A couple of days after Bilbao on the Camino del Norte, we moved into the Principality of Cantabria. I expected a large sign – Leaving the Basque Country, Welcome to Cantabria – just like “Welcome to North Carolina” but nothing. When we stopped seeing signs in two languages and noticed that the government shield had changed, we were in Cantabria.
Now tapas are called “pinchos”. We left the Basque country and many of the ‘x’ in words have disappeared.
We walked into Castro-Urdiales via the coastal route. This tourist town is hopping on a Sunday morning, with people in cafes, on the beach and on the boardwalk.
Cantabria is where we start to make long-distance friends, i.e. other hikers who will be walking long distances, maybe the whole trail like us.
The first was Pavel and Lenka, brother and sister from the Czech Republic. They were surprised that we knew enough not to refer to their country as Czechoslovakia.
“You folks split in 1993,” I said.
Lenka had spent two years learning Spanish for this trip and she was fluent. After we walked out of Castro, an old man approached the four us and tried to get us to take a different route.
Even Lenka couldn’t understand why he wanted us to do that.
Did he want to send us to his preferred lodging?
I didn’t understand why the other three hikers spent so much time worrying about what he had to say.
I walked away from the group and said “Let’s follow the markers, not the locals.” Soon, we found a wonderful pension – and it was on the trail.
No discussion of the Camino del Norte is complete without mentioning Father Ernesto’s hostel at Guemes.
This isn’t just a hostel; this is a large estate owned and managed by Father Ernesto and an army of volunteers. They serve three meals a day to pilgrims. The complex has a library, a common room and ermita where you can sit and reflect on your life.
Father Ernesto, now 80-years old, has served all over the world. His collection of slides covers the walls and ceiling of his study. Many guidebooks call this place the best hostel on the Norte. We’ll see.
The scenery is magnificent. The snowcapped mountains of the range south of us belong to Picos de Europa National Park. But we walk along the beach. See the picture at the top of the post.
My feet hurt. Cantabria has a lot of road walking. I understand that my feet will hurt for the rest of the trip. Everyone always say Walk your own Camino and I am.
I will cover my feet with pads, Compeed (European blister protection – look it up), Band-aids, duct tape, and walk through the pain, with the pain, and trying to ignore the pain.
Cantabria is also where I realize that I’m no longer interested in doing long-distance hiking between two sets of trees. I want to see people, culture, other ways of life and foods.
I loved Cantabria.