Monday, November 10, 2014

C'est parti

Welcome, family, friends, and passers-by.  This is my blog about my current experience of walking Camino de Santiago -- specifically the Camino del norte -- starting in Hendaye, France and hopefully ending up all the way in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  If all goes as planned by the end I will have walked about 820km, or a little over 500 miles.  This is of course if my body holds up, if my feet don't become two giant blisters and if the rain doesn't send me cowering into the cozy warmth of a house or a hotel or a bus ride to summer where the sun is actually shining.  However, I feel resolved to accomplish this task.  I feel like it's something I have to do.

Today I started in Hendaye, a sleepy French border town frequented by surfers when the waves are too big up north and by people who want to go to Spain to buy cheap cigarettes.  I walked across the bridge into Irun, the first town on the Spanish side, carrying a massive box of goods that I wanted to mail to Madrid to my friend Beatriz so I wouldn't have to carry them on the Camino.  And after that, it was on.

One of the main features of the Camino de Santiago are the golden arrows.  When you're walking the Camino, the arrows consume your life.  You live for the arrows.  The arrows tell you which way to go -- seeing them easily and often means things are going well, not seeing means that you could be off course, wandering further and further away from the Camino, wasting precious time and burning precious calories, and more than anything setting yourself up for a heat-breaking experience when you finally realize you've gone astray and it's going to take an hour to get back on track.

It almost happened to me today.

Or rather it did.  I saw some ORANGE arrows and I assumed the Camino people just figured orange was close enough to yellow and so I followed the orange arrows up a steep path to an old castle surrounded by pastures and grazing horses/cows.  After this all arrows disappeared, and I wandered around aimlessly looking for some kind of guidance, anything that might be remotely gold in color, taking 15 steps in one direction and then promptly reversing my tracks.  Finally I asked some Guardia Civil guys that were there and they had no idea.  They asked me where I came from.  I said "Down there."  They said, "It's probably down there."  So I went "down there" and kept following path I was on, past a cow with horns the size of my forearm, and then the path started to descend.

I told myself I was in too deep and had to keep following the path whatever the cost.  Below me I could see a road snaking back in the opposite direction, and my heart started to sink.  I would have been walking for over two hours and be ending up on a road going in the exact direction I had just come from.  But lo and behold, when I got to what I thought was the bend, there was a massive golden arrow on a boulder in front of me.  I rejoiced and threw my bag to the ground and immediately devoured the last of my chocolate mochi given to me by my friend Natalie in rabid celebration.

After that it was easy.  Or rather, it was long.  But I didn't get lost again.  And with the exception of one road most of it was on hiking paths.  The sea came into view and was a deep blue in contrast with the green grass.  When I came to the San Sebastian harbor at long last I was delighted an old village on one side of the harbor with buildings tucked right into the cliff.  People dined lazily in the afternoon sun.  To get to the main part of San Sebastian, you had to take a boat for 70 cents and walk another 4 kilometers, all along the ocean.  When I finally got into town there were surfers enjoying an evening session, with decent swell and perfect offshore winds.

San Sebastian is one of the most charming towns I've ever seen.  It's built right on the edge of a perfect harbor that has an opening of about 300 yards on either side of an island at the head of the harbor.  There's a boardwalk with people strolling at all hours, speaking Spanish and French and English and presumably Basque, too, though I didn't hear any.  When I finally got to the hostel I was happy to find that I was only sharing my room with one person, a German guy also named Mark who walked here all the way from Stuttgart!  He thinks it was about 1800 kilometers.  Whatever it is, it's a long way.

As far as my body goes I have no blisters yet though I felt some threatening to erupt on various parts of my right foot and at one point my left knee started clicking, which has never happened to me in my life.  My body, especially my hips, feels fairly sore today which is to be expected since I walked about 28k and it was the first day.  Hopefully in a few days I'll be an old hand.  Right now I'm sitting in the main room of the hostel, surrounded by little French kids playing computer games and talking about whatever little kids talk about.  Tomorrow I hope to walk about 22k to a town called Zarautz, though if I'm really feeling amazing I might try to go 40k to a town called Deba.

ANYWAY, welcome to the blog.  Hopefully the next entry will be a little more succinct.  But there's so much I wanted to talk about today.  I really had a feeling walking through the streets of San Sebastian, a lively European town with the holidays or some kind of energy in the air, that I need to do this Camino.  I felt a sharp pang and heard a voice that said, "If you don't do this, you will never do anything.  If you do do this, you can do everything."

Speaking of voices, I also talked to myself a lot today.  I promise I'm not going crazy.

Dinner party send-off.  Everyone I knew in France.  My wonderful French "Mom" Fred on the left and her two wonderful daughters in the upper right.  

The first arrow I saw in Irun.  

France in the distance.  Lost at the castle.  

The most picturesque arrow of the day. 


"Quieres que te hagamos una foto (tio)?" #nostrilflare

Awesome street art in harbor pueblo.

"The harder it is to do something the bigger the reward at the end". 

Harbor mouth.  
Urban surf fashion!

San Sebastian. 

Dinner! #ewwwwww

#Jeffrey #walkingstick #ondansealacarlton #thirteeneuroquechuashoes


  1. Love the blog and you bro! Where's the protein for your dinner? And where can Paul and I send you a care package???

  2. Superb photos Mark...makes me want to hop on the next plane and join you.