Hello Santander, Goodbye Sebastian

Day 5: Guemes to Santander — Guemes surely has one of the nicest albergues on the Camino del Norte, but the good meal, shower and pleasant conversation last night were not enough to make me sleep well. This morning, after perhaps three hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed and promised myself less coffee on the rest of this camino. I need to remember that I am a caffeine wimp and even a noontime cup will keep me restless at night.

Marianne, Lizette, Sebastian and I had agreed last night to meet for a 7:30 breakfast, then walk together to Santander. The two Danish women had no guidebook and hoped that sticking to us would help them get to the day’s goal more quickly than they had the last few days. We left together after breakfast with the peculiar and somewhat scary sights and smells of a hillside fire about a km away.

We followed the highway out of Guemes, never quite encountering a town there, only homes nestled loosely together among rolling, green hills. After a time we came to a traffic circle outside Galizano which was our cue to head to the beach for what Padre Ernesto had described last night as a longer, but more scenic walk.

Padre Ernesto is the bearded and rotund inspiration behind the Guemes albergue’s many ministries. He and his associates work with local prisoners, local women and children, and with programs in Latin America to make a better world. Padre Ernesto is clearly a worker-priest who sees community development and economic justice as his mission field. The albergue is just one, visible part of his many efforts. And he also told us the way to the beach.

Following his directions before Galizano we came through farms and fields to a narrow path at the top of high cliffs above the ocean. Spectacular views, warm sun, and a stiff breeze made the walk go quickly. After 3-4 km on the cliffs the path came to a parking lot and then a stairway led down to the long, wide beach between the towns of Loredo and Somo. Our route took us nearly the whole length of beach. Across the bay we could clearly see Santander, just a 1/2 hour boat ride away.

We expected a refreshing walk, but 5 km on sand with the wind at our faces soon made us hungry and tired. We shared a lunch of raciones at a restaurant in Somos, then headed to the boat dock for the ride to Santander.

While we waited for the boat, a ragged assembly of pilgrims began to gather. Tony and Julie of Sacramento, Daniel of Scotland, Amelia of Berkeley, Michael of Hanover, Martin of Bern, Julien of Quebec, and many others gathered in small groups for conversation then boarded the boat. With a strong wind whipping up waves that splashed water against the bow windows of the boat we continued our happy pilgrim chatter to Santander’s downtown harbor.

As we disembarked, Lizette and Marianne told us they’d decided to go farther today. So after goodbye hugs, Sebastian and I headed to the bus station to purchase his ticket back to Bilbao, then we briefly searched hotels before settling on the 4-star Hotel Bahia. I’ll wish him a sad goodbye in the morning, then the following morning I’ll continue my walk, hopefully well-rested and ready to attack the next week or so (before Martin arrives) on my own.

As I write this I’m at a cafe in the square below the Santander Cathedral. Sebastian and I are writing postcards to past camino friends under a cloudy sky. I checked Facebook and discovered with delight that Jacqueline, another dear camino friend from 2011, will walk a nearby camino beginning next week, then will meet me on the steps of the Cathedral of Santiago before Mass on my last day in Spain this year.

Knowing she’ll be there — even briefly — cushions the blow of Sebastian’s impending departure. His quick humor, jovial smile and kind heart make him great company.

As much as the Camino is good for solitary thinking, it is the laughter and warmth of pilgrim friendships that keeps bringing me back to Spain. And it is Sebastian’s friendship that has filled the first stages of this camino with joy.


Getting Closer — to Many New Pilgrim Friends

Day 4: Laredo to Guemes — Today, as always, the first thought of the day is “what shall I have for breakfast?” The camino variation of that for me is, “Where will I find a chocolate croissant?”

This was on both of our minds as Sebastian and I said goodbye to our roommates, Tobey and Sean of England, and headed out in the morning air. The question became increasingly urgent as we walked Laredo’s long beach and found that each cafe had only toast.

Knowing that the town of Santano was a short ferry ride from the end of the beach, we decided to tighten our belts and hope that our croissants would be waiting at a cafe on the other side of the channel.

So when we came to the ferry landing we were disappointed to learn the first ferry wouldn’t leave until 9:00, a full half hour away. We complained loudly enough that a delightful French couple (Linda and her friend) shared their bread and chocolate with us. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the French?

The ferry arrived and took us across the 300 m channel and a few blocks from the dock we found chocolate croissants, tortilla, cafe, fresh orange juice and a barkeep willing to make 2 bocadillos to go.

We walked from the cafe with Malco of Switzerland, heading through town, past a large prison, then to an option: follow the road to Guemes or climb over a tall, wooded hill and walk the beach in Noja, adding 10 km to our walk. The answer was obvious: The Beach!

We scrambled up the steep hill, were rewarded with views back to Santona, and then stood in amazement as the path turned north and the brown sand beach of Noja was revealed below us. The steep climb down was covered in no time and the next hour was filled with the sound of surf, the feel of the sun, and the cool breath of the wind coming from behind us. Sebastian took off his boots and walked in the surf while Malco and I kept our boots on to protect our tender blisters. We had a long talk about Malco’s plans for his next months of touring on his way to Brazil. At the end of the beach we found a place for lunch on a grassy and shady knoll that looks out over the length of the beach.

As we left Noja we left behind us the ocean, too, and the relaxing and cool day became a very long and hot walk through small farms in tiny towns. We arrived at Guemes’ albergue at 4:45 with Tony and Julie. The hospitalero’s water and vanilla cookies were very welcome after our hot 32.5 km march.

After a shower and hand laundry the 20 or so pilgrims adjourned to the albergue’s grassy backyard and spent the cool afternoon in quiet conversation, journalling and reading.

Along with familiar pilgrims like Tony and Julie we are getting to know Amelia of Berkeley, Lizette and Mareanne of Denmark, Julien of Quebec, Nacho of Barcelona, Florian of Amsterdam, and many other wonderful and diverse pilgrims.

20120601-184041.jpgThe ferry boat, unloaded at Santona.

20120601-184138.jpgPath looking back to Snatona and its prison.

20120601-184152.jpgNoja’s beach. Sunny and beautiful.

20120601-184221.jpgLong march toward Guemes through hilly countryside.

20120601-184308.jpgBack of albergue at Guemes. We welcomed the green and the pleasant albergue beds and showers.