114 flights of stairs
I started my walk right at 7am this morning. I walked through the city center and out of town. The first climb began at that point, and boy was it a climb. Only a few kilometers out of town began optical reward of doing the Camino Norte.
The scenery is breath taking. As you climb out of Irun, you soon see the Bay of Biscay in all its glory. With the lush forest and rugged terrain and the bay as a back drop, you soul becomes mesmerized and then calms to a sense of peace.
Then that piece is smashed against the rocks like crashing waves, when you begin to fatigue due to the steep climbs and high humidity. Fortunately, the temperature remained mild.
After several kilometers of elevation gain and ramblings up and down through forest, you are rewarded, with an even more rugged and dramatic descent into San Juan.
San Juan is an active shipping port nestled among the cliffs. Imagine old world Spain and the industrial ages colliding rather harmoniously.
to cross the the small bay you hop on a small ferry for a short 1 minute ride. To walk around the bay would add 8-10 completely unnecessary miles. Boarding was effortless, and was a mere .80 euro. However, because I am a dumb american and had yet to accumulate change or single euros, all I had was a 10 Euro bill, while everyone else was paying with pocket change. I was the last to board the board and went to hand my fare to the boat operator. Smugly he waved his hand and said, “ok”.
This is where cultural difference and language barrier collided. I took that to mean, keep your money.
I sat down, the ferry proceeded across the bay. Arriving on the dock, I was the third passenger off the boat. I threw on my pack and walked about 5 steps away, when I heard a very LOUD and ANGRY voice say, “HEY, NO!” I immediately turn around and see a waging finger, and a very aggressive operator yell, “YOU PAY!”
Oops. I apologize profusely. And hand him my 10 euro note. He hands me a fistful of euro coins. I apologize again and try to give him more as a courtesy for the misunderstanding. He waves me away, and turns around and walks away. I was highly embarrassed. I was certainly not trying to steal a ferry ride, particularly for less than a euro.
Head held low.i meekly walk away.
The ferry landed on in a village called Pasajes de San Pedro. And you immediately proceed to climb a set of stairs along the cliff side out of the village.
I’m 17 kilometers in at this point and pretty fatigued. Even having sat for only a short time, during the ascent, my legs began to cramp. The stairway is narrow and there are local hikers and a few piligrims behind me. If I stopped, they all had to stop as there was no room to pass. Ow, ow, ow, ow, was the cadence up the steep stairs. Making it to the top, I took a few minutes to rest and stretch. It seemed to help a bit, but it was evident, I was highly fatigued. I had another 7 kilometers to my destination for the evening, San Sebastián with nothing in between. The terrain was similar to the first half. Steep, ascent, partial descent, followed by a shorter ascent, and then a very steep descent.
I would be remiss not to include, i had moments of, “What the hell am I doing!”
About half way down the final descent, it became clear. The cities of Donostia and San Sebastians revealed themselves. Paradise by the sea. As I hobbled down the mountain will all forms of cramps and tired and strained muscles, I arrived in Donostia and made my way to the cities boardwalk by the sea. Being mid afternoon, the board walk and beach was crowded with walkers, cyclists, sun bathers and surfers. The waves were coming in in perfect curls, the surfers were pleased.
Leaving Donostia, you cross a river bridge separating the two cities. San Sebastián was more even more beautiful. With the beach even larger and more densely populated. The energy was vibrant and relaxing at the same time.
I made my way to my hotel. Pretty much walking baby steps by this point. When I arrive at the waterfront hotel, I’m sweaty, stinky tired, dehydrated and starving. I walk in the rather upscale only to experience what I could call, “Nearly a Pretty Woman” moment. I approach the front desk, and see a well heeled tall tan lean woman. She glances and me, and immediately looks down. Her body language was clear, she thought I was in the wrong place and she wasn’t going to speak to me.
Another young woman at the front desk, immediately pegged me as an american and in perfect english said, “Good afternoon, how may I help you.’
I said, “Thank you, I have a reservation.”
The young lady requested my passport, typed away on the computer, and said, “Yes Mr. Carver, I see you have prepaid for a room.”
To which the manager scoffed and walked away! I’m generally not one to make a scene, particularly knowing I did absolutely looked like hiker trash. But I REALLY wanted to say to the manager, “ Don’t assume by my appearance I am poor, you BITCH!”
But I refrained.
The hotel was quite lovely, having been built in the 1800’s. The lift (elevator) was a throw back to the time of elegance, retaining the double door system, and a capacity of two at best, and running up between the staircase of the hotel.
I quickly tended to my needs, shower, water, ibuprofen, and clean clothes. I walked out to the boardwalk to find food. I was shaky at that point, and would have eaten almost anything. I quickly found a beach side cafe with open seating, considering the hour, the offerings were that of bar food. It didn’t matter, I devoured my food in mere minutes. Which was immediately followed by that feeling of, I need to sleep RIGHT NOW.
I walked back to the hotel, The manager was at the front desk and still refused my existence. I smirked.
I laid down with the intention of taking an hour nap, even setting an alarm. 3.5 hours later, I wake up, realize it was dark in my room, and have that gut wrenching feeling we have all had, “WHAT DAY IS IT?!”
It was just after 9, and dusk. I had hoped to have a little beach time that evening, and enjoy the sun. Apparently my body required rest over sand and sun.
I was hungry again, but had a more pressing matter to attend to.
Embarking on the Camino, I knew I wanted to interm my dads ashes in a beautiful places in Spain. As soon as I walked into San Sebastián, I knew I would be leaving part of him behind.
In the failing light of a beautiful day, I walked down to the beach. I walked along the sea, and became immediately overwhelmed with emotion. Tearing trailing down my cheeks my thoughts raced. Is this the right place? Would he like it here? Am I doing the right thing? Should I keep his ashes and take then home with me.
Sorrow and mourning came flooding into the depths of my soul. “Why is this so hard?!”
My dad passed away in March. Surely sufficient time had passed that I would be able to undertake such an act without sobbing like a child. I was wrong.
I found a spot in the sand and wept. Then sobbed. Then wept. I took a picture of a panoramic picture of the beach and sent it to my loved ones at home. I asked them, “ Do you think he would like it hear?” I was having a very difficult time with rational thought.
My husband providing comfort in saying,
“I think so. Its beautiful. Near the water (that seemed to be important). One memory that you talk a lot about is your deep sea fishing trip with him..so near the ocean.”
My boyfriend, Sidebar (Im in a polyamorous relationship, I have a husband of nearly 20 years, and we have a boyfriend we have shared our lives with for 4.5 years) said, “Damn, yeah I know I’d be fine staying there. I didn’t know him but I bet he’d like it there. “
I received other feedback all with a resounding, “yes, its perfect”
Even with their reassurance, I struggled. I struggled to let him go. My father was a good man, but from childhood we had a strained relationship at best. As an adult, there were multiple instances in which years would pass without us speaking.
This part of the process, the letting go, was not only of letting him go, but also letting go of the pain, anger, anxiety, and disappointment I experienced having him as a father. I had to let this go.
I let time pass, and collected myself. I took him down to the sea, and let him go. I wept for a few minutes. Within moments, a wave of relief set upon my being.
The process proved to be hugely cathartic. I walked out of the water, grabbed my belonging from the beach and began to walk along the water. I had walked about 25 feet, when I see a family of 5 walking toward the water.
Much to my surprise, the father and mother disrobe and charge toward the water with their 3 children cheering and rooting them on! They plunge in waves receiving cheers and applause from their kids. Then the children disrobed and followed suit! It was quite a spectacle to behold considering the intensity of emotion I had been experience a few short minutes before. All i could do is laugh. And laugh.
The message was clear, life goes on, and there is happiness to be enjoyed.
I walked around the bustling nightlife along the boardwalk. The feeling of joy of those around was palpable.
I soon walked back to the hotel, calling it a night. More hiking to do tomorrow.
Photos can be found on my instagram @diverja