Days 16 & 17: Skipping Along the North Coast

Zarautz > Bilbao > Llanes/Po
September 22 – 23, 2017

We had gone to bed not entirely sure what we wanted to do the next day but although there did appear to be some interesting looking stops, including the town of Guernica, made famous by Picasso, in our next few days, our housing situation produced a low morale that had us wanting to skip up to Bilbao. The whole trip was now beginning to feel disjointed and unsure and we had basically decided that we did want to meet up with our friend Diana in Barcelona even though it was about a week or two earlier than it would have taken for us to fully complete the Camino. But she was having a hard time in her personal life and so were we on this trip. We missed her. And we were already jumping around so had already made decisions that made our hike not completely thru. Logistics had invaded the safe space of our spiritual journey from the very beginning when we had to be strategic about what towns we could make it to that would still have lodging available so now we fully embraced the need to plan out the rest. We booked a hostel in Bilbao and set out to find the bus.

After that stressful day of travel we deserved these pinchos.

However, information conflicted from Google to our hotel concierge to another closer to where we thought the bus would stop. It never came, possibly because you have to book that particular one at least 2 hours in advance or it will never leave the freeway. But there was a train/bus station another mile away. It turned out to be not so much a station but a set of machines for the bus or the train. I am usually pretty good at navigating public transport but this Basque beachside small town made it more complicated than I would have thought possible. A stuck ATM card and a screaming machine nearly drove us over the edge but finally a very nice woman who I think spoke French nearly missed her train trying to help us. Bus or train we didn’t care and eventually ended up on a sort of commuter train. It was long without any of the luxuries of a real train but with plenty of middle school students and stops, the last of which ended in a not terribly central station in Bilbao. But that was no big deal as we were used to walking.

Some contemplative time by the Guggenheim.

After checking in to the somewhat pricey and exceptionally mediocre hostel we headed to the Guggenheim, our only real reason for wanting to stop here. This is where we had our first, and really only, fight of the trip. Despite giving us props for being together 2 months nonstop and only having 1 major fight it still felt pretty bad to be overlooking the river and the museum, so large and whimsical, trying to hide our teary eyes from the crowd of tourists shuffling about in the sad gray day. Basically, we were both sad at having to troubleshoot through so many problems and felt like we were each taking on too much of the burden. In reality some of the hardships had just gotten to us, both working hard, and the only person we had to take it out on was each other despite never getting to be alone. It was the worst of both worlds and we were just so tired. But we love each other so we tried to be as honest with each other as possible coming through our exhaustion and pain and walked all around taking pictures and just trying to enjoy the Frank Gehry architecture we had come for.

Artsy mist creeps up around the back of the museum.

View of the La Salve Bridge and the museum from the next bridge down.

The Guggenheim form across the river.

La Salve Bridge, its official name is the ‘Prince and Princess of Spain Bridge’

We also had some sushi which, even though it looked more amazing in the restaurant’s fancy catalog like menu than it was in person, is always a cheerer for Vanessa. That was necessary considering our mediocre hostel continued to be annoying once arriving back home. The laundry was supposed to be open until 11 but the manager decided it would be too noisy for us to start at 9pm even though lead-footed young men continued to stomp around the hallways and shout for several more hours. Thankfully our full room was all women but they were noisy enough and kept the light quite late considering we wanted to sleep now knowing we couldn’t do useful things.

In the morning we had, unsurprisingly, a very mediocre included breakfast. The coffee was cold and they never made any more and the only options were generic cocoa puffs and white bread. But I did have a nice chat with an Irish woman who had just completed the Frances and was now headed home. She was so sweet and genuine, having met her new best friend on the trail. A lot of people I talked to, often older, but in general living very adult and possibly solitary lives, seem to find true friendship on the Camino and I ponder its purpose as a way to bring people together. I feel very lucky for the loved ones I have and also my ability to make new friends even if I feel others, like Vanessa, are better at it than I am. But being an American adult, and maybe in a lot of other places too, can be very lonely and alienating. I at least can go to queer spaces and they may or may not be welcoming, turn out to be my people, could be divisive etc, but they are a place to at least begin to see and/or construct my community. So many others don’t have a built-in community like that. I remember seeing older people on bikes riding around the Netherlands and running into friends and neighbors at the market etc. In our cars and supermarkets we don’t even have that small daily interaction. It’s both happy and sad to see people find such fulfillment, such friendship, on the way. It’s given me a lot to ponder.

More scenes from Bilbao include this flower-strewn plaza.

And also this pup made of flowers. I guess they like it floral here.

I was glad we had stepped back into Basque country for a bit. There were things I was not done with, including the very delicious Basque Cake we had only once in SJPDP but made sure to have at least 3-4 more times since returning. But it was time to move forward and catch up to where we might be now if we had started on the Northern route. I still had a picture on my phone that I had taken from a book on the Norte route that I stood staring at in Powell’s books before we had left home. The shores of Ribadesella had captured my imagination and Asturias was listed at one of the most beautiful stretches of the north coast. We planned a 5 day venture beginning in Llanes and left Bilbao in a very confusing, if familiar flurry of dueling buses at the station.

We met a woman from Germany who found out she was pregnant and decided to cut her trip short and return to her husband and had some very nice ocean views from the ride but other than that it was uneventful and we arrived in the small town of Llanes with a 5 mile walk to the even smaller town of Po where we had booked in a small cute albergue. Though it was muddy and wound through some unexciting farms it was nice that our walk from town was in the Camino itself and it felt like we had begun again in earnest.

On the road again…Vanessa snaps another dramatic looking shot of my shell, pack, and the back of my head as I walk through the farmland into the sunset.

Backyard of the albergue with the mountains in the background.

When we arrived the place was just as cute as we expected. It had a hippie vibe with some wooden structures in the back and a large area for their chickens. A very entitled cat roamed the grounds creating a nest for herself on only the cushioned chairs. The tiny beach down the road was perfect. It sat nestled between two rocky outcroppings and around the bend from the small cove was a giant cliff overlooking a less protected oceanside. As the wind whipped our hair into unnatural shapes I looked over the edge with trepidation but mostly wonder as the waves hit dramatically and another photo shoot ensued.

We had given the manager of the hostel a bag of laundry to do, which is what they preferred even if we would have rather just done it ourselves, but that was how they did it. With so few items of clothing I was in a weird combination of pants and sleeveless bike shirt with no bra or underwear. Since they wouldn’t have our laundry back to us until 7 the next morning I had to eat dinner in my fabulous new “outfit.” It wasn’t my best look but I was excited to try our first communal pilgrim meal on the North route. The food didn’t end up being all that stupendous though the hospitalero boasted of his farm fresh eggs and dairy (there was a large chicken coop in the back yard and a small farm they owned nearby) but the company ended up being excellent. We met a woman named Hannah from Germany who had hiked the Camino Primitivo before, a much shorter but much more difficult path through the mountains and her 2 friends from the Netherlands, Evelien and Willemijn. It was Willemijn’s birthday and she would make sure we knew that every few minutes, which tickled Vanessa, a big believer in making sure people have a special day (month even).

There was a Polish guy, possibly the first that was really doing this for religious reasons, that had a messiah complex and kept hitting on the girls. He wouldn’t shut up about his transcendental experience of the pilgrimage thus far and how he had met another girl who had truly found the light along the path. But other than this minor annoyance it was a lovely evening and the girls said they would be back in the morning for breakfast and hopefully we could hike out together.

Overlooking Playa de Po.

Bounding up the hillside towards the cliffs.

Staring over the cliffs into the sea. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.

Always my water baby self I have to at least dip my toes in before sunset. Photo by Vanessa Friedman.


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