Tuesday, July 29, 2014
In retrospect: The Camino Norte
The numbers of pilgrims on the Norte seemed manageable. Typically we were seeing 15-24 people in a day. But, there were days when the crowds thickened, and that was usually associated with arriving in a town with more beds. Makes sense. The most I ever heard of was a crowd of about 80 at Guemes. We were with about 35 (or so) other pilgrims when we stayed there. The Norte runs through many tourist areas, and those towns typically have a large variety of lodging (if you have some extra cash). The albergue beds can go quickly in some towns, so allowing for a bit more in your travel budget might be prudent. But, the Norte is definitely a lot quieter than Camino Frances, even in peak season. We stayed in a few albergues, but mostly we chose private accommodation. Just a personal choice. We never had any lodging problems.
The weather, much like the time we spent on the Chemin St. Jacques, was mostly fair and dry. However we did have some rain, and that caused a bit of a problem as we departed the monastery just outside of Bolibar. The trail you follow is an old logging road, with huge tractor ruts. Once this softens up it is a slog. The descent down is also tricky as the trail becomes steep, rocky, and slippery. If it was a wet day I would avoid that trip through the woods, and find alternate transpiration to Guernica. We did skip the stage from Guernica to Bilbao due to the trail conditions we experienced en route to Guenica. We just decided to give the camino a day to dry out. However, after that, we never had a problem. Just a quick word about whether to abandon the trail or not. Walking a long distance requires continuous assessment of the trail you are following. If that trail becomes unsafe due to the prevailing weather, then by all means find safer ground. It will do you no good to get injured just trying to tough it out. Be sensible, and evaluate the risks you are exposed to before deciding when, and where to walk. Enough said.
Another discovery was the amount of road walking we experienced on the Norte. It seemed like after the first week we were hitting the pavement with increasing regularity. In many cases that meant walking most of the day (6-7 hours) on paved roads. Normally, I don't mind the occasional road, but when you walk roads all day long, and then repeat that time, and time again, it becomes hard on your feet, and your body. Heavy traffic, with little or no shoulder, was also a problem on some of the roads. Not good. One surprise that caught me was the feeling that this route was more like a hike than a pilgrimage. I suppose some people think, what's the problem? Robin and I walk as pilgrims, not as tourists. Yes, we can become tourists for day when we are enjoying some time off, but our journey always involves our faith, and its strengthening. For us this route just had a different feel to it in that regard. Maybe that is unfair, and it was just the place where we were, as individuals, that caused this feeling. Perhaps the second half (which we did not walk) is different. I'll probably never know. The Norte does not disappoint on the scenery, but in the end we were looking for something more than that. The Primitivo, which I'll talk about next, filled that void.