On your first day of holidays, there's nothing better than wake up from a good night's rest in a very comfortable bed and indulge into the wide and great breakfast buffet that most hotels offer... Well, that was going to be the first and last time I would have such a rest on this Northern Saint James Way pilgrimage.
It truly was one great day to continue my journey and enter my dear home country: beautiful Spain! Sunday, brightly blue lit sky and bustling Saint Jean de Luz was anticipating a day full of pleasant surprises.
First pleasant surprise? Breakfast!
With typical French pastry and products, this first meal of the day was a glorious one. Bonne Maman marmalade, French bread and toasts, mmmm Nutella, freshly pressed orange juice, fruits and the king fruit for cyclists and Minions... bananas! It was one great treat to myself after one hard month of work; the F1 is obviously the busiest time in Monaco (my place of work, check back on day 0). Besides, it's always good to fill up your belly and specially so before any long day cycling as you will see later on...
Second pleasant surprise? Without even leaving St. Jean de Luz, on another attempt to find a Camino credential (see day 1) at the town's church, music was in the air and when I approached, there was a very peculiar dance of sticks and jumps going on. A group of about 10 dancers in typical Basque region fashion were bickering sticks and jumping from one side to another, the energy and mood were fantastic and like the txikoli from the day before, it dived me again into Basque Country's culture.
However, going on to look for my credential, sadly the church was closed, but I found a priest just leaving it. I asked him if he had one, but he didn't, though, it was enough to start a conversation and make it the third pleasant surprise of the day!
Father Dominique who is in charge of the impressive Church Saint Jean Baptiste, kindly invited me over to his nearby house to at least get a stamp on a blank page. His kindness and positivity made me continue with him a photo project I started on my first Saint James Way; my photo-interviews of pilgrims and locals that I came across.
Having slept until quite late, this great encounter and the mesmerizing beauty of Saint Jean de Luz made me run late even more. After a detour to the lighthouse and the port, I quickly entered again into wild nature of thin thin paths, threatening cliffs and... punctures! Every cyclist's most annoying issue didn't wait long and it wasn't going to be the last one... but with the Basque Country's landscapes, even punctures are a great thing.
When I managed to get some traction, I got to cross the border to my dear Spain and reach its first town, Irún. This Basque town is usually the starting point for the several Northern Saint James Ways, which is reflected on the services and signs of the Camino. With the help of some fellow cyclist, that had engaged all his family for a Sunday ride, I entered the town easily. On my way out, there was only one route and it took me at least 10km inland and away from any coast, when I suddenly realized that I had taken the wrong Camino and was following the Basque Camino.
You can check out my rerouting below:
A little discomforted from my accidental detour, my fourth pleasant surprise was right in time with the sun starting to set down. I arrived to Pasai Donibane which had a great mood and energy in every corner. The orange colours of the settling sun, the children playing everywhere, families and friends enjoying a beautiful Sunday evening was the best thing I could wish for ending yet another cycling day.
But pleasant surprise number five was heading towards me while I was looking over to the seaside next to the town's church. Many teenagers were queuing in front of it and wearing some kind of uniform... then they entered, and on 3 to 4 minutes intervals, applauses were heard from inside... after the third time, curiosity struck me, so I locked my bike and went in... it was full of people, no sitting place available and one of my best experiences was about to happen! Ranging from age 10 to 18, these kids were singing in chorus from some rather ecclesiastical songs up to some more commercial ones like Robbie Williams' "Angels". Nonetheless, the highest emotional point was reached when they started to sing "Caminante no hay camino" (=Wanderer, there's no path), based on a poem from Spanish writer Antonio Machado from the 19th century. It is not only a symbol for any Saint James Pilgrim, it can actually be considered one of our anthems!
Here's the moment:
If this wasn't enough to make me want to stay in this wonderful town, only one thing could... the town's fully booked albuergue (=pilgrim hostel)! Thus, the choice only was to continue my route... however, an inconvenient or... rather, pleasant surprise number six was on its way: I had to cross the town's estuary by boat, there's even an arrow hinting to that!
Excited to literally embark my dear Orbeiña (see day 0 for reference) to go over-seas, I first did a quick pit stop to have some delicious tortilla (=Spanish omelette; one of our national dishes) and a beer. While fuelling up my engine a curious local approached me, Miguel. I told him about all my stories and journeys, and he told me where I could find the next albergue. We actually still keep in touch and I discovered he likes photography too. He told me some peculiarities of this little town, but I'll better just let his words speak about it:
"In a small book about Pasai Donibane, when it starts to talk about the houses of important lineage, it states this: 'The house of Iriberri - One of its walls corresponds to the church's portico side. Its kitchen used to be right next to the parish which nowadays is the door that leads up to the cemetery. On the left side of this door, there's still a mascaron with no clues of its provenance. This house belonged to Alonso Villaviciosa."
He also made me aware that there is a shipyard nearby where they create vintage boats like the one shown in this beautiful photo he shared with me:
Very sadly, with the sun already hiding on the nearby hills, I had to leave Pasai Donibane which automatically became one of my preferred towns on the whole North Saint James Way, and it was just day two. However, as we say in Spanish No hay mal que por bien no venga (=Every cloud has a silver lining), it made me climb up to Mount Ulia where I shot one of my best pictures and it still gives me goosebumps when I remember being up there and seeing this:
After such a journey, with the clock ticking 10pm (pilgrim's usual going to sleep time...) I arrived to the only albergue up there just in time before they were closing. The restaurant guys had just left and unfortunately, the nearest restaurant had closed too, and the vending machines weren't working... I was there, hungry, tired and left with just one apple! It pretty much looked like one hard starving night and one of the best eaten apples I ever had.
Nevertheless, the stunning views over the night lit San Sebastian and fellow Valencia pilgrims with whom I started to talk were worth it. So much, that providence, destiny or just my seventh pleasant surprise of the day made that, they weren't hungry anymore and left a slice of tortilla and some crackers, which they kindly offered me.
This truly was another example of the beauty doing the Saint James Pilgrimages have and specially, all the amazing, kind and helpful people you find along the Way.
Start and end of this day were all about our most basic need, food, but all what happened in the middle made this another unforgettable Camino experience!
If you wish to see more, stay tuned for amazing people and stories on my next Going North posts ;)