In the Winds of Change We Always Find Our Direction
DAY 13: Laredo – Güemes: THE WAY The Eagles Fly
The day started with a ferry ride. All of us climbed the damp wooden plank that dug into Laredo’s sandy beach and then swung our backpacks over onto the dark blue vessel of the waters. Santoña, the sister city of Laredo loomed ahead in a cluster of amber coloured stone abodes and it glimmered in the early morning sunlight. The boat carried us across the narrow bay that separated the two diversely contrasting towns and dropped us back onto the yellow marked road of The Camino de Santiago del Norte. Above us the sleek figures of two eagles shadowed the sky granting us a good omen as we continued onwards.
Ready to walk the plank! Up to the ferry from Laredo to Santoña
A moment to rest. Santoña in the background.
The view from the top!
Our Eagle Guides meet us!
Our next obstacle was a large mountain covered in the trademark flora of Northern Spain that had become so familiar to us. We climbed through the spiky brushes, past the wild Irises and out to the very peak where plum trees reigned with shades and sweetness. Down below the emerald green ocean rolled upon the shores in a melodic rhythm as though a lute player was moving the water with his breath. We descended onto its sandy grey shores and kicking off our shoes in a furious frenzy, we sunk our aching feet into the soothing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. It was like a personal ice bath for our blistered feet and the soft sand mixed with the ocean waters resembling mud, felt like a much needed natural spa treatment. We stopped to chat with new friends from our home country of Australia, two friendly and funny older couples from Sydney and Canberra. It felt so nostalgic to hear their accents, a taste of home from the other side of the world. I looked up and saw that the two eagles were still flying on the currents above us, gracefully tilting from side to side, showing us the way.
One of the many uphills in the Camino del Norte
The view of Noja 4 kms of beach-walking away.
The inviting waters calling our tired feet!
Our Aussie Mates on the Camino.
It was a little after midday when we stopped for our first break of the day in a small cafe at the end of the beach of Noja. We rehydrated ourselves with lemon infused water and ate the traditional Spanish delicacies of Aceitunas (Olives) Tortilla de Espanola (Spanish Omelette) and Patatas Bravas (Fried Potatoes dripping in a spicy salsa sauce) all to the musical sound of the Caribbean style songs that were streaming through the sound system. Our hosts were a Kenyan family who had emigrated to this beautiful part of Spain 30 years earlier. They spoke perfect English and we exchanged stories of travel and thanked them for their hospitality. The chips were the best by far on the Camino and if you are ever in Noja, you must visit their establishment. It is the first as you reach the beach with a spectacular alfresco terrace where you can just sit and watch the waves roll into the Noja shores.
Best HOT chips on the Camino ever. To date that is!
Reenergised, we continued on to our final destination of the day, as those two eagles continually circling the thermals guided our every step on this hot day, from village to village they showed us the way, as we crossed national roads and finally on to our destination. Just before we arrived, these two eagles that had flown with us the entire 26 kilometres, gave a sharp cry of goodbye, their strong weathered wings striking the sky with powerful strokes. With one final loop around our heads, the couple flew away into the golden distance.
Our Eagles bid us farewell.
They had energised us into our final steps of the day, with Dad comically mimicking a sports commentator in exaltation, as he ran through the middle of us as if he was going to score some goal, try or touchdown. We all laughed hysterically. Without a falter in our step, we reached the renowned and secluded haven of the Albergue of Güemes, or Casa de Abuelo (House of Grandfather).
Walking towards Güemes.
The entrance to this sanctuary for the weary pilgrim.
We had met many people on the Camino so far who had visited this Albergue from past attempts. It had a special reputation and words overflowed in a river of gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation at its welcome and hospitality for Peregrinos. It was a sanctuary, a place not to be missed. We were so eager to see this refuge ourselves that we broke our record of kilometres per hour and arrived well before we had anticipated.
A picturesque house dripping in honeysuckle vines and flowers entered our sight and beckoned us up the winding trail. Immediately we were made to feel at home, in a way that no hotel or accommodation had ever been able to sincerely welcome us before. When we stepped on the front porch, Paco, a kind co-host greeted us with a warm smile and an ice cold drink with chocolate biscuits. We were then taken inside to see Brigitte, a volunteer who had fallen in love with this place when she had been a pilgrim on the Camino herself. She had taken the week, as well as an 80+ Kilometres drive up from Bilbao to come and help out.
Brigitte checked us in and enquired about our traveling lifestyle taking an eager interest in Dad’s work, my blog and soon to be published book.We were then once again ushered to Paco who escorted us through the warm outer precincts of the large Albergue and to a small strip of beautifully decorated Cabañas. Instead of the expected sharing of a dorm with 20 other people and communal showers, we were taken to a cozy private Cabin with an en suite bathroom. We were told that dinner would be served at 8 pm and breakfast would be between 7-8 am. We were also assured that there would be vegetarian food to satiate us. All that was asked was that we would be present for a small talk given before dinner, by the owner of the Albergue, Father Ernesto, the grandson of the original Abuelo (Grandfather) who had founded this haven. When Paco left us, he left us speechless. We felt at home, which I can sincerely say was the most comforting feeling I had felt since we started this journey.
Already the laundry is out.
Relaxing in the backyard.
The Cabaña we stayed in.
At 7:30pm we piled into a rotunda room now packed to the brim with the 74 other pilgrims who were spending the night here in Güemes. Chatter rose into an overwhelmingly loud buzz, but as the white haired, bearded Padre entered, his kind aura silenced the room instantly, and we all turned, eyes wide in expectancy and listened to what he had to say. With a woman named Mago translating for those who couldn’t understand Spanish, Padre Ernesto commenced. He lifted up a small board to show us a picture of him in front of an old jeep in the middle of the desert. Without any hesitation he declared that jeep to be The University of Life. He explained that he himself had been quite an avid traveler back in the day and how he had found that while traveling for a year, he had learnt so much more than in all the 18 years of his formal education. He recounted his experiences and realisations that while traveling he had been subjected to many different cultures, ways of thinking, and people. It had opened up his eyes to the world and inspired him to create a place and environment where people, the travellers of the world, could come together in peace, learn from each other and experience an environment and hospitality where they were able to look within themselves and to see and understand who they really are. He explained that this journey of the Camino was not just a journey for the religious pilgrims, but a metaphor for the journey within, giving each of us the opportunity to come to know ourselves and why we walk this journey in life. This is why Ernesto dedicated the place of his family origins, as an open house and it was in this spirit that he wanted everyone to feel welcome. Being constant learners of the University of Life, and having been blessed to learn first hand the way the Padre had, we couldn’t help but feel a strong connection to him and his place.
Padre Ernesto’s Grandparents, the “Abuelo”.
Meeting Padre Ernesto.
Padre Ernesto faces a big challenge however, and that is the reciprocal generosity of those who stay. This paradise along The Way is completely funded by Ernesto and the Commune of people in the surrounding community, who give tirelessly of their funds and energies. They do this in the truest spirit of giving, knowing that to give is to receive. The problem, however, is that those that stay, are not reciprocating enough for Padre Ernesto to continue offering this place. He explained that while other Albergues say their place is Donativo (Donation) based, he prefers to say, people give what they can or what they feel, because feeling is what counts. This has left them very low on funds and they now face the reality that they will soon have to end the lunch service for the Pilgrims. I write this in the trust that someone reading this blog, who has the funds, will contribute to this wonderful haven that gives so much to so many!
We were then asked to come to the common dinning area, which actually used to be Padre Ernesto’s grandfather’s stable. It was filled with the hearty laughter of life, of people enjoying each other’s company, exchanging experiences and stories of what they had learnt along The Way. It was sincerely a haven of peace, a momentary sanctuary of real community, where all who were there were communing together in the real spirit of the Camino. Later on, just as I was biting into desert; a sweet and succulent nectarine that Brigitte was handing out to all those at our table, I experienced an overwhelming feeling. We too, like Brigitte, would have to return after the Camino as a family to offer our services as volunteers!
Enjoying a beautiful home-cooked dinner with fellow Peregrinos, including Maite from Germany (4th on the left from my brother Lalika) and the Aussie couples Mark & Meg and Julie & Bob (on the right from front).
The peace and harmony of the place extends to every living creature.
Only 639km to go!
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