Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Monokinis and The Beetle War: Bushes, Beaches, and Churches

Getting up in the morning in Portugalete, Leah and I were getting nervous about not having heard from Kayla. We were definitely less nervous than the last time we lost Kayla, but this time we had seen her last at 3pm the day before. Now it was 8am and our plan was to go to the albergue (she knew where it was) and hopefully that would be our rendezvous point. Thank goodness in the middle of this conversation my phone rang and it was Kayla. She was waiting for us at the albergue. 

We finished our breakfast (again of tortilla española and coffee, at a bar inside the town this time), taking advantage of being in a town to get some non-supermarket food to eat. 


We met Kayla at the albergue (which turned out to indeed be quite a walk from the center of town - we never would have made it the day before with our pained feet) and heard her side of the story. Apparently she got to Castro-Urdiales around 8pm and felt too tired to walk to the albergue (sound familiar? Apparently Kayla had been having a "death march" of her own), so she just went to the church at the end of the beach, hoping it would be there. When it didn't seem likely, she just found some bushes between two properties, set out her sleeping bag and pad, and spent the night in the bushes. Way more intense than me and Leah. But at least we had a shower. Regardless, second breakfast was in order, so we split our food, ate breakfast, and continued onward.


The walk that day promised to be gorgeous and along the coast. It definitely delivered. 

The town was Islares, in Cantabria. The campground next to this enormous beach had cars from the Netherlands, France, Germany, even one from the UK. It was clearly a destination spot where families brought all their belongings and set up camp for weeks at a time for the summer. To say there were "tents" is an understatement - more like polyester palaces. And plenty of mobile homes of course.

This time, after the death march of the day before and the weather being nice, we decided to treat ourselves to a (half) day on the beach. First, of course, we had hamburgers at the beach bar for lunch. You know how you crave hamburgers after a day of hiking? How about after 9 days? Yea, I enjoyed it too. 

The mono-kini musing

Kayla and Leah both had bathing suits so their plan of attack was to change and enjoy. (They both also have a much higher tolerance for cold water than I do, so my swimming tends to last all of 5 minutes). But I did not have a bathing suit, as I was planning to use my sports bra and swim shorts instead. Or go monokini (for those who don't get the joke, a "bi-kini" has two parts, whereas a "mono-kini" only has one). But I noticed something interesting about the pattern of topless women. My misconception of European women is that they are always topless at the beach. But it seemed that I was wrong in that respect - there were definitely rules. If you were a woman going topless at the beach, you were stationary. There were no women actively swimming, jogging, or even walking while topless. If you were topless, you were sitting or lying down, most likely sunbathing. Age didn't seem to break this barrier either (unless you're a girl under the age of 12, then you just wear underwear and call it a day), since there were older women and younger women going topless, but they were all stationary. 

In light of the recognition of these rules of play, I went swimming in my sports bra and while it dried out in the sun, I napped and read (while lying down, motionless) topless. It was quite the liberating experience, since in the US toplessness at beaches is not only frowned upon, but illegal in some places. 

Churches (or, one specific church)

By the time we woke up from our beach naps (clearly having burned the back of our legs), it was 4pm and probably time to get going. The closest albergue was in El Pontarrón, some 3km away. This would only take an hour, but the next one after that would be another 10km more. No way. We were already tired so we decided we'd go for the albergue. But we had a slight problem: we didn't know exactly where it was. The Camino had followed along the highway while paralleling the beach, but now it split, and it was unclear whether the sign was pointing 300m along the highway (not along the Camino) or along the Camino (not along the highway) to the albergue. I thought it must be on the Camino, Leah thought exactly opposite. Turns out, Leah got 5 points and I got -1. She was most definitely right. 

On the plus side, we passed a supermarket along our path and got our food for the next few meals. At this point, we were resigned to tenting tonight - now we were on the lookout for a spot. Turns out, we were more lucky than we thought. Two French guys had been in the supermarket alongside us, doing very similar shopping. They spoke no English, and Leah spoke broken French. We discerned that they had started the Camino from Marseilles in France and had rarely slept in an albergue - their method was to go from church to church, sleeping in the patio out of the wind. Because they would leave so early in the morning, they would always leave before disturbing anyone.

After some half-serious deliberation about what we would do if a priest / monk / friar would come out of the church and tell us that we can't stay there (in which it was decided that I would start speaking in Russian in the hopes that he was Russian, all else failing telling him nicely in Spanish that we were peregrinos), we decided to follow the French guys to the church right next to the supermarket. There was a perfect patio with a covered roof and sheltered from the wind, so we gave it a try. 


A clear con of sleeping in a stone patio was that there were bugs. Like the giant beetle that fell from the ceiling, about three times as large as my big toe. I had a fencing fight with it just to show it who was boss (photo credit to Leah).

After that incident (and having to throw the bug multiple times off the patio to keep it from coming back), I refused to sleep without a roof over my head, so we pitched the tent. Kayla of course got the best part in the bargain because she found her two perfect trees for the hammock. 

The end of day 9 was only about 15km from Castro-Urdiales to Guriezo, but boy was it a memorable one - bushes, beaches, churches, monokinis, beetles, and French guys. Where else but on the Camino?

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