Sunday, September 6, 2015. Hotel Abando’s checkout time is noon, so we take our time, go out to have breakfast (remember that Ria found a place with FRIED EGGS and bacon!), pack up and follow the recommendations of our books and my Camino friend Larry. Take the Metro and save three hours of walking the industrial section of Bilbao. The metro can stop at Areeta, just across the river from Portugalete, a good place to begin walking. Disembarking in Areeta, we see Zanira, the young Dutch (Curacao-born) woman again, from Orio and Zumaia. She has just spent the three hours walking the above bleak section of Bilbao and is exhausted, especially since she really pushed it, probably past her limits, in the first week. Now she’s headed just for Portugalete to the Albergue there, which opens early, at 1:00 p.m. But she has to get there, and so do we, though we won’t stay.
A World Heritage bridge connects the two towns over the water, the Puenta Colganta de Portugalete, and the cost for just walking over the bridge is about as big as its name. 7 Euro. Seven . . . for walking over a bridge. Larry had told me there was a special price for pilgrims, so I ask. The woman looks at three of us traveling together for the moment, with our sticks and our huge backpacks and asked, “Oh, are you pilgrims?” No, lady, we just LIKE to walk around for fun with 20+ pounds on our backs and two metal legs to help us stay upright.
So the discounted, super special price for peregrinos is . . . wait for it . . . FIVE Euro. We pay the 1.70 Euro to take the water gondola across instead. Saves us all some potential nausea. We take photos instead, though they probably don’t do the bridge justice.
The walk from Portugalete to Pobeña is beautiful for the most part, and though it is “easy”, almost every inch of the 13 km. is on a walking and bicycling track that goes for miles, connecting Portugalete to the three or four towns west of it. I end up at Playa La Arena, another gorgeous view of the blue, blue sea, only a 20 minute walk to Pobeña, where Ria is waiting. She calls to say that the Albergue is “competo”, but that we have an opportunity to stay in a Casa Rural, a country house, sort of a bed and breakfast. They have three spaces. I say, “Take it.” The owner of the place will come to drive us to the Casa, called Casa Labeondo. The place is lovely, though our room is fairly spare, three twin beds squinched together, and a large, modern bathroom with a nice shower.
The owner, once he has taken our passports, stamped our credenciales and explains the keys, lets us know that in the morning, we have to take the bus back to Pobeña to connect with the Camino again. He suggests a dinner place for us, just a 20-minute walk down the hill. I sigh, but we clean up (we’re sharing our bedroom with an older French man named Thierry) and trudge, our feet already sore. The place serves hamburgers and pizzas, in so many varieties I can’t even read the menu. I order an ensalata mixta, always a safe choice.
Thierry is a smoker, and I had seen him on the path from Portugalete, always stopped when I passed him. I began to wonder whether he was a bit suspicious, but finally realized that he stops about every 20 minutes to have a cigarette. He is coughing at least as hard as I am, but for a different reason. As we three prepare for sleep, he and I hacking, he makes a sign with his fingers, one hand for me and one for him . . . “just shoot us!”
Monday, September 7, 2015. The night is easy, once we’re all asleep, and in the morning, we have our breakfast in the dining room of the Casa Labeonda and walk to the bus stop. Once we are back in Pobeña, we again look for the yellow arrows. Thierry is having a foot problem and he stays outside the Pobeña albergue, waiting for it to open early in the afternoon so he can stay put for another night. Ria and I go on the path at our separate paces, and I encounter another 100 stone steps up to the coastal path.
I’m really writing each of these days’ events separately, but they do sound like the same thing, don’t they? Beautiful blue skies, a raft of stone steps, and coastal walks above the sea with spectacular views. But that’s what many of these days will be about. Tough life, right? The weather is being kind . . . temperatures in the low 70’s, though soon into the walks, I’m sweating like I never do in Colorado. The exertion, even if it is not extreme, and the coastal humidity all add to the wetness of this walker.
I get to Castro Urdiales in time to send a small package to Santiago with another pound of unneeded things in it. I haven’t been using my iPod this time, and don’t need the external battery pack I used 0n the last Camino so there is no point in hauling it. The days are getting easier, but that cough is still making for a more tiring day than I would otherwise have. So every pound counts . . . and I keep reminding myself that I am not sending my pack ahead of me this time, as I did often on the Camino Frances.
Finding the Albergue is easy, and there are 16 places there. A group of walkers have lined up their packs in the order of their arrival . . . first come, first served, but the place doesn’t open for another 15 minutes. I see the Danish women, Inga and Bodil, and they tell me I am #16. I hope so. Some of the pilgrims on the other side of the building look like they are not ready for this lineup (or not aware of it).
Sure enough, I get to the registration table and am told that there are no more beds, but I could either have a mattress on the floor (after 9:30 tonight) or a tent outside. Or the hospitalero can call a pension for me. I have him do the latter. Walking back to the coastline to find my Pension La Marina, I also hope to spot a washer and dryer, a real laundry where I can actually clean my clothes and know they will be dry before I put them on.
My room, #9, four flights up, smells as though a dozen Spanish old men sat up and smoked an entire carton of cigarettes, and I know I can’t stay there. So I walk down the four flights, try to make the old man who owns the place understand “Fumare”, with some coughs just for emphasis. His wife comes into the conversation and asks (no English, but we make do) whether I’d like my money back. I say yes, and trudge back up the four flights to get my pack.
When I get to the second floor (Europeans call it the first floor, of course), she is waiting with a different key, and shows me to Room #1, pointing to her nose, telling me I can smell this room and see whether it is good. It is. Not sure why she didn’t give me this one in the first place. Maybe they all smoke. Bathroom and shower across the hall. My bedroom windows are open, but the “open” space isn’t really open to anything. Still, it’s better than the smoke, and after I get some coffee, pinxos, and do my laundry (ah, heaven to actually have a dryer), I return to my room and sleep for 10 hours. I feel MUCH better in the morning. More on that later. . .