Thin grey steam billowed from the silver canteen I held close to my face. I watched the taxi ahead of us and tried to gage the best time to take a sip. It wasn’t really working; I kept spilling hot tea on my face.

My shoulder still hurt a little from walking into the glass hotel entrance door on our way out. I don’t think anyone saw.

I can’t handle waking up in the dark.

We got up at 4am to catch our flight from Barcelona to the coastal city of Irun, where the Northern trail of El Camino begins.

From the plane, Irun’s airport at sunrise

The Northwestern city of Irun from above

We thought we might wait a day before starting the walk, with all the jet lag and the waking up in the dark and all, but the novelty and the beauty of Irun was energizing.

So…where do we start?

We took a bus from the airport into the city, went to far, and walked half a mile backward to the train station where our Northern Camino Trail guide book said the walk would start.

Long story short, we wandered around the tiny town for a couple of hours, asking questions of people who didn’t seem to know this pilgrimage existed.

The language barrier didn’t help. For the most part, people don’t speak English. They speak to you in rapid Spanish and it takes me hours to catch up.

It wasn’t until we were two miles into the trail when I finally understood the directions the guy at the train station was trying to give. Or that I had burst into a bar and asked its 10am clientele  if they knew the way of St. James.

My Spanish is embarrassing.

But at some point, everything started to come together. We passed two smelly guys with giant backpacks and a giant, shaggy dog. I heard one of them say, “Camino” as they passed us.

I ran back, “Perdon,” I called, “Perdon, perdon?”

One of them finally turned back.

“Um, sabes donde esta el comenzar de…El Camino?”

“No Spanish,” he said. “French.”

“Oh…Ou est la…El Camino?”

He pointed us down a road we had walked past four times that morning.

The pilgrim hostel where we could finally get some direction and the pilgrim passport we needed wasn’t set to open until four, but just as we were about to walk away from it, our angel dressed as an old man in tope entered the scene and spoke in rapid Spanish.
He let us in and gave us the passports and a map.

We walked outside and the colors were back. Blue and green and yellow and red. It was supposed to rain, but it was 70 degrees and sunny. Butterflies danced in the air around us, birds sang, cars stopped to let us cross the road. We walked in a blissful, jet-lagged stupor and followed the yellow arrows.

After seven miles, my hips were sore from the weight of the backpack, my legs and feet were yelling at me, my back ached.

But we had only gone seven miles.

We finally made it to another town. Pasajes de San Juan, a port city founded almost a thousand years ago, where Basque flags beat in the wind from windows. We sat down for tea and watched the kids play with scooters and drones in the square.

We took a 45 second ferry ride across the waterway and started walking again.

I don’t even know what to say about what we got to see next, except that it was epic. And despite being the gifted photographer I know myself to be *ahem,* these pictures do not do the scenes justice.

Another 11 miles and we made it to San Sebastián to complete stage one of El Camino. It’s another picturesque city on the coast, and walking through it felt like walking through a painting. Is this real life? My feet hurt.

We walked 18 miles today (and I am mos def including the two miles we roamed around Irun looking for the starting point). I’m sore and too exhausted to eat dinner, and not actually writing this post until tomorrow.

The End. Of Day One.


Day One of El Camino

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