Camino de Santiago: Basque Country, the beginning of the northern route |

Camino de Santiago: Basque Country, the beginning of the northern route

Camino de Santiago marker near Gernika, Spain.
Gwen Edwards / Special to the Daily |

If you go

What: Volunteer planning meeting for “Phil’s Camino” fundraiser

When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6

Where: Yellow Arrow Coffee, 103 S. Harris St., Breckenridge

Cost: Free

More information: Organizers are specifically looking for people to plan a Day on the Camino walk on Sunday, June 7, about a 10-mile walk in Summit County to mimic the Camino journey. Call (970) 453-9093.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of blog posts written by Gwen Edwards chronicling her journey on the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, a trail of hundreds of miles across Spain. The Summit Daily is serializing Edwards’ adventures leading up to a screening of the documentary “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” and fundraiser for “Phil’s Camino,” another upcoming documentary, at the Speakeasy Theatre on Saturday, June 6, and Sunday, June 7.

Waking up before the sun but after the first wave of super pilgrims who walk with headlamps before first light, I shook up a packet of instant coffee with cold water in a plastic bottle. I set out on the trail, leaving the tiny beach town of Deba behind. The camino led me up through the forest and to a tiny pueblo, still asleep and wet with morning dew, rain clouds in the distance giving it a dark glow. Far below, sheep grazed the blazing greens, and all I could hear was their bells and the crunch of my own feet.

Tears came, and I let them fall. Not for loss or change or hurt, but for the deepest gratitude my small soul has ever felt. And for a few minutes, I forgot what it took to get me here, the loss of dreams and the battle cries, the broken hearts and the nerves of steel. I was here, in Spain, walking though the stone streets of this tiny town watched over by a very old bell tower, which was the best thing I could think of in this whole world to do.

One morning, I had coffee from a vending machine on the beach at sunrise in the rain, soaking up those misty rays before they hit a still, gray ocean. On a hot afternoon, I sat in thick moss by a cold creek and ate chorizo and bread until my feet shrank to normal size. I got to know a pair of Irish guys who smoked and drank beer the whole day, yet managed an impressive pace, some meditating Dutchmen, a Pole who’d been saved by Jesus the year before on the camino and an American who runs a movie theater.

In Bilbao, the group of us celebrated the festival of St. James, in honor of pilgrims. Sometime in the past week, we’d all formed a bond. It must be the sleeping together in close quarters, or the commiserating over blisters and snorers, or maybe it’s the kinship over doing a weird thing like walking every day for more than a month.

My last day in the Basque Country was in the beach town of Pobena. The albergue was packed, and they were asking for volunteers to sleep on the floor. We gave up our beds, as there were others that clearly needed them. I spent the day on the sand, eyeing the ocean before joining some friends for dinner at an outdoor table set back from the beach. My heart was picking up a steady pace as the sun sank down, casting a pink light over the clinking of dishes. The ocean and I had a score to settle. I ran down to the sea, knowing our 10 o’clock curfew was coming soon.

The tide was way out and little waves slapped the shore gently and constantly. An orange and pink sky chilled the air, and my footsteps were the only ones in the sand. It was just the ocean and me. I let my tears stream out as I dove in, and over and over the little waves washed them away.

As I stepped out of the water toward the boardwalk, one of the meditating Dutchmen was there, sitting on the flat rocks. We walked backed together to the albergue, knowing we were late and not really caring.

“Come one, come on!” The host said, pointing to his watch. We scurried in.

“You,” he said, pointing to me, “you speak Spanish, you get a bed.”

And so began the camino miracles.

Gwen Edwards is the owner of Yellow Arrow Coffee in Breckenridge. Edwards took her pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in July and August 2014.

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