Camino del Norte – Day 1 – Irun to San Sebastián, 28km

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8th September, 2019

  • Day 1: Irun to San Sebastián
  • Distance: 28km
  • Weather: Initially rainy then a gorgeous summer’s day
  • Accommodation: Albergue Juvenil Ondarreta La Sirena, €24.50
Camino del Norte waymark

840km to Santiago!

I wake up to the sound of rain and plastic bags rustling inside the dark room; some pilgrims are up and getting ready before the 6.30am wake-up music. I didn’t set my alarm, I knew I wouldn’t have to because there’s always someone who takes it upon themselves to wake up the whole albergue by either shining a white headlamp around the room, or rustling plastic bags! 😉 I can’t get back to sleep so I lie on the top bunk waiting patiently for the time to pass and for my bottom bunk buddy to wake. I’m certainly not in a hurry to leave in the rain and dark.

By 6.30am the majority of the pilgrims in the room are awake and moving about so I hop down and start what will become my routine for the next month: pack away my sleeping bag into a dry bag, pack away my sleep clothes into their own separate dry bag (in case of bed bugs and not wanting to spread them throughout my bag), then I pull on my knee brace, leggings and long-sleeve shirt and pack everything away in my backpack. I remove the paper sheets that were handed to me last night to cover the bed and pillow and head downstairs for the included (donation) breakfast. I eat breakfast (bread, jam and coffee) with my bunk buddy Stefan from Switzerland, then after filling my water bottle, paying a donation, brushing my teeth and donning my poncho (it’s still raining), I set off into the cool, wet streets of Irun.

It’s still dark but I don’t need my headlamp and the arrows are good. I’ve decided to take the low-level route (instead of the alpine route) because of the rain and how slippery I’m already finding the paths and rocks. It’s beautiful but the views are limited.

Following the low-level variant after Santuario de Gaudelupe through forest

Following the low-level variant after Santuario de Gaudelupe through forest

Heather and a muddy track on the low-level variant after Santuario de Gaudelupe

Heather and a muddy track on the low-level variant after Santuario de Gaudelupe

Views of the Bay of Biscay

Views of the Bay of Biscay

I’ve spent the first part of the morning walking with Jessica from Italy and we stop in the picturesque town of Pasajes de San Juan for a short rest and bite to eat.

Pasajes de San Juan

Pasajes de San Juan

Pasajes de San Juan

Pasajes de San Juan

Quick stop to refuel at a bar in Pasajes de San Juan

Quick stop to refuel at a bar in Pasajes de San Juan

Tortilla and a cafe solo in Pasajes de San Juan

Tortilla and a cafe solo in Pasajes de San Juan

Pasajes de San Juan

Pasajes de San Juan

We then board a small boat to cross the estuary and begin to climb steeply uphill, with stunning coastal views.

80 cents for the short ferry crossing at Pasajes de San Juan

80 cents for the short ferry crossing at Pasajes de San Juan

The ferry crossing at Pasajes de San Juan

The ferry crossing at Pasajes de San Juan

Coastal views on the Camino del Norte

Coastal views on the Camino del Norte

'Love finds the way'

‘Love finds the way’

First views of San Sebastián

First views of San Sebastián

It’s a steep descent to San Sebastián and I’m very happy to arrive after what seems like a tough first day. I’m also starving and looking forward to eating some of San Sebastián’s delicious pintxos. We follow the esplanade to the old town and are hit with a flood of people. There are thousands gathered in the narrow streets and it’s almost impossible to make our way through. My hopes of finding some pintxos (and somewhere to sit) are quickly dashed and with my backpack on, there’s not even any room to stand and eat!

It's a summers day in September in San Sebastián

It’s a summers day in September in San Sebastián

Attempting to walk through the old town with backpacks on was a mistake - there was a rowing competition on and thousands of people!

Attempting to walk through the old town with backpacks on was a mistake – there was a rowing competition on and thousands of people!

Jessica decides to walk along the beach and I decide to head straight to the albergue thinking the faster I get there and drop off my pack, the faster I can be eating dinner!

Sea, sand, a stroll and reflections in San Sebastián

Sea, sand, a stroll and reflections in San Sebastián

San Sebastián

San Sebastián

What can I say, I passed too many people eating ice cream to not join in myself!

What can I say, I passed too many people eating ice cream to not join in myself!

When I arrive at the albergue there’s only four people in the queue ahead of me, but it takes forever. By the time I’m second in line, there are another 10 people behind, so my heart sinks when the manager tells me I’ve got the last bed. I feel terrible for everyone else and can’t believe all 100 beds are taken. Just as I’m paying, Jessica walks in only to hear that dreaded word you never want to hear on a camino, ‘completo.’

Albergue Juvenil Ondarreta La Sirena

Albergue Juvenil Ondarreta La Sirena

'Completo' - a sign no pilgrim ever wants to see on arrival at an albergue

‘Completo’ – a sign no pilgrim ever wants to see on arrival at an albergue

My room has two bunks for 4 people and I’m on the top. I guess that the other three are men because of the gymnasium-like smell and the three pairs of shorts and underwear draped over every bed and locker, including mine! They obviously weren’t expecting me 😉

After a quick shower and laundry, I head to a recommended bar nearby for some patatas bravas and calamari, then I walk along the beach allowing the sand and sea water to revive my feet after a long day. It’s a beautiful evening and lots of people are swimming.

I finally climb into bed around 10pm and my roommates are still nowhere to be seen. Until at around 1am three Spanish men come crashing in, turn the lights on and start packing their bags. The room no longer has the aroma of a gym, it now smells like a brewery. We exchange greetings then I put my eye-mask on and ear plugs in and they continue to pack as if I’m not there. Maybe I’ll set my alarm on the chime setting for 4am tomorrow then hit snooze every five minutes until 6…

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2 responses to “Camino del Norte – Day 1 – Irun to San Sebastián, 28km

  1. OMG, I love the details in your descriptions of the route, the albergues, your feelings. So familiar to former peregrinas, I’m sure. I’m impressed with your remarkably good spirits. Sending good thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

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