Caminando el Norte

Okay, okay, okay…again, it’s been forever since I posted. FOREVER!! I promise I’ve been writing these a bit more on time, and just taking forever to edit them. In trying to see the positive, though, these blog posts provide a cool trip down memory lane into my past adventures. 🙂

So, where was I? I left southern France, and my next stop was…the Camino! Probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

After 10 days of solo time in southern France and over a month on the road alone, I legitimately almost started crying of happiness when I saw my cousin Angelica at the start of our Camino hike in northern Spain. One thing I didn’t realize was just how good it would feel to see a friendly face after solo traveling for a while…and after over a month of ups and downs on my first solo adventure, it was SO good to see my cousin. SO GOOD!

Angelica and I have always been close (both literally and figuratively – we’re only 8 days apart in age), and she’s not only my cousin but also one of my closest friends. We (but especially Ang) have been talking about walking the Camino since we were little kids who read about the Camino de Santiago in a library book one summer at our cottage in northern Michigan. So when Ang called me a few months ago and asked if I wanted to join her as she walked it, I didn’t even think twice before saying yes. We’d literally talked about it for 15 years, so I had to go!

For a little bit of background, the Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes through Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy, with a cool and rich history behind it. One of the most important Christian pilgrimages in the Middle-Ages (right after pilgrimage to Jerusalem!), the Camino was originally a way for Christians to earn plenary “indulgences”…aka, basically a way to bank points with the big guy upstairs to count against any future sins that may be committed. Think of it as a reverse confession, in a sense. But for hundreds of years, people have walked the Camino’s many routes, all which terminate in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. And today, thousands of pilgrims walk it every year for religious and non-religious reasons alike.

Instead of the most-popular Camino Frances (which goes roughly through the center of Spain), Angelica and I chose to walk the Camino Norte path…a moderately difficult but less crowded route that passes along the northern Spain coast and then snakes down to Santiago de Compostela. All in all, a seasoned walker who doesn’t take days off could do the Norte in around 35 days. However, I only had two weeks to walk and knew I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela in one visit. But honestly, that was fine with me. Many people walk the Camino in pieces over numerous visits to Spain, so I wasn’t alone…after all, not everyone can (or would want to) take off a month to walk through northern Spain for 12 hours every day. Ha!

As I only had two weeks (and even Angelica had a little under the recommended time off to walk), we also chose to make our Camino a bit more unique in that we decided NOT to walk every day for 12 hours a day, as our guidebook suggested. We took buses sometimes and skipped parts of the walk that our guidebook said were boring or ugly. We sometimes stayed in hostels or hotels instead of albergues (the free or donation-based dorms that Camino pilgrims traditionally stay in). We took days off here and there and went to the beach.

We heard from a lot of “hardcore” Camino walkers that this meant we “weren’t really doing the Camino”, so much to the point that it became a running joke between Angelica and I…and frankly, to that statement that we “weren’t really doing the Camino”, I throw a giant middle finger up. We walked over 150 kilometers in 2 weeks (and Angelica did over 200!), and I consider that a Camino if I ever saw one. If we wanted to walk that much while also taking a day here and there to enjoy certain towns or sights, and skip small sections of the Camino path, then so be it. It’s a lesson I’ve been slowly learning since this trip started…there’s no one way to do anything, and just because someone tells you that you aren’t doing something the “right” way doesn’t mean you’re doing it the wrong way.

Anyway. The hike was amazing, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to do some serious soul-searching in a beautiful part of the world. The hike itself was challenging at times with a lot of elevation change, and our feet looked like something out of a horror movie by the end of it. However, to walk almost all day, every day for two weeks straight with a heavy backpack made me feel a physical strength and a respect for my body that I’ve only felt few other times in my life. We walked through rainstorms and in 90-degree heat, on beach paths and up narrow mountain steps. Our hardest days, we walked almost 30 kilometers…and then we’d wake up the next day and walk again. How badass is a body that can handle that, day after day?!

More than the physical strain, walking for two weeks also requires you spend a ton of time doing nothing but…well, walk. You have a LOT of time to think about your life and take stock of things, and as a chronic over-thinker, this was tough at times. I had two weeks to do nothing but walk and think and take stock in my life…and while I think it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, it was by no means easy. I have one particularly vivid (/comical) memory of sitting in my hostel in Llanes, Spain and crying…over things that I had sworn I’d already worked through. Loss, breakups, deaths, crappy jobs…everything tends to come back to you when you’re doing nothing but walking with no distractions, and you’re forced to do a kind of mental and emotional house-cleaning. Again, it’s SO healthy and cathartic. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

To sum up, the Camino was one of the coolest and most beautiful things I’ve had the privilege of doing, and to do it with cousin/one of my closest friends made it all the more cool. I can’t wait to come back and finish the rest someday. 🙂

Xo,
Char
***
PS – Below is our outline of places we walked/bused to during my two weeks. Not everywhere we went was super cool or awesome, but we often categorically disagreed with our guidebook’s opinion of places…so, if you’re thinking of walking the Camino, my advice is to use a variety of resources to plan your route and where to stop along the way. My only other advice is to pack light, bring blister pads, and get ready for the coolest thing ever. And if you don’t walk every single day, don’t listen to people who tell you that you “aren’t really doing it”…ha!

Our itinerary:

  • 8/9: Pasaia to San Sebastian (16 km). Pasaia was a beautiful fishing village with not much to do, but really lovely for a quick drink/meal.
  • 8/10-8/11: Stay in San Sebastian. I LOVED San Sebastian – it was one of the few places I’ve visited where I could see myself living. If you go, spend at least three days!
  • 8/12: Morning in San Sebastian, then bus San Sebastian to Bilbao. Angelica walked part of this route and ended up looping back to take the bus to Bilbao; I was feeling lazy and didn’t walk, however. What can you do. J
  • 8/13: Stay in Bilbao. So personally, I do NOT recommend spending more than one day in Bilbao. We absolutely hated it…I felt like the city was fully of creepy men, the town was dirty and industrial, and there was nothing to do. But do your research if you go, and decide for yourself. J
  • 8/14: Bus Bilbao to Laredo, then walk Laredo to Castillo Siete Torres (19 km). Laredo was such a beautiful city! If we could do it again, we would definitely spend a day here – the beach is beautiful. The walk to CST was a bit short, but beautiful. And, dude…if you need a stopover in Castillo Siete Torres, DEFINITELY stay where we stayed (Hotel Las Torres) – the women who run it were amazingly friendly, the breakfast is the bomb, and it’s right next to a grocery store to get all of your snacks for the next day.
  • 8/15: Castillo Siete Torrres to Santander (28km), then bus to Santillana del Mar. Santillana del Mar was CRAZY touristy, and to be honest I was really underwhelmed. The major draw is the Caves of Altamira…but tickets were sold out when we got there, and the caves are actually replications of the original artwork (not the originals). It wasn’t worth it for Ang and I to go, so we spent our night in SDM eating an overpriced and staying at an [kind of musty] albergue in the center of town. Personally, would skip next time.
  • 8/16: Bus Santillana del Mar to Llanes. This was meant to be a walking day, but we ended up being totally exhausted after walking almost 45km in 2 days after so many rest days. We ended up just bussing it to Llanes and then chilling in our albergue for a day. It wasn’t all bad…Llanes has a cool beach-town feel and a pretty beach right in the center of the city, so we got to tan and chill a bit. 🙂
  • 8/17: Walk Llanes to Nueva (25km), then minivan to Ribasadella, then bus to Gijon. This wasn’t in our original plan – we’d had planned to stay in Ribasadella, but waited too long to book our lodging…and by the time we tried, there was no room anywhere within the entire city…or in the 10km surrounding the city. No joke. So, we decided to say f*ck it and take a late bus to Gijon. Personally, we weren’t fans of Gijon at all – I found it to be similar to Bilbao (big, dirty, and industrial). Would skip if doing it again. Today was also a LONG day – I’d break it up into two days if we had more time/could do it again.
  • 8/18: Bus to Luarca, then walk Luarca to Navia (25km). Nothing super memorable except more beautiful coastal walking today and some HARD hills. I think Ang and I cried of happiness when we got to our hotel.
  • 8/19: Navia to Ribadeo (28km*). So, we died during this day. I’ll admit it. After walking 28km (of what was supposed to be a 40km day) in 90-degree heat, after the prior two days, we caved and took a local bus to Ribadeo. Ribadeo was pretty cool – would definitely recommend staying a day here or at least allowing an afternoon/evening to walk around.
    • Note: from here on out, we decided to go north and leave the Camino Norte, and continue on a different Camino path, the Camino del Mar (which goes up through Galicia on the coastline).
  • 8/20: bus to Cangas de Foz, then walk to Cervo (11km which became 23km). Are you seeing a theme here? Our “easy days” tended to all become our long days, which meant that our long days ended up getting cut short because we were so exhausted. Anyway, this day I distinctly remember as what was probably the lowest point of our Camino…an 11km hike became 23km, and we ran out of money, water and cash when we were still miles from an ATM BUT, our hotel in San Cibrao was super nice – and it made the three glasses of wine each that we had totally worth it. 😉
  • 8/21: walk Cervo to Celiero, 11km. My last day walking! The beach around Celiero is super nice and definitely worth an afternoon.
  • 8/22: short walk 5 km to station, then bus to Ferrol.

From here, Angelica continued on the Camino Ingles all the way to Santiago de Compostela, which she seemed to really enjoy. I plan to come back and finish on this route in the next few years as well.

Okay, now I’m really done! Xo

4 thoughts on “Caminando el Norte

  1. wonderful. I’m planning on walking the Norte route in 2020 or maybe 2021…still to decide. But wow, thanks for all the fantastic information. so useful. I love that you stuck your finger up…bloody good for you. I’m quite fed up with people who have this moratorium on ‘how the camino should be walked’. Seriously?? they need to lighten up. There’s a huge discussion gong on at the moment on a group on facebook about this very subject. I hope you get to finish your camino sooner rather than later….the years do tend to fly by and life catches you in a loop. Santiago is phenomenal. The only thing that distressed me and almost made me about turn and flee was the noise and the crowds. It was a total shock after spending days (Portugues Coastal Route – freaking awesome and highly recommended) walking in relative peace and quiet, to enter what I thought would be a sanctuary. It wasn’t. But once I had a rest and sleep I cheered up and spent 3 days exploring the city. The cathedral was other-worldly and wonderfully peaceful…..buen camino.

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    1. Thank you so much – I’m so glad you agree! The Norte was such a fabulous route and I can’t wait to come back and finish it…I’m hoping for 2019 or 2020 (but you’re right, life can get in the way so it’s better to do it sooner rather than later! ;). Buen camino to you and all the best. ❤

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      1. Hey Charlotte, I followed someone on instagram a few no this ago who was walking the Norte route. Her photos were amazing, the scenery looks absolutely stunning. If you get the chance, you could consider the Portuguese Coastal route from Porto to Caminha, then upriver to Valenca (which is a fascinating walled city) and then The Central Way via Tui to Santiago. It was wonderful, especially the Portuguese Coastal route… I was lucky enough to have brilliant weather too. Thanks sweetie, and buen Camino

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