Camino del Norte

Day 10: Portugalete to Castro Uridales

Start: Portugalete
Finish: Castro Uridales
Distance: 35 kilometers (21.78 Miles)
Elevation Gain: 2694ft   Loss: 2628ft
Where I Received the Sello: Agua Viva Posada y Spa

Instead of leaving from Bilbao, we took a train and bypassed the route to Portugalete. It was an endless stretch of industry and uninspiring roads. After being settled in Bilbao for two days, I was personally eager to reach the sea.

On this particular stretch, there was still a bit of road walking, but the sky opened up as soon as we reached the coast. Basile and I grabbed a seat at a cafeteria in Pobeña for a quick snack. The Albergue was within reach, but my body wasn’t ready to stop walking. There was another Albergue located in Ontón and the route followed the bluffs the whole way.

My heart was screaming with joy to be wandering the trails along the cliffs with Basile. The sea crashed below us and I was lost in the endless horizon. The sun was high, the weather was warm, and my soul on fire with inspiration. I danced and sang and frolicked in the sun. I drank in its warmth while paying no attention to it gradually falling.

We were on the heels of Onton when we discovered signs pointing for the Albergue. It was situated off the road and had a straight view to the sea. I was so excited to swim in the shallow waters and enjoy the sunset from the shore. The Albergue had large letters painted on its white walls signaling our arrival. We made the final climb and I was so excited to recognize a few faces. The two dutch brothers I met in Pasaia who had walked through all of France and helped me with initial foot remedies. Johan, the extra smiley Korean I met on the trail after the Monastery who stopped to revel at the curling ferns with me. I pulled out our passports and introduced Basile to the people I knew, reminding him of the stories he’s already heard so he could finally place the faces.

As the hospitalero was checking in the two bicyclists from Finland, I started getting a pit in my stomach.

He doesn’t have any more beds, I thought.
He doesn’t have any more beds and we’re 16km from the next town.

I whispered my fears to Basile, but he assured me we would be okay. That’s when the hospitalero confirmed my dread. He had beds, but they had been reserved by six people who had yet to arrive. This was one of the rare times you were able to call ahead to the Albergue to reserve and I didn’t think to.

A lump shot up into my throat and threatened tears of the devastating kind.

I asked if I could wash my feet and he directed me to the bathroom. I closed the door behind me and immediately cried those pending tears of frustration.

Had I not stopped so long to pet the horses, or insisted on getting a coffee, or stopped to stare at the sea as many times as I did. If only I had kept going, I would have a bed to sleep in and would get to enjoy this small slice of sea and rest my feet as well as my bones and enjoy the family dinner while catching up with the friends I have made and genuinely missed along the way.

I washed my feet of the glue from the tape I had been using to keep my already painful blisters from becoming more of a problem. I bandaged them again to continue on.

I could see in the hospitalero’s eyes he felt bad for not having space for us. He offered a tent, but we didn’t have the proper bedding to withstand the cold of the night. He said we could wait to see if the pilgrims with the reservations arrived, but it was already 6pm. Waiting any longer meant possibly walking in the dark. The shortcut meant walking along the road and there was no way to be seen in the darkness.

He directed us to a spa that he insisted was an Albergue. I was hesitant to follow his advice, but Basile ended up calling to confirm they had room before we kept going. “Only 8km more,” he said, “The shortcut will take you straight there.”

When you’ve already committed in your mind to remain where you are, having to convince your body against it’s natural will to continue is one of the hardest feats.

Realizing we weren’t staying, a man asked if we were heading to the Albergue in Castro and warned us of a bed bug infestation. His accent was familiar to me and I asked where he was from.

“New York.”
“Ah! I’m from California. You’re the first American I’ve come across so far! It’s mostly been Europeans and Canadians.”
“I’ve met a couple Americans.”
“Really?!”
“Wait. No. They were Canadians who had moved to the US. I think you’re actually right.”

We both laughed and high-fived for having found each other in this tiny Albergue on the hill. He told me this was his second Camino, his first being the Frances. I told him the Norte was my first.

“Can I ask why you chose to do this one?”
Hesitant, I asked, “Can I be completely honest?”
“Sure.”
“My best friend died in a drowning accident last year and I felt like I needed to be near the sea. I wanted to be reminded of its beauty. His anniversary is on June 12 and I’ll be here on the Camino. It just felt right.”
“Well that’s about the most powerful reason I’ve heard.”
“Thank you for letting me be so honest.”
“Thank you for your honesty. I hope to see you again.”
“I have a feeling we will. The Camino seems to work that way.”
“Indeed it does. Godspeed.”

I went to the bathroom one more time. When I returned, a woman who wasn’t there earlier, but I had seen on the trail before had the same face of devastation after discovering there weren’t any more beds for her either. The way she hobbled in her boots meant she was in similar pain as me. The hospitalero offered the same alternatives, but she reached the same conclusion as we did. There was no other choice than to keep walking.

I offered to tend to her feet before we continued on together.

We lathered the hot spots from her boots in Vaseline and I fed her positive words of encouragement. The smell of dinner being prepared in the kitchen made me sad to have to be leaving, but I latched into my backpack and mentally prepared for the road ahead.

As we set off on foot, we climbed in elevation and The trail was meant to move through the hills, but we cut the journey in half by walking on the highway. It was a bit nerve-wracking being in the shoulder with no barrier of protection, but the views were beyond extraordinary.

Basile was moving much faster than our injured feet would allow, so we used the opportunity to slow ourselves and let the conversation between us to keep our minds elsewhere. She was a German woman who was recently granted her Australian citizenship after spending 15 years living there. She is a wanderer like me and she allowed me a chance to hear stories of her travels. South America, Africa, New Zealand. All the places I’ve dreamed of visiting for similar reasons as hers.

When we finally reached the peak of our highway climb, we were greeted with the first sight of Castro Uridales. It was all downhill from here until we reached the sparkling sea.

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