The Road to Santiago.

September 23, 2004

Photo of Bay of Viscaya.
Bay of Vizcaya

San Sebastian to Orio

Before my alarm went off, I awoke at 7:30, despite the fact It was well pass midnight before one man in my shared room stopped reading and put out the light. Later, much later, I was awakened by three latecomers who were giggling and laughing in their attempt to remain quite. In spite of being tired, I got up before my alarm went off. After my morning constitutional, I went to desayuno (breakfast).

I had to pack in the dark since the latecomers were still asleep. I was determined to be considerate even though they weren’t. About 9:45, the hotelier came in, flicked on the lights and shouted. “Buenas dias!” (good morning).

I took the same steps down to the town. My legs were not quite as bad as the day before, but they were still sore. This time I had a heavy pack on my back, so I had to watch my step in order to not pitch forward.

I walked along one the beaches prior to the city proper. It was outside the breakwaters, which protected the inner beaches, and there was considerable white water crashing on the shore. The “surf was up” and about a dozen young people were out there trying to catch the waves.

"". Surf's up

Soon I was approached by a senior citizen who asked me where I was from. When I told him Boston, he said that he worked once in Australia (and the connection is?) and raised tobacco with his own hands. Actually, he was a nice gentleman, and we had a nice stroll. I kept hoping that he wouldn’t take my arm, which is the custom among older Spanish men while they are strolling. Fortunately he didn’t.

After I passed the pavilion where an international film festival was taking place (perhaps I would run into Woody Allen—a perennial favorite here), I again reached the old section of town and found the Internet place again.

I read some email and transmitted my story copy. I began to transmit the pictures, which are in jpeg format. Since only one picture would fit on a disc, I had to alternate downloading, uploading, erasing, and so forth. Fortunately, with the good connection of the Internet salon, it didn’t take too much time. Each picture took less than a minute to transmit, compared to five minutes on a local phone line.

For lunch, I thought I would give a McDonald’s restaurant a try. I ordered a Crispy McBacon — big mistake! It had the thinnest hamburger patty I have ever seen, with a small, hard piece of bacon. But at least I knew its carbohydrate content and was able to adjust my insulin appropriately.

Playa de Concha.
"". Playa de la Concha

I left San Sebastian by walking along the Playa de la Concha (Shell Beach), which is very long and beautiful. After the beach, I went through a pleasant neighborhood and followed the road up the mountain. Soon I came to a set of stairs built into the mountain. The flechas amarillas pointed up. So up I went. The stairs came in sets of turns. After each turn, the cinder path would slope up the mountain, parallel to its side. Then there would come another set of stairs and so forth. At the top of the mountain was a five-foot pole which had been the trunk of a small cherry tree. (Cherry is what canes are often made of.) It was as if someone knew that I would need a walking stick for the trip. I grabbed it and sliced off some of the stubs with my jackknife and proudly marched on.

Eventually I came out of the woods to a beautiful site — a bright and sunny blue sky, the gorgeous Cantabrian Sea, and a barrio (neighborhood) of colorful houses with attractive flower gardens. Suddenly, up the street, I saw against the wall two chairs, a table, and what looked like a pitcher. Just the sort of scene I would see in my barrio when little entrepreneurs sell lemonade. But this wasn’t a lemonade stand but a pilgrim’s respite. There were several bottles of water. The note said that they were left there by the occupant of No. 24 who has made many trips to Santiago himself, I left my card (along with my thanks), which has my Web site address. I also took down his name and number and made a note to send him a postcard from my home on Plum Island, Massachusetts.

Soon the camino left the pavement and continued again on a path up the mountain. It was a goat path that turned into a horse trail. Either way, I had to watch where I was stepping. Around one bend, I saw a hose from up the mountain which fed a small swampy pond. A sign was posted saying that it was a reclamation project to preserve a certain type of ranitas (small frogs). I guess that this was Spain’s version of saving the snail darter. However, there didn’t appear to be any developers around complaining.

The trail broke out of the woods onto an asphalt country road. Ahead, two young women were picking fruit from a tree. I pointed to the fruit and said  como se dice en castellaño (how is that said in Castilian [Spanish]). They answered higos (figs). I tried one, but it wasn’t completely ripe. The part that was ripe was very sweet. A couple of miles later, I found a patch of blackberries and nibbled on them. I was getting to be pretty good at recognizing which berries are the best.

Later the arrows indicated a path off the road and I eventually came to a dead end. The way was blocked with a gate. I didn’t know what to do. So I asked an old lady where the route was. She just looked at me. After a few tries, I realized that she was poco sordo (a little deaf). So I shouted the question again. She waved in the direction of the gate. As I went to the gate, I saw a small yellow arrow painted on it. Feeling a little nervous, I opened the gate, passed through, and closed it behind me.

I’m always nervous when crossing some farmer’s field. Many places are guarded by dogs. Big nasty dogs. Also there is the occasional bull or female animal with some young. Just such a situation occurred a couple of miles later. I didn’t know which path to take. As I approached one gate, momma cow began to moo menacingly. I didn’t need any more convincing — I took the other path. A quarter of a mile later, the sudden reappearance of a yellow arrow confirmed the cow’s advice.

Photo of a seaside farm.
Seaside farm

Back on a country road, I stopped in a bar. It was 4:30 and I was hot, tired, and hungry. But there was no food, so I bought a two-liter bottle of ice water and downed it. After a 15-minute rest, I threw the pack back on and continued onward.

An hour and a half later I saw a sign for an albergue 500 meters up the hill. It was a monastery and I knew there would be no food available. So I trudged down the hill and eventually came to the riverside pueblo (village) of Orio. After questioning a few people, I found a pension. The room was old, poorly lit, and without a private bath (the group bath and toilette were down the hall), but it was 8:00 p.m. and it had a big bed which looked comfortable enough. I took it.

At 9:00 p.m. I finally found a restaurant and got something decent to eat. A large tossed salad and pollo casero (homestyle chicken) tasted mighty good. By 11:00, I was soundly asleep.