Camino del Norte Day 8 Lezama to Bilbao/Altamira Albergue

We woke up early this morning, after a night of enduring a jet-engine of a snorer in our room. We have been lucky with quiet rooms so far, but last night even my earplugs could not drown out the racket. The albergue provided cake and fruit and we made some instant coffee in the microwave to get us moving. The weather was very cloudy and threatening to rain. The walk to Bilbao was first along the road for several kilometers, before we left the industrial area and climbed up and over Mt Avril, about 300 meters of elevation gain.

The mountain would have afforded great views if it were not so foggy. It felt like we were walking up into a cloud, and we were soaked with sweat and condensation in spite of the cool temperatures. Bilbao is a massive sprawling city with about 1,000,000 people in the total area and over 300,000 in the city itself, the biggest city we’ve seen on our Camino walking.

The approach into the city was beautiful, as we followed the historic road down Calle Mallona and into a colorful main plaza lined tall, narrow buildings of every color. The weather was drizzly as we walked around to see the sites. We ducked into a little cafe for a cafe con leche and to dry off. We visited Decathlon, the Spanish version of REI. Dave was interested in possibly getting a poncho that would cover him and his backpack to keep his electronics dry more easily. Dave tried on a complicated rain coat with a big hump on the back to cover the big bag and ended up getting rather stuck in it. He was quite a graceful sight in the middle of the store trying to wriggle out of a giant poncho with a 70 liter pack on his back. We also looked for camping gas for our stove, but they were sold out of every kind and size!

By afternoon we were ready to seek out the albergue, which opens at 3pm. We knew it was located a little outside of time, but when we started climbing through a grassy hill with horses running free, we became worried that we were a bit too far out of the city… We continued and eventually found the albergue, a former school in a small neighborhood a few kilometers from Bilbao. We checked in, got our not-very-private hot showers in the school shower rooms and washed our clothes by hand. There are not many washers and dryers along the Camino del Norte, but a lot of albergues have a “centrifugadora” which is essentially a glorified salad spinner. You put in your clothes, turn it on, and the machine spins and spins your clothes while the rinse water drains out the bottom. The clothes actually emerge almost dry and a few hours on the line usually has them good to go.

Once we were settled in, we hopped on bus 58 and went back to the city to do some more exploring and to get dinner. Tomorrow there are two alternate routes to Portugalete, the next town, so Dave will take the high route which is about 50% longer but less on roads. I will return to downtown and hope there is better weather for taking photos to get some shots of the sites, and also I plan to visit the famous Guggenheim Museum down on the water front. Then I will take the shorter road route to Portugalete. If the weather holds (and our feet!) we may continue on to Pobeña.

We’ve been walking at about the same pace as a couple from California, a pediatrician and social worker, so we have enjoyed getting to know them better. Other faces have come and gone as we take shorter and longer days according to our research needs. It’s always fun to arrive to an albergue and see a familiar face of someone we have walked with before. Most hikers seem to be Spanish, followed by German and French. Some are stopping here in Bilbao and heading back to school, while many seem to have the goal, like us, of reaching Santiago de Compostela.