San Vicente de la Barquera
I spent the night in a hotel. I hadn’t planned to do so. In fact I had intended to go to an albergue to save some money this night and than scout out a cheap hotel where I could hole up for the next day and do some writing. But, as Bobby Burns (who??) said; “The best schemes of mice and men gaye oft awry.”
The guidebook said that the albergue was next to la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (the Church of Our Lady of the Angels). So I climbed to the top of the hill, passing through a medieval gate which was all that was left of the ancient walls, and found the church. Next to it were the remains of an old hospital for the pilgrims of el Camino de Santiago. But I couldn’t find an albergue. Someone pointed out a building next to the church with a big wooden door. I went to the door and rang the bell. A face appeared in a window above and shooed me away. He told me to return at 5:30.
I did return en punto (on the dot). Coincidentally, so did Luna — Mimi was off trying to find food for them. A very surly man answered the bell and let us in. He stamped our credenciales, asked us for 5 euros apiece, and led us to the albergue.
I couldn’t believe it! The so-called albergue was small – barely 15 ft. x 15 ft. – with one bunk bed. But even more surprising was that in the room was what appeared to be a giant armoire, inside of which was squeezed a toilet, sink, and shower. During my college protest days, I had been in better jails than this.
I told the man that a second woman pilgrim would be coming and where were the other rooms. There weren’t any others; this was it! And then he abruptly left. Luna and I just looked at each other. She said that it wasn’t that bad and that she and Mimi could double up. (As I said they were small women). There was a time when I would have jumped at the chance to share a room with two young women. But I’m past that now. (In fact, I was kinda hurt that she didn’t think of me as a potential problem.) The situation would have been just too embarrassing, so I played the gallant knight, picked up my backpack and left.
I went and told the man to apply my 5 euros to the other woman’s tab (Luna had paid me for Mimi). The man grunted an assent. I couldn’t tell if he didn’t like pilgrims, women, or people in general, but I was glad that not many on the camino are like him.
Fortunately I found a nice place right on the Plaza Mayor. It was a hundred-year hotel and still had some of that era’s elegance. And it was reasonably priced for being a hotel in a seaside town — only 24 euros ($30). Reasonable for a hotel — but five times more than I had budgeted for the day!
Unfortunately, the phones in the room were old fashioned and permanently wired so I couldn’t connect my computer to the Internet. Fortunately, however, an Internet salon was right around the corner. After my experience in Santander with the high telephone charges, I figured that things had worked out for the best.
San Vicente de la Barquera is my “favoritest” town in Spain. If I could afford to retire someplace, it would be here. It’s interesting to note that people who live in Santander (which is one of the most popular seaside resort cities in Spain) come here to San Vicente for the weekend to get away from it all. But of the four major medieval fishing villages — Castro Urdiales, Laredo, Santander, and San Vicente — the latter still has that small town feel. I think it’s because the entire estuary system surrounding the town (which is formed by the confluence of three river systems ) has been a national park since 1998, before the major expansion of Spanish development.
The old castle still overlooks the town and parts of the original medieval fortified walls can be seen. On one side of the harbor are the muelles (wharves) with the fishing fleet, while on the other side is a wide esplanade with lovely palms and gardens.
After supper I just sat at a sidewalk café and watched the people stroll by.