Sept. 8 – 12: Guernica to Castro Urdiales

Sept. 8: Guernica- 17 miles
Today we walk in rural countryside through forests and alongside flowing streams. It’s very hilly, but the sound of the rushing water is soothing and a stop at the the Zenarruza monastery provides a cool, peaceful place to rest.

We are heading towards what we think is the hotel, but once again, there is no signage. It’s been a long walk through the town and we’re hot, tired and very grateful to have arrived at Hotel Gernika. The classic hotel has an air of old world elegance and air conditioning! After showering, we enjoy a glass of wine in their beautiful solarium and wonder how we will be able to handle U.S. prices for a glass of wine, when we return, after paying anywhere from 1.60 to 3 euros here (exchange rate to U.S. dollar is almost equal).

Guernica is considered the spiritual center of the Basque Country and was the site of the aerial bombings of its civilians in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. In downtown Guernica, large black and white blowups of photos of the damaged city are front and center, serving as a reminder of the atrocities on that memorable day.

Sept. 9 – 10: Bilbao- 19 miles
From the city streets, we quickly find ourselves on an intense, narrow path through the woods. The ascents and descents are much more treacherous due to the slippery wet rocks and the mud. For miles, the smell of the eucalyptus trees is our only comfort and the only sound we can hear is our heavy breathing.

It wasn’t easy to find a mid price hotel in such a big city, so we splurge and stay at the Hotel Abando. Unlike all the other hotels to date, the staff hardly looks up when we arrive, is not very welcoming and is no help at all in finding us a laundromat. We are so happy to hear from our Danish friend, with an invitation to try a restaurant that has been recommended to him, we forget about our hotel experience. Our new mantra is “Es lo que es,”- it is what it is.

We spend most of our rest day at the Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, its cutting edge design also reflects in its modern art exhibits. The main exhibit entitled “Motion- Autos, Art, Architecture” celebrates forty of the most distinctive cars in relation to beauty, rarity and technical progress. My favorite part of the exhibit is a vision of the future of cities presented by a number of universities from across the world.


Sept. 11: Santurzi – 12-1/2 miles
The bad news: today’s walk is along a river, industrial areas and rundown towns. The good news: it’s all flat! Not having to worry about every step you take gives us more time to a relax and think.

As we enter Santurzi, the juxtaposition of the two sides of the city is startling. The old neighborhoods we’re walking through transcend into a couple of blocks of modern condos and lovely mansions before our eyes.

The UHR Palacio de Orio is magnificent, but we’re disappointed the rooms are rather plain. We take some time to explore its nooks and crannies and imagine it in its heyday.

Sept. 12: Castro Urdiales- 18-1/2 miles
The city streets soon lead to a walking/bike path. There’s not much to see, but we’re grateful it’s flat…for now. We follow the yellow arrows (the official Camino way markings) past a very unusual site; cows grazing on a vertical pasture so steep that it appears they are hanging on with their hooves. This keeps us entertained until we arrive on a boardwalk that follows along the Atlantic Ocean, the crashing waves lulling us into a walking rhythm. Then, it’s up 120 stone steps and then we’re looking down at the ocean.

We follow a shortcut to the road. Luckily, there’s little traffic and a small shoulder we can walk on, single file. The gas station we stop at does not sell water, but a kind gentleman hears our plight and insists we take his cold bottle of water. They say the Camino provides and today we are blessed with more than one example.

We’re all set to walk the short distance to our hotel. Our app says only one and a half miles, but it also says it will take 43 minutes. What?! We’re done! We stop at a bar, order two beers and ask the bartender to please call a taxi, while we sit outside and wait. A few minutes later, she runs out to tell us a bus will be arriving in three minutes right down then block that can take us. With stealth like precision, we dump the water out of our water bottles, fill them with beer and run for the bus.

It takes me a minute or two to realize that all the passengers at the front of the bus are discussing where our hotel is and where we should get off. We are told to exit, thank everyone and are escorted by a woman passenger, who insists on walking us to our destination, after her long shift at as a waitress. We part company, but not after hugs all around.

Castro Urdiales is a popular seaside resort on the Bay of Biscay. The Las Rocas Playa Hotel’s large windows frame the lovely white stucco, red tiled roofed homes that line the street to the beach, mostly second homes. The hotel’s tranquil ivory and beige color scheme reminds us that our walking for the day is almost done. Just a quick visit to the beach (with just enough time to get our legs wet), then we’re enjoying dinner in their dining room, looking out those big windows and wishing we could stay just a bit longer.
















Sept. 3 – 7: San Sebastián to Extebarria

Sept. 3-4: San Sebastián
It’s taken the usual 24 hours for me to get over the sudden panic that sets in when you don’t feel your jewelry on your hands or wrists, They’ve all been left home for safe keeping, along with nail polish and most of my makeup, It will take another day for me to settle into the “Camino me.”

San Sebastián is one of those cities blessed with a beach in its center, The Bay of Biscay, the lovely parks and the lively Old Town make it sparkle. The joy and exuberance of the locals overflows from the bars and restaurants into the streets, as families and friends gather, standing or sitting on steps, and children play quietly nearby. Nary a sweatsuit to be seen, there’s an air of sophistication in everyone’s dress, even down to the babies,

We choose to stay at the Hotel Distrito Oeste, since it’s closer to the Camino start and walking distance to the square. Located in a quiet neighborhood, it’s white, stark, minimalist style is relaxing. The staff is very friendly and accommodating, even taking the time to explain why the whole city is dressed in the colors of their favorite boat racing teams this weekend.

Sept. 5: Zarautz- 13.5 miles
One minute we are walking through a lovely neighborhood and all of a sudden we find ourselves on a single path in the woods going straight up! Every once in a while, the Bay of Biscay peeks out, but there’s only time for a quick glance, Our total focus is on navigating the ups and downs and the rocks and boulders. For what seems like hours, we are in a meditative state, only looking up to say “Buen Camino” (good walk) to other pilgrims as they pass by. Lunch is a much welcome respite and we enjoy dining with a pilgrim from Washington D.C.

Zarautz is a beach town and a surfing mecca in the Basque region. The Pension Tixki Polit is rather basic, but the staff overwhelms us when they agree to do our laundry, but will not accept payment. We settle on purchasing them cold Coca Colas and everyone is happy.

The hotel is located right on the Musika Plaza. Every town, regardless of size, has a plaza, which brings people together with food, drink and music. We are surprised the revelry has continued so late on a Monday night, until we’re told tomorrow is a holiday in celebration of the 500th anniversary of a famous voyage to the new world by an explorer of Basque origin.

Sept 6: Itziar- 12 miles
We breakfast with a young Danish man, who convinces us an app is better than the book we are relying on and kindly sets us up with a Camino travel app. We start the day on a walking path along the Atlantic Ocean, this time able to take in the incredible views and greet passersby with a smile and an “Hola” (hello/hi).

We head up, in and out of the woods, sometimes withj spectacular views of the ocean or verdant farmlands, whose squares of various colors of green beam in the sunlight. This is about the time I remember the saying we came up with on our last Camino- In Spain, what comes up must go up!

We share our joke with a couple from Ireland and find we are staying at the same hotel. With no sign outside, we cross our fingers and hope this first building at the beginning of town is our final destination. Turns out, it is the Hotel Kanala!

Again, though the rooms are rather plain, the lovely welcome we receive and the inviting bar and dining room make up for it. There’s nothing nearby, so we’re in for the night and dine with our new Irish friends.

We are surprised by the elegant meal, from the delicious amuse bouche we begin with to the end of the meal, where what looks like a small mint on a plate becomes a warm towel once the waiter pours a bit of hot water on it.

Sept. 7: Extebarria- 17 miles
The single path of moss covered rocks and the trees canopied above make it look like an enchanted forest. All day, it’s a gradual incline that just keeps inclining! The click of our hiking poles on the ground, an occasional rooster crow or a cow bell is all we hear.

When we ask a woman for directions to our hotel, she insists on walking us there, probably thinking these hot, tired peregrinos (pilgrims) need a break. We warmly thank her and come upon an incredible stone building in the countryside.

The Hotel Antsotegi was a 600 year old foundry, now renovated into a country inn. The massive stone walls, wooden beams and rustic furniture make you want to stay and relax there a while, but we had to be content with the festive dinner we shared with our new friends from Ireland and Denmark, who all happened to be staying there, too. Who knows if we’ll ever see each other again, but tonight, we’re a Camino family.

Walking the Walk, Again…

Photo Walking the WalkA favorite keepsake, a sign that shows the distance from Georgetown, Texas to Santiago, Spain- 4772 miles.

For thousands of years, pilgrims have traveled the ancient paths to the cathedral in Santiago, Spain, where the remains of St. James lay to rest. The Camino de Santiago de Compostela – St. James under a field of stars – evokes physical, spiritual and mystical qualities. 

Inspired by the 2011 movie “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen, we walked the Camino Frances, the most popular route that begins in France, in 2016 and 2018. 

Funny how, back in 2016, we didn’t understand why so many “crazy pilgrims” kept returning year after year. Now, here we are setting out to walk the Camino del Norte, along the northern coast. 

Where else could you find such simplicity, a peaceful rhythm to each day, the camaraderie of strangers and be given the opportunity to pray with your feet?