Day 1. Bilbao to Plentzia – Maps, Bunting and the WMCA

Walking out the hostel early, breathing in the cool Basque morning air, I was ready. It was true, it was a few degrees cooler up here, I let the crispness of the morning refresh me as I thought of my regretfully bought sleeping bag in my rucksack.

I looked back across the river at the museum and then up at the bridge. Last night the lights from the massive La Salve bridge had danced from the shimmering waters of the river and the gleaming silver of the Guggenheim museum below. Today it simply loomed close by looking too big and out of place. Like a lonesome mid-century high-rise in a village. While I searched the local area for a coffee and some breakfast, I found it difficult to form an opinion of Bilbao. It is bordered on 3 sides by steep hills, split in two by a wide river, has new and old bundled together ungraciously. I was not in the touristy centre of the city but for a new comer, it was difficult to tell exactly where that was. One thing was for sure; it was different to the other parts of Spain I had been. Stronger, more robust and also more radical in both architecture and people.

After grabbing a coffee and a few things from a supermarket, I went in search of a walking map. After visiting a paper shop, a tourist information centre and a book shop I had three maps, all fairly useless. One was a road map of the Basque North coast, one was a tourist’s map of the same area dotted with tourist’s intrigues but no paths and the last was of the whole of the Basque municipality. I had even tried asking for maps of this Camino de Santiago several people had spoken of, but to no avail.
I therefore set off that Monday morning in early September following Google maps on my phone. I worked out a rout to a village on the coast around 25 kilometres away. In the village was a campsite, I hadn’t booked anything as I hadn’t thought it necessary, I wanted to keep myself flexible.

The sun was warm as I headed North, on the East side of the wide, brown Ría del Nervión. I followed the main road, occasionally slipping into small neighbourhoods. One of which was the Ibarrekolanda area. Here, there was a low view point looking over the mishmash of architecture which followed the river. It was very industrial, rusted metal structures and simple, old, block buildings with work yards covered in dirt hovering between a state of use and forgotteness. In another neighbourhood I saw the preparations of a fiesta; fresh bunting crisscrossed above the road as people cleaned the street.

Despite diverting into some residential streets my rout kept linking up with the road along the river. Passing under the vast concrete Puente de Róntegui, I eventually peeled off to the East and began to rise into another urban area: Los Pinos. I walked through several interconnecting towns and villages, all were nice, quiet, middle class affairs. Just outside the city and not too far from the sea. Immediately I felt that these little towns had more in common with what I knew about England rather than what I’d learnt about Spain.

I continued to gradually climb. The villages became more open, greener and less dense but the urban areas continued to interlink. I was longing to reach wilder climates. I passed through Kurtze Auzoa, a small place where my rout crossed a railway several times. Here I had my first real view of the tree engulfed hills and mountains of which the Basque country is famous, just out of reach. Finally I reached Sopela, a pleasant little village where I crossed a park and started to climb a steep hill marking the end of the urban sprawl. The road was boarded by two small goat farms on each side and headed towards some woodland at its peak. I checked Googlemaps to make sure I was heading in the right direction. It displayed a path which cut through the trees before heading down towards the village I was heading for. I followed, but despite the path indeed being there it was impossible to follow. I’m not sure how often and by whom Google maps is updated, but sometimes it really does send you down blind alleyways.

This time wasn’t so bad. I retraced my steps to the road and traversed a 10 minuet diversion to a junction. From there on out it was easy sailing to the village. To my left, the green, grazed grass hills rolled away down to the Atlantic, to my right were the low wooded mountains of País Vasco. The sounds of birds and breeze brushed trees filled the air and bounced off the hillside. Not too long after reaching the countryside of the coastline I began to hear another, less natural sound. I could hear the beat of music, echoing up the hill far before I spotted the town. After climbing up, the road began to descend towards the picturesque town of Plentiza. Its white, red roofed buildings tightly clumped over a steep, short hill. On its near side was a clear, clean estuary and just beyond I could see a yellow sand beach.
The bass beat slowly materialised into music as I got closer, but not just any music. The first song I made out clearly was not of the Spanish guitar or reggaeton but the WMCA. I arrived into the beautiful town of Plentiza to the Village People. Here the streets were also crisscrossed in bunting and only beginning to fill up with people in the mid-afternoon. I decided not to explore the fiesta just yet but to find my campsite and pitch my tent for the first time.

The campsite was just beyond in neighbouring Gorliz. A very happy, smiling lady showed me around the busy and well facilitated campsite. I hate to admit it but I didn’t manage to put my tent up on my own the first time around. With the aid of a Dutch guy we managed it. After all was done I went back into the town to see what all the commotion was about. The town was celebrating San Antolín, its most prominent fiesta. In true Basque style the men wore red berets and neckerchiefs with white shirts and black waistcoats while the woman wore traditional red skirts. In the main street Basque men and women drank and laughed wholeheartedly. In the plaza children from a local school were putting on a performance. With everyone distracted with the activity, I peered tiredly into the river, where hundreds of fish were pushing unseen, upriver.



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