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We are in a beautiful coastal town called Castro Urdiales in the region of Cantabria. Today is a holiday/festival day of some sort. We are staying here an extra day because Natalie has what seems like bronchitis or strep throat. She was seen by a doctor at the hospital ER and given 3 Rx. She seems comfortable and on the mend. I expect we will be back walking in a day or so. It is a good opportunity to reflect and write a bit.
This blog is not working as I had hoped it would. It takes a long time to upload photos and also requires a strong reliable WiFi signal. WiFi is not as common as I had expected and even when we do find a connection it is intermittent and weak. So the best way to follow our journey on a more regular basis will be to join my Facebook page. I can post photos faster there.
I had also hoped that each day or so I’d have time to reflect and journal on this blog, posting an appropriate photo or video. As it turns out, the first weeks journey has been so grueling that we end up walking 10 or 12 hours a day. Then we have to find a place to stay. Sometimes there are Albergues, which are essentially large bunkhouses with 10 or 20 bunk beds tightly packed in together. It is hard to unpack your stuff and keep organized in such close quarters. We then take a shower which feels great under any circumstance. Sometimes the shower stalls are just a bit smaller than a phone booth! After that I will generally wash our clothes in a sink, ring them out and hang them somewhere to dry. Often laundry is still damp in the morning and it is not unusual to see pilgrims along the way with socks, underwear, even pants and shirts hanging off the outside of backpacks. Once we have a bed to sleep in, a shower, clean laundry, and a fresh change of clothing it’s time to find dinner. Usually it is the only real meal of the day so we are quite depleted and hungry. Sometimes there is are special Perrigrino (pilgrim) meals offered for a set price at an earlier time than the standard 9:30pm dinner time. These meals come with three courses and vary in quality from place to place. The important thing is that they are offered early because we are very hungry and also need to get some sleep. When an early meal is not available we have what are called pintxos (peen cho z) which are small sandwiches with an amazing variety of toppings ranging from squid drenched in it’s own ink to anchovies and egg. There are cheese selections, salmon, lots of tuna and many kinds of ham. The way it works in Spain is that people seem to gather in huge crowds between 4 & 8pm in these bars for pintxos and drinks, then quite suddenly the bars empty out within minutes, shops close and restaurants open for dinner. There is a fantastic sense of community since these bars and restaurants surround a town square of some kind. Children run freely, playing with each other among unleashed dogs. Grandparents sit conversing, and middle-aged men gather outside the bars for a cervesa (beer) and a chat. Each town or city has a palpable sense of close-knit, safe community. It is enviable, and I wonder how this might be duplicated in our culture.
By the time we’ve done all these basic daily tasks, it is 10 or 11pm. If there is an internet connection I might be able to post a photo or so on Facebook but pretty much we are exhausted and ready for sleep. The albergues are very loud at night with a great deal of snoring, snorting and movement. One pilgrim had it right. I asked if he slept well during the night. He said, “No one sleeps on the Camino, but I rested well.”
In Bilbao we stayed in a nice hotel for two nights. It felt like a great luxury compared to the albergues. I took everything out of my pack to dry it out from a week of sweat and humidity. We found a fluff and fold laundry service to really clean our clothes. The next day we visited the Guggenheim Museam then left the city with clean bodies, clothes and renewed vigor.
We have walked just over 100 miles and it’s been fantastic. Each and every step has meaning. Every step brings new sights, smells, sounds, and surprises. This is the adventure of a lifetime. We have been treated to a private tour of a thirteenth century Basilica, invited to sample ripe figs, pears, and apples from an old man’s garden, watched the sun rise from a 100 foot cliff over the ocean, and all kinds of daily surprises and joys. I will write more as I can.