Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A picturesque start

Day 1: Irún-ish to San Sebastián-Donostia (27 km)

We managed to find Leah in the train station in Irún after going grocery shopping. Kayla and I had a pretty awesome camp setup, being able to charge ALL THE ELECTRONICS. Unfortunately, no internet. 

the "fearless leader" phenomenon

Since my failed attempt at finding a map or a guidebook in Irún, we knew that the next town over was San Sebastián. To be fair, the only way we knew this was because I had walked this path last year, but we knew it nonetheless. So we decided to postpone the problem of maps / guidebooks until we got to San Sebastián. The only time this proved a problem was when we first started, since we didn't actually know where the Camino was! Good thing I spoke Spanish, since after some conversations with a few pilgrims also heading out from Irún, we discovered the magic of the yellow arrows that would lead us all the way to Santiago. 

As a result of my willingness to push on without map or guide and my ability to speak Spanish and get us un-lost, Leah and Kayla dubbed me the "fearless leader" of our group. That's a heck of a lot of responsibility for a group of size 3, but no matter. 

The first day in the Basque Country

We spent the first night in a tent at a "fake albergue" (i.e. an albergue not run by the Order of St. James) about 3km from Irún proper, and were lucky enough to be able to take a shower. But what we quickly realized was that we were very lucky to bring along rain gear. We woke up to find the tent, ground, and our shoes completely soaked. What a great start to a 27-day hike - completely wet shoes. At least we tested the rainproofness of my tent and it held! 

We got an incredibly late start, around 11am, and walked along one of the most gorgeous sections of the Camino del Norte. The ocean is on your right, the mountains on your left. And the gorgeous village you pass through on your way to San Sebastián just speaks of the idyllic life.

This part of Spain is a region known as the Basque Country, where the regional language is Euskadi (or euskara in English and Spanish), and the region is best-known for wanting to declare regional independence from Spain (and the famous terrorist organization ETA that supports this cause). Euskadi, to someone who speaks Spanish or English, is completely unintelligible, since the language is actually not related to any currently-spoken language. Historians and linguists think the most closely-related language is actually Georgian. They use the Roman alphabet to write their words, so about the only thing you can do with a Basque sign is read it out loud and be promptly confused. 

The Basque Country is not only just part of Spain - it encompasses a small part of southeastern France as well: 
And the posters all over the small towns in the region constantly remind you that they are their own autonomous region.

We weren't able to learn too many words in Euskara, since most people spoke Spanish and my Spanish was good enough to get us by. But we did learn these two very useful words: 

  • hi/ bye -- agul
  • thank you -- eskeri kasko
Of course, having your own language means that all the city names we know from Spanish have a corresponding Basque name. For San Sebastián, this happens to be Donostia. This was not a problem for us, since most signs have both the Spanish and Basque names - it's just an interesting regional fact that is sometimes critically relevant.

San Sebastián-Donostia

We got to San Sebastián around dinner time (of course starving because we hadn't planned ahead and actually had no idea how long we had to walk this day) and had a great dinner in the Casco Viejo (Old City). Here is where my language-translation abilities for Spanish food words was lacking - I had no idea what pechuga meant. I thought it was "fish" but turns out it's actually "breast" as in "chicken breast." Sorry Kayla. 

After deciding against the beach (rain looked imminent), we were led to the albergue in San Sebastián by a lovely elderly lady who saw that we were pilgrims, and there we were given a free book (I'd call it a pamphlet) that describes the various stages and albergues we can stay at over the course of the Camino. At the albergue, we met some interesting folks who were also doing the Camino, including an American ex-soldier who was taking time off before going back to Oregon for grad school, a family with a 5-year-old boy, and a few older Spaniards doing the Camino for religious reasons. 

We were feeling good today, since this was our first day and we'd seemingly accomplished the impossible: we'd made it 27 km to another city without a map and without knowing whether we'd have a roof over our heads that night. In high spirits, we went to bed content with a great start. 

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