Camino Del Norte – In the Basque Country

Back home after seven weeks on the road, mostly on the Camino del Norte from Hendaye, France to Santiago, Spain. I couldn’t blog on the trail but I posted pictures on Facebook each day.

Now, I’ll try to choose some highlights of my pilgrimage to Santiago.

My hiking partner, Beth, and I started in the Basque Country of Spain. Our first walking day took us to the village of Pasaia via a steep route. From Irun, the trail goes up up, up to the church of Guadaloupe. Many day hikers start from here.

We hiked to Mt. Jaizkibel, a mountain range in the Basque Country located east of Pasaia, way past the Pyrenees, with several old forts and monuments. A large group of day hikers hop in and out in front and back of us.

Past all the monument, the trail starts down, pleasant at first, then becomes very rocky. It’s raining and slippery. A wire handhold is clamped on the rock. This descent reminds me of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I am slow and careful. Then the harbor comes into view. See the photo on top of this post.

But where is the ferry and the village? The tiny town of Pasaia is tucked away under the rocky slope. Finally down, we search for Santa Anna Hostel, our home for the night. The town is full of tourists but where is the hostel?

A middle age man approaches us and says “Camino? Albergue?”
“Si”, I answer with gratitude.
He points to steps up to a church on a rocky hill.

Up, up… I am exhausted. The church is closed. Who would go up there for Sunday services these days? No wonder they made the space into a hostel. Only hiking pilgrims would hike several flights of stairs.

The hostel is run by donation, with fourteen beds. It opens at 4 pm and we’re the second people in line, here before 3 pm. By the time the hospitalero, the person who takes care of the hostel, comes, there’s a full complement of 14 people. See the completo sign by the right of the door.

The facilities are very adequate with two showers, two toilets and sinks. It is Beth’s first time in a hostel but she seems comfortable.

The hospitalero assigns beds based on age; it’s obvious. So Beth and I both get bottom bunks.

We go down for coffee, then dinner in the only restaurant that serves before 7:30pm. We’re alone in the restaurant for a long time.

I have a gorgeous seafood salad but these late dinners are going to be the bane of my Camino.

To leave Pasaia, we take a ferry (70 cents) and face a set of steep concrete steps. Well, that makes sense. We went down into Pasaia, so now we have to climb up. That’s me in the picture on the left at the beginning of the huge set of steps.

sand sculpture for Easter

Beaches dominate this part of the Camino. First the cool town of San Sebastian, then a religious sand sculpture on the way out of town, not created by kids on a Sunday afternoon on the beach.

For most nonhikers, the most famous site in the Spanish Basque might be the Guggenheim Museum. We’re staying close to the museum and walk over to see the massive, quirky building.

But it’s much too late to go in, after many Camino miles.

Pinkxtos

We console ourselves with a great meal of tapas, or pinkxtos, as they’re known in the Basque country. The small plates are laid out at the bar.

Customers help themselves and somehow the waiters keep track of who got what and how much they owe.

Since there’s no tipping in Spain or in Europe in general, waiters don’t have to hover over clients, just be generally around and do their jobs.

Every sign, either governmental or commercial, is in both Spanish and Basque. The Basque language seems to have a lot of “X” and “K”; it could use a few more vowels.

Bilbao, the capital of the Basque country, is at the  general end of Basque. We’ll know precisely when the signs in two languages end.

15 thoughts on “Camino Del Norte – In the Basque Country

  1. I so appreciate your blog. We are hiking Del Norte the end of September and your info is interesting and of great value.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience from del Norte. I have walked it too in 2015 and it has it’s place in my heart forever 🙂 I wrote even a book about it and I started to publish photos, but they are form early stages of my Camino not from del Norte for now. http://camino-en.zbyszeks.pl/

  3. Danny, thanks for sharing with us. I am one of six who will begin our trip on Camino Del Norte in mid-July. It will be my first “real” trek. Would you consider contacting me directly? I’m in Spartanburg and the rest of us are in Winston-Salem. Reading the posts are great, but a voice lends so much more!

  4. Danny, I enjoyed your posts while on the Camino, and now having more details is nice. I hope you and Beth will present to the WNC Pilgrims on the Camino group.

  5. I remember that descent into Pasaia quite well and then yes, the climb back up the steps to the albergue. It was storming and there was a line forming at the front door. We (three women mid 50’s to early 60’s) were turned away even though there were still plenty of beds. Though understandably frustrated, we were sent to a nice private apartment. Later through much discussion, we decided that because we were older and they knew the storm would drive in more pilgrims than ususal, they sent us to more comfortable accommodations. The trek back down those steps on wobbly legs was not fun but the apartment and the nearby restaurants more than made up for our exhaustion.

  6. Danny this is wonderful. I asked Marielle if you were going to do a slide show with stories when you got back. Lots of people would come. So glad you are back and had a wonderful time.

    1. Hi Linda:
      I am speaking at REI in Asheville on Monday October 2 at 7 pm to the American Pilgrims on the Camino.
      If you and/or Marielle thinks that there might be an audience among FOTS hikers, I would enjoy talking and showing slides.
      [After Labor Day weekend] If someone wants to organize it and do the publicity, sure, I’ll talk.

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