We arrived in San Sebastián around noon after a relatively easy morning of hitch-hiking. We were very excited, the decision had been made to cough up the 30€ for a room at a hostel! Quite the step for us, as we are perhaps the most frugal travelers I have ever seen. We were, however, finally in the Spanish Basque and looking forward to a relaxing day or two on the beach.
A large portion of time hitch-hiking is usually spent walking along the side of a road--at least you feel like you are going somewhere!
San Sebastián is one of the most renowned cities in Western Europe; it is the most Basque of all the large cities in Northern Spain and boasts several white sandy beaches on the Atlantic. The city is renowned for its magnificent architecture and is competing with Warsaw, Poland for the cultural capital of Europe 2011. Things were looking up for us, the hostels had great reviews and we had even planned three back-up options, all with wi-fi, in case there were any problems. Yes, San Sebastián was going to be the nice break we needed after five days on the Camino and even more days of hitch-hiking before and after that.
Unfortunately, it was never meant to be. One of the downsides to nearly always avoiding tourist hot spots and steering off the beaten track is that you are utterly unaware of what most would credit as perfectly obvious vacationing common knowledge. More specifically, that one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, during one of the most popular vacationing months for the world equals pandemonium. As soon as we arrived downtown we saw that the streets were packed; every kind of tourist you can imagine was present.
Back to San Sebastián, even after seeing the masses in the streets, we were still naïve and believed that this was simply what all tourist towns looked like. This belief lasted until we started the search for our hostel. We discovered one after another, all fully booked, not a vacancy to be found. Once we had exhausted our list we ducked our heads into one of the many surrounding bars, bought a 3€ bottle of coke and used the internet that came along with it to find another seven hostels/cheap hotels in the area and began the hunt anew.
Seven full hostels later, we did the only sensible thing left to us. We bought some fruit, a loaf of bread and some cheese, found a grassy knoll next to the beach and enjoyed lunch. While dining it was decided that San Sebastián would have to wait for another, less crowded, month. We grabbed up our packs and, even less rested than we had been when we arrived, again set out Northward.
For reasons that we will hit on in a future post, regarding the strategies of effective hitchhiking, we were forced to continue out of town on foot looking for a suitable location to get picked up. About seven kilometers outside of town, and still no decent place yet spotted, we decide to check in with a nearby rail station. Upon hearing that it was only 1.40€ to catch the next regional to the first town in France (roughly 17km), we bought the tickets and for the first time in our trip we were excited to simply sit and relax on the platform during the fifteen minutes wait for our train.
We arrived in the small coastal French town of Hendaye around 19:45 just as the sun was preparing to begin its daily decent over the horizon. Hendaye, as it turned out, was a very nice town, clean enough to make even the Swiss blush and filled with very nice people to boot. Unfortunately we stayed only as long as it took us to walk through; however, this did take us through some nice neighborhoods and along the beach with the sun setting to our West across the Atlantic.
Once we walked just outside of town, we managed to catch a ride fairly quickly depositing us a few kilometers further up the coast where we found our campsite for the evening. This campsite was located about 50m off the road, just past some bushes and costal foliage, opening up to a grassy spot on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. We managed to catch the last glimpse of the sunset as we laid out our sleeping bags. The stars began to appear across the sky as we drifted off to sleep to the sound of waves crashing below us. The evening, especially the stroll through Hendaye, was an excellent end to a long day of wandering and we slept well even with the coastal dew that set upon us in the early hours of the morning.
The view from our campspot outside of Hendaye.