June 4: Hondarriba to San Sebastian 28,472 steps!!
The morning started with a flurry of excitement as each one of us tried hard to imagine what was ahead and how we were going to do it. Backpacks packed, snacks stuffed hin and there in the side pockets along with a week's supply of water -- duffel bags packed with the "unessential" to be shipped by taxi to the next hotel -- poles in hand -- boots on -- this group is ready!! Meeting on the moot on the outside of the old section of town and off we go. Seven "pilgrims" in pursue of the Camino. The air was chilled, but the enthusiasm was running high. Nothing was going to stop this group!
After ceremonial pictures, the walk began. At first we "strolled" past homes and gardens on paved paths and roadways. The guiding light is the yellow arrows painted along the way. Note here: the Camino is a registered World Heritage site. Each route is protected by the Spanish government and monitored by Spanish Pilgrimage Confraternity. As one walks the route there are yellow arrows hand painted on trees, walls, roads, rock formations -- whatever is a more obvious item to mark the route. As one approaches an intersection or fork, the arrows mark the way. Now while that sounds as a fool proof method of directing millions of people in search of Santiago, it doesn't always work that well. The tree may have been cut down -- the road repaved -- sometimes it is unclear if there is even a change in road. The path may be a paved road, but more often than not it is a path leading off the road up or down a hill, through a farmer's field or a forest path cleared only by those walking through.
Back on the trail: The group left Hondarriba and after about a 2 kilometer walk left the paved roadway and headed up the hillside to the Santuario de Guadalupe, a 4.1 kilometer walk straight up hill! While the route was designed to be a religious experience with the stations of the cross strategically placed at about the normal need for a rest stop, the nervous excitement about being on the Camino put this design at a low priority. What was more important at the time was survival with a weighted pack on the back and the fear of losing our way. Up, up we went -- breathing getting harder, not from altitude, but physical strain of the new experience of being a pack mule. Reaching the Santuario was spectacular. The vista from the top of the hill was the port of Hondarriba in the valley and the surrounding hillsides washing down into the sea. It was Sunday, so the Santuario was in the middle of Mass. A small cafe immediately next door was a sight for sore eyes to the seven hot and thirsty "dirty pilgrims" - a name we have decided to adopt as our logo!!! The cafe was not excited to see us fearing that we would scare away the horde of people about to descend upon them as the Mass finished, so service was a quick "hi, goodbye!", but the nun next door was fabulous. She immediately came out to greet us and wish us well on the Camino. She stamped our Pilgrim Credentials with the official seal and gave us directions as to where to head next. After a round of cokes we were off again. This time we decided to separate into several groups depending on how fast or hard one wanted to walk. The next town was Pasajes de San Juan over 10.5 kilometers away and the going was only going to get tougher. The coast of Spain is very mountainous , which translate into "big hills -- both going up and down"!!
Several took off up the steeper section in hopes that it would eventually level out. The narrow path opened into a dirt road that twisted and turned for ever up and up the countryside. To the right the land sloped upward to the sky, to the left it descended into the bay below. Each view left one in awe and began the mental connection to the reason that one was out taking each step.
Walking can bring one to their knees, figuratively as well as in reality. Mile after mile with pack on the back gives a person plenty of time to question the reason they are doing such a venture. As the thoughts drift from the spiritual and the philosophical, the aches and pains announce themselves and can bring a strong person to tears.
The minutes turned into hours, the path always upward, the trail rocky and uneven, but the group was determined. Finally the descend into Pasagues de San Juan. Lunch break for the Dirty Pilgrims -- but alas on Sunday in a small town, no decent restaurant wants Dirty Pilgrims in their establishment. It is bad for business, so it is a few more kilometers, a ride on a ferry across the river and a little corner bar takes pity. A great meal of potato pie, bread and coke and the group is coming to life again. But there are 7 more kilometers to go all uphill!!!
By 7:30pm all had checked into the hotel in San Sebastian -- tired, dirty, hungry and ready to call it a day. The first one was over. The first one was definitely the hardest for those of us who had never walk the Camino before. The first one was a great teacher -- one does not need so much "stuff" -- get rid of the possessions -- they only weigh you down!!!
See the Camino has an effect whether you want it to or not. In just one day we have started the "shedding" process. Now it is true at this stage it is not philosophical or spiritual in nature -- it is pure survival -- the pack weights too much!!!
Michele & Jan on the Camino
Michele, Jan, Nancy and Mary on the Camino
Pilgrim Water Stop