Does a Real Pilgrim Take the Train?

Day 6: Santander to Mogro — Two nights ago at Guemes the hospitalero clearly warned us, “Don’t walk across the railroad bridge between Boo de Pielagos and Mogros.” He knew this was a huge temptation for pilgrims because there are only two alternatives: walk an extra 11 km to and from the nearest foot bridge across the Pas River or for 1.3€ take the train to cross the hundred yard wide channel.

A walking pilgrimage to Santiago is just that, a walking pilgrimage. For me this has meant that in 2000 km of pilgrimages I have never ridden in a bus or train or taxi to cover the marked pilgrim route. Every km has been walked — sometimes with pain but always with pride that I was never “cheating” by not taking some modern mode of travel. But somehow today felt different. Perhaps it was because of the recommendation of the hospitalero, or perhaps it was because my French guidebook also recommended it, or perhaps it was the quick and cheap Feve train service, or perhaps it was simply because I wanted a second night in the comfy Hotel Bahia in Santander. Whatever the reason, I decided to leave my over-developed pilgrim scruples behind and for the first time take the train for a brief portion of my pilgrimage. Forgive me, Santiago!

I awoke a little before Sebastian this morning and quietly read and wrote emails until he was awakened by his watch alarm at 7:30. After he showered we slowly headed to the bus station, stopping along the way to complete a very short wedding greeting video he’d promised a friend and then at a cafe for a last croissant together before he left. At the station we both felt very sad as he boarded the bus for Bilbao, the first leg of his trip back to Cologne. The knowledge that he’ll be in Seattle in late August was a partial comfort. Sebastian is a wonderful person and a good friend.

Back at the hotel after a shower and shave I double-checked train schedules and confirmed my plan for the day. I would return by train from Boo, then tomorrow i would take the train to Mogro on the other side of the river.

Knowing my walk would only be 14.4 km I left my backpack in the room and headed out the door with only a rain jacket and my French guidebook. I hoped to find a small bottle of water to carry but on Sundays in Spain almost everything is closed. As I headed along the pedestrian mall I managed to find an open newspaper kiosk and was able to buy a small water to carry with me.

The pedestrian mall opened onto a main arterial, which passed a barracks of the Guardia Civil then emptied into the streets and suburban industrial buildings of Penacastillo. At an intersection below its yellow stucco and stone church the camino turned right and played cat-and-mouse with the train tracks through small farms and trendy subdivisions until arriving first at Santa Cruz de Bezana and finally, Boo de Pielagos.

When I at first missed the path to the train station I wondered whether habit or Santiago or maybe Freud were telling me to walk the extra 11 km. But now it was already 3:00, my blisters were starting to complain, and the train back to the comforts of Santander was only a few minutes away.

Tomorrow I will complete the deed when I return by train, not to Boo, but across the river to Mogro. Santiago, I’m on my way — a little less of a purist this time — but I’m on my way.





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.