Sunday, May 15, 2016

El Camino del Norte: Irun to San Sabastian

An overnight train took us to the French- Spanish border town of Irun in Basque Country where our hike officially started.

The air temperature was fresh and chilly as we arrived in a rain soaked landscape after an uncomfortable 11 hour train journey on reclining seats which seemed comfortable at first but as the night progressed we squirmed about in our seats in a fitful state of insomnia. It had taken us 3.5 days of planes and trains to get to this starting point and we were already exhausted.

During the last stages of our train ride we met another Camino hiker who didn't speak English but he smiled and shared some dried figs with us. We learned that he was Gabriel from Italy.Then Phillip from France hopped onto the train too, forming a merry bunch of "pilgrims " as the hikers are called.

Our shells which are the symbol of the trail are secured to our packs.

Once off the train the other two sped off into the distance never to be seen again (or so we thought), and we struggled to find the start of the trail, eventually coming across two Camino trail signs, each pointing in different directions. 

We picked the route that seemed to have the better trail markings thinking that it was the Camino Del Norte Route and immediately started climbing up steep mountainous terrain in the pouring rain.

The day took us up and over too many steep hills to count, past verdant farm lands where almost everyone had their own personal veggie garden and apple trees where in bloom all the way. 

We passed through very few villages but one in particular seemed a stronghold for independence from Spain.

 Everyone we encountered were super friendly and helpful even if we couldn't understand each other's language as many Basque people speak their own language, Euskara and not Spanish. 

As we went through one village a large 10 piece band was performing in the town square, blasting out a Basque version of "Sweet Home Alabama ". 

Onwards and upwards we went, high up into the mountains and did not encounter any other hikers. 

The trail was sodden with ruts in the jeep tracks filled with muddy water. As we descended on one of these tracks, I slipped on an area of slick clay mud and fell hard, the pain that ensued made me think I had broken either my knee or tibia and I lay in the mud trying to regroup while extreme pain seared through my being, thinking that there was a potential that our hike might be cut short on day one! Fortunately nothing was broken and I was able to continue on. 

Eventually we did come across a father-daughter duo of pilgrims, both named Renee. They marveled at meeting two other hikers on the Camino Vasco Del Interior or (Tunnel Route), an upcountry, interior trail from Irun that eventually joins up with the Camino Frances. It was at this point that we truly realized our mistake but fortunately there was another branch of the trail that rejoined the Camino Del Norte at Donostia (San Sebasti├ín). 

After hiking this trail for another couple of hours we reached the beachfront of Playa la Concha in this extraordinarily beautiful Basque city. 

No campsites were in evidence so we went around to all the hostels and Pensions but everything was booked out. Just as we were planning to stealth camp along the city edge inbetween some wet bushes in the pouring rain, we tried one last ditch effort to get shelter at an establishment which shall not be named by request from the man who works there as he allowed us in and let us sleep in an empty conference room for free including a shower and laundry. Once again I am encountering an abundance of human kindness in this walkabout and we experienced our first Camino Angel. Mucho Grascias to this wonderful human being.
Best item in our backpacks by far are our trekking umbrellas!


  1. I photographed a fundraising conference here recently. What a wonderful place for photos. I almost always hate being anywhere at 6am, but this breakfast event proved an exception. The manger and his staff from this event space NYC were extremely professional.

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog. We loved Basque Country during our hike and I'm happy that you enjoyed it too.