Camino de Santiago: Northern Peregrino Way

Las Chicas transform into peregrinos, pilgrims, for a 10-day trek on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. We choose the northern route along the Atlantic coast of Spain. We seek cool weather, ocean and mountain views, and a route less traveled by other peregrinos.

As we travel the Camino, Las Chicas also celebrate the beginning of our second year in Spain! One year ago, we plunged into a hot and humid Barcelona, overwhelmed by a new culture and new language. To start our second year, we drink in the clean, cool air of northern Spain and explore the culture of the Basque people. Bai! (Yes!)

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In 814, the bones of Saint James were discovered in Compostela, Spain. Legend has it that Asturias King Alfonso II the Chaste was the first to travel in pilgrimage from Oviedo to see the recently discovered tomb of the Saint James, one of Jesus’ disciples.   As the kingdom of Asturias expanded across northern Spain, more Spanish pilgrims chose the northern route near the coast. It was safer than southern routes that passed through territory controlled by the Moors.

In 2010, about 18,000 people traveled the northern route for personal, religious, spiritual, sporty, or cultural reasons. In contrast, the Camino Francés had 190,000 pilgrims that year.

We walk this oldest northern route, stepping on some of the same paving stones as the medieval pilgrims. We carry all we need in our backpacks.

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Lisa climbs the medieval road leading out of Zarautz, yellow poncho sack handy.

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Thirsty pilgrims drink from frequent fountains along the Camino.

Like other peregrinos, we stay in albergues or pilgrim hostels along the route–some public and some private.

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Albergue in an old stone hermitage in Pasajes de San Juan.

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View from albergue in Orio, green kitchen building in foreground.

We meet Danes, Australians, Spaniards, French, Germans, and only two other Americans. We walk along the coast with our Irish (by way of Malaysia and China) companion for a day or so, Wei-sim.

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Mary and Wei-sim and sunflowers.

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The remains of an old aqueduct along the coast.

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We walk the steep streets of Orio, where we also spend 60 cents to ride the tourist Txu-Txu Trena to the beach!

Our first night in Irun, we bunk with two twenty-something  Spanish men, and two Brazilian men in their 50s. Backpack decorations show the Brazilian priorities: the scallop shell is a symbol of the pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, and Che Guevara symbolizes the revolutionary spirit in South America and in the Basque country (Pays Vasco) through which we walk.

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We have photocopied pages from our guidebook (to save grams), and we follow yellow arrows and signs to find our way each day.

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Our first official Camino marker.

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A fancy marker from Bilbao.

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Our Camino arrows on a sign in Euskara (Basque language) that means: Do Not Enter “Except Residents.” We took a walking path at the end of the road.

At villages along the route, we consume coffee, Spanish tortilla, bocadillos, or gelato depending on the time of day. The Spanish Menu del Dia sustains us: a 10-Euro meal served 2-4 pm on weekdays with first course, second course, desert and beverage. If Mary orders sidre (local cider), Txakoli (refreshing new white wine), or tinto (red wine), the waiter brings the whole bottle! Lisa’s agua con gas is limited to one small bottle.

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Our second night, we happen into Pasajes de San Juan on the night of their festival–San Juan de Sardinas which means free grilled sardines for all! Drink options include free red wine from a communal bottle with a special spout that you pour into your mouth, and the local mixture of Pepsi and red wine.We opt for cerveza and water.

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Town plaza decorations

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Sardine massacre

In the evenings, we study maps and lists in the albergues which always have different kilometers listed than our guidebook.

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We review the distance to lunch while having café con leche in the morning.

In the early part of our journey, we hit the beaches of Zarautz, Zumaia, Orio, and Deba.

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We watch a sunset surf lesson in Zumaia.

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We walk on dirt, stones, sidewalks, and asphalt, but sometimes the trail turns to mud.

We don’t mind the mud because every day we take in beautiful views of Basque country, with farm fields, forested hills, mountain peaks, and the ocean.

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Typical view after climbing a hill.

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Sellos (stamps) in our Credenciales reference albergues and churches along the Camino.

We love our time together in nature on the Camino. Buen Camino!

© 2014 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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