Days 11 through 14 of my Camino del Norte saw beaches, blisters, and my becoming smitten with an American couple.
Day 11: Tarrueza to San Miguel Meruelo (27km)
Day 11 had another very lazy start, with my not leaving the albergue until twenty past 8. I was still quite tired and sore, and not feeling especially motivated. However, I’d run out of chocolate, so clearly things were quickly becoming urgent.
I soon reached Laredo and stocked up on a lot, repeat a lot of chocolate and other snacks, then set out for the beachfront. My achilles were still killing me from the Islares walk, which was a good time. I’d stopped at a bench to pack all of my new goodies into my bag, when suddenly some people stopped on the path behind me. I turned around, to see Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market once more. They said that they were headed to Noja, which by this point was also my destination for the day: I really wasn’t feeling the 30km it would otherwise be. I’d rather do 35km the following day instead.
I trailed D&A along the waterfront, had a quick chat, then headed to the beach to catch a boat over to Santona. Once there I stopped in a restaurant for some well-deserved tortilla and coffee, and watched somewhat bemused as a sudden squall piped up and drenched a bunch of people who were running along the foreshore in kilts. I was still sitting in the cafe when D&A arrived a couple of boats later, and set off through the town. Santona was, by the way, exceedingly pretty, choc-full of natural beauty and artisanal stores.
Leaving town I reached a headland, and after this headland I would walk along some more beach and thereby reach Noja. However, things didn’t go according to plan. On the path over the headland I reached a fork in the path: one leading left and uphill, and the other leading right and downhill. I figured that the Camino is sadistic, and always forcing me to go uphill. So I figured I would out-psych the Camino and take the uphill path, rather than going down and then having to retrace my steps.
This was not the right choice.
I wound up in some pretty dense forest, with a distinct lack of the yellow markers indicating my trail. Instead I went up, and up, and up some more, and ended up accidentally crossing three small mountains. It was quite pretty, at least, and so good to be walking on proper ground rather than asphalt. Eventually I popped out again near Noja and started wending towards the town—where I encountered D&A just leaving. They’d stopped for a nice lunch and civilised drink or two while I’d been climbing accidental mountains, and were now heading onwards to San Miguel.
To be honest, I was in a lot of pain, but I’d also been seeing signs for an albergue in San Miguel for about the last 54km at this point, and was tempted to go and check it out. First, though—food. And wine. I headed into the town, found a bar, and had some tortilla and wine (bit of a change from coffee) while reading a book. It was all very civilised. Except for the book, that is; the book was rubbish.
Inexplicably, I decided to keep going, and so I hit the road once more. It was around another 8-9km to the albergue if I recall correctly, and by this point it felt as though my shoes were full of glass. Every step was agonising! My blisters were absolutely out of control, but despite that, I made it to the albergue. And I got to pat the cutest little grey puppy on the way!
Once I’d arrived, I had an incredible shower, some horribly flavourless food, chatted to Dan and Audrey, and had a fantastic night’s sleep.
Day 12: St Miguel to Santander (27km)
Getting ready in the morning, I sort of attached myself to Dan and Audrey without their permission, because by this point I’d decided that they were the best people ever, and a travel-inspiration for me. (Like I said at the top, I was smitten!) We stopped at Güemes for a coffee and a donut, then continued on to Santander.
We took an optional coastal rail after Galizano, which was beautiful. It was also very nice to once more hand over the navigation reins! To be honest I was tired, and my feet hurt so much it was incredible. A patch walking on sand saw my legs wobbling like mad! We got to catch another boat, though, so obviously that was excellent.
D&A had a pension booked, so they dropped me off near the albergue and gave me a towel. The towel in question had been left by somebody at the San Miguel albergue the day before, and we’d been asked to convey it up the path. As it turned out, the towel belonged to another American couple, but not one I appreciated quite so much. The woman started a conversation with me by saying that “it’s good, isn’t it—you don’t see many Blacks doing the Camino”. What the actual fuck, lady?
Also at the hostel were the Swedish family (sans Kieran Perkins, this time), and Hennie, who I hadn’t seen in about a week at this point. I wasn’t feeling that well in the evening so went to have eggs and chips—obviously healthfood—and retired quite early. Tell you what, after staying in that albergue, I know exactly how they make the creaky ship sound effects for pirate movies. It was amazingly loud. Also, it was dirty, and they inexplicably turned the WiFi off at 10pm until 2pm the next day. The inhumanity! That aside, though, the albergue was gross.
Given the state of my feet, I decided to stay in Santander for a couple of days to heal up a bit. I found a nearby Pension—Angelines—which, while somewhat dirty, was 24 euro a night, so headed there the next morning. Even though I arrived at about 9am, they let me check in just half an hour later, and it was indescribably good to have nothing to do all day but lie down.
Days 13 and 14: Bed to the restaurant and back, rinse and repeat (0.5km)
In keeping with the above, all I did for days 13 and 14 was lie down and eat (at a nearby cafe, where a huge meal including a bottle of wine was just 9 euro. I did lots of reading my book and chatting online, and put in my best effort to finish the bottle…though didn’t quite make it). There was lots of reading, taking long showers, watching Bear Grylls celebrity specials and catching up on John Oliver. Finally though, it was time to get back on track in the oh-so-literal sense. As such I planned to put in another big day for day 15, overshooting the usual stop and instead heading for Santillana del Mar, an unmissable medieval town.