The rain during the night and it continuing to fall during the morning as I made my way from the albergue, was to provide a quite dangerous morning walk. After just 45 minutes on the road I reached the beach which ran up to a mountain with steep slopes that dropped into the ocean. There was only one way to get to the beach on the other side of the mountain and that was over it.

The next hour proved to be the most treacherous I’ve undertaken on any Camino. The path over the mountain was narrow and began with an easy to climb sandy section. The way then became compacted clay which was wet and slippery from the rain and the footsteps of pilgrims who had earlier passed by. At times the grade would have been sixty to seventy degrees. On occasions I resorted to holding onto clumps of grass to help haul myself up. Each step I took was deliberately chosen. When I looked to my right and saw the steep descent over low, scrubby bush vegetation to the ocean below it made me even more deliberate with each footstep. A fall would have meant a quick meeting with the sea. Going down the other side did not have the same imminent danger in the event of a fall but descending over slippery rocks can be very tricky. The clmb as well as the descent was an exercise in mindfulness.

Today’s walk was an odd one in many ways. After negotiating the mountain it was onto the beach which was the path for the next kilometre or so. I anticipated a sealed road I could see to my left would bring me into contact with the marked path so I cut through the yard of a closed cafe to get to the road. I anticipated correctly and met up again with the yellow arrows. But it was not to last. Soon after I lost them so I got out my Google map and plotted my own way to Guemes only to find that after about a half hour of walking I met up with the arrows again. I then seemed to be the only pilgrim on the path I took in the early afternoon after I
stopped for a food break. I noticed that I got to the albergue from a different direction than all who arrived after me.

I again experienced the Spanish generosity of spirit in giving pilgrims directions. I was heading towards Guemes when a man stopped me and asked if I was on my way to the albergue. When I said I was he told me how to get there by a way which was much quicker than the route I already had in mind. His suggestion did not involve going through Guemes. I think it a wonderful thing that pilgrims are thought of this way so that their difficulties are not compounded by taking a wrong direction. After all, many pilgrims walk these same paths every day. You’d think the locals would tire of giving help, but they appear not to.

The albergue I’m at is something special. I walked in around 3.30pm when those pilgrims who’d arrived before me were seated at two communal tables eating a lunch of soup, a rice dish, bread, water, wine and fruit. I was immediately invited to
take a seat and eat, which I did. After showering and doing my washing I wrote up a large part of my notes sitting by a giant fireplace in which a log fire was burning. I added to my late afternoon joy by having a couple of mugs of green tea, and
biscuits. The noise in the nearby kitchen started to pick up around 5.30pm when the staff began preparing dinner. This is an albergue that provides all the meals, and a lot more.

Some places you go to you know immediately they are special. This is one of them. I experienced one on the Camino Frances, but it was presenting a Christian message. This one is quite non-denominational, although I heard Ernesto referred to as a priest. Here there is that sense of community. There were just 200 pilgrims stay here when it first opened 12 years ago. Last year the were 4,500. I had not heard
of it. I arrived thinking it was just another albergue.

It takes fifty volunteers to run it. I sat at dinner with one of them, a German woman who is here for the summer translating the comments made by pilgrims in the testimonial book, from English, German, French, and a couple of other languages I can’t now recall, into Spanish. It will then be published along with photographs as a type of pilgrim yearbook. Ernesto has a huge library of slides taken all around the world which he allows to be used for research. His love of the Camino del Norte was apparent from the talk he gave this evening. He sees it as a supreme teacher,
something I came to know after I walked it the first time.
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