We were excited to get out the door for our first day on the Camino. However, the hike started out as a bit of a doozie. We got lost in Bilbao less than five minutes into our journey because we had no internet connection, there were no clear street-signs and no shells or yellow arrows signified that we were headed in the right direction. Deciding not to fret, we took an interesting gondola across the underside of a mini golden-gate-bridge. On board this hovering machine was another backpacker, so I decided to ask him if he was walking the Camino. I was overjoyed when he said yes and asked us if he could walk with us. David was officially our first friend on the Camino, AND he knew which direction we should be going.
David said he was hiking the Camino to take his mind off his stressful job in Germany. He was working in construction and had just graduated as a “master craftsman.” His outward personality seemed a little gloomy, but deep down he had a pure heart. We were all starting the first day of the Camino in Bilbao, so we shared the experience of seeing the first guidance shell together. Every turn you make along the way is supposed to be signified by a yellow shell or arrow. The three of us turned finding the arrows into an I-spy game.
After passing through the countryside of inland Spain and many lush farmlands, we arrived on a vast sandy beach. We trekked across the orange sand until we came to an extensive white bridge that crossed a small, yet rigorous river. The bridge took us to Pobena, the first town we would stay the night in. An elderly German gentleman got out of his car to point us in the direction of the albergue. Albergues are like hostels in Spain, and their fees are usually by donation.
We sat with two older Spanish men, with deeply-cut wrinkles, and a spit-fire grandmother figure. We were joining in their Spanish conversation as often as we could. It was not until about 20 minutes in that they gasped and asked, “wait, you’re not Spanish?!” We were so excited that they mistook us for being Spanish because that meant we were picking up a thing or two in the language department. Realizing that the hostel only accepted cash and that the small town didn’t have an ATM, we got a little nervous. One of the old men we’d been talking to pulled a crisp 10-euro bill out of his pocket and said, “Buen Camino.”
The grandma we sat with was trying to learn English at her school in Valencia. She was ecstatic to learn that we spoke English and adopted us as her own. She told us, “eat with me, sleep with me, walk with me, and we will learn each other’s languages!” She took us under her wing and made us come with her to buy fruit from a local vendor. Then she rallied up a group of three women to drive us to the next town over so that we could get cash and stop by the supermarket. The women let us borrow 20 euros to buy fruit, then drove us 20 km round trip. This entire exchange took place in Spanish because not one of them spoke a lick of English.
When we got back we offered to pay the generous man the money he lent us, but he refused and again stated, “Buen Camino.” The soreness had really started to set in now that we hadn’t been moving for a while. I strained my back somehow, funnily enough, on the airplane. Maybe it’s because I was sleeping on my tray table, so my head was basically in my lap for an entire 10-hour flight? Anyways, it pulled some sort of connection between my hips, legs, tail bone and spinal cord. By the end of the hike, the pinched nerve gave me a dead-leg sort of numb feeling. It was time for some painful stretching and a post 15-mile nap.
The albergue had a communal sleeping room, that very much reminded me of the Kappa porch, but it was co-ed. I awoke to the boy on the bunk below me frantically looking through his backpack. I introduced myself to him and the first thing he said was, “I’m Antoine, do you have a towel I can borrow?” He sported a funny french accent and seemed to be rather unprepared for hiking the Camino. We became fast-friends and went to dinner with him and a Hungarian guy named Atila. Aria, trying to make moves in the chiseled blonde babe asked, “Oh, like Atila the hun??” He was not so impressed as he said, “well yes… I am Hungarian.” We got a kick out of her failed attempt at flirtation. With the first day accomplished, we went to bed with sore feet and happy hearts.