Camino del Norte

Day 6: Deba to Markina

Start: 8:15am Deba
Finish: 17:35pm Markina
Distance: 25.6 kilometers (15.5 Miles)
Elevation Gain: 3809ft   Loss: 3540ft
See the route profile below from the Buen Camino App (Available on Apple & Android).
Each line represents 100m (1640ft of elevation).
Where I Received the Sello: Albergue de Peregrinos – Convento del Carmen

Guiseppe and I had been using Whatsapp to keep in touch while I stayed in San Sebastian. He asked me to meet him at the Albergue in Deba so we could continue walking together. After the companionship I found with Momo and Joel, I was happy to have some more company. I grabbed the next train out of the city and rode the 40 minutes to meet him. This meant skipping a few stages in the Camino, but for some reason I was feeling guilty for falling behind.

Pilgrims were pouring out of the Albergue when I arrived and Guiseppe was in high spirits. The small village of Deba was situated on a river inlet with a mountain directly across from it. We crossed the road to the only cafe that was open to grab a quick bite to eat before setting out for the day. I ordered a Nutella croissant of my dreams and downed the coffee without savoring it. I asked for a second croissant, wrapping this one in foil to go. I’ve found positive reinforcement to be a good trick in keeping me moving forward. Since my food is kept in my pack, I have to strip myself of my possessions to access the treats meaning respite from the weight, but a moment that should be saved for celebration.

As I bandaged my feet at the table, I paid special attention to the previous stint’s blisters which were now shriveled skin, but still red from irritation. I rubbed Vaseline on every imaginable hot spot that may arise while wearing my boots. Guiseppe made fun of my foot regimen and I shrugged his poking at me. He swore by this foot cream and I remembered a man from the Albergue in Irun recommending I pick up the same. I ignored his offer to use his ointment out of my own silly pride and instead continued rubbing Vaseline between my toes.

I was willing to try just about every recommendation in the Camino forums to avoid aching feet, but it felt like a losing battle. My Smartwool socks caused blisters on the first day, which goes against everything they’re designed to do. The two-sock combination seemed to create more irritation. Vaseline stops new blisters from forming but the aching spots in my boots still exist and are somehow amplified. I was already using Moleskine and Compeed. I swapped out my very worn insoles for a new pair with extra padding. It was partial foot fatigue from not being acclimated to these distances, but there was discomfort deep in the bones. My biggest fear was missing out on the experience because my feet were already in shambles.

Before I left, a friend of mine from Dublin who walked the Camino the previous month reminded me of the phases you go through:

The first 10 days are to acclimate your body. 10 days for your mind. The next 10 days are for your soul.

Day 6 and I was ready for my body to cooperate.

The morning started off rather serene. The elevation was a constant climb once we turned away from the sea, but there was a blanket of mist that hugged the rise and dips of the hillsides. The landscape was green and lush with flowers blooming. The path wound through forested areas and led us through pastures filled with horses and cattle. We came upon one where a group of donkeys stared at us curiously. I was the type to stop to pet every animal if it would let me, so I waited to be approached by one of them. A timid foal positioned itself a safe distance from me, but I could tell I was gaining its trust by remaining still. I reached my hand further between the wires until finally feeling the coarse hair on the tips of my fingers. Guiseppe was beaming watching the interaction, but I knew he was ready to continue. He was very much about the kilometers and I was about the moments in between, which made for us to be mismatched walking companions.

The day turned in to the most drastic and intense of all the days. When the cloud cover burned off, we were at the mercy of the stifling heat with nowhere to hide. The trail we were climbing was steep and paved with no trees lining the edges. The heat emanating from the cement filled my boots, suffocating my already susceptible feet. The blisters which had long lost their threads were likely forming new areas of irritation. There was a kind of aching on the balls of my feet—a stabbing sensation that made me regret each forward step. I checked our location and realized we still had 10km to go with no town between us or Markina to rest.

Because of the language barrier, or perhaps cultural differences, Guiseppe didn’t understand how much pain I was in. He was trying to be encouraging by telling me it wasn’t so bad. I felt insulted knowing my threshold for physical pain and how this was greatly exceeding it. When I finally reached a tree, I collapsed in the shade and removed everything from my body with haste. I couldn’t remember the last time I experienced pain of this intensity. My body was screaming and I could feel myself overheating, not only from the sun, but from my embarrassment and my frustration. I pulled off my boots, throwing them at my backpack, and unclipped my sandals. I was going to have to walk the rest of the way like this, socks strapped into my Tevas. There was nothing else I could do but keep going.

Thinking he was being helpful (and being the kind soul he is), Guiseppe began to carry my bag despite my insisting he didn’t. For no reason, I became angry that he wouldn’t let me work through this moment in my own way. I wanted to be left alone, but I knew he wouldn’t be leaving me even if I politely asked him to. I let him carry the backpack for all of five minutes when my sandal slipped on a patch of gravel, twisting my ankle and bringing my body to the trail. He rushed over to help me back up, but I refused his hand. Afraid being in sandals would cause an injury, I changed back into my boots and hauled my bag myself. Guiseppe and I walked in silence the rest of the way.

As we started the 6km descent into Markina, I was in tears from each step. Walking in sandals had failed because of the steep grade, so I was left to wear the boots I had no interest being in. Ready to give up entirely, we reached a field of horses. With tears still flowing from my eyes, I climbed the dirt embankment and met them at the wire fence. They were curious about my being there, but one, in particular, approached me willingly. I thought he was expecting food of some kind, but the moment he felt my hand stroke the space between his eyes, he leaned in for more love. He changed his position in relation to mine so I could reach other places on his body. I scratched behind his ears, and along his mighty jaw, I stroked his neck and the muscles connecting his torso to his legs. I cried more and more about the love being expressed. It’s like he knew I needed a moment of tenderness.

I remained there for at least thirty minutes—possibly more. To be completely honest, I lost all track of time as well as Guiseppe, but I needed to savor this interaction for as long as this being would allow. Realizing I had to continue if I wanted to secure a bed in the Albergue for the night. I had to literally pull my heart from this moment of shared intimacy. The tears wouldn’t stop streaming down my cheeks, but these were different now. It was no longer about the physical pain, but about the unparalleled beauty of finding love in places I never expected myself to be.

Below is a gallery of images taken by Guiseppe which I’m very grateful for having. He made sure I was taken care of and didn’t leave my side until he knew I was okay. His perspective of the conditions and evolution of the day are so very important to me to have included.

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