Day 9: Portugalete to Islares (45km)
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 I 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.