Camino del Norte FIrst Days – Not the Perfect Start

August 27-28, 2015 again:

My first indication of the challenges ahead showed up when I got to DIA to fly out to Paris and on to my Camino start in Irun. I had put two Visa/debit cards in my pack, but of course could only find one of them. One was enough because I had transferred nearly $4000 to to a special travel account for my use over the next two months.

Since most of the Camino albergues do not take anything like a credit card, typically I get cash from the ATM machines in Spain . . . no problem.

Of course, there was so much going on before I left, I completely forgot the premiere phone call for travelers . . . notify your credit cards of your travel plans. The second card was found, and both worked in the ATM machines, but it took three days to get the cards to work in an actual credit card machine.

So here’s my summary of the highs and lows.  First the highs:

  1.  The flights were on time and so was I.
  2. The bus connection from Biarritz to Hendaye, France was smooth, and I got a front seat so no motion sickness.
  3. The walk across the bridge from Hendaye to Irun (Spain) was a piece of cakc
  4. My friend Ria AND the pensione room were waiting for me when I arrived.
This airport and backpack thing . . .

This airport and backpack thing . . .

The easy walk from one country to another

The easy walk from one country to another

Here are things that were . . . not so smooth:

  1.  My Visa/Debit card did not work in any credit card machines for anything (including food), despite three calls to my bank, though the bank was wonderful, as usual.
  2. The Paris airport told me IcelandAir lost my only checked piece of luggage, a bright orange art tube containing my hiking poles, swiss army knife and a bag of toiletries.  In fact, the tube got stuck on the airport conveyor belt, but it took nearly five hours to discover that little detail.  The “Lost Luggage” department called to tell me they had the tube and I was welcome to come back to Paris to pick it up.
  3. Though the walk across the bridge from France to Spain was a piece of cake, once I was in Irun, I had absolutely no clue how to get to my pensione, and after many sets of “helpful” directions, I found myself on a major highway, trying to cross with no crosswalks, so I could get “over there” into the old part of the city.  After an hour of wandering, I finally had a modicum of success, the largest part of which was that I did NOT get smashed by the traffic!

All I could think of as I hoped for a break in four lanes of traffic was that Ashley and Neil would NOT be pleased to get a phone call saying I hadn’t quite made it to this oh-so-difficult Camino path, and would not, in fact, begin at all.  Unlike my first Camino, when I feared I would be flattened by my backpack, this time, I would have been flattened WITH my backpack.

BUT, the dinner with Ria, risotto and wine (see risotto photo from last post) more than made up for this little bit of trouble, and Ria, knowing that my sticks were now lost in the bowels of the DeGaulle airport, had already scouted out a proper place to buy replacements!

Ria and her enormous salad!

Ria and her enormous salad!

Saturday, August 29, 2015.   Our first task was to replace my hiking poles, since I knew there was no way I would begin without a set.  Good thing.  The next order of business was to obtain the Camino Credenciale, the most important document on the Camino.  At each albergue, hotel, or pensione you must get the Credenciale stamped to prove you are actually walking The Way.  You can also obtain stamps at any church, bar, restaurant or tourist information office along the way. Once I get caught up a bit, I’ll post a photo of this year’s credenciale, and at this point, I have seven stamps, so I’ll have to get a second credencial 2/3 through the walk.

Finally we were ready to begin.  Our plan is, at least for the first week, to begin each day together, and since I am the tortoise and Ria is the hare, we’ll just meet at the albergue at the end of each day.  After a week, we’ll evaluate whether that plan will work well throughout the trip.  I think there will be large adjustments, but then each of us likes to walk alone anyway, so there should be no problem.  We already know we are not going to stick to the “stages” of the books written about this particular Camino, the del Norte.  Many of the stages are simply too long and/or too difficult for someone who isn’t a regular hiker to complete in one shot.  I picture 18-25km per day, but the books map out stages that are often as long as 30-40km at a time.  I get to write my own “book” and listen to my own body, not someone else’s.  I learned that lesson halfway through the last walk.

The first stretch, from Irun to Pasai Donibane (the Passage of San Juan) begins with a climb to Santuaria de Guadalupe, through a bamboo forest to  nearly 1700 feet up the mountain, and then a steep slide down to the little port city of Donibone San Juan.  Since we are deep in Basque country, every sign, every name of a place, is written in Castillian as well as in Basque language.  Lots of Tx’s and “oia” words, and just the signage is a vision around each corner.  The day is a glorious one, hot, sunny, not a cloud in the sky.  By the time we reach Guadalupe, it s 97 degrees and we still have a long way to go.  I am beginning to get the chills.  We look at one another, nod, and say, “Taxi.”

Now one of my dear friends said sternly before I left, only half kidding, “Joannah, this time . . . no hitchhiking, no taxis.”   Sorry, K.N. . . . at my age, I get to decide between pride and self-preservation.  Ria, my tough little German friend, was not about deal with heat stroke, hers or mine.  Finding a taxi in the middle of beautiful nowhere isn’t easy, but a couple of phone calls and one arrived,ready to take us to Donibane.  The view as we came down the mountain was spectacular, and the air-conditioning in the taxi didn’t hurt either.

First glimpse of the sea from the walk up to Guadalupe

First glimpse of the sea from the walk up to Guadalupe

The view into the port of Pasai Donibane

The view into the port of Pasai Donibane

Those 119 steps I wrote about yesterday brought us to our albergue, where a delightful Ana greeted us in her adorable and very exuberant introduction in English and Spanish interchangeably.  Fourteen pilgrims were soon settled in bunk beds, laundry washed and hung out to dry.

A very windy day for laundry

A very windy day for laundry

Down the 119 steps again to look for food, and when we finished a mediocre dinner in a spectacular seaside setting, we climbed 119 steps again and were ready for bed.  But sleep would have to wait.   More later . . .

About Woodswoman

Writer, educator, psychotherapist, woodswoman. Crave solitude and just walked the Camino de Santiago from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Long-term partner, Neil. Three grown kids, one traveling the world for a couple of years (see, and two in other countries . . . Thailand and Texas! One Golden Retrievers and two cats. Avid reader, looking for 10 more hours in each of my days.
This entry was posted in Albergues on the Camino, Camino Albergues, Camino de Santiago, Getting started and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Camino del Norte FIrst Days – Not the Perfect Start

  1. stringguru says:

    I love your no non-sense comments about what you could or couldn’t do. You unabashedly use a taxi when it is your needed option. Brava! One must know when it is time to give your bodyl a little relief.

  2. Jeanne Sheriff says:

    The adventure has begun!

    Bummer about your lost luggage. Hope that’s in your rear view mirror now.

    PS I love it that you will take taxis, ignore recommended stages, and etc. 🙂

  3. stringguru says:

    I forgot to mention I’m enjoying your pictures!

  4. J Bartholow says:

    Remind me to tell you about the dismal start to our Crete trip. – jb

  5. Eileen says:

    I love that you’re not above the occasional taxi; no one really loves a purist. While martyrs may go to heaven, here on earth much of our splendor is in the warts. They’re what keeps things interesting. Perhaps you need to write a Real Camino Handbook, which deals with things like crossing super-highways on foot — a huge and daunting problem, yet not a romantic one, so the literature ignores it. Walk on, Woods woman!

  6. Maggie says:

    ✨ I LOVE following you on your adventures!!!! Totally inspires me & helps me stay motivated for the day I’m doing it!!!!!

  7. Peggy Roberts says:

    Keep on truck’in, Joannah!

  8. annieh61 says:

    Wish I’d had your wonderful attitude on the Frances last year when I had to abandon three quarters of the way through from self-inflicted/infected feet. Go your away. Love it.

  9. Viviana says:

    Very happy to hear from you again and to know you are on the road. I am really keen to reading your posts.

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