Camino del Norte: Day 1, Irun to San Sebastian

Off to a slow start on this blog, but we are getting the hang of it! In order to catch up on the last week of things since we’ve been abroad, I’ve made the executive decision to fast forward through London and Paris with a few short paragraphs and then get right to the Camino. So here we go!!

We arrived in London last Friday exhausted, having gotten no sleep on the flight over and driving in rush hour traffic to get to our air b and b. After trying to recover the first night (we were super unsuccessful and ended up not falling asleep until 4am and then not waking up until 3pm, wasting almost the whole day!) we did make it to Camden Market which had quirky shops, lots of good food to eat (Chinese pork buns), and had an eclectic art style throughout the few street blocks it covered. After the market we got on the underground and headed to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and few other touristy things I had never seen. I do have to say that what I was most impressed with was how great London’s public transportation was, oh and those funny hats the guards of the palace have to wear, love ‘em.

However, the absolute best part of London was being able to see Amos Lee, my favorite singer, at Union Chapel. The venue was probably the most beautiful and spectacular place I had ever been for a concert. Giant stain glass windows were the backdrop for the performance and the acoustics were phenomenal. I also got a kick out of everyone sitting and drinking out of mugs of tea throughout the concert. Basically, my most ideal situation: beautiful lighting, tea, and Amos Lee.

To wrap up London (or the UK I guess), we ended up surprising some of Scott’s family in the midlands. His cousin Peter was running in a Tough Mudder race at the Belvoir Castle and his aunt and uncle were going to be there to watch him, so we showed up unannounced and had a lovely afternoon watching people exert themselves in painful activities.

Then we headed to Paris. So here’s the deal, Paris is beautiful. There is so much history, it’s the city of love, and it’s got a whimsical expectation to it. I was not the biggest fan. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and eating as many chocolate croissants as I could stuff in my face, but it was just another big city. We did have a lovely time there and I especially liked sitting in many of their beautiful parks drinking wine and eating a baguette, cheese, and fancy meats while fending off vicious pigeons. I can see myself in several years coming back to Paris when I have more money to spend on all the luxurious food. But for now, overall, I feel like Paris wasn’t exactly for me as a broke traveler.

NOW to the moment we’ve all been waiting for, me catching you up to yesterday and today! Yesterday we took the train from Paris to Hendaye in order to start the Camino del Norte. For those of you unfamiliar with the Camino, I’ll give you a brief overview, but I highly recommend googling for yourselves and watching the movie, “The Way.” Anyways, the Camino is considered a Catholic Pilgrimage going many miles by foot to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Now-a-days people can also do it just for the adventure. There are several different routes, the most famous being the French route. We are doing the second or third most famous, depending on who you ask, del Norte. Camino del Norte starts in Irun and spans across the coastal line until the western part of Spain where it then joins the French way to finish up the journey. It is said to be one of the harder caminos (and so far, we are convinced it is) but also one of the most beautiful as it follows the ocean most of the way. The distance we are supposed to cover is just about 825km or 500+ miles. Along the way you meet many different people from all countries and all walks of life. You stay in Albergues, which are basically hostels for pilgrims, and carry whatever you will need for the duration of your travels on your back.

Okay, so now you have a brief understanding about what this all about let’s talk about yesterday. After arriving in Hendaye, France we walked over a bridge and found ourselves in Irun, Spain, where our journey was supposed to begin. Our first mission was to find some food and our albergue. Because the albergue didn’t open until 4pm we had some time and were able to grab some food from a grocery store. MUCH cheaper than France, thank goodness. While snacking, a guy approached us who noticed our packs and told us he too was doing the camino, but the most important thing this guy told us was that there was a service where you could send a package of all your extra weight in your pack to the end of the camino and pick it up in Santiago. This was a revelation for us. Just the short walk around Irun, our backs were aching, and we were seriously questioning if we were going to be able to carry all this weight 825km.

So there we were quickly sprawling all of the contents of our packs onto a random sidewalk in Irun, looking like some homeless people with our few belongings trying to cut out any weight we could. I got rid of cans of sunscreen, a few extra heavy clothes and swimsuits, and some miscellaneous toiletries I didn’t see myself using for the next month. Scott got rid of just about everything and anything he could, which was good because he needed to be able to fit his CPAP into his backpack. After we sent off our stuff to a guy name Ivar (I’ll link his website at the bottom) we were about 10-15 pounds lighter each, which may not sound like a lot, but carrying that for 10-20 miles a day for 30+ days will take it’s toll.

Once the albergue opened we met the host and he gave us our credential. The camino credential is super important, you can not replace one if it is lost, and you need to present it at the end of your camino with stamps from each city you stayed at in order to be granted your certificate of completion. You can often get one in your home country, but the US office never got back to us, so we just picked it up in Irun. After that we were showed to our bunks and got settled.

Alright, I’m going to be completely honest here and say I was NOT about it after our first night in the albergue, Jakobi. I got weird feelings from the people in the albergue, couldn’t understand one of the hosts at all, totally didn’t feel like it was my place, and was kind of turned off to the whole idea of the camino. Basically, I was ready to head to the beaches in Barcelona for month instead of doing this treacherous hike. I even searched for some places to stay! But, alas we made it through the awkward night and woke up early to start our 26km to San Sebastian.

Still hesitant as we started our hike this morning we talked about possible plans of action if the camino wasn’t for us. But as we hiked, we got into a rhythm, met some great people, and really tested our bodies. It feels good to not have to focus on anything other than walking and small chit chat. The views for our hike were gorgeous. Lots of lush greenery, dense forests, and beautiful sea coves. As we hiked, we passed through the town of Pasia, a quaint coastal town with Spanish architecture and cobble stone paths. If we had time, we definitely could’ve spent some time there. Which I think is going to be an ongoing sentiment as we do this hike.

Once we got to San Sebastian, I think my legs knew that the day was almost over, and they started to ache. I felt all the blisters on my toes that had formed throughout the day but ceased to acknowledge them until now. But we had made it through the first day and we were happy and felt accomplished. The ocean front town is so perfect, if the weather was nice, we would’ve jumped into the ocean and spent some time on the beach. Our albergue for the night, Juvenil Ondarreta, was at the edge of town all the way past the city center. Once we made it there, we knew this was going to be one of the nicer places we would stay. The accommodation is in a great neighborhood, the facilities are clean and extensive, and our like dorm of 6 people had the nicest folks from Germany. We did some shopping for dinner and ate delicious Tapas at a local bar. Finally, we felt like this was something potentially worth doing. Now the next question is, will our bodies make it? We are so sore and tired, I’m not sure that 30 some odd days is enough to complete this journey, but that’s all we gave ourselves, so we are going to do our best and try. There might have to be some improvisations along the way, but at least we aren’t completely turned off to the idea anymore.

Well… maybe check in with us tomorrow, our bodies might be telling us otherwise!

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