Friday, October 2, 2015
Orio to Deba, 21 miles
Zumaia, mile 14: When we arrived at Santa Klara, she told us that the inn was full, and we almost burst into tears.
But let’s back up a bit. Miles 1-14 were great. After having a laughter-filled breakfast with our fellow peregrinos (pilgrims hiking the Camino), we left the albergue in Orio and hiked through the to port town of Zarautz. The paved path ran through the charming city center and then along the sea for over an hour. We played tag with several of the other hikers, chatting amiably as we passed one another. Even though it rained some, the morning went well, and we made very good time. The miles were flying by, and we realized that if we kept up our current pace we would arrive at our target town, Zumaia, by early afternoon, which would allow us extra time to rest and catch up. This idea was so appealing that it made us walk faster.
We faced several fairly steep ascents and descents after leaving Zarautz, but the walk through the mountains was incredibly beautiful. We frequently had views of the sea in the distance, and there were many scenic farmhouses, rustic seaside villages, and lots and lots of cows and horses and sheep and, to our utter delight, ponies. All could be seen idly munching the green grass to their hearts’ content. It was all so beautiful that it was almost heartbreaking. We knew that the trail would take us away from the coast in a few days, and so we ate it all up.
Ready to stop
Despite the beauty of it all, we were ready to stop by the time we reached Zumaia. At 14 miles, we had set a record for the longest distance we’d ever hiked. It was time to get off of our hurting feet.
We knew from the guidebook that the town’s albergue would likely be closed for the season, but there was a private hotel just outside of town that was open year round and welcomed hikers. The town of Zumaia was perched on the slope of a hill, and the hotel, called Santa Klara, was even higher.
It was quite a climb to get to Santa Klara; the driveway was actually a couple of switchbacks cutting through the steep hill. We walked the entire length and at the top found the two lovely multi-story stucco buildings that comprised Santa Klara Inn. The rooms had balconies that overlooked green pastures, and there were colorful flowers blooming everywhere. Paradise. We were hurting by this point and delighted to have finally arrived.
I rang the bell at the entrance, and a pleasant young girl open the door. I explained that Dale and I were peregrinos wanting a room. The pleasant young girl smiled sympathetically and in Spanish said something that I didn’t fully understand, but I got the gist—the rooms were booked by un grupo grande. She said it so agreeably, with just a hint of sympathy, that I could do nothing but smile back and acknowledge my understanding, but inside I felt nauseous. When I translated her message to Dale, he had a look of disbelief.
“Ask her what our options are.”
So I asked, and she responded, still smiling sympathetically, “Zumaia o Deba.”
One of the special characteristics of Camino del Norte is the fact that it’s so rural and pristine. There isn’t a lot of civilization interrupting the beauty of the mountains and the ocean. Unfortunately, the solitude this route offers can also be a disadvantage, especially when you’re trying to go by foot from shelter to shelter each day. On the Camino Francés, which is the most travelled Camino, there are many shelters and they can be found every 5-10 kilometers on the trail. On the Camino del Norte, not so much. And so our choices were to return to Zumaia, which we had just left behind—or should I say, below—us, or continue on to Deba, which was seven miles away. As tired as we were, these were both utterly awful choices.
We thanked the girl and then moved to the a shaded bench in the beautiful courtyard, both of us numb with fatigue and dismay. As we sat there pondering what to do next, a fellow peregrino from Germany named Stephan appeared at the top of the stairs, red-faced with the effort it took to climb the zig-zagging gauntlet of the driveway.
“They’re full,” we told him as he approached us. It was obvious from the look on his face that he was experiencing the same kick in the gut we’d felt a few minutes before. But all he said was, “The Danish woman is down below. Let me try to catch her before she comes all the way up here.”
It was too late; Helle, the woman from Denmark, had already come most of the way up, and so she and Stephan joined us in the courtyard to discuss the dilemma that was facing us all.
We all knew what we had to do, even though we didn’t want to say it out loud—we had to go forward. Going backward, downward, into Zumaia would have been demoralizing. So we all checked our guidebooks—Danish, German, English, and even, for good measure, Spanish, and confirmed that our next opportunity for housing wouldn’t come until we reached Deba.
We rested for a little while longer, Stephan offering us delicious cheese sandwiches from his stash, and Dale and I passed out Nuun tablets to replace our electrolytes (and to give us a psychogenic boost). Then we gritted our teeth and made our way back down that ridiculous driveway and turned west toward Deba, also mentally cursing the lovely people at Santa Klara for not putting a “No Vacancy” sign at the bottom of their entrance.
Getting through it
As you can see in the above diagram (read right to left because we’re hiking east to west), the remaining seven miles pretty much sucked, with one ascent and descent after another and un grande hill toward the end that seemed a wee bit cruel. But the four of us walked the remainder of the way together, joined by another hiker from Madrid, and we finally arrived in Deba around 8:00 PM. We checked into our hostel and went out for a celebratory dinner.
I’m not sure how much time we’ll spend with Stephan or Helle over the remainder of our hike, but there’s nothing like bonding over shared misery, and I will always think fondly of them and, oddly enough, of day two on the Camino del Norte.