A night with other people around was welcomed after a week of being alone. It was almost like being on el Camino Frances. — people chatting in different languages, sharing food, relating experiences.
The Austrian couple had come by bus from Burgos, switching from el Camino Frances to el Camino Norte. When I asked why they had changed to this route, they said that the other one was too crowded, very hard to find places to stay. What a difference then from when I went two years ago. At that time, there were always other pilgrims in the albergues, but I never had a problem finding a bed.
The difference is because the year 2004 is an Año Jacobeo. This is when the Holy Day of St. James, the 25th of July, falls on a Sunday. For Catholic pilgrims, arriving during an Año Jacobeo, it has extra special significance. Since I’m not a Catholic, I hadn’t thought much about the travel consequences.
The Spanish man had started his walk on el Camino Norte in Castro Urdiales (Cantabria) because he had walked el Camino Frances before and didn’t like the crowds and preferred the solitude of the coast route.
I’m not sure how or why the Irish woman had gotten there. She had been staying there for a couple of days since she had foot problems. She had decided that she needed to stop walking on el camino and was looking for a nice place to visit. I recommended San Vicente de la Barquera, a small seaside resort. I’ve been there before and knew that it has beautiful beaches, interesting architecture, and good seafood. Pilgrims pass through there on el Camino Norte, also.
There were two other young women that appeared, separately, early in the evening. One, an Austrian speech pathologist had gone on el Camino Frances as far as Burgos. The other, a German artist had gone on el Camino Norte as far as Gijon. Coincidentally, they were flying home from Santander after their respective vacations.
This is typical of el camino. The people who make the whole trek in one trip tend to be either young adults who are just starting their careers and can spare the two months that it usually takes. Or, they are older retired individuals who have the time and interest. Middle-aged people with jobs and/or families break the walk into two or three vacation periods.
Since Santander was such a big city, I figured that this would be a good place to transmit my text copy and photos. Also, since I would be here for at least a day, I thought that this would be good chance to get my clothes washed. They were getting so bad, that even I couldn’t stand being with me. I had attained la parfume del peregrino (the pilgrim’s perfume).
My first stop was the tourist bureau. On the way, I walked through the huge arch of the Bank of Santander. This is one of the major financial powerhouses of Spain, which serves as a testament to the capital city’s wealth — a wealth related to centuries of commerce and the sea.
Along the waterfront, I saw several reminders of Santander’s relationship with the sea in various eras. The present is evident, with hundreds of cars lined up waiting for the ferry back to Great Britain. This was no Staten Island or Nantucket/Martha’s Vineyard ferry. This was an humongous ferry the size of a cruise ship. In a way it was a cruise ship. The trip to England takes about 24 hours.
The Grua de Piedra (the stone crane) is left over from the time of the growth from international trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was one of many cranes that loaded the granite that is so common in Spanish architecture. The cranes were very important for the rebuilding of the waterfront after scores of buildings were destroyed in 1941 by a tornado. It swept through the area, resulting in a devastating fire that left 20,000 people homeless. Miraculously, no one died.
Just a few yards away from the crane, a canon from the Spanish Armada stands as a monument to the people of Santander and their contribution to Spain’s mighty sea power.
At the information bureau, I received a full list of accommodations and the addresses of an Internet salon and a laundry.
Before choosing a hotel, I decided to check out the Internet salon. If I could access the Internet there, I wouldn’t need a hotel with a landline hook up. I could take a cheaper hostel, or even a pension, and do my transmitting at the salon.
Unfortunately, the Internet salon was not a salon, but an Internet café. It was a real café. I doubted it would have what I needed. It didn’t matter anyway because it was—cerrado. Closed, closed for a vacation.
My second disappointment was la lavanderia (the laundry shop). It wasn’t a coin-operated laundromat that I had inquired about, but an actual laundry service where you must leave your clothes. The woman said she could have them done that evening. So, I left my dirty clothes and set out to find a hotel with a promise to be back at seven o’clock.
Eventually, I found a moderately priced hotel with a phone in the room. I unpacked my laptop and digital camera and sat down to the task of choosing photos and preparing a set to transmit for the Web site. I set my alarm clock for six o’clock — just in case I lost track of the time.