Camino del Norte Day 1

Flying out of Barcelona on our way to San Sebastián,

Today is the first day of my walk to Santiago in Spain, taking the northern route along the coast, called Camino Norte in Spanish. I had initially planned to do Camino Ignaciano, which would have taken me from Loyola, just outside of San Sebastián, to Manresa near Barcelona. That was the plan until we were told on the plane that we couldn’t land at San Sebastián due to fog, so we’d be taken to Bilbao instead. I having a migraine from the 30-hour journey so far and didn’t want a bus ride for 1.5 hours back to San Sebastián and Ron, who was looking out of the plane’s window and seeing the desert below, wasn’t keen on tackling Camino Ignaciano once again. We decided then and there while we were collecting our backpacks from the carousel at Bilbao airport to do the Camino Norte. The weather seemed pleasant enough with the temperature in the mid-twenties, and the forecast looks suitable for the next seven days. Fingers crossed!

We took a bus from the airport into Bilbao, not knowing where it would drop us off and when it did stop, many other people got off, and we decided that we should too. It was still daylight, with the sun not setting until about 7:45 pm. I was feeling zonked from the long flights and wanted to find a hotel right away so I could crash and get rid of my massive headache. We found one on close to the cathedral of St James, which would be our starting point for today’s walk. It was about a kilometre walk up one of the main streets of Bilbao, which was bustling with the peak hour pedestrian traffic. Once there, I took some Panadol and went straight to bed. I woke up the following day feeling a million times better and discussed the day’s walk, how much we should do, and if we should get a cab out of town a bit so we’re not walking through the industrial areas, etc. Ron and I weren’t sure how much we could do, still feeling jet-lagged and out of practice.

View from the hotel room

We had a good breakfast at the hotel and went to the tourist office to get our Camino Passports. These get stamped at each hotel, so when we arrive in Santiago, we have proof we have walked the walk. The tourism office told us we’d be able to purchase them at the cathedral of St James, and that’s where we went.

The photos here of the church, inside and out, are where we obtained the passports and maps.

Our destination today was a town up the river called Portugalete, and thankfully, the passport office in the church also gave us a map of the Camino route and directions to walk out of Bilbao. I decided that we should be right to walk the 19kms ahead of us, and there’d be no need to get a cab part of the way. We were warned in the travel guide that there would be a lot of walking through suburbia and industrial areas as the suburbs of Bilbao follow the river right up to the coast, the direction we were heading. The guidebook wasn’t wrong! Today’s photos tell it all.

Our first yellow Camino arrows pointing the way

Today’s walk was pounding the pavement in suburbia with the occasional walk along a path down by the river. The official map took a route that snaked around all over the place, but the guidebook did say that if we hugged the river in places, we would cut the walk down considerably, which is what we opted for. The official track said it would be about 19kms, but it ended up only 13kms. Quite a bit shaved off. Below are the images of the day.

Leaving Bilbao
Looking back to Bilbao
Walking up the river with Ron in the image
Looking back to Bilbao
A close up version
More river views
Officially leaving Bilbao
Some road walking
Entering Portugalete with the Vizcaya Bridge in the distance.
A close up of the same bridge

And that is it for today, folks. Tomorrow is a long walk to Castro Urdiales, about 30kms west along the coast, with both inland and coastal walking. Below is a map of today’s walk. Thanks for reading, and Buen Camino!