September 18, 2018. The length of this stage is hidden, so to speak, in the eye of the devil, which we passed. Encounters with an attack dog, a closet carrier and the recepting Korean.
We allowed ourselves so much time in the morning, so that the campsite after our departure can again be described as completely “pilgrim-free”. Both the good-humored little group to the left of us, and the German Mafia, had already set out at dusk. Our fears of the previous evening that from the neighboring tents some party mood could spill over to us, had not come true. We rather enjoyed a relaxing night in the freshly washed air from the thunderstorms.
So we set off and cheerfully continued first south along the river to El Pontarron del Guriezo. It was the first possibility to cross a bridge and then to go further west. The official Way of St. James went further south a long loop through the forest, but Vasek as a self-confessed sea fan wanted to stay near the coast and had researched an alternative route. So we soon left the yellow arrow pointing to an ascent into the forest.
Behind El Puntarron, a beautiful stretch of wooded road began. We enjoyed the freshness of the morning and especially Stijn was in a great mood. For him it was a phase full of energy. I didn’t necessarily want to disagree with him and kept walking on the stick and on bubbles behind. We took some time each walking on our own to indulge in our own thoughts.
After we saw on the way strangely also yellow arrows – were they fakes or led here in former times actually once the way along ? – we could start our breakfast in an open air café with more than one hundred seats. The bar was occupied only by three Spaniards, who apparently already belonged to the inventory. Another permanent fixture was the attack dog, a huge, almost immobile animal that lay in the middle of the entrance door and struggled heavily with sleep. Because of this, it had to be more or less climbed over with café con leche in one hand and tortilla in the other so we could find a spot outside for breakfast in the morning sun.
We continued on to Oriñon and from there to a hard climb to the Devil’s Eye. At the beginning of the trail there was still a signpost in the form of an arrow with a snail. I misinterpreted this as an easy slow path, but it was to be different.
So it was not the official Way of St. James, here the arrows were not in a sunny cheerful yellow, but in a dark sinister black, which relentlessly pointed the increasingly steeper and narrower way up. This offered dream panoramas with aching knees and a few near-falls. Further up it became clear that I would not get further with my hiking sandals and had to switch back to my boots, for which it was already clear that they would be put into well-deserved retirement after my return.
It was an extremely warm day and the ascent and descent made me sweat profusely. But even after we found the Camino again, there were no water points to see. The brownish remains in the few cattle troughs also truly did not invite to drink.
After some time, we encountered a group of tourists being chased around in Spanish by a guide who seemed to know the area. We ran out of water and Laredo was still far when we followed the group, whose members interestingly had hardly any equipment with them.
When we arrived at an abandoned house with a really really nice view, the group was just spilling out the door and marching at a brisk pace further down the trail to Laredo. Finally, I scraped together my remaining courage and asked a Spanish tourist from the rearguard for water. He must have misinterpreted my question a bit, because I received a lengthy lecture about the history and sights of the house and the people who used to live in it. My dry mouth increasingly open, I listened to the elaborate explanations, politely nodding and feigning understanding, while Vasek’s grin increasingly widened to the hilt. Suddenly, with a sideways glance, the man became aware that the others of the group had already moved away a little. He threw me another quick “Adios” and ran after the others. So I was left in my full despair and empty bottle, unprotected from the burning heat of the sun and exposed to the gloating of my traveling companion.
Eventually we saw the first signs of civilized life ahead of us and finally arrived in Laredo we were able to enjoy ice cold Nestea and a salad with earth berry sauce in a bar, more precisely in the “Garden of Sweet Life”. Yummy! The food here was not cheap, but very exquisite and there were some interesting dishes with sweet fruit.
Vasek again announced his need for new footwear, which would be satisfied in Laredo.
However, much of the city seemed deserted. The boardwalks were somehow reminiscent of socialist misplanning monsters that were somewhat out of time. Here there was exactly one, in numerals “1”, cart with the possibility to buy something to drink. And also only because the owner wanted to get something from it by chance. So I became the proud owner of an ice-cold bottle of the best mineral water, which was a welcome change from the not really tasty, but also not harmful Cantabrian Kranberger water.
After a long drawn-out walk, we reached El Puntal, where after a short time a small ferry hit the beach and took us along.
It could not be far to a hostel with washing facilities, because the weather was getting worse, we saw the eye of the devil blurred in thick gray clouds. Lucky!
We met a nice young US pilgrim on board the ferry with a quasi “closet wall” on his back. Backpacks the size of his I only knew from Youtube videos from the prepper scene or from the Ruhrpott-Outdoor guys. But unlike the latter, the American probably didn’t have a collection of choice beers with him.
In Santoña we looked for a shoe store and the hostel. In the marketplace, the Korean who had welcomed us the day before seemed to be waiting for us. But anything but sneaky, he pulled out a key and led us to the second floor of a house. After and because of good conduct of the hospetalero we were dismissed by him for body and laundry cleaning.
The hostel was again tightly stocked, but all in all relatively good.
We shared the dryer so as not to have to walk around again the next day as a clothes horse. So while I took care of the laundry, Vasek got himself new sneakers in Camino blue under Stijn’s supervision. Any coincidences, however, were denied by him.
After their return to the hostel, we treated ourselves to an opulent dinner to celebrate the last evening with Stijn. As a preventive measure against separation pain, we administered a good bottle of Rioja. On TV, a game of FC Barcelona against PSV Eindhoven was on, but we had only a few glances at it. Stijn had decided to run at his own pace for a few more days and we were fine with that.
During a short meeting in the evening with the chain-smoking Argentinean, I could contribute little apart from terse information about Lionel Messi’s goals. She was not particularly interested.
Conclusion of the day: Departures to one’s own limits offer new perspectives