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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Trans Cantabrica - Day 0 to 2

'My baby takes the morning train' sang Sheena Easton in her 1980 hit, 'Nine to Five'. I'll hazard a guess that whoever Ms Eason's 'baby' was, he - or maybe, perhaps, she didn't have to spend the night walking around St Pancras waiting for the 05:40 Eurostar to Paris. I feel I got to know the station's night-time declivities just a little too intimately.
It's a god-forsaken hour but it at least allow me to arrive in Paris with enough time to conduct my ritual derive across the city to one of the south-bound stations; this time Montparnasse where I caught the midday service to Irun, leaving at 12:23 and arriving 18:11.
Why take the train when I could have caught a plane and saved time and money. Well, (1) because I could and always do, because it's a much more civilised way to travel and I like to do slow and (2) because when you've added up trains/buses/tubes to the airport and two hour check-ins there really ain't much in it.

The first day isn't the hardest, that comes on day two or three or even later. On day one the body doesn't know what's hit it; wrenched from its quotidian routine in a classroom in the centre of Bath to the undulating coastline of the Basque Country with its heady Atlantic swell. The body obeys, straight away - it helps that it's been in this situation before, is always half-expecting it. It's only a 200 metre climb from Hondarriba to the Ermita de Guadelupe but the legs are protesting already. Don't fret, recalcitrant limbs, only another 38 days and 800km to go.
I chose to start the Trans Cantabrica hike with three days along the Camino de Norte for several reasons, the most pertinent being that it would serve as a brief 'warm up' for the trials and tribulations of the mountains - if, indeed, I get there. Back in the good old days of cricket, touring teams from Australia would play half-a-dozen matches against county sides as a pre-requisite to the first test. Alas, neither the Australians or I have that luxury nowadays: three days and then I turn inland towards the Montes Vascos.
There is a potential flaw in choosing the Camino del Norte. It's a far more intimate experience than the Camino Frances, it's all to easy to fall in with fellow conspirators and before you know it you're on the outskirts of Santiago.
But it's a good, well-marked path; all you to do is walk and follow the yellow arrow. Simple, isn't it?
Not on your nelly! I was hacking along at a fair speed (remember, this is day one, appearances can be deceptive) until a steep road took me back to seal level at Pasai, a narrow inlet that leads to a busy port. A ferry takes passengers across the river, a journey of only five minutes but enough time for a group of a dozen Basque senior citizens to regale us with a sea shanty. That doesn't happen on the ferry across Weymouth harbour.
I could sense Donostia-San Sebastian as being just around the next cove so I lowered my guard. Fatal mistake, a series of precipitous steps took me up the cliff and along a path that undulated frustratingly for another two to three hours. I lost my legs, they refused to perform as expected - with the stamina of a long-distance athlete - and stammered like an ageing freight train.
Which is perhaps what I've become. But you know what? All was forgotten on arriving in Donostia-San Sebastian. Shame my windowless room was more prison cell than cheap pension.  

Today's earworm: 'I should be so lucky' (in Spanish - 'Que tenga tanta suerte')

Faded glory. Isn't that the cliché always rolled out when describing seaside resorts which, according to some travel correspondents, have seen better days. On the evidence of today's walk through the city, Donostia-San Sebastian (so good they named it twice) has never had it so good. It has a splendid seafront that seems to stretch for miles and reminds me of that Donostia-San Sebastian of the Jurassic Coast - the people's republic of Weymouth. There's an old port, which, although not much of a bona-fide port nowadays, still looks and feels like a port: i.e. hasn't been sanitised for the dread heritage industry. And bars, so many effing bars, with so many desirous pintxos; don't talk to me about food porn.
A stiff stroll up to Monte Igueldo with its theme park that might have been dragged kicking and screaming from those dog-end years of the fifties, sixties and seventies (i.e. before history began). The Camino follows the main highway along the coast for a couple of km before deviating onto minor roads and paths of variable surface-quality, always undulating, never offering consistency.
Today was a stop-and-start day, I never got into a rhythm though I half-expected that. My rucksack was too low, rubbing on my hips but one of the (many) beauties of my little Berghaus baby is that you can do more things with straps than a dominatrix in her torture chamber. I pulled here, pulled there and before you can spell fandabidozi all was right with my posture; it's amazing what a difference it makes, for the remainder of the day my rucksack and I were one and the same thing: you couldn't see where one began and the other ended.
And that's it should be. Love me, love my rucksack.
An attempt to purchase a cod tortilla at a backwater inn were rebuffed with a simple 'no' so it was bananas all the way to Zarzautz. I was toddling along at my own pace when a fellow pilgrim caught me up, Manuel from Venezuela (via Madrid).
It's a difficult one, to walk alone or along with another(s). I like my own company and to be honest I'm a bit of misanthropist with mild narcissistic personality disorder, sometimes I'm not just a nice person to be with.
But you know what it's like when you meet a Venezuelan, you just have to start talking about Chavismo and politics, straight away: it's obligatorio.
So Manuel and I passed the five kilometres to Orio in deep conversation, a very pleasant way to distract me from creeping exhaustion (see what I mean about day two being harder than day one). Manuel is travelling to Santiago without money; if he were doing so on the Camino Frances I wouldn't rate his chances but on the Camino Norte I think he'll do it. He was going to check in to the albergue in Orio but it wasn't a donativo. I offered to pay for his bed but he wouldn't hear of it. No me preocupa, it didn't bother him; little seems to, he is far more liberated than me in my pensiones, carrying an expensive, very lightweight tent. We were about to take our leave of the albergue when Manuel asked the hospitalera, Xochitl, where she was from. When she said 'Nicaragua' and I said I was well-acquainted with her country, will be going there this Christmas, her eyes lit up. Cue invitations to befriend on Facebook and a quite emotional farewell buen camino; we were only there fifteen minutes.
I walked with Manuel to Zarzautz, we parted in the shade on the edge of time, I signed his Venezuelan flag and said I hoped to meet him somewhere along the road to Santiago. In some ways, my encounter with Manuel is one the little miracles that seem to happen - to me, at least - on the way to Santiago. He was a breath of fresh air, had such a refreshing attitude to life. And he laughed at my jokes, in Spanish. Nobody's ever done that before.
But Manuel and Xochitl posed a problem, they reminded me of the camaderie of the Camino Norte, set me wonderinf whether I shouldn't stick with it.
I hobbled the final kilometre to my hotel, where the room has windows. It's been a very hot day and the 23km I walked feels more like 33. Tomorrow it's 22km to Deba, a relatively short stage. But the forecast is for temperatures in the high twenties.
I shouldn't moan, but I do.

Today's earworm: 'Severina' by the Mission - for a long time I thought they were singing about 'Cellar Vino' which was, I think, an adjunct to Verdi's in Weymouth.

1 comment:

  1. Must say, I like it solitary too (either by bicycle or on foot), but it's wonderful to meet a kind natured person on one's travels. When I looked for a hotel after failing to find a rough spot for my bivi the other week, I just happened to aska tourist from Scotland if he knew a place, and had a breif but lovely chat. And the hotel owner didn't mind being woken at 11:30pm and letting my soaked self in!

    Anyway, I'm taking Spanish classes just now. Oh to be able to make a joke in castillian!
    Best, Kieron