As we traveled on the Camino del Norte, we really began to sync with the Spanish culture. It was on this part of our camino that we were affected by “Siesta,” a break in the day when Spanish businesses close for 2-2.5 hours, around 2-4PM. This almost always lined up with our arrival into the final stop, where we planned to stay for the night. And while Siesta seems like the coolest concept ever, when you are walking the camino and you arrive to a small beach-town, starving, you get quite cranky that no stores are open, or that restaurants aren’t serving food until 8PM. This is when we started to pre-plan our days by stopping at grocery stores to stock up on emergency meals and snacks.
On the French way (Camino Frances) it’s like Disneyland. There are SO many pilgrims (They say 700 start daily) that you never run into the problem of something not being open or not being able to find food. Plus, the path is much more flat, you aren’t working as hard from one place to the next.
There are also a lot more paved roads to walk on on the Camino del Norte. I was surprised how many miles were on the shoulder of a highway with cars speeding by. You were either cliff-side, enjoying teal-colored water or you were walking along a road hoping the motorists wouldn’t hit you. There was never an in-between. This is when we really started experiencing aches and pains, and I attribute all of that to the vast amount of asphalt.
I think that since the Camino del Norte is less popular, they haven’t built the walk-ways for the foot-traffic, yet. One of the Albergues we stayed in said that this was the most popular year they have experienced with pilgrims. In previous years, they would see a handful of pilgrims over the summer; this year they had many days where all of the beds were occupied by pilgrims. Something in 2017 inspired a lot of people to walk!
Speaking of Albergues, we stayed in some truly magical ones. Like in Güemes, a non-descriptive town between Santander and Laredo. Here you’ll find old priest, Padre Ernesto, who started an albergue to help pilgrims connect and inspire them to open their mind while walking. This is what I expected all of the albergues to be like: inspiring, spiritual, full of love and kindness. It was a magical place. I highly recommend that everyone who has the chance is graced by Padre Ernesto.
This is also where we collected magical stories of our experiences with the kindness of the Spanish people. For example, we were walking out of Laredo to take a ferry, we decided to walk along the beach because the sunrise was stunning and the sand would be good for our joints. We came to a water run-off that was just too wide and too deep to cross, so we figured we’d have to walk up the sand to the boardwalk, a deviation of our path by several minutes, when a man signaled to us from his tractor. There were these guys combing the beach with tractors this morning, and seeing us in despair, he rushed to save the day by offering us a lift over the water. We obliged, and in 3 seconds we were over the water, overjoyed by the sheer kindness of his actions! We met people like this over and over along our journey. It was amazing.
The Camino del Norte is where we made a camino family. We met people who altered our experience for the better. We talked religion and politics or life and work with people from all over the world. It was like a mini-United Nations meeting every night as we relived the day while (literally) sharing bread with our fellow pilgrims. This was the experience we were looking for, and I’m so glad that we found it along the beauty of Spain’s Northern Coast.