan from Quebec and a group of French pilgrims that he had connected with. We stopped for breakfast by the harbour where I ordered my favourite Spanish breakfast like this, “Buenos dias. Quiero un café con leche, un pastel de chocolate y zumo de naranja por favor.” My Spanish is extremely limited – definitely not conversational – but at least I can order what I need and ask for things.
Be Prepared with Food and Water
Between Pasajes de San Juan and San Sebastian is 10 kilometers of very beautiful, rugged and remote ocean scenery. There are also no stores or restaurants so it is important to stock up with food and water in Pasaje de San Juan before venturing any further. There are plenty of scenic spots to relax and eat along the way.
A Short Ferry Ride
In order to connect back up to the Camino I had to take a short ferry ride across the harbour in Pasaje de San Juan. It’s cheap at less than a Euro, however I can’t remember the exact cost.
A Message on the Wall
The arrows led me along a road for a while until I reached this scenic spot. I was curious what the words, “PRESOAK ETXERA AMNISTIA”, painted on the wall meant in English. It means, “amnesty to prisoners”.
Graffiti like this interests me because there is usually deep meaning and a personal story behind it. It took a lot of effort for someone to paint the message there.
The Terrain and Scenery
Even though it was an overcast start to my morning, I was feeling good, strong and upbeat. I was ready for the big climb ahead.
And yes, it was a climb. There were lots of steps!
As with any climb there are rewards. Always think of the rewards. On this day, there would be rugged coast lines and open unobstructed views to look forward to.
Along the way there are also some stone ruins from an ancient aqueduct.
I am not a fast hiker, unless I’m trying to keep up with someone. When people ask how long a hike takes me, I usually don’t have an accurate answer. Frequently, I stop to linger in places, study a flower or a scene, feel the breeze on my face, smell the ocean, take a deep breath, enjoy a piece of dark chocolate and, sometimes, glance back from where I came. For example, this scene with the lighthouse didn’t appear this charming on approach. Beautiful!
The rock along the coastline begins to plunge diagonally into the sea between here and San Sebastian.
Vast ocean views, many trees and a dirt path made the walk very tranquil. “This is amazing!” would frequently escape my lips.
The Camino Arrows vs Coastal Route Markers: Which Way To Go
Since pilgrims are used to following yellows arrows, it may feel uncomfortable to detour away and follow anything else, but you can along this stretch and still arrive in San Sebastian.
Approximately 2.5 kilometers past Pasajes de San Juan, the Camino detours away from the coast. Instead of following the yellow arrows, I continued along the coastal trail marked by the red and white symbol below. It is well worth the diversion. Since San Sebastian is a coastal city, I knew that this path would inevitably lead there if it didn’t reconnect with the Camino.
There were many rewards…
Another short detour took me even closer to the rugged coastline which seemed to be partially shaped by ancient volcanic activity. There were many holy volcanic rock formations. This was a perfect spot to relax, enjoy the view, eat and explore.
The seagulls found the volcanic rock a perfect nesting ground.
The wildflowers in early May were plentiful along the coast.
Part of the trail becomes an old stone pathway.
To the left of the stone path stands a gigantic volcanic plume.
Eventually the red and white marked path reconnected to the Camino.
Arriving In San Sebastian
I felt elated to see San Sebastian, but sad that the tranquil part of my walk was ending. It was time to switch gears and tackle the bustling city.
And a bustling city it was! It was packed with tourists…
While wandering the streets, I couldn’t help but notice the scrumptious-looking pastries inside the bakeries. This one had a custard mid-layer. The pastry was light and flaky and sprinkled with icing sugar and nuts. I savored every bit of it!
The city seemed to be more tourist-driven, than Camino-driven. There was no vacancy anywhere in the city – albergues, hostals, pensions and hotels. That was largely because San Sebastian had recently been named the “European Capital of Culture” for 2016, plus it was a Saturday. There were many festivities and consequently the city was overflowing with tourists.
For the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening, I walked the streets searching unsuccessfully for a vacancy.
My lower back ached and my patience was beginning to run low. I was short with a young man who sat down next to my backpack which was propped up on an empty bench while I spoke with an attendant at the information counter. If my pack was a woman you’d think the two of them were husband and wife. He sat that close to it! He also seemed to be high, or he had fleas. He scratched his head relentlessly. Anyways, panic and memories of being robbed in South America had me striding towards him fast. All I could think to say to him, before I hauled my pack off the bench, was a stern “Hola! Buenas Dias!” and not with a smile. Thankfully, nothing was taken.
Tourist Information – A Useful Resource!
The two information centres in the city were very helpful. An attendant did everything she could to find me a place to sleep. She was able to phone and secure a bed for me for the night in an over-full albergue 18 kilometers away in a town called Orio.
Albergue San Martin
The bus dropped me off about a kilometer from the Albergue San Martin. I was greeted by these friendly sheep along the way.
When I arrived the hospitalera and other pilgrims welcomed me with open arms. Everyone was friendly and supportive of my ordeal in San Sebastian. Some of them, including a French group that I met briefly upon entering San Sebastian, had experienced the same challenge.
Even though there were no free beds left inside the dorm, the sister of the hospitalera who lived next door, was kind to let me sleep inside her house.
Sometimes there is a silver lining when challenges arise! Whereas other pilgrims slept in bunk beds in the dorm, I nodded off in a queen-sized bed in a room all to myself. There was even a full bathroom with a hot shower. Luxury for this pilgrim!!
In the morning, after a continental style breakfast, I returned by train to San Sebastian.