The following is part of a series of posts on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage I completed this summer in Spain. To read past posts in this series, click here. Be sure to scroll down all the way so you don’t miss anything. Thanks for reading.

Sunrise in Guemes
Sunrise in Guemes

We arrived at the locked doors of the albergue around 5:00pm after walking over 35km that day, which was much more than a typical walking day for me on the camino. We sat down, defeated, on the pavement. The Dutchman handed me some bread which I reluctantly ate.

We’d started that morning at sunrise, a deep pink rise that lazared out across the fields of misty corn. I drank an EmergenC in a tiny glass cup and tried not to listen to the conversation the Dutchman was having with the hospitalero about a horse trail and “very few arrows.” He’d decided the night before to take an alternate route through the mountains to reach El Astillero, a little suburb of Santander. After Bilbao it was mutually understood that we’d try to avoid walking through major cities as much as possible.

Dutchman. Aussie.
Dutchman. Aussie.

Turning my attention to the Aussie, who was eating cookies and milk for breakfast, we agreed to walk with the Dutchman on this alternate route, which neither of us had much confidence in. We traded stories for a while of aches and pains in our legs and backs and finally packed up to leave.

The morning was dewy and glorious and we picked eucalyptus leaves to shove in our pockets and packs to mask the smell of walking for many days in the same clothes.

As happened many times that day, we came to a fork in the road with no arrows. Using a map and our best judgment, we pressed on, getting lost at least a dozen times, all the time heading in the most general direction of El Astillero. We eventually stopped for a long Spanish lunch which included things like braised rabbit, bean and chorizo stew, and red wine mixed with sparkling water.

We walked on and on, stopping sometimes for a coffee or to buy a piece of fruit or to put our feet in a rushing creek, for over 10 hours until finally (finally!) we reached the albergue in El Astillero. Locked. Closed. As in the camino no longer passes through this way.

Aussie. Dutchman.
Aussie. Dutchman.

A couple of older gentleman talked our ears off about how terrible it was to be stuck here with no place to sleep but never offered to help us. A sign on the door said to call the local police, which we eventually convinced someone to do. Miraculously, about 30 minutes later, a white van pulled up driven by the hospitalera of an albergue nearby, in Santa Cruz de Bezana.

She runs an albergue out of her home, by donation, and was called by the local police to come rescue us. This woman’s home ended up being the best place I stayed on the whole camino.

An old stone house, with exposed wooden beams, dark wood stairs and cozy, wool blankets awaited us in Santa Cruz. The house was full of Spanish pilgrims and one, crying Pole. The hospitalera made us tortilla de patata for dinner and we lounged on couches in the evening, basking in our good fortune.

The next morning I teared up a little as we left the tiny succulent garden, mewing kittens, and red enamel coffee cups behind. The camino stretched out before us that day under freeways and over railroad tracks, in the rain and past dirty little bars into a medieval town and my first experience with sidra. And that’s a story for another day.

A section of the camino in Cantabria.
A section of the camino in Cantabria.

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