Day 3 – Castro Urdiales to Laredo At the start of the day, in his unique and lovable way, Sebastian perfectly summarized the options ahead: “Pain, torture or hell?” Three options, and each is brutal.
We left the albergue at Castro Urdiales (just next to the bullfighting ring) at 7:00 and headed backwards 500 meters on the camino to a bar cafe that advertised early breakfast. After a meal of croissants, jam, orange juice and coffee we headed out to look for yellow arrows that would mark our way for 32 km to the next beachside city — Laredo.
We debated whether to follow the German guidebook up the hill to the left of the albergue or to follow the Spanish guidebook to walk along the road. Julie and Tony of Sacramento were within shouting distance and told us to follow them. We soon found arrows along the omnipresent N-634 and walked on its shoulder for several km with the ocean cliffs 100 meters below us on the right. Near the tiny town of Cedigo the locals directed us under the freeway bridge and to the right where we could see across the freeway to Julie and Tony who were still walking the former way. Our little road followed the freeway for a few more km until we crossed back under the freeway to a large campground full of tents and camper vans. At the far end of the campground we came to a nice cafe/bar where we enjoyed a conversation with two older Danish women. After they left we had a second breakfast and rested for a hour before the next stage.
From here the camino followed the road again, then returned under a tall bridge to the freeway before climbing a small hill through scattered houses and farms where we briefly met Malco of Switzerland, a dredlocked and lanky young man wearing flip flops. At the small village of La Magdelena we encountered a local who informed us in rapid Spanish that we would soon climb a large hill as he pointed out a mountain nearby with a distant TV tower at its top. We had been joined a few minutes earlier by John, a young pilgrim from Calgary, and the three of us began our ascent on a narrow, steep, gravel path. In a few, hot minutes I began to wonder why I had chosen a vacation of walking 700 km over mountainous terrain to get to a town I’d already walked to three times in the recent past. Another thought ached in my mind: could we get there quicker if we’d just stayed on the road?
When I shared my misgivings with Sebastian he responded with his memorable line: “Pain, torture, or Hell?” It was his way of pointing out that since all the options were tough, what difference does it make which one we take? So why whine about it?
With that frustratingly rational thought we continued up 10km of steep, wooded hills, sweating more with each step. Finally we arrived at the summit and began our equally difficult descent. In a shady spot where I insisted we stop and rest, Sebastian, John and I shared a nectarine and two oranges. Soon Malco and Daniel, a Scottish musician, stopped to talk.
By the time we reached the bottom of the hill it was nearly 3:00. In Llanes we found a restaurant and ordered our well earned lunch. Afterward we left John at the Llanes albergue and we walked the remaining 7 km through small farms over hill terrain to Laredo with Daniel. In Laredo we saw the two young Englishmen from last night, Sean and Tobey, and walked with them to the Buen Pastor albergue.
Though the day was long, steep and hot we were rewarded by many conversations between Sebastian and me, as well as new friendships with several pilgrims from around the world.
At the end of the day I counted to total cost of today’s ordeal: 2 blisters and a sunburn on my arms and neck.