From Markina-Xemein to Cóbreces
Markina-Xemein - Gernika (25km) - Lezama (20km) - Bilbao (12km) - Pobeña (25km) - Islares (26km) - Santoña (23.1km) - San Miguel de Meruelo (18km) - Santander (24km) - Viveda (25km) - Cóbreces (22km)
Apologies for the delay in blog update, wifi has been a bit thin on the ground! And even when internet is available, I've been reluctant to spend my free time on my phone as there are always so many interesting people around! I'm still walking with Rowena, who I met in Irun, so anytime I use 'we', it is referring to myself and Ro!
Most exciting news first: I've now done over 1,000km! Current figure is somewhere around 1070km, so I've only got about 600km left to walk, which will be done in a few weeks!
Day 47: Overlooking the 5km beach in Laredo
I feel it would be most appropriate to kick things off by giving a summary of the weather, given the extreme variety I've been dealing with! We've had quite a few days of rain that is so relentless and torrential that our boots and socks were completely and utterly soaked through, and every step we took was accompanied by a squelch. Two days in particular were so unbelievably wet that whenever we took a break (whether in a cafe or just on a wall in whatever shelter was available), we would peel off our socks and wring them out, and pour the water out of boots! After wet days like this, our boots would take several days to fully dry out (as long as there wasn't more rain), and the dormitory or room we found ourselves in would be covered in clothes hung from anything available, in an attempt to dry them for the next day! A by-product of this weather is that a lot of the paths became incredibly muddy and slippery, and on many an occasion my walking poles saved me from a muddy downfall.
Another aspect of the last ten days in which there has been a wide variety is sleeping situations. There are many more pilgrims currently on the way than can be comfortably accommodated in the albergues (hostels for pilgrims), which means it is quite common to find more occupants than beds in a room! In Lezama there were six people sleeping on the floor, tonight in Cóbreces there are two people sleeping on the floor, but probably the most extreme situation was Pobeña... The dormitory of the albergue, wonderfully situated by a fantastic beach, was completely full but they expect this for the summer season so have substantial tents set up in the garden (more like very small marquees). I found myself sleeping in one of these. They have mattresses for eight people, but I was there on a particularly busy night... There were two people on one mattress and four people in the gaps between the mattresses. As if all the bodies weren't taking up enough space, the possessions of all 13 people also had to fit in, so there wasn't a square inch of space free... That night, I ended up spooning my rucksack. An unintentional psychology study was also conducted that night, the title of which is 'An investigation into the amount of time it takes for a fit of hysterical giggles to spread around a tent of 13 people.' Answer: not much time at all...
We've also experienced a broad selection of methods of transportation and terrain: there's been quiet country lanes, fast highways, soft footpaths, sandy beaches, a two-minute train ride (in order to avoid getting squashed on a railway bridge), and two more boats. One of these boats picked us up right from the beach, dropping the gangplank onto the sand. It's safe to say that the summer holiday vibes from the beach resorts that day really rubbed off on us: the afternoon was spent soaking up sun rays on the seafront...
The route has taken us through two major Spanish cities in the last ten days. The first was Bilbao. For our night here, Ro and I decided to 'splash out' (in reality only spending €20 each) and treat ourselves to a night in a pensión. We found ourselves a twin room in an apartment in the beautiful old town of Bilbao, complete with a balcony overlooking the narrow and busy streets below! We played tourist for the afternoon, taking photos by the Guggenheim flower dog and spider sculpture, and buying some exquisite ice cream... Our second city was Santander. This wasn't quite as blissful an experience... Despite paying €10 (expensive for a municipal albergue, one run by the council), the accommodation was far from enjoyable... No shower curtains in the bathroom, no light switches in the huge dormitory, beds crammed into every available space... We were pretty happy to be gone in the morning!
All-in-all, it's been a very varied and full-on week and a half!