Camino de la Costa 03: From Irun to Ulia (24 km)

September 9, 2018: On the first few metres of the stage, alcoholic poisoned corpses paved our way. We met a couple of super heroes on the mountain Jaizkibel, Pasaia was “pretty in pink” and the Camino took its first toll.

The already highly cheered earplugs did their job so well long before dawn that I didn’t even notice the supposedly musical wake-up call of the hostel in Irun and had to be pushed out of my sleep by Vasek. The morning rush hour traffic past the hostel resounded loudly through the open windows and did not invite to stay in the bunk bed.

I gave up the morning shower based on the experience of the previous evening. One rustic Boy Scout shower within 24 hours with snorting and shivering was enough. So I got dressed and packed up right away and down to the breakfast that was announced by the old and very friendly Hospitalero. But this turned out to be a stack of unlovingly prepared baguettes and two pots of cold coffee. I still had my original French baguette from Mainz-Kastel and I couldn’t really get used to the coffee that was supposed to be warmed up in the microwave. The brew could be described very precisely with the german word “Plörre”, which I and a Canadian missionary that I met before, liked very much. So Vasek and I made our breakfast from leftovers of our provisions and later on after leaving the hostel we filled it up at a fruteria mainly with bananas. The mood of the pilgrims in the breakfast room was not very good, apparently we were not alone in assessing the situation.

We went back to the car and drove in the dark past the airport of Irun to Hondarribia to leave it there on a public parking lot. We checked once again the situation and the signs visible there and had good hope to find the car there again in about three weeks. The fact that this hope is trough is already anticipated here, but more about this in a later article.

In the yellow outdoor guide, whose possessions generally brand a pilgrim as a German, it was recommended to take a closer look at the place Hondarribia because it would be so beautiful. However, it was still quite dark and on our search for the Way of St. James, at the beginning of dusk, first a few, but then a whole group of young people appeared, who were sleeping off their intoxication of the previous night at the roadside. So we concentrated on finding the Camino up to the mountain.

Already after the first meters we had first beautiful views of Irun and the beach of Hendaye on the French side of the border river.

View of Irun and Hendaye
View of Irun and Hendaye

At the church Ermita Guadelupe at the foot of the Jaizkibel we took a first break at our first watering place. Here we met some pilgrims whom we had already seen before in the hostel.

Ermita Guadelupe
Ermita Guadelupe

Among them was a young French couple who probably did not have much hiking experience yet. In any case, large light blue terry cloth bath towels were part of their equipment, which were not yet really dry from the use in the hostel. They now wore them as superhero capes over their backpacks. I addressed them as Superman and Supergirl and got a double French grin.

The two steelheads still took their time at the church, but obviously didn’t have any kryptonite in their backpacks and overtook us after a short time when we were climbing the mountain. We only saw them from a distance for a short time as they tried to protect their fleece capes from a few falling drops with their quickly unfolded ponchos. So they changed into two dark blue Lords of the Sith and disappeared shortly after.

Instead of choosing the path to the dark or light side of the Force, the Jaizkibel offers the choice between an easy path and a steep one with a beautiful view. We took the more promising path, also because of the beautiful weather, light hearts and heavy steps. So we continued up to the top of the 547 meters high mountain. My tip for this: If it rains, you should consider not to take this path, because then there should be quite slippery and muddy passages.

The high trail on the Jaizkibel is a really nice ridge walk on the ridge up to the summit.

View of the Bay of Biscay from Jaizkibel
View of the Bay of Biscay from Jaizkibel

In principle, we had already reached the geographical peak of the Camino de la Costa here. But spiritually, I still felt like I was at the beginning. On the ridge I personally thought about whether and how it could be possible to meet God on the Camino like the prominent German pilgrim and author Hape Kerkeling.

I am more of a rational person who, as a practicing Christian, believes in God and Jesus, but who has no use for Noah’s Ark, for example. How can one accommodate the millions of animal species that exist in the Amazon jungle alone in a wooden ship for weeks in a manner appropriate to their species? For me, the Old Testament is full of oriental exaggerated legends that have hardly any meaning in my life. On the other hand, I have had numerous spiritual experiences in my life, for example when I was still practicing Ninjutsu and dealing with Reiki. Also later as a Buddhist. The phase of returning to Christianity was a very eventful time. But the most powerful experience I have today is when I take part in a communion. Here I regularly feel the presence of Jesus, and the interesting thing for me was that I also felt it on top of the Jaizkibel. It was as if Jesus was saying, “I’m here, you just go ahead and take care of the other questions why you’re here on pilgrimage.” It filled me with gratitude.

With this thankfulness, I went on to a much more mundane challenge, namely to avoid the numerous sheep droppings. I don’t want to be stiffened to the sentence that you have to wade through the shit like the Social Demokrats of Germany or the HSV (a soccer club from Hamburg), but the thought was quite obvious.

But even such routes you can get through and the western ridge of the Jaizkibel offers a beautiful path through the forest. Vasek and I joked that the Camino would be totally overcrowded when we met a hiker after half an hour or when we were overtaken by other pilgrims. Finally we came to a turn-off where we had to go down to Lezo on the left. We were just about to set foot in that direction when a suddenly appearing Spaniard advised us to stay on the original path if we wanted to go to Pasaia. Since we were a little bit unsure, he gave us some more hints with his smartphone and in relatively fluent English. The Camino just gives what you really need. Then we decided to leave Lezo on the left side and stomped further through the forest.

About half an hour later we settled down under a tree at the edge of the forest and had a lunch break, where the rest of the baguette from Mainz and my brought Gouda were eaten. Vasek contributed some Czech apples from his home garden. Distracted by these epicurean delights Vasek was attacked by one of the most dangerous animals of the Basque country. A caterpillar bit into his short trousers and could only be removed with great difficulty.

So we fled further in the direction of Pasai Donibane and soon we saw the first house over which a rather large pink flag was flying. My first association was that this would be a community of homosexuals and I already had an exclamation mark in the back of my mind that this would be remarkable in Catholic Spain directly on the Way of St. James. But then I saw that almost the whole place was decorated in pink, and Pasaia on the other side in a very feminine purple. Later we found out that this decoration had something to do with a rowing regatta, and that the towns were wearing the colours of the rowing teams.

Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink

Indeed, in Pasai Donibane, one or the other bar lured us with a probably delicious wine, but we immediately let ourselves chug over to Pasaia with the small green ferry for the affordable price of 80 cents. There we both succumbed to the temptation, but in the form of an ice cream van, which offered quite tasty coffee ice cream.

Cooled down to normal temperature and stimulated, we went on along the Ria with the freshly filled bottles at a watering place near a statue of the Virgin Mary and then to the ascent towards Ulia. The many quite high steps up to the first hill required a good amount of calf lard. At the top I threw my rucksack on a bench, and my 1 liter Nalgene water bottle must have fallen out. I only noticed it again a few kilometres further on during our next break on a concrete block. In itself annoying, on the other hand it turned out later that I did not need the extra kilo of the bottle in the further process. Only now the loss sucked a little bit on the motivation to go further and Vasek was also quite flat. So it took us quite a long time before we started our emergency generators to walk a good distance to the hostel.

So we walked up the hill for another 100 meters and then we unexpectedly arrived at our destination – the hostel of the 12 tribes in Ulia.

12 tribes in Ulia
12 tribes in Ulia

The spirits of many pilgrims are divided at this hostel, my travel guide does not leave unmentioned that this house is run by a strictly Christian “sect”. In Germany there was also a branch of this sect which came into conflict with the local youth welfare office because of the beating of children and compulsory schooling. Therefore it was moved to the Czech Republic and many of the members moved there accordingly.

So it was not surprising that Vasek was addressed in his mother tongue by one of the staff when we registered and were shown around. The house itself is very cosy, many walls and ceilings are panelled with wood and the beds are all made of solid wood. A garden and large terraces and a winter garden invite us to stay. Especially the lovingly designed bathroom we gladly accepted for cleaning the exhausted body and its functional clothing.

View from the garden of the hostel
View from the garden of the hostel

In anticipation of the dinner Vasek and I offered to help with setting the tables and this was gratefully accepted. Later at dinner we met a couple from Thuringia who had parked an old Ford Transit, which was apparently held together only by chewing gum and good wishes, at the hostel and set up their tent right next to it. Also Katrin, another pilgrim at our table, had her own tent with her and it was standing in the garden. With her we should get more to do in the next days.

André, a French Canadian from Quebec was our roommate. With him we had started a loud lament about the breakfast in Irun, where he had missed croissants. He asked us about wild animals in Spain. Ignoring the news about the resettlement of bears in the Pyrenees, which was later seen only in Germany, we told him based on our current experience that the worst danger would come from caterpillars. He told us that he likes to ring a bell during his walks, especially when he has headwinds while walking to drive away bears. We thought of him the next few days whenever we heard the ringing of a flock of sheep.

The food was simple, but good and delicious. Especially the homemade bread from our own bakery in Ulia was really excellent. Perhaps the best baked goods in the Basque Country.

After the meal there was finally time for a longer phone call with the loved ones at home, also for Vasek. It was also the best way to get away from the conversations in the dining room so slowly.

Cosy sleeping place with the 12 tribes
Cosy sleeping place with the 12 tribes

All that remained was to slowly get ready for bed and push the earplugs deep into the ear canal. The latter should still prove to be a mistake …

Conclusion of the day: The Camino takes what you do not need and gives what you need.

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