My series "girl hikes" aims to empower young women who wish to hike solo and travel differently.
In May I left Lisbon to join the green lands of the Basque country in Spain and hike the first section of the Camino del Norte, also known as the Northern way to Santiago de Compostela. I walked 250km over 14 days from Irùn to Santander, along with one golden rule: connect to nature and camping wild as much as I can.
Pilgrim Albergues or Camping, it's all about feeling safe.
The hiking journey of my own Camino de Santiago di Compostela starts in Irùn, a small town hidden away behind the Basque chain of mountains of the Western Pyrénées. The Basques proudly say that crossing the Basque mountains is like crossing a bridge to another world: nature expands while the weather becomes unpredictable.
Peaceful and happy are the first words that come to mind when I think of Irùn. After the invasive noise and vibrations of a trade capital city like Madrid, I can only relax into my new home for the day. Dropped at the corner of the village by a basque driver (carpooling), I am only a few feet away from the Municipal Albergue de Perigrimos (Pilgrim Hostel). It will open at 16:00, like most Pilgrim Albergues. I decide to enjoy the spare hours left in the quest of my first Spanish Tortilla meal. The café at the corner of the Albergue serves Bocadillos with green garnishing at affordable prices. It curiously remains one of the best places I ate vegetarian during the Camino walk.
The Municipal Albergue de Perigrimos de Irùn is a very special place because it is most Pilgrim’s first albergue. The volunteers are extremely nice. I receive my Pilgrim Passport and a small concha (shell) to hang at my backpack. I immediately feel safe. There is a camping in Hondarribia, 4,5km from Irùn, where I originally planned to stay. However it feels important to me to connect with fellow pilgrims the day before my first hiking day. I meet two lovely twin-sisters from Canada at the Albergue who offer to join them in the morning to start the walk. It gives me confidence and trust - I needed that.
© Photo credit by José Antonio Gil Martínez via Flickr.
IrùnIrun, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Albergue de Peregrinos de IrùnLesaca Kalea, 1, 20301 Irun, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Camping Jaizkibel in HondarribiaCamping Jaizkibel, Guadalupe etorbidea, 22, 20280 Hondarribia, Guipúzcoa, Spain
The first climb up
It's a heavy climb up in the morning from Irùn to Pasajes de San Juan. Yellow arrows, shells and signs at every corner and every turn make it (almost) impossible to get lost. No need for a guide or map, I trust the arrows and my two new Canadian friends. On this first day, hiking-guides recommend taking the high road up the mountains if you are a fit hiker, and the low road if you like it more peaceful. I take the low road and truly think I am on the high road for a good portion of the hike. The first day is about learning to find my pace, adjust my backpack, shoes and learn to walk with hiking poles. I soon find a new hiking partner in Monica. We have the same pace and enjoy the same breaks. No need to rush, it's not a race.
© Photo credit by Isabel Elwood.
Pasajes de San Juan, old town and river crossing
It's early afternoon when I arrive with Monica at Pasajes de San Juan. Pasajes de San Juan is a small rustique town that reminds me of old fishermen villages of Eastern China. Streets are short and narrow, shadowed by long facades. Shiny fishermen nests decorate the windows. Garlands of boots, buoy and marine accessories of all kinds are stretched above the sky, .... The town is so well preserved that the many decorations hung by proud villagers give it a slight thematic style straight out of Disneyland. We stretch our legs and tired feet at a local café, and soon embark on the second half of our journey as the ferry takes us to the other side of the river, near the Faro de Senokozulua.
© Photo credit by Isabel Elwood
© Photo credit by Visual Grafik via Flickr.
Faro de SenokozuluaDe Ondartxo, Paseo Ibilbidea, 2, 20110 Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Pasajes de San JuanLezo-Bide Kalea, 4, 20110 Pasai Donibane, Gipuzkoa, Spain
The last kilometres to San-Sebastian-Donastia
What follows leaves me and Monica breathless - the 1km of stairs up the mountain and the spectacular view above the ocean are the most beautiful moments of this first hiking day. The hike between Pasajes de San Juan and San-Sebastian is for sure the most beautiful hiking section of the Northern route! The Camino del Norte lives up to its expectations on those first days.
Some kilometres further we pass a White Castle, El Fuerte del Admirante, presiding proudly over the valley and deep waters. The perfect spot to watch your enemies in ancient times and preserve ownership of the land. Today the castle belongs to a private owner.
© Photo credit by Isabel Elwood
El Fuerte del Admirante on Monte UliaFaro Ibilbidea, 5, 20110 Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Climb to the top of Urgull hill in San SebastianUrgull, 20003 San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain
First camping night in the Albergue gardens
The Camino hike continues through dirt paths and stone bridges alongside the cliffs. After 22km and more, the continuous up-and-downs of the hike make me laugh out of exhaustion. My hiking poles find their purpose, while I decide to seek out my first camping spot for the night.
The Twelve Tribes Albergue is located 3,5 km before San-Sebastian-Donastia and is one gem of a place! Pilgrims and true-hikers are welcome to pitch their tent in the garden. The grass is lush and the earth is warm. Among all Campings, Hostels and Albergue places I have slept at since being a nomad, The Twelve Tribes remains my favourite place. The genuine smile and hospitality of the owners and twelve tribes community is heartwarming and memorable. While the community is religious, no emphasis is put on their belief system. The hosts are open-minded and compassionate. Dinner and breakfast is shared together in the dining area and prepared by kitchen staff volunteers. When I get home-made veggie burgers, I almost cry. The Albergue is run on free donations, although the warmth of this place goes beyond any value.
© Photo credit by Isabel Elwood.
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