Day Two: Portugalete to Castro Urdiales — Yesterday in our riverside walk we saw almost no pilgrims. Today we met many, and the albergue here at Castro Urdiales is full of noisy, fun, and friendly pilgrims from around the world.
Sebastian and I left our pension at 7:00, stopping at a nearby bar/cafe for coffee, croissants and fresh orange juice. We asked directions to Avenida Carlos VII and found it and our first yellow arrows. Carlos VII turned into a paved cycle/pedestrian path, which we followed a full 12km to our first views of the ocean at Las Arenas beach.
We wound our way a couple km farther to the tiny beach village of Pobena. There we found the albergue’s hospitalero cleaning up. We asked him to stamp our credentials and suggest a restaurant for second breakfast, a custom we happily resurrected from last year’s walk. He pointed us to a nearby bar/cafe, which fulfilled his promise of having great tortillas. While we enjoyed our tortilla we watched as a couple of pilgrims approached. Soon we met Julie and Tony of Sacramento, California, and enjoyed their company for a laughter-filled half hour. We then put bocadillos from the kitchen into our packs for the next stage.
We walked up a long stairway to the top of the hill and saw magnificent vistas of the bay and ocean. We congratulated ourselves for our cleverness in choosing the Camino del Norte for our walk. After a long and beautiful promenade along a onetime railway bed with constant views of the ocean we went through a small, hand-hewn tunnel to a parking lot and finally to a series of small roads taking us toward the old coastal highway, now called the N-634.
We walked up two steep km on the narrow shoulder, then down one km to a bus shelter across from the Saltacaballo Restaurant where we enjoyed the shade as we shared our lunch with a red, neighbor dog. Martin, a pilgrim from Switzerland, stopped to introduce himself and visit. From here we continued on the asphalt until a yellow arrow pointed us onto a gravel road.
This road took us to a path that followed the coastline through hay farms with even more spectacular views of Castro Urdiales followed by a quick descent to the suburbs of this seaside tourist town. With Martin we made our way along the oceanside promenade to Calle Santander for another 2 km through town to the albergue, our refuge for the night. There we met John of England, Petri of Finland, Theo and Theo of Belgium, and our new old friends, Julie and Tony of Sacramento.
After choosing a bed we headed back to the center city for a tour of the basilica and a cervesa or two. The church was beautiful, but the beers made me sleepy, so we took a quick nap on the beach in the sunshine. Martin found us and offered us to join him for a homemade dinner at the albergue, so we picked up some wine and headed back “home” for laundry, showers, and a delicious dinner.
Today we felt like pilgrims. We found ourselves in a community of friendly travelers, united by adventure, blisters, and the shared goal of Santiago de Compostela after many days. The life of a pilgrim is much walking and much joy.