Camino del Norte Day 7, Lezama to Bilbao

Wednesday September 7, 2022

Lezama to Bilbao: 9.5km / 5.9 miles / 3 hours
Sunrise 7:44
Weather: 65°F / 17.2°C, Sunny
Start: 6:40
Total Ascent: 1128 ft.
Arrived at 10:45
Difficulty Rating: Terrain 2; Waymarking 4
Scenery Rating: 2

This stage includes walking through the city of Bilbao and a transporter bridge from Getxo to Portugalete. We aren’t fond of schlepping through cities on our Caminos, so we typically get a taxi to get to our next destination. This was one of those days.

We went to the Cathedral, but Mass was about to start, so no pictures from the inside. Then we wandered to the “old town”. My legs and feet were begging for an easier day, and I was delighted that we had decided to cut our day short.

We could have walked some of the route and then taken a taxi to the “ferry” to get to Portugalete. As it was, we stopped for a café con leche and a bite to eat in a Plaza by the Museo de Vasca (Basque Museum). The museum is closed for renovations; otherwise we would have spent some time there. Instead, we took a taxi the long way around to Portugalete.

Portugalete is not a tourist town, but we did climb the stairs to see one of the 3 churches after having lunch at an Italian restaurant with a very rude waiter. The restaurant that the lady at our hotel recommended wasn’t open, and since kitchens typically close at 3:00, we stopped at the first place with availability.

Camino del Norte Day 6, Gernika to Lezama

Tuesday September 6, 2022

Gernika to Lezama: 24km / 15 miles / 7 hours
Sunrise 7:40
Weather: 63°F / 17.2°C, Sunny
Start: 6:40
Total Ascent: 2076 ft.
Arrived at 13:45
Difficulty Rating: Terrain 3; Waymarking 4
Scenery Rating: 3

Getting out of cities is always a challenge, and today was no different. We’ve been trying to start as close to 6:30 as possible in order to arrive at each day’s destination before it gets too hot. So far, it’s been very hot in the afternoons (high 80’s). Mike was wondering how to say “my wife is grumpy” in Spanish. Making a wrong turn first thing isn’t the best way to start the day’s hike. Thankfully we had a relatively easy day, no steep hills, no knee-breaking descents.

We got to Hotel Rural Matsa earlier than expected. On a hot day we were bummed to discover that the room had no a/c. “Mi esposa es gruñona.” We took a taxi 2½ miles to a restaurant and then sat outside at the hotel before meeting up with my cousin Mikel, his wife Ainara, and their 2 gorgeous daughters Lucia and Malen.

Seeing my “little cousin Miguelito” (I met him when he was 7 and I was 17) with his daughters was fun. The girls are smart, charming, and smart-asses like their father. They were curious about exactly HOW we are related.
My grandmother Bernardina and their great-grandfather Gallo were brother & sister
My father and their Abuelo Julian were first cousins
And then we can argue about whether we are 2nd cousins once-removed, third cousins, etc. It doesn’t really matter. We are all “family”.

Camino del Norte Day 5, Markina-Xemein to Gernika

September 5, 2022

Markina-Xemein to Guernica (Gernika): 25km / 15.7 miles
Sunrise 7:39
Weather 60°F / 15.5°C Overcast
Start: 6:40
Arrived @15:00 ~~ 85°F (29.4°C)

Total Ascent: 2045 ft.
Difficulty Rating: Terrain 4; Waymarking 3
Scenery Rating: 3

We walked to the city of Guernica (Basque: Gernika), passing through Bolibar (named after Simón de Bolívar, from the village of Bolibar in Bizkaia). He left for Santo Domingo, in what is now the Dominican Republic, sometime around 1559. More than 200 years later his ancestor, known as the Liberator, Simón Bolívar became a national hero to many South American countries. Under his leadership, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama gained their independence from Spain. He also became president of what was then called Grand Columbia, encompassing the modern countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador.

On The Way, we met a very nice Padre at the Monasterio de Zenarruza, a “serene spot for rest and reflection” where we stopped 5 years ago. We had a nice chat and continued on our Camino.

We arrived in Gernika (sister city: Boise, Idaho) very hot, very tired, and very hungry. A local man guided us (walked all the way with us) to a restaurant for a mid-day “Comida”, but we had to wait for an hour for a table, so we went to a nearby restaurant and had rodaballo before heading to Hotel Gernika for the night.

I wrote about our previous visit to Gernika with my cousin Mikel and his wife Ainara in a previous post. I was happy that we were able to explore this historic city when we weren’t too exhausted to appreciate the importance of it.

Camino del Norte ~ A Weekend of Rest and Family

September 3 & 4, 2022

After enjoying pizza with my Basque cousins on Friday night, we found a laundromat to wash our clothes and then spent Saturday with my cousin Mikel and his beautiful wife Ainara, touring Gernika and then visiting a few seaside towns before heading back to Markina for more – you guessed it – pizza.

We knew that we wouldn’t be able to see the Peace Museum in Gernika when we walk there on Monday, and I really wanted to see the town and the museum. It’s a wonderful city, filled with beautiful buildings and plenty of pintxos bars.

Guernica was brutally attacked in 1937 on a peaceful day while the townspeople were at the market, going about their business. The German Condor Legion introduced saturation bombing, pummeling the town with incendiary explosives before passing a second time to strafe the fleeing townspeople. The town was destroyed and thousands were killed.

As a result of the bombing, Guernica has very few historic buildings. However, a sapling of the old oak tree survives in the park surrounding the Casa de Juntas, the seat of the Viscayan Provincial General Assembly.

Picasso’s famous mural depicting the atrocities of that day:

A historical novel, Guernica, by Dave Boling, is a good read. It provides an interesting take on life in the Basque Country during that time, as well as the details of that horrific day.  

The next day, we visited the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, and the Ermita de San Miguel de Arretxinaga in Markina-Xemein before heading to a delicious Paella feast at the cabin of my cousins Isma (y Inma) and Jon (y Loli), along with more cousins (Mikel & Ainara, Marisa, Miren, Joken, Charo & Ismael and their sons Guilllermo & Martín, Jon & Sandra, and Luken).

After appetizers and wine, we had an amazing Paella made by Loli and Inma, and a traditional Basque cheesecake and Tarta de Manzana (Apple Tart), both made by Inma. After a wonderful afternoon, we were ready for a good night’s sleep to get ready for our 5th stage on the Camino.

For reference, we started our Camino del Norte on 30-August at the border town of Irun, just west of San Sebastian. For the most part, we have walked along the Golfo de Vizcaya. We will continue our journey past Gijon toward the Cabo de Peñas on the coast before heading inland after Ribadeo (23-Sept) toward Santiago de Compostela.

Camino del Norte Day 4 ~ Deba to Markina-Xemein

Friday, September 2, 2022

Deba to Markina-Xemein: 29.3km / 18.2 miles
Sunrise 7:35
Weather 60°F / 15.5°C Light morning rain, overcast later
Start: 6:40
Arrived @14:00 in town, 15:00 at Hotel Antsotegi

Total Ascent: 3202 ft.
Difficulty Rating: Terrain 5; Waymarking 2
Scenery Rating: 4

Today we left the Cantabrian Sea behind to enter the Basque mountains and their hamlets. Luckily we started out very early! The beginning of our walk was beautiful, and we were feeling pretty good about our progress. It is one of the hardest stages since the continuous ups and downs were tough on our legs (knees especially). We quickly switched from the asphalt to dirt roads, surrounded by trees and among several hamlets so typical of this area.

While on this path 5 years ago, we missed a sign, and ended up following a very steep, very rocky path up, avoiding cow dung on the way. Then we saw lots of cows on the path. And cows leaping across the path. That should have been a hint that maybe we were no longer on the road to Santiago…. We continued up one route, decided that we took a wrong turn, back-tracked, and then took yet another path that was also wrong. Finally, we descended through the same wonderful (not wonderful) rocky path, avoiding the cow dung. At the bottom we saw the sign that we missed. By that time we’d lost an hour. This time, we paid closer attention. We knew that we had a grueling ascent ahead.

We planned to stop for a café con leche in the picturesque village of Olatz, what would have been our only opportunity to get food before we crossed from Guipuzcoa into Vizcaya, but the taverns don’t open until after 10:00, and we started out way too early that morning. So we made our way up to the tortuous “profanity hill” climb, thankful that we’d trained on Red Cloud trail in Deer Valley last month. The hill was paved since our last Camino, but the relentless switchbacks were just as hard.

With views of the Artibai valley we made it down the challenging descent, both because of the slope and because of the slippery cobblestone pavement. Our knees were screaming by the time we got to the bottom. The gentle meadow at the end of this stretch was a welcome relief.

Eventually we continued to the Urko River, which we crossed twice on our way to our destination, Markina-Xemein, considered the “university of the pelota” since many of the best Basque pelota players in the world are from there. We made it to a bar in the center of Markina, where we had a few sodas, jamon de Iberico and queso with a lovely peregrino from Alaska, Phyllis. (She was born in Milltown, NJ!)

We passed by the hermitage of San Miguel, an 18th century temple, built on top of another one at least four centuries old, is known for the three huge rocks that support each other, forming a kind of chapel. At the epicenter of this union is a figure of the Archangel Michael, protected by monoliths at least forty million years old. (I’ll post more about this later… we did go into the Ermita on Sunday.)

We stayed in Markina-Xemein for a few days to visit with cousins on my paternal grandmother’s side. Bernarda Arano Power was born in the little village of Berriatua. My father’s cousins’ children and grandchildren grew up in or near Berriatua. We first met them in 1973 when my parents, several aunts (Luisa and Bernie), my Dad’s Tio Jose, and more of my dad’s cousins (Marie, Viviana, Nieves) and their families traveled to Spain to see my dad’s Basque cousins Lucio (y Matilda), Severo (y Juli), Txomin, and Julian (y Karmele) Arano and their families. We’ve managed to stay in touch (haphazardly) for almost 50 years.

We’ve stayed at Hotel Antsotegi twice before, in 2017 on our first Camino, and again in 2018 with my mom, sister Jeni, and niece Maggie. My cousin’s son Josu told us that the pizza at the hotel bar was excellent. I can attest to the truth of his statement.

Some (23) of my Basque family arrived at 8:00pm, just in time for ensalada mixta, lots of pizza, wine, fun, and frivolity. The lady in charge happened to be from the US; Ainsley spoke English, Spanish, and Basque, and she arranged for us to have a private banquet room for our family “pizza night”. So. Much. Fun!!

From east (Deba) to west (Markina)… the uphill from Olatz and the downhill to Markina were pretty rough:

Camino del Norte Day 3 ~ Getaria to Deba

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Getaria to Deba: 19.6km / 12.2 miles
Sunrise 7:34
Weather 68°F / 20°C Cloudy, Sunny
Start: 6:50
Stopped for a café con leche at 8:30 in Zumaia
Arrived in Deba @13:20

Hotel: Pension Zumardi

We learned about Juan Sebastián Elkano, the sailor from Getaria who circumnavigated the globe for the first time. Ferdinand Magellan is given credit for being “the first”, but in fact Elkano completed the circumnavigation first.

We had a few guest peregrinos walking with us today: my cousin Ismael and his brother-in-law Vidal. I swear, Vidal is like a mountain goat. Mike was happy to have someone who could keep up with him. Ismael is a cyclist, and he’s not a fan of hiking. But I was happy to have him along for our trek today. He reminded me to walk “despacio” on the uphill climbs. A welcome reminder, since I’m usually struggling to keep up with the Big Guy.

We walked up a steep hill from our hotel, through the town of Zumaia, which has two beaches popular with geologists because of the unique “flysch” that are located there. The Zumaia beaches are home to the largest area of this unusual rock structure in the world. It stretches 5 miles and gives this section of the Basque coast an otherworldly feeling. Of note: this is one of the settings used in Game of Thrones (where some of Dany’s forces land as they make their way across Westeros). We went to Zumaia with my Mom in 2018 when we visited our family.

Most of the walk was on unpaved, rocky, muddy paths. Walking in mild, slightly overcast weather is comfortable, better than hot and sunny. And there was no rain today!!

We met Felix from Germany, who was walking alone. He lived in Canada for a few years and spoke English, which was very helpful. We also met a couple, husband who was from Malaga Spain, wife from Ukraine, who were walking with their 4-month-old and were “winging it”.

Arrived at Pension Zumardi, an apartment building, in Deba at about 1:20, checked into the Pension, and then had lunch in the Plaza with Ismael and his wife Inma, and Inma’s brother Vidal. The last downhill, from Itziar to Deba, was tough on the knees, almost 850 feet in just over 2 miles. But having Ismael and Vidal along made the walk very enjoyable.

Camino del Norte Day 2 ~ Donosti to Getaria

August 31, 2022

San Sebastián (Donosti) to Getaria: 26km / 16.7 miles, 7½ hours
Sunrise 7:30 ~ Weather 71°F / 22°C Cloudy
Start: 7:00
Arrived in Getaria at 14:30, in time for lunch!
Total Ascent: 1933 ft.
Difficulty Rating: Terrain 5; Waymarking 3
Scenery Rating: 4

San Sebastián to Getaria
Starting at La Concha beach, we headed up towards Monte Igueldo, a kick-ass uphill walk until we finally arrived at Orio, a cute village, for a café con leche, OJ, and an apple tart.

We walked the entire day in the rain, and saw about a dozen people on the Camino. The hike was grueling at some points, very rocky, very slippery. But the final stage was flat, on a paved 2.5-mile-long path that reminded me of The Strand between Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. We were rewarded by spectacular scenery throughout the walk.

Getaria is a charming fishing village where you can enjoy fresh-caught fish right at the port, accompanied by the local white wine called txakoli. In fact, this town is renowned for its grilled turbot (rodaballo), which we’ve had 3 times since arriving in Spain. The village is wedged between two beautiful beaches, situated on the Bay of Biscay. The views surrounding Getaria are amazing. You have an old town, a mountain that is an islet, a port, beaches, the ocean, and the rolling green hills of the txakoli wine region. All of these things make Getaria one of our favorite Basque villages.

We ended the afternoon with a delicious meal of grilled turbot, a mixed salad (ensalada mixta), and a bottle of Navarra Rosé at Restaurante Txoko Getaria: I believe this is where we ate in 2017.

I completely agree with the sentiments in the article “Getaria, The World’s Most Perfect Village” I’d like to come back to explore this charming seaside village when we have more time.

Elevation Profile, walking west to east:

Hotel Itxas Gain is a small hotel (with a ”lift” – YAY!) where we stayed in 2017. Last time, we started our Camino in September. This time, just 1 week earlier, we are at the end of the tourist season, and the town was very busy until close to midnight. I don’t think we’d stay there in the future, but it was fine for these 2 tired peregrinos.

Camino del Norte, Day 1 ~ Irún to San Sebastián

Tuesday August 30, 2022

•Irún to San Sebastián (Donostia): 26km / 16.2 miles

• Irún to Oiartzun on the Camino Vasco del Interior
• And Pasajes San Juan to Donosti on the Camino del Norte

Sunrise 7:28
Weather 68°F / 20°C Partly Cloudy
Start: 7:00
Arrived @14:00

Staying in San Sebastián for 4 nights while acclimating to the time change was wonderful. We started our journey in Irún, which is on the west bank of the Río Bidasoa, with the French border to the east. The bridge over the river is called the Puente de Santiago, the traditional start of the Camino del Norte. However….

WE started from the Church of San Gabriel & Santa Gema. The priest there, Padre Jose, moved to Irun from Puerto Rico 4 years ago. He told us that we will go to the Santuario de Guadalupe, built in the 16th century, home to the Black Virgin who appeared to two children. Then we would eventually climb downhill to Pasajes de San Juan, then the ferry to Pasajes de San Pedro, and 1 more kilometer to the Faro (Lighthouse) de la Plata. I was looking forward to this trek because we skipped this stage in 2017.

The PLAN: Start in Irún, walk toward Hondarribia, hike along the coast, and arrive in San Sebastián on the Camino del Norte, about 16.2 miles, 8-10 hours. (Read the map from right to left ~ west to east).

We followed signs for the “Camino”, but somehow ended up walking INLAND for 8 miles on El Camino Vasco al Interior, before we decided to take a taxi back to the Camino del Norte…. we did take the ferry before we continued on our way to San Sebastián. We ended up only walking 13.6 miles, which was FINE by me!

Note the trek that we took away from the coast before we took a taxi from the little village of Oiatzun. We walked fewer miles than expected, but did a total of 2109 feet of elevation.

My feet were grateful to arrive back in San Sebastian! Next stage: San Sebastián to Getaria on August 31.

A few shots of our trek… still getting used to the process of adding photos…..

San Sebastián (Donosti)

Saturday August 27, 2022

Mike and I took different flights to Spain because I stayed in NJ for my mom’s funeral, while Mike flew back to Utah to handle a few things that needed our attention. We met up in Amsterdam and flew to Bilbao together. Because his flight landed at 8:30 and our flight to Bilbao departed at 9:15, his luggage didn’t make it. 

My cousin Ismael and his wife Inma met us in Bilbao and drove us to our hotel, stopping at a roadside for a picnic of Basque bread, Jamon de Iberica, Cheese, a traditional Potato Omelet, and a Rioja Vino Tinto Reserva. Inma whipped out a tablecloth and all the food, utensils, glasses, a very fancy lunch. 

Ismael and Inma helped us to find a store in San Sebastian that sells Apple products because somewhere along the way I managed to lose my MAC charger. We also needed to get cash and a few other necessities (shirts for Mike, water). Having family who speak the language has been a tremendous help. 

We stopped for pintxos, and Inma and I stuck our feet in the water before heading back to Hotel Londres y Inglaterra to get settled in.

In Donosti – San Sebastián, there are too many places of interest to see, particularly while we are preparing for 39 days on the Camino. We crossed the Kursaal bridge over the Urumea River, spent plenty of time in the Old Quarter, lit a candle for my mom in the Basilica de Santa Maria.

San Sebastián is the capital city of Guipúzcoa province. Guipúzcoa (ghee-pooth-co-a) is small, and the landscape is breathtaking. Fishing is a major industry there, and fish a major culinary pleasure of Guipúzcoanos. All of the Basque Country is world-renowned for fine eating, but interest in food and quality restaurants is concentrated in San Sebastián.

San Sebastián is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, placed like a string of pearls around the shell-shaped bay of La Concha. On one side of the city looms Monte Igueldo, to the other Monte Urgull. There are beautiful hotels, Michelin-rated restaurants, boutique clothing stores and shops, the beach, and the waterfront Paseo de la Concha.

The cobbled streets off the port are home to strings of animated tapas bars that feature delicious pintxos (don’t call then tapas), where we were lucky to eat Gilda pintxos, croquetas, as well as delicious dinners. 

“The Gilda is the pintxo par excellence in the Basque Country at any time of the year. It is said that its name “Gilda” began to be used in the San Sebastian bar Bar Casa Vallés, referring to the main character of the movie Gilda, very spicy for her time. I don’t know if it is true, but in any case, it is a skewer that is worth making. 

“The trick of a good Gilda is that the piparra/guindilla is not very large and has a dot of vinegar, the anchovy is thin and without beards, and the olive is of the “zanilla” type without a pit. It should be taken in one bite to enjoy all the aromas and flavors at once.”


After 3 days in beautiful San Sebastian, we will begin our Camino del Norte on August 30.

The Way of St. James & The Scallop Shell

We laid my 90-year-old mother to rest yesterday. The celebration of her life was filled with laughter, tears, and memories. My mom was a planner, and she left us a lot of information to help us as we planned her funeral. But how could she have known that she would smooth the way for us to start our Camino del Norte on time? Mike and I had contingency plans in case we’d had to interrupt our 500-mile walk in Spain. As it is, I am at the Delta Sky Lounge, waiting for the first of 3 legs to Bilbao where we will be welcomed to El Pais Vasco by my cousins Ismael and Inma tomorrow.

Before I begin sharing our journey, I wanted to give some information about “The Way of St. James”, or the Camino de Santiago. There are numerous routes to reach the Cathedral. We are once again embarking on El Camino del Norte, the Northern Route along the Cantabrian coast. The route is the closest to my Basque family. The highlight of our last Camino was spending time with my cousins. Mike and I will feel great comfort in their loving arms after our loss.

If you’d like to follow along “the way”, please sign up to receive emails whenever I post an update.

Buen Camino ~

Scallop Shell that my Mom gave me 5 years ago when we did our first Camino

A Little about St. James the Apostle As Bible stories suggest, St. James the Apostle, along with his brother John (the Evangelist), was one of the first disciples of Jesus. They were related to Jesus by way of their mothers; Salome and Mary were believed to be sisters. James and John were disciples of John the Baptist (also a cousin), until Jesus called them to follow him. Both were highly emotional followers who were sometimes rebuked by Jesus for their sense of ‘spiritual ambition’ and for their non-peaceful ideas about how their enemies ought to be dealt with. Nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’ by Jesus, their anger was a character trait that had to be rectified in the course of their journey with their holy teacher. Records suggest that they were not always popular with the other disciples, as there was often jostling for positions of authority within the circle. James and John being family members were held up as being somewhat more ‘special’ by some followers outside of the close group of disciples, which didn’t go down well with the others. They also quarreled that they were entitled to sit at the side of Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven, and they subsequently learned from their Master that their place at his side had to be ordained by a higher power, and that it had to be earned through the sacrifice of the ego. Disciples were just that, they were pupils at the feet of a Master and had to humble themselves in service to others.    

After the death of Jesus, St. James took his ministry to the Iberian Peninsula, and to this day is the Patron Saint of Spain.  During the days of his ministry, it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. James on the bank of the Ebro River. He beheld a vision of her upon a pillar named the Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Today, the pillar can be found in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. He is recorded as being the first martyr amongst all the disciples of Jesus, having been put to death by beheading by Herod Agrippa in AD 44.

St. James and the Scallop Shell

Having been a fisherman in Galilea, and having taken the road that helped him discover his spirit, the Scallop Shell is the emblem of St. James. Its symbolism relates to two layers of the human condition; the physical and the spiritual. St. James was an ordinary pilgrim like the rest of us. He walked a long and difficult road with Jesus; he was imprisoned by his raging emotions, and he went through metaphoric fires to free himself and discover the vastness of his spirit. He learned how to live an authentic, peaceful life and he shared his personal lessons with others. 

Today, we make the same journey as such people as St. James. On the physical level, we pilgrims come from all walks of life, departing from different points and making different types of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. Some of us walk slowly, others challenge ourselves by walking fast and giving ourselves goals. Some of us ride bicycles, some go on horseback. There are those of us who walk the Camino in stages, and others who walk a little and bus a little. 

On the spiritual levels, we are all undertaking our own unique journeys, governed by the lessons that we need to learn, and the people that we are evolving into. No two pilgrims are alike, and though we walk the same roads on the outside, our inner pathways wind through very different emotional landscapes. The Scallop Shell has many grooved lines that lead from the outer rim to a meeting point at the base. The shell itself represents the many different spiritual/religious/humanist pathways that lead to the same place, to the universal center of all life-forms, the spirit, the soul.

When pilgrims carry the Scallop Shell it represents our personal journey, the sacred path that we must take within. We are all on the outer rim of the spirit, struggling to find our way back to our center. The Scallop Shell reminds us why we are walking, especially at the points when the journey feels too hard and we want to give up. It reminds us to focus on our journey only, and that each person has their own story that is unfolding. It reminds us that we are all ultimately one sacred soul, and that each of our roads are leading back to each other.