We stopped by the albergue on our way out of town to talk to the hospitaliero (on a tip from a lovely Spanish couple, who told me to ask about the shortcut), who told us not to take the Camino. She said we would run into a sign along the Camino for a left turn, but that she had written a "NO" on it, just to make sure people won't go there. According to her, it's a terrible hike - poorly maintained, lots of ups and downs, and completely wooded with no good views of neither the valley below or the coast across the valley. Sure enough, we found that sign:
And found some other Camino folks sitting confused next to it by the side of the road (including our French guy friends from the church a few days before).
But it turns out, the shortcut along the highway was definitely worth it. We were rewarded after a few kilometers walking with gorgeous views of the biggest beach we had seen so far (even bigger than at Islares!). Turns out, the beach was 5km long!
We were so tired from the incredible heat that day that after acquiring our map in the town center, all we could do was be exhausted.
So we just called that afternoon a beach afternoon, celebrating with some tinto de verano (the first and only of the entire trip).
When we were done at the beach, we walked all the way down to the end of the beach, where across the small channel we saw the town of Santoña. For 2 euros, we got a 30-second ferry across from a tiny boat that just pushed up on the shore of the beach on the Laredo end and bumped into the dock on the other.
The municipal albergue was far away from the center of town - at least 1.5 km. But the cool part was that it was part of the YMCA building that was built over a marina. Santoña was surrounded by three sides on water, so the albergue just happened to be right over the water, overlooking the path back towards Laredo. It's external doors closed at 10, so we quickly ran to town, had a menú del día for dinner, and ran back. Then we had to take showers.
What we didn't realize until the morning after was that the showers for the albergue were the same showers that were shared with the YMCA - downstairs. The rooms were all upstairs, holding about 25 people each. Each room also had a shower, but they were YMCA-style communal showers. This was the first time we had ever seen communal showers in the albergues; it is normal in gyms in the US, but we had never seen them in Europe. Not a problem, just pretend you're at the gym and all is well. The snoring, creaking, sniffling room of 25 people meant a decent sleep but not the best we'd had all trip.
A 10-day reflection
At this point in the trip, we had walked 10 days. I wasn't sure how I felt about the pace, the group dynamic, my own Camino experience in general. The day was a good one - we did have tinto de verano and the beach, but I was getting the feeling that we were behind what I considered to be our ideal schedule. We had one very long day to Santander, or two shorter days if we stopped at Güemes in the albergue there. Leah's tendons were not doing well, Kayla still didn't have a phone, and I still felt responsible for the group. Over the past 10 days, I felt like I was giving up my ability to go faster in exchange for sticking together with the group. I did enjoy spending time with my friends, but it wasn't how I was envisioning my Camino. I counted, and at this pace we would have to bus through some sections of the Camino. In principle, the Camino is not about how far you walk or how fast you walk, but it's about the journey you take while you walk. And the people you meet. And the experiences you have. For me, I felt like all these things were true. If I could have all the experiences, meet all the people, make the journey, and NOT have to bus through any sections, wouldn't that be a more complete Camino?
Today we had accomplished day 10: Guriezo to Santoña, 23km, and I was ready to push forward.