Day 0 Brussels to Irun

Back in January, I took a few days off to go hiking in Portugal.  Brussels just doesn’t represent as far as things like ‘sun’, ‘ocean’, or ‘hills’ go, and with flights something like 15 euro each way, it was hard to say no.  While I was there and directly after getting somewhat off-trail and then sliding down a giant muddy mountain biking path on my ass, I found myself confronted by a couple from Cornwall, who weirdly had been sailing at the place I used to work at.  The guy explained that he was preparing to walk ‘the Camino’ in Spain in September.  I’d heard vaguely of this before—a couple of people I know have walked it, and Mr France also mentioned that it existed.  I said that I’d love to do something like that, but because of breaking my back twice, carrying equipment wasn’t possible for me.  Cornwall then said that he was only carrying 5-7kg, as there are pilgrim’s hostels (albergues) the whole way—no need to carry camping or cooking equipment!

A few months later I was writing my dissertation and day-dreaming about doing a hike afterwards, and this led pretty quickly to my booking flights to Spain, arranging to borrow a pack, and weeks later I found myself walking over the border between France and Spain.  Not just once, but three times, because I find the idea of walking to another country hysterically funny—not something you’d want to try in Australia!

I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly well prepared for the hike.  I’d found that there was a Camino along the coast, and decided to do 500km of it from Irun to Gijón (Xixón).  I downloaded a free map and some kind of free tourist book, bought an app (Wise Pilgrim) and would later download the Spanish-only Camino app from Eroski—but I didn’t really know what was going on, though given my history, felt competent to deal with whatever arose.

Physically, I’d just spent something like 18 months predominantly on my ass, researching/studying.  So in the three weeks between finishing my dissertation and heading off, I started doing a few hikes—I did about 9 in total, with the longest being 25km from Leuven to Wavre in Belgium.  Of course, there were no hills, and I would be walking a theoretical average of 25km a day on the Camino (it ended up being over 30km a day), but I kind of hoped my body would just deal with it—and I could take rest days if necessary.  I also asked one of the guys from school what I should do nutritionally in order to not completely wreck myself.  But that’s honestly all the preparation I did.  I think it would have been beneficial to do a little more, and definitely a lot more if you’re not used to hiking.  Most of the people I encountered on the Camino were in the 55+ category, and I think I only got away with the non-training I did because of my age.

As far as the equipment I had with me, I borrowed a 35-ish litre pack from a friend’s parents, bought some new trail-running shoes without holes in the soles (and made the switch to Salomon after 8 or so years with North Face shoes), and picked up a bit of equipment.  I took a first aid kit; raincoat for the bag; miniature wind-up torch for emergencies; some zip-lock bags for snacks and chargers (NB: do not take plastic shopping bags with you if you are staying in shared accommodation.  If you do, you deserve to get stabbed.  Don’t freaking do it!  Try using cloth bags instead—I use free bags I’ve been given by various English schools, and they do a great job.  Plastic bags keep people awake/awaken them because they make a hell of a lot of noise, and it’s inconsiderate as fuck.); a microfibre towel; a light sleeping bag (graded for 25 degrees Celsius…which it was not.  Most places had a blanket I could use though, and there was only one night where I ended up sleeping in extra clothing); a set of thermals to use as pjs/wear if it got cold; full waterproofs; a few singlets; a pair of running shorts;  zip-off/convertible hiking trousers; lots of socks of course; toiletries including some biodegradable/enviro-friendly soap which could be used equally for your body, plates or washing; a camera; an off-brand camelpak; a blow-up pillow; and a ‘treat’ in the from of my Kindle.  Over the course of my trip I lost one sock and broke a pair of sunnies (once I got to Madrid!).  Overall, with daily food and a lot of water I was carrying 10-12kg, which felt fine but is theoretically too much.  For the Camino you’re meant to aim for 10% of your body weight.  Had it posed a problem I was willing to shed pretty much everything.  I think it would have been useful to have a pair of sandals and a pillow-case, but otherwise I had everything I needed.

biarritz irunDay 0 was getting from Brussels to Irun.  I booked a flight with Ryanair to Biarritz, over the border in France.  It was only around 20km from Irun however, so I caught a train to Hendaya.  Of course, it wasn’t that easy (is it ever?!).  Inexplicably the train from near my place in Brussels decided not to run, and so I hit immediate panic stations.  The normal airport was shut down after the bombings of course, so I had to get to ‘South Brussels’ airport (Charleroi), which isn’t actually in Brussels at all.  I ended up catching a bus then a metro then a coach to get to the airport.  Security is way up at the airports of course, and this meant that there was a massive queue to get into Charleroi, with every car and every bus passenger being ID’d by military/security staff.  Then once I got off the bus, there was a line with security to get into the airport.  Then inside, I had clear normal security, which was packed and absolutely not moving—it was insanity.  I finally got through, and was running through the airport to my gate with my belt and toiletries in hand as I didn’t have the time to spare to put them back on/away.  I ran down a set of stairs and people got in my way, which somehow precipitated my falling down the stairs while they told me off (pro-tip: if someone is running in an airport, get the fuck out of their way.  It’s like they say, “today, you; tomorrow, me” ;)).  In the end, the only reason I made it only my plane was because it was delayed—I definitely would have missed it otherwise.

I ended up spending far too much time waiting for a bus in Biarritz, and after a few hours (and checking their website, which said nothing), gave up on that.  I headed to the train station instead, whereupon an elderly Frenchman asked what I was doing and where I was going.  I explained that I was doing the Camino del Norte, and he looked surprised, with an exclamation of “toute seule?!”.  Damn straight, by myself!

As mentioned, I arrived in Hendaya and then walked across the France-Spain border a few times, before finding my first albergue.  After a stroll through some nearby wetlands, I went and had ‘meal surprise’, not being able to order in Spanish and being eminently confused by the woman’s French, before preparing to leave in the morning.

Albergue number 1, in Irun.
Albergue number 1, in Irun.

My spend on the first day, all in euro of course, was 5 for the albergue, 8.50 for dinner, and 7 in the supermarket—plus travel, of course.  I didn’t record spend on a daily basis, but for me it averaged at about 30 euro.  It varied between about 15 per day all included, to 40 when I had a couple of recovery days in Santander and stayed at a pensión.

I’m going to write a series of posts about this trip, which may take me a little while (mainly because, as usual, I took farrrrrrrr too many photos).  Bear with me!

Ballena Loca: Irun to San Sebastián; San Sebastián to Getaria.

The first morning of the Camino del Norte did not bode well; the weather was exceedingly grumpy, and not afraid to show it.  Nonetheless I set off, following the somewhat random directions given by my GPS, until suddenly I spotted some people on a path near me.  They’d evidently spotted me, too, as the guy yelled out, “Camino?”.  I ran over to join them, at which point he followed up with “Deutschland?”.  He was so excited, too.  But nope.  This guy, Gunter, was an absolute mental case‐something which could be established despite the fact he spoke exclusively German.  That’s how much mental there was.  There was also a petite Japanese girl walking nearby, whom I’d spoken with at breakfast.  That was a strangely momentous breakfast, as it turned out; I met not only Rie, the Japanese girl, but also a Dutch lady by the name of Hennie.  I would bump into Hennie over the next several weeks, and walk with Rie for the next five days.

We lost Gunter pretty quickly, given we couldn’t actually communicate, and I started asking Rie questions about Spanish.  Namely, how I could talk about the shitty weather, because obviously that’s the most important point with which to start learning a language.  I should probably also add that Rie lives in Granada, so does speak Spanish (though I also broke out my very, very, very limited Japanese—any excuse!).

We were so involved in our ‘ducha’ and ‘duchasme’ that we didn’t realise when Rie lost her (not-even-slightly-necessary) hat.  Luckily, a French guy came steaming up from behind half an hour later, holding the cherished hat in his hands.  This guy was, again, a nutter: he was walking 40km every single day.  I mean, that’s a bit of an ask.  This guy was in probably his early to mid 60s, though very fit-looking.  And honestly, I don’t doubt that he did just as he said—you should have seen the pace he set!  He was one of I think four people I met who were doing 40km+ days, the other three being women, and Russian.  They were…rushin’ (I’m not even sorry).

Eventually went through a sweet little town around a river, Pasaia, where we paid the ferryman 80cents to cross.  I felt a bit like I was paying to traverse the River Styx, for some reason.  Perhaps it was the weather.

Basically I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing for the day, but Rie broke out a serious amount of paperwork, and plotted which albergues were open, and moreover, where we could stop for coffee.  We somehow accidentally walked past the intended albergue, which to be honest, I was totally okay with.  It would have been on the hill overlooking San Sebastián, and I was already at the point of swearing at hills—no way was I going to check into that albergue, walk down to the city to explore, and then head back up again.  Nope, nope, nope.

As it turned out, the hostel we stayed at was a few km past the city centre, at around the 31km mark from our starting point.  We then walked back into the city to check it out, and moreover, eat some amazing cheesecake at La Vina.  I also bought a Spanish phrasebook, after testing out and verifying that it was pocket-sized by stashing it in my trouser pocket (while declaring to the world that I promised I wasn’t stealing, cross my heart).

D1
Day one, according to my Google location history. (Note that this only works when my phone *isn’t* in airplane mode, so some days’ data is better than others.)

Day two was theoretically supposed to be from San Sebastián to Zarautz, though things didn’t turn out that way.  (Oooh, dramatic foreshadowing…!)

First thing in the morning, we had to tackle the hill out of San Sebastián.  It was not fun.  It was not fun at all.  It also started to get quite grey during our ascent, and it mizzled on and off for most of the morning.  Whenever it wasn’t raining however, I broke out my Spanish phrasebook, and started reading the grammar section.

Our destination for the day was Zarautz, with what was a bit of a shorter day than the preceding one.  However, upon reaching Zarautz we found that not only was the albergue closed until high season, but the normal youth hostel was booked out.  We bumped into a group of five who seemed to speak exclusively French, and so passed the message on.  They were a funny bunch.  But anyway, the lady at the youth hostel directed us to carry on to Getaria, another 4km away, where we would find an albergue de peregrinos.

By this point I was getting a little tired, and therefore a little silly.  So when I saw a sign about whales along the waterfront, I decided to start practising my Spanish.  Hence sentences like “quisiera viajar por ballena”, and “quiero comprar dos ballenas”.   Additionally, “esta cafe es necesaria por mi alma”.  (I would like to travel by whale; I want to buy two whales; this coffee is necessary for my soul.)  After a while, Rie just accepted it.

D2
Day two: San Sebastian to Zarautz, and then on to the albergue in Getaria.

Upon reaching the albergue, which was occupied by only us and another German guy (Gerald), we dressed our various wounds (by which I mean I already had blisters starting to appear in odd places), and then headed out for a huge meal.  I tried to ask the waitress what the Spanish word for ‘mermaid’ was.  I even drew a picture!  But, strangely, to no avail.

Quickly exploring Getaria, we headed back up to the hostel.  When we’d checked in, the lady obviously hadn’t liked me much.  So now I naturally started talking to her about whales, and she just thought I was crazy instead.  A definite improvement!

Rubia/Nordica: to Deba, Markina-Xemein, and Eskerika

Days three through five of the Camino took us from to Deba, thence to Markina-Xemein, Gernika and Eskerika.  It also took us to around the 150km mark of the walk, which was at that point by far the farthest I’d ever walked in a week.

Day 3: Getaria to Deba (18km)

We woke up in Getaria to see sunlight streaming through the stained glass—though admittedly, this didn’t last very long.  After I was finally ready, me being the one holding us up every morning, we set out for yet more hills.  Rie taught me how to say ‘fuck these hills’ in Spanish, which was obviously appreciated.  However we hadn’t made it very far when suddenly I saw a frog on the road.  Now, I was quickly getting used to this ‘animals on roads’ nonsense: the previous week, I’d seen my first-ever fox in real life.  Only to have to shovel it off the road with a giant stick, because it was distinctly dead.  The week before I’d seen my first-ever hedgehog—again flat.  And I’d seen my first-ever mole (as if they’re real animals!) while hiking out of Irun a couple of days beforehand.

This was a bit different, though.  For one, I’ve seen a frog before.  For two, the poor thing had been squished but was clearly still alive.  Its back legs had been crushed but it was still breathing.  Poor little froggy!  So I took off my pack and took a sharp rock from a fence, then bashed it over the head.  Oh my god it was so gross.  I then danced around making horrified sounds for a few seconds before looking again, only to see that blood had exploded out of its eyeballs—but it was still breathing.  So I had to hit it again, which was beyond horrible, and finally it did that straight-legged frog thing that dead frogs do in Disney cartoons.  Which, come to think about it, is pretty gross.

Shortly after this (relatively speaking), we reached the top of a big hill, only to find a playground!  So naturally we had a stretching session and I played on the swings.  Result!

Most of the rest of the day’s hike was fairly uneventful.  We eventually reached Deba, where yet again finding the albergue was a challenge.  We walked past one construction site a couple of times, with one particularly flirtatious Spanish guy.  There was also a lot of leering going on in the village, which I guess was the price of wearing shorts.

By this point I was pretty tired and Rie was bounding about the place going backwards and forwards, and so eventually I just sat down and waited for her decide which way we were going.  At which point I obviously lost her.  So after sulking for a few minutes, I broke out the Spanish phrasebook and started asking directions.  And I totally got there!  The evening’s albergue was in the train station, which was cool: and from my (assigned) bunk, I could see straight out the window, over the rails to the river.

After eating the best tortilla de patatas I encountered in Spain, I decided to try and have a nap.  You see, a Korean-Japanese guy had been assigned the bunk below me, and upon meeting he’d told me that he snores really badly, that I probably wouldn’t get any sleep, and that it was part of my Camino experience.

Fuck that guy.  Seriously.  Fuck that guy.

Grrr.  Anyway, so I was trying to have a nap—and I probably would have succeeded, had the self-same asshole not proceeded to stand right next to me and broadcast to the rest of the room.  He also travelled with plastic bags, and pulled other people’s plugs out of the wall (namely mine, which is how I knew).

Needless to say, I had almost no sleep that evening, despite wandering the halls of the albergue trying to find somewhere better—even the hallway was unsleepable.  And I was *not* a happy Laura.

d3
Day three was the day we walked on water.

Day 4: to Markina-Hemein (25km)

Okay, so for these blog posts, I took vocal notes on my phone as I was hiking.  This day’s notes started with an impassioned, “I didn’t sleep very much because of that fucking Korean man”.  And as such, it was mainly a blur.  We walked to Markina, about 25km, through on-and-off rain, especially as it got towards the middle of the day.

The albergue in Markina was in some kind of old convent.  As well as us, there was a Russian girl, and two nice Americans—Dan and Audrey, who had travelled around Australia (and here’s their blog post about it).  On the other hand, my ‘new best friend’ turned up again.  I asked the hospitalier if I could go in a different room, and he said that there was a back room, but that it would be cold.  I said that it wouldn’t be a problem, gaining myself the label ‘Nordica’.

In the end, I got the back room to myself, and curled up under several blankets for a solid ten hours’ sleep.  However, when I woke up it was super-creepy: it was just me in long cold room full of empty beds.  I was waiting for ghosts, or not being able to leave the room, or being attacked by a sock-puppet or something.  Then again, perhaps I’ve watched too much American Horror Story.

d4

Day 5: On to Eskerika (35km)

For day five, our intention was to walk to Gernika.  However as it turned out, the donativo albergue wasn’t open for the season yet, and who’s going to pay YHA prices?  As such, we decided to walk to Morga/Eskerika, a very hilly 35km from our starting point.  At around 20-25km I was absolutely dying.  We stopped for lunch where I had patatas con aioli while staring uncontrollably at Rie’s burger, and then set off again—but I lasted about a kilometre before needing to sit down.  I think Rie was getting quite fed up with me, but I’d eaten way too much to keep going at that point.  After a nice ten minute sit in the sun though, we set out once more.  The next 10km was a bit easier, albeit still rough.  We caught up to Gerald the German guy—we kept catching up to him every day, which doesn’t make any sense at all—and had a bit of a chat.  I also kept feeling guilty about making my poor character in Elder Scrolls Oblivion jump everywhere—oh the inhumanity!

Finally reaching Eskerika at the top of the hill, signs directed us back downhill to the albergue.  Why, Camino, why?!  But we made it there in the end, to the greetings of a very enthusiastic and very cute puppy.  The Russian girl from the night before was there, as was a group of German girls who we bumped into once after that if I remember correctly.  And happily, no snoring Korean guy.

We didn't do any circles, I just didn't have my phone on for a lot of the day.
We didn’t do any circles, I just didn’t have my phone on for a lot of the day.

PS. I’m sorry, but I’m going to be way too lazy to edit any of the photos for the Camino series.  If I try, I’ll end up still writing these posts next year!

Perros Peligrosos: Morga to Portugalete, Castro-Urdiales, and Islares.

Days 6 through 8 of my Camino del Norte saw some rest days, a lot of pintxos, and a number of friendly dogs.  It also saw Rie abandoning me to go back to Granada.

Day 6: Eskerika to Bilbao (30km)

d6

Waking up in our hostel in Morga/Eskerika, we set out for Bilbao, on what would be Rie and I’s last day together.  It was a somewhat hilly day, which started by ascending before rounding some hills and seeing some very Australia-esque landscapes.  It was quite muddy, and at one point I decided to make a nice bridge across some mud which Rie labelled ‘dangerous’.  Dangerous!  Geez.

In either case, day 6 was nowhere near as muddy as the day before.  Here we had bunched into the group of older Spanish and French people and done some wading through hectic mud.  The track had been subsumed by water and a thick layer of sludge, which was so slippery that it made the going quite difficult.  It was fun 😀  (After all, I have no particular aversion to being doused in mud.)

Just outside Bilbao we had one more uphill.  Rie took off, as we had a rhythm: I was faster downhill and on the flat, whereas she was faster going uphill.  So we spent a lot of time passing each other and then catching up, it worked very well.  Anyway at one resting point, there was a high chain link fence with a big bulldog behind it.  Naturally I said “hi puppy!” and completely lost my cool, and it trotted over to the fence for a pat.  Then another gigantic dog joined it, pushing in so that he could get in on the action.  They were the friendliest ever!  Walking away, I saw a sign saying “Caution! Guarded by dangerous dogs!”.

Upon reaching Bilbao,we had some final pintxos and coffee before going our separate ways: Rie was staying in town before heading out on the coach, while I was staying in the public donativo albergue overlooking the city, a few km further on.  I had my typical tortilla de patatas (somehow they never got old), and some kind of horrible deepfried zucchini brie-based thing.  It was feral.

Farewelling Rie and reaching the donativo, I was greeted by some resounding snores.  The lady was clearly asleep, so I checked myself in and got set up.  A little while later, a Dutch girl arrived and woke the lady up–but the Dutchie spoke no Spanish, and the lady no English, so I was roused to translate (!?!).  On the upside, the Dutch girl then went to go and buy me food, because I was pooped.

 

The Dutch girl eventually came back, clutching a bread roll and the all-important chocolate for me.  Then the three German girls who had been at the hostel in Eskerika that morning arrived, so we had a little chat despite my semi-conscious state.  Eventually, as I was about to eat my bread roll (so the chocolate, obviously) and go to sleep, the hospitalier Maria came into the room.  Nobody else understood what she was saying, somehow, and so she came up to me tapping her watch and saying something about a quarter of an hour.  As it turns out, Maria had made dinner for us!  And…we were all vegetarian.  Poor woman.  But I went to give her a hand in the kitchen, and we had a lovely communal dinner.

Day 7 and 8: Portugalete (14km)

d7

On day 7, I was so tired when I got up in the morning that I now find it hard to believe.  Just moving was difficult–but it’s only possible to stay in the non-private albergues for one night, and I sure as heck wasn’t retracing my steps.  As such I decided to walk to Portugalete, which was only 14km away.  That 14km took me around 5 hours, because I was completely exhausted.  As such there were a lot of coffee stops, and naturally, a lot of petting of friendly dogs.

There were no real adventures on this day, as the landscape was super boring.  It was mainly industrial, and the scenic highlight was probably an IKEA in the distance.

I did end up on the wrong path at one point because there was a signed choice to go left or right (by which I mean two yellow arrows pointing in opposite directions with no furthe rinformation…).  I chose left rather than right and so ended up walking along the interior rather than the river.  Apparently the latter was equally dull, though it had the upside of a World Heritage listed bridge.  Then again, it’s a bridge; who cares?

Arriving in Portugalete I headed straight for Bide Ona, a small family-owned hostel.  After speaking a somehow passable amount of Spanish, I went off to get the hugest of humungous meals.  Despite that, I was hungry a couple of hours later so went to get yet, more, food.  I don’t even know how it all fit into my body!

After an early night I woke up on day 8, and was still too tired to string a sentence together.  I decided to have a proper rest day, with no walking between cities.  As such I chilled, read a few books, ate another plate the size of my rib cage, and that’s about it.  Stopping for a day was odd in that the people who had started a day behind me started appearing, and the American couple Dan and Audrey turned up.

In the end, I’m glad I got the rest, because the next day would be epic.

Italianos: Portugalete to Islares

Day 9: Portugalete to Islares (45km)

d9

Well.  This was a huge day.

Unlike the Camino Frances, the Camino del Norte is not that well-trafficked.  As such it doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it that the Frances does.  Apparently, on the Frances, there are albergues around every 2km.  On the del Norte, the distances were much, much, much greater–and the fact that it wasn’t yet the ‘season’ meant that a lot of venues were closed.  As such there was nowhere to stay between Portugalete and Castro Urdiales, 37km further on.  Apparently there was a way to shave off 10km by walking along the coast rather than following the Camino, but that seemed a bit like cheating to me.  Plus, the coast was flat, and as it turns out, I’m a masochist when it comes to hilly interiors…!

The walk started off quite nicely.  About 14km in I reached the coast, which at this point I hadn’t seen since leaving Deba a few days previously.  I found a cute little pony about waist-high, and it tried to bite me.  I then met a Russian girl who was trying to find her fit-bit.  I stopped to help her search, let her use my phone so she could try calling it (?!), and she wasn’t even slightly polite.  There weren’t many friendly doggies, either, so overall not a great start to the day.

On the other hand, it was nice to be back by the ocean.  Though soon enough I was departing it once more, to head inland and up a ‘mountain’ (only 285m, I mean, ‘mountain’ is a bit of an overstatement).  Coming back down the other side, the landscape opened up into an absolutely beautiful valley, which continued all of the way to Castro-Urdiales.

I bumped into a French guy I’d met a few times already, who was distraught to learn that the route we were on wasn’t the shortcut  he’d been looking for.  He then sat and had pintxos with me.

By this time it was already the 30km point and I was feeling good, so started to look at my app once more.  It was only another 7km to Castro Urdiales, but I knew that the hostel there only had 15 beds, and that there were a lot more people than that vying for a spot.  The next albergue would be Islares.  At this point my hips were pretty sore (presumedly something to do with carrying a pack: it hurt after around 20km for the first few days, though my tolerance slowly grew and after about 10 days I didn’t feel it anymore), but I was still singing and dancing and generally Julie Andrews-ing up the place.  I decided to see how I felt when I reached C-U, and figure it out from there.

On the outskirts of C-U, a German girl appeared from absolutely nowhere.  I have no idea where she came from, but one moment the path was clear, and the next she was 100m in front of me.  There weren’t even any roads or paths she could have come from, so I’m assuming she had some kind of German magic.

This girl was taking things very slowly and so I chatted for her a while, then cruised along the gorgeous waterfront in the town.  I was starting to get pretty tired by this point, but figured that if felt that bad, then it was surely worse for the older people and the injured.  So I popped into the albergue, asked the hospitalier to let a few people know that I was going to the next town and hadn’t actually died trying to reach Castro Urdiales, and kept going.  Good deed for the year, complete!

The last 5km of the day’s hike, from around the 40km onwards, were unbelievably painful.  It had been asphalt around 95% of the day, my hips were now killing me, and my entire left leg was cramped up, meaning I was limping awkwardly.  At one point I laid down at the side of the road for a rest, and I realised that I hadn’t stopped for more than about 10 minutes for the entire day.  I also hadn’t had breakfast, having just eaten a few snacks on the road (and, of course, a tortilla de patatas).  I didn’t want my muscles to seize up, but figured that at this point that was a lost cause anyhow.

After nearly hitting me, a van pulled up just in front of me.  A guy in his mid-20s, who was simultaneously pasty (for a Spaniard) and sweating like he’d just been swallowed by a hot leather seat, exited and came scampering over.  He then started word-vomiting very fast Spanish, asked if I knew where I was and where I was going, and if I needed a lift anywhere.  Firstly, I was on a freaking mission.  Secondly, while I do regularly hitch-hike, I don’t get into cars with people who just randomly stop–if my thumb isn’t out, i’m not asking for a lift.  People who randomly stop might be good samaritans–or not.  Thirdly, this guy was making some intimate eye contact with my chest, which instilled no particular sense of safety.  Needless to say, I did not get into the van.

Eventually, the trail left the road, and reached a bit of rocky headland over the ocean.  There were sheep, and more sheep, and some sheep having a war with each other, and some sheep who were mainly confused to see a staggering Australian girl just busting into their flock.

Finally, finally I reached Islares, and hit the hostel soon afterwards.  A man, who turned out to be Italian, came running out of the building asking if I was a peregrina.  It turns out he wasn’t actually the hospitalier, just friendly.

The albergue was pretty basic, as many of them were, but this one was a bit special: it had a shower, which didn’t turn off after 30 seconds, and for which you could control the temperature.  That, my friends, is luxury.  I tried to use it on my munted leg, but was too tied up to be able to actually reach it within the confines of the shower.  Clearly the only option was to chop it off.

After my shower and a stretch, I went for a lie-down while I waited for the restaurant to start serving dinner (8pm is the usual time).  However, said lie-down was interrupted by a series of arrivals.  Firstly, Kieran from Perth–hereafter ‘Kieran Perkins’–came by.  I’d met him in Portugalete, and while he took the coastal track, he did it with some kind of Achilles injury.  What was he thinking?!  Then, another Italian guy who came running over.  “Laura! Laura!”–think Italian-levels of excitement, here–“Can you please translate this for us?”.  So I took a look at the back of the package he was holding out, and saw it was in English.  “Uhhhh….translate it into what, exactly?”  As it turns out, he just wasn’t too good at reading English, so essentially needed me to read it to him aloud.  He then invited me to dinner with he and the other Italian guy.

As it approached 8pm, I stumbled out of bed and started trying to limp to the door.  The first Italian–Paolo–saw, and started flinging his arms around in alarm.  It should probably be mentioned that this guy spoke only Italian.  “A-ha!” he goes, and starts rummaging through his pack.  He emerges triumphant, holding some anti-inflammatory cream.  He then pulled a ‘would you like?’ sort of expression, and mimed massaging.  Who was I to say no?  So now I’m in the albergue with some random middle-aged Italian guy–and it should probably mentioned that he was very good-looking–massaging my legs.  I don’t think there was an eyebrow in the place that wasn’t raised–but my goodness, it helped so much.  I started being able to walk again, and once the cream kicked in it was almost back to normal.  BRING ON THE SCANDAL!!!

I then headed to the restaurant, a further kilometre down the road (porque!!), with the two Italians (the other being Chico), and Kieran Perkins.  We had a nice dinner and I had a thoroughly deserved glass of wine.  Every time Paolo left the table, Chico would start trying to sell him to me, saying what a great guy he was and how good he was to women.  I was just shaking my head, while Kieran Perkins was laughing his socks off.

After eating an ice-cream by the seashore, we all headed back to the albergue.  Sadly things took a turn for the worse.  There was a little Austrian lady in the room who snored like you would not believe, and she was soon joined by two others.  Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep through the din–it was like being trapped in a room with the titanic hitting the iceberg.  Screeching and groaning, and LOUD.  After a few hours I gave up, dragged my mattress out to the reception area, and slept under the dining table.  Comfort beats class, every time.