Camino del Norte day nine: Bilbao to Pobeña

First things first: we should have retired our shoes sooner. New shoes made a HUGE difference today.

27.5k from 9 to 5:30

Walking out of Bilbao today involved ditching the Camino proper for a few kilometers, and instead following the river to Portugalete and then joining the Camino again (10k later). But first, LAVANDARIA!!! We found a fast and clean laundromat for a waaaay overdue cleaning. All clothes except what we were wearing went in, and came out warm and smelling like roses (or some Spanish detergent approximation of). Such a welcome change from the in-sink laundry necessitated of late by circumstance and lack of energy. Thank you, oh gods of the dark laundry arts.

While the clothes were undergoing their transformation, we had our own little evolution with a couple of cafes con leche, pintxos in the form of tortilla espanola, bocadillo with egg and chorizo, and a craaaazy good piece of bacon-ish ambrosia with crunchy skin. Sated, happy, ready to fold clothes and hit the road.

Leaving Bilbao via our chosen route took us through a lot of industrial areas, interesting graffiti, and little neighborhoods between the working areas. There was also this super-sketchy walk along the side of a two lane highway with no shoulder for a good 3 or 4 kilometers. With risk comes reward, right?

The reward: the funkiest, coolest bridge / funicular / ferry contraption either of us had ever seen. We crossed the river on this gizmo, for the sum of 40c each, along with about 8 cars and 20 people. Think bridge meets blimp meets ferry boat meets funicular. Only took about four minutes to cross, but WOW! Who invented this thing?!?

Portugalete is a delightful little town, full of moving sidewalks up the hills, and many people friendly enough to engage us in random conversations. A lady at the fruit store asked about my plans to walk to Santiago, then proceeded to engage in a heated debate with the fruit man about the route. (I think she insisted he give me an extra plum.) She told me and Lisa we were brace, wished us buen Camino, and rattled off directions to the path. Two more people stopped to help us–unsolicited–before we put google maps away and just listened to them. Too funny, and so very appreciated.

Meandered out of the city of Portugalete after crossing a futuristic and very long freeway-spanning set of bridges, and found ourselves back on the marked Camino. Wound through hills dotted with cows, burros and sheep (not together) and countless loaded fig trees. Met peregrinos from US, Australia, and Spain (young foursome traveling together), and later on, a foursome from Canada and Holland.

After a long, long stretch of bike/walking path through the hills, our feet started complaining, just in time for us to arrive at the beach town of Playa de la Arena. Off came the shoes, despite the fine, blowing sand, and down we skipped (well, skipped in our minds at least) to walk in the surf.

What a surreal, tactile, primal way to return to the coast after a week away! Kite surfers skittered back and forth across the waves, and a few folks walked the beach, but the wind and sand were not entirely inviting so it was pretty quiet.

Only a few kilometers left in the day, so we soldiered over a pedestrian bridge at the end of the beach to find our way to a pension for the night. Sitting now over a few glasses of wine (@ a buck-thirty each) and a bowl of olives, waiting for the hour proprietor to return from Bilbao. A large, old, German Shepherd visited with me a bit through his fence, then sat with his nose out of a hole at the foot of the wall.

Think we will sleep well tonight. Another gift of a day.

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