The Road to Santiago.

September 22, 2004

Along the beach

San Sebastian

The youth hostel network is very different than that of the pilgrim albergues. For one thing, hikers can stay for more than one day (three or four if desired); whereas, at the pilgrim albergue, only one night is permitted unless the pilgrim is sick. Permission from the hospitalero (albergue manager) is mandatory for an extended stay. A the albergue, the doors are locked at 10 p.m. and lights are out.  In the morning, everyone has to be out by 9 a.m. In the youth hostel, the doors are locked at midnight and the lights stay on at the discretion of each room’s occupants.

Breakfast at the youth hostel is served between 8 and 9 a.m. In the pilgrim albergue, food is not available, although in many there are kitchen facilities where the pilgrims can prepare their own meals from food that they carry with them or buy locally. Of course, they have to wash the dishes and cooking utensils.

The hostel’s breakfast definitely was not one for champions. The choices were tiny muffins, magdelenas (like Hostess Twinkies), packaged toast, and/or cereal.  The drinks included milk, processed orange juice, very black-looking coffee, and a variety of teas. I chose the cereal and milk because they have fewer carbohydrates than the other options, including the orange juice. I chose tea since there was no artificial sweetener and I’m not brave enough to drink Spanish coffee without a sweetener.

Since I had to leave the hostel by 10 a.m., when it closed for cleaning, I took my computer and notes onto the porch where I spent a couple of hours writing. My thighs were so sore that it hurt to stand up. So, I was motivated to get some writing done.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so at noon I walked out to the overlook and took in the view of the city below. The grass looked inviting, so I caught a few rays while copping a few ZZZs

View of San Sebastian

After the hostel reopened, I went in for lunch. Only thing available was frozen pizza — I think I’ll have . . . hum . . . a pizza. Same type as the night before. When I was very hungry, last night, it tasted very good. Today, well . . . let’s say it’s not DiGiorno!

I couldn’t tolerate a third pizza, so, reluctantly, I decided to go to town in the late afternoon. Perhaps I could find an Internet salon where I could read my email. (The hostel had only one phone line for the entire place, so I couldn’t hookup there.

The desk lady told me the easy way to go to town. “Follow the path out back until you come to stairs and just follow them down to the bottom.” Easy, yes, if one is young and in shape. But painful, yes, when one’s thighs are screaming at the brain. So, I went down the escalera (steps) that were built into the mountainside, one step at a time. There were at least five sections and the one I counted had 80 steps. You do the math!


I went back into the casco viejo (lit. old helmet or hull — old section) where the Internet salon was located. Along one of the pedestrian walks was a marvelous, open-air vegetable market. This was no once-a-week, farmers’ market habituated by yuppies, but a permanent market open everyday except Sunday. The Spanish people prefer fresh food and the markets are always teeming. Generally, the market is located in a large, square building where each side is dedicated to a specific group of produce: fruits and vegetables, cheese and dairy, fresh meats and hams, ands finallys fish and shellfish.

It’s amazing to see such a volume of fresh produce. And variety too! Take the olives. I never knew that there were so many. There is at least a dozen types from which to choose.

I found the Internet place and the owner was quite pleasant. He said that even though I couldn’t connect my computer to his, I could download to floppy discs and upload them into his computers and then transmit on the Internet.  So I took a few minutes to answer some of my more urgent messages and told el dueño (proprietor) that I would be back mañana (tomorrow).

Then I remembered the bad pizza and the reason that I came to town. I asked ¿Donde está un buen restorante cerca de aqui? (Where is a good restaurant near here?)

Nice restaurant, good food, but a sourpuss waiter. It took me forever to get a glass of water. He had already given me wine, so why would I want water too? Most people in Spain drink wine at their meals. Some prefer a bottle of mineral water con o sin gas (with or without gas — carbonation). So I'm in the habit of asking for un vaso de agua grifo (a glass of tap water).

The Spanish would be surprised to walk into a restaurant where water is automatically brought to the table. A Spanish friend once told me that in his country agua es para las ranas (water is for frogs), to which I replied, “en mi pais ranas son para los frances” (in my country frogs are for the French). He didn’t get my broma (joke).

After dinner I caught a cab back to the hostel. During the drive, the cabbie asked where I was headed. When I told him Santiago andando a pie (traveling by foot), he said that it was a long trip. Was I jubelado (retired)?

I told him that I could take the time because I worked for myself. He said that he worked for himself but he never had any time. I told him that I understood because mi jefe was a tough man. He got the joke, laughed, and said that mi jefe es una muje r— mi marida (My chief is a woman — my wife.) I just answered, "Si, como no" (yes, of course).

As I got out of the cab he wished me, "¡Buen camino!"