Camino del Norte Day 15: A rambling walk to Santillana del Mar

October 15, 2015

Santander to Santillana del Mar: 8 miles

Today’s stage, from Santander to Santillana del Mar, measured about 37 kilometers (22 miles) and was described in the guidebook as being a significant amount of road walking through dreary terrain—“flat, paved, and little to see.”

After some discussion, Dale and I decided to skip a portion of this section by taking the train to the town of Torrelavega and then walk to Santillana del Mar from there, thus saving ourselves about 14 tough miles.  On several prior days, we’ve debated whether or not we should train or bus past less desirable portions of the trail, and in the past (Day 9, leaving Bilbao), we decided to walk it anyway, and it turned out to be a pretty good day.  Today, however, we opted to take the train for several reasons:

-This section was mostly pavement, with more to come in upcoming days.

-Ann and Heidi, who were on their vacation and going back to Germany in a few days, certainly didn’t want to walk 37 kilometers through less than ideal terrain, and we wanted to make the most of our time with them–they had quickly become an important part of our Camino.

-Of the nine people staying in the Santander albergue the night before, every single one of us overslept. We were supposed to be out by 8:00, but no one stirred until about 7:45, so it would have been very, very difficult to cover so many miles after getting such a late start.

Instead we had a leisurely breakfast and then found the train station, catching the 9:55 train to Torrelavega.  We then walked about 8 miles to Santillana del Mar, and this was quite an adventure.  We were off the trail, as the Camino doesn’t go through Torrelavega, and had to rely upon Heidi and Dale to navigate us to Santillana del Mar.  Ann and I hung back and followed their lead as they plotted a meandering, circuitous route through a forested park and various little towns.  It was fun to be “off the grid” with them, and in the end, despite our intentions for a leisurely day, we actually walked 8 miles.  On the plus side, Heidi did such a good job of navigating that she found some ponies along the way, and given my obsession with ponies, she earned all of her cookies back.

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Our unexpectedly scenic walk took us along a river
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Heidi and Ann taking a break at a playground we found along the way

As we walked together, we learned more about Heidi and Ann.  Heidi was born on the east side of Germany right before the wall fell, and she calls herself a “child of the GDR” (the German Democratic Republic, which was the title of the east German national government).  Ann on the other hand was born on the west side of the border.  I wondered aloud if this was why Ann was so sunny and optimistic while Heidi had a darker, sharper sense of humor.  While Ann felt this might be oversimplifying things, Heidi agreed that my observation was absolutely correct, joking that she was a product of East German deprivation.

 We talked more about Germany’s history, which is a topic that fascinates both Dale and me.  They acknowledged the fact that many people still experience German guilt because of Germany’s role in World War II and the Holocaust, but they stated that the country is facing its past and making amends.  We discussed some of America’s dark history as well but also explored the characteristics that make both of our countries great.
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We came across some excellent street art in some of the towns along our walk. We joked that this one represented the children of West Germany (the smiling girl–Ann) and East Germany (the sad girl–Heidi).
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Buen Camino, Heidi and Ann!

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Our destination, Santillana del Mar, was a charming town and one of my favorites on the Camino so far.  It’s a well-preserved, walled medieval village that draws thousands of visitors each year.  According to our guidebook, the city has only become a tourist attraction within the last 20 years, and before that cows occupied the ground floor of each home rather than souvenir shops.  The Altamira Caves are nearby; these contain some of the best preserved and most significant cave art in the world.  The caves are closed to visitors, but there is a museum that exhibits well-made copies of the artwork.

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Our walk into Santillana del Mar
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The medieval (12th century) church Colegiata de Santa Juliana
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A cobbled street in the heart of the medieval village
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An interesting peregrino water fountain featuring a goat nibbling at leaves
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A small church on the outskirts of the medieval village
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The Colegiata de Santa Juliana taken just after sunrise the next morning

We thoroughly enjoyed Santillana del Mar.  The town probably had too many gift shops, which detracted somewhat from the aura of all of the medieval buildings, but several of the shops were chocolaterias, so all is forgiven.  Ann and Heidi walked the extra miles to the Alta Mira Caves museum while I sat on my bunk bed writing, and Dale chatted with some of the other peregrinos.  We then went out for some delicious paella.  Another truly wonderful day.