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International Stumblings of a Moneyless Idle

Lazily making his way through the world

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Basque Country

Day 7: Zarautz to San Sebastián – The final push

The last day, the final push, but it wouldn’t be easy.
I woke up on Sunday with one goal in mind: Get to San Sebastián. After a whole week of walking, I was ready to chill-out in a city for a while with the little money I had left. The problem was that after a week of walking my knees had begun to ache and on that last day they became quite painful. I’m not sure why it was, people can walk for weeks, months without problem. Whether it was my diet, pushing myself a little too much or too little training, my last day and a half of walking was plagued with knee problems.
I had 22 kilometres to cover and aimed to be in San Sebastián just after mid-day. My knees hurt most when I walked down hill, the first leg of my journey was a long, shallow down hill walk to the town of Oreo. Tall hedgerows along narrow lanes mostly shielded the scenery. I do remember a man with a big stick walking in front of me swinging at any livestock that came close enough but apart from that this first leg was rather uneventful. I eventually was lead to a road along a river, crossing under a motorway and then over the river into Oreo. I’m not going to say that Oreo is unremarkable as a town but in my desire to get a move on I did not stop in the small town and experienced none of it.
The far side of Oreo the path grew busier and would stay that way all the way to the San Sebastián. This was unfortunate as I had got into the habit of walking backwards for short periods of time as it was easier on my legs. I thought that the friendly nods and hellos walkers give when they pass each other might change into confused squints if I continued. After straddling the side of a hill, I passed back under the motorway where the Camino split into three. One way would take me to the peak of a mountain, one was a coastal route and another an inland route. I chose to walk from Bilbao to San Sebastián because I could follow the coast and I planned on doing that all the way to the end!
After circling the edge of the wooded mountain in what was a very refreshing, Northern European scene, I descended to a coastal path with a dramatically different mise-en-scene. Going from the lush greens of the mountainside the path then weaved down a dry and dusty, steep coastal hill. The plants vibrant and hardy with many low lying shrubs and twisted old trees. I could have stopped in this new and foreign landscape but the big city awaited.

After descending towards the sea and climbing back upwards the path joined a quiet road providing access to wealthy looking properties dotted amounts big plots of land. These roads continued for another couple of kilometres before reaching a road on the ridge of a hill. Beyond the ridge, the city of San Sebastián reached out before me. Seven days, 130-140 kilometres covered, a new fear of dogs, many beautiful memories and now I could see my destination. I say the city reached out, it is far from what you can call a massive urban sprawl. It’s beautiful to see it from up high. When I worked in the hostel I used to ask some of the travellers: What’s your favourite city so far? Some answered San Sebastián and I remember one telling me his reasoning was because it was like a city designed on some game by a God. The bay looks like it was created for the purpose of defending a city. On its East and West flanks two steep hills bend around creating a crater like shape in the middle. They don’t come close to touching so the sea flows between them to form a big, shielded bay. Along the shoreline there is a long curving beach that runs its length to a tidy little dockyard on the far side, broken only by a bulge of land right in the middle. It’s quite remarkable.
Just along the road from where I had appeared above the city, at the tip of the Eastern ridge was a large mansion that I later found out is just an attractions park. Instead of inspecting it I decided to simply descend into the city and rid myself of my bag, have a shower ect. The Camino descended steeply through some gardens that climbed the hillside. I ended up on the Western side of the city, near the beach. It is here, kicking off my trainers and slipping into my flip flops that I believe my walk ended and my short city break began.

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Day 6: Part 2: Zumaia to Zarautz – A grand little walk.

I crossed the bridge out of Zumaia with just over 10 kilometers left and plenty of time. I dawdled along the road next to the marshland with its waders and water birds before being directed up into farmland. I expected more of the same here. Lanes running through lush fields of green sporadically broken by a group of trees. Little did I know that West of Zumaia is vineyard country.

The dirt underfoot changed from a moist dark brown to a dusty pale gravel. The hill climbed up and away from the town and was soon lined with thick, bountiful vineyards climbing and descending. This short section was made more entertaining because I wasn’t following a straight line. The dirt road zigzagged through the mazy vineyards giving off the sense that these where very old plantations. There is something very satisfying about walking between the long rows of vines. It makes a walk have a sense of grandeur.

It wasn’t only the grapes here which provided a view. Looking down the hill towards the sea a peninsular appeared. An oval island connected by a chunky ligament of land: Getaria. The town of Getaria sits on the land bridge between the mainland and the Isla de San Anton (called Isla =island despite not being one). It looked quite unusual, the narrow clustered town with the hill of an island beyond. I was quite content to look down on it from my vineyard vantage point. The small town had a fiesta in full swing and beach to relax on but I continued westwards knowing that another town awaited.

After I passed the final row of vines and traversed another section half wooded, half lush with crops, I descended into Zarautz. (Not to be confused with the previous town of Zumaia.) Zarautz is similar to the town of Bermeo I had visited on Day Two, only bigger and busier. It is a beach town, modern buildings mostly high-rises next to a long and popular beach. Going off architecture alone the town has little character, but like many beach towns: the surfers out to sea, the kids running and playing, everybody in bikinis and swim shorts, create its character.

After taking out some cash for the last time on this trip I realised how poor I was. I hadn’t lived lavishly by any standards. My water was mostly free, bottles topped up at the many public fountains along the Camino. My diet had consisted mostly of salad sandwiches and peanuts and I had keep my beers to only one or two here or there. The average price of my unreserved campsite plots was around 15 euros but still, I had managed to spend (with the cash I just took out) around 200 euros.

My poorness came into frustrating effect when I reached my next campsite: Gran Camping Zarautz. It was up a hill overlooking the town on its West flank. The camp was big and had a lot going on: A bar showing the football, a pizza place and a restaurant. The problem was I couldn’t really afford any of it, not if I wanted some money left to spend in San Sebastian. I think I bought and nurtured a half-pint, ignored the sounds of festivities from the town, and went to bed. Not down hearted though, that days walk had been incredible.

Day 6: Part 1: Itxaspe to Zumaia – The best walk

There are many titles I could give the walk I completed on day 6. It was the busiest walk, many walkers traversed this stretch of coastline. It was the most off-road walk, only walking on roads when going through towns. Most importantly it was the most beautiful walk, on what was a continuously beautiful trip.

I woke up at my amazing campsite, looked across the Deba-Zumaia Coastline National Park and couldn’t wait to get going. Pinned to the notice board of the campsite was a Camino de Santiago pamphlet with a map of the section of path I was just about to tackle. After all the problems I had leaving the Camino in search of the campsite the previous day, I here realised that if I had just stuck with it, it would have taken me to within 20 meters of Camping & Bungalows Itxaspe. Sometimes, I was beginning to learn, you must trust that all roads lead to Rome.

When I reconnected with the Camino I was met by something that I hadn’t had up until this point: the sight of other walkers. For the past five previous days, most of it making my own way, I had been on quite a lonesome walk, but here there were others. Despite some people now in the way they didn’t ruin the view. A rugged, jagged coastline of sandy-stony beaches with great claws of rocks. The trees did not encroach over the hardy grasses that carpeted the ground up until the cliff and beach edges making it quite different from all sections before it. The Deba-Zumaia Kostaldeko Bidea is a natural park because of its dramatic rock formations. The different levels and layers of rock have eroded in such a way to make long, pale fingers reach out to sea. In some places it looks like a rocky corrugated metal is being used as a sea defense. But the sea does surpass it and has bashed against the cliffs to make them lean every which way.

The Camino pointed me inland, towards a farm and then up a steep climb away from the rumbling coast. It went into a patch of woodland and up out the other side to a grassy area, eventually ending at the shallow ridge of the hill. Here, there was a small hamlet and a dirt road progressing across the ridge. To the North the hill dropped away to the rugged coastline, but to look inland was to look at the most amazing view of my journey.

It was still morning when I reached the ridge and a morning coolness still hugged the air. Looking inland from the hamlet of Elorriaga Auzoa, you saw only layers upon layers of mountains nudging their way into the distance. In the bright fresh air they were all different shades of blue, getting darker the further they rolled away. It’s a view that you must admit to yourself that no one would be able to paint and fully capture its outstandingness. I was truly impressed. So much so that I would say  if you are thinking of following any of the steps I took, go to the hill were the hamlet of Elorriaga Auzoa sits. I was not the only person admiring the view up on the hill. I was accompanied by many other tourists. Not enough to be annoying mind you but more than in most other parts of my trip. After a few minutes  of admiration, I continued.

The lanes and paths remained busy with people heading downhill from the ridge with the beautiful view often present to my right. The path eventually came down to sea level just for the signs to point me back up towards the edge of the Flysch Cliffs. From this vantage point one is able to look down on Playa de Zumaia. I saw many beaches during my Basque walk but Zumaia Beach was the most memorable. The dark brown sand is almost completely cut off from the town by two streaky cliffs of pale rock. Each of them looking like it was etched out from the land. The only way to get to the beach is by a path right through the middle of them, seemingly naturally formed for the purpose of beachgoing. There were sunbathers but it didn’t look like a beach for sunbathing. Its pale, streaky cliffs and dark sand made it look quite ominous. I looked down on the beach but did not go down to it.

Instead I went into Zumaia, one of the better known coastal towns in the Basque Country. While other towns have a ruggedness, a gentleness or beach-vibe to them. The adjective that stands out from my trip to Zumaia is wealthy. The clean, paved, pedestrian streets are crossed by many a well-dressed family. The many bakeries and cafes along the blue river looked expensive and were indeed out of my price range. It has a busy marina filled with boats and yachts elegantly set apart from the river by a curving wall. It’s a place you may associate more with Southern France than Northern Spain. It is a strange location for such a place. Slotted between the gothic beach to the North and a blotch of marsh land to the East.

I stopped for a tea, as that was all I could afford, tried not to look ridiculously out of place and flicked through the pictures of the tremendous views I had seen that day.

Day 5. Part 2 – Mutriku to Itxaspe. Don’t trust Google Maps.

The next six or seven kilometers provided a simple, refreshing walk up and over some hills. The lanes I followed wriggled through farmed fields and small villages with the sea ever visible to the North. The path’s markings soon told me to leave the country lanes and head down a narrow pathway which took me to a road, next to a river, with the simple town of Deba rising up on the opposite side.

I didn’t spend long in Deba. I walked along a path shaded by a regimented row of trees next to the river. At the end of the path was a big beach accommodating many sunbathers with a bar on its near side. I stopped for a caña before working my way back to where I’d left the Camino de Santiago. The signs and arrows showed me up the roads, through the town and out the far side. Having not spent much time in Deba, it is difficult for me to reflect back on it. The only impression it made on me was that it seemed more of a town for people to live rather than visit, despite its generous beach.

The scene on the far side of Deba was similar to that which came before it. Green, fresh smelling farmland with simple country lanes running between them. I didn’t have a map for the Camino, so I didn’t know where it led. I did know that my campsite was near so I changed back to following Google Maps, the last time I would do that on this journey. I peeled away down a lane denting into lush green farms. Old, dark skinned famers toiled away in each. The lane then became a track running along next to a stream under a canopy of trees. The lane was marked as a road on Google maps but it didn’t seem like it went anywhere. As I continued the lane became more overgrown and muddy. (It’s worth noting that this lane has since been removed from Google Maps.) The road to the campsite was literally just a short climb up a steep hill the other side of the stream. So, instead of continuing along the overgrown lane which probably would have leaded me to a vicious dog, I jumped the stream and began scrambling up hill.

The section of hill I climbed was a section of woodland recently cut for logging. It was covered in stumps and roots which aided my climb. Sweating a lot with my bag on my back I suddenly heard a sound that sent a shiver down my spine. It wasn’t the sound of a gun, a scream or fire, but a bell. Why would a bell scare me? On this journey I had only seen one animal with bells around their necks, bulls. I turned around half expecting to see a charging bull, instead I saw a row of goats. They were standing along the trunk of a fallen tree, heads turned, looking confused whilst slowly munching their jaws. I was relived but also knew how aggressive goats could be. I quickly turned and continued.

This area stopped at a wire fence, I had hoped the road I was looking for would be the other side of it but unfortunately I was met by an inclining field with houses a top. Two things went through my mind: One was that the owners of the houses were probably the owners of the fields and if they saw me crossing there field how would they react? Two, the fence looked electric. To pass boundary one I found a fallen branch, used it to push the wire of the fence down, stood on a log and jumped over. I then crossed the field, taking a rout least visible to the houses. The field ended at a lane which was still not the road I was looking for. It was the lane that, if I had just been patient enough, the muddy, overgrown lane would have become. I ungracefully jumped the hedgerow and was back on track.

Boundary three was one completely thought up by my new fear of canines. The lane continued between two farmhouses, their gates open. What if territorial dogs lingered within them? Instead of avoiding the farmers I now tried to get their attention. A middle-aged couple working in a garden. I called to them, waved my arms. They looked at me, must have thought I was crazy, and continued gardening. I continued up the road with caution, passed the dogless house without problem and finally reached the road.

Two minutes later I made the campsite: Camping & Bungalows Itxaspe. The cheapest and best campsite of my journey. I arrived, legs scratched, clothes dirty, body sweaty. The lad behind the counter must have thought strangely of me. Why was Itxaspe the best campsite of the six I would stay at on this journey? Well firstly the site sits at the edge of the Deba-Zumaia kostaldeko bidea, (Deba-Zumaia coast line) a famous coastline of geological importance. Its craggy pale cliffs making a beautiful view from the campsites hilltop vantage point. Secondly, you can look out over this view from an infinity pool for no extra cost. I pitched my tent, got into my trunks and eased myself down into the pool. It was here, resting, peering out from a swimming pool across a beautiful view in an eight euro campsite, where I ended day five.

Day 5. Part 1 – Ondarroa to Mutriku. Nudist beaches and Haphazardness.

The Camino de Santiago (Santiago Way or Path of Santiago) was a name which I heard a lot when I spoke to people before I left for Bilbao. Once I had told them that I was going to walk along the Basque coast they would reply with: “On the Camino de Santiago?” to which I would reply: “What’s that?” and once I had learned, “No, just making my own way”. Which was true, when I planned my walk, where I would stop and go, I hadn’t even heard of the Camino. When I researched it, I found out that it didn’t totally follow the coast and dismissed it. On day five, I came across it.

When I woke up that Friday, I decided I wanted a jump in the sea, but I didn’t want to have to dry my clothes, hanging from my rucksack as I had the previous day. Luckily for me, the day before I had climbed some steps which bridged some rocks on Saturraran Playa (the one 5 minutes from my camp) and saw that the rocks cut off a section of beach used as a nudist beach. Now, I hadn’t been on a nudist beach before but it seemed perfect for me then. I could strip-off, swim around, wait the short time it would take for myself to dry in the Spanish sun and carry on. Clothes not once touching water. The beach was fairly busy, mostly with chubby late-middle aged men and women but with some other ages as well and even some mothers with children. The water was warm and despite the rocks being extremely slippery underfoot, I much enjoyed my morning refreshment.

The previous day at the same beach I had also spotted a sign for the “Camino de Santiago”. Having spent the majority of my walk so far on roads, I thought I needed some track. There was only one problem. The sign said the path started at the beach but it didn’t identify exactly where. I only saw a small footpath that didn’t look like it could be a famous walkway trampled by thousands every year, and a dirt road with a very clear “no entry” sign on it. For some reason, I really don’t know why, I chose the road and was quickly met by a man and two unleashed barking dogs. Luckily the man was with them and he swiftly turned me around. From this moment on, after my second encounter with dogs, I would always be wary when walking towards a house or farm or even walking towards the sound of a barking dog.

Anyway, I returned and took the other path which did end up being correct. My dreams of dirt tracks and pedestrian lanes didn’t last long though. The track lead up a short wooded hill but quickly joined a county lane. This road ran along close to the coast, often bounded by high, thick hedgerows and green covered walls. Sometimes the hedges parted providing views down to the crisp, blue sea. These lanes turned a corner and revealed the steep town of Mutriku, a town which scrambles up the hill side from a harbor shielded by a long curving sea wall. All the roads in Mutriku seemed to fall over each other, twisting and turning creating walls and bridges and drops. In fact one its most notable features is the curving wall which supports the road twisting up and out of the town. Despite its haphazardness, there is something very graceful about the town. It has a sense of wealth and fluidity. This is partly due to the simple, white church half way up the hill that looks like a Greek temple (actually considered Basque Guipuzcoana style). The simple, pretty, symmetrical building adds an anchor to the looping roads around it.

I decided to buy a few snacks and go through the warped streets to the edge of the harbor to relax for a few moments. I still had over half my journey to go but I thought Mutriku was a nice spot to chill. Getting out of the small, clambering town gave me a bit of a headache. The short few kilometers I had followed the Camino de Santiago, I had been impressed by its signage. Painted lines showed if you were going in the right direction, where you should turn and even crosses marking the wrong directions. However, I couldn’t find any signs marking where the Camino continued on the eastern side of the town. I discovered later that I was actually walking the Camino backwards. The route was meant to be walked East to West and its signs are more accommodating for that direction of travel. Having not found any sign of the path continuing East I followed the coast road, but the busy road soon shed its pavement and started to bend over bridges, providing little room. I went back into town, tried to search for a sign, no luck. I went back down the road, searching down the lanes that turned off it, nothing. I think I eventually went back into town to ask for help, but none was needed as I did eventually see a reasonably sized yet faded sign. It pointed up a lane into the hills. Finally, eventually, I was back on my way.

Day 4. Lekeitio to Ondarroa – A short walk to a strange town.

I felt no ill effects when I rose for day 4. I eased open the zip of my tent and peered across the wonderful view of Lekeitio from my hill top vantage. I had woken early so I used my early morning to do some much needed washing of my few clothes. With those clothes hanging damp on the outside of my rucksack, exposed to sun and heat, I set off.

That day, a Thursday, ended up being my shortest walk. Even though I felt I had more energy to burn then any before it. It was less than 15 km to my destination and despite taking it slow it felt as if I arrived in no time at all. I exited out the back of the camp, across a field, down a lane and through the pretty, open village of Zelaia. The road then descended North, through the trees and bumped into the coastal road.

This stretch of road made-up the majority of my journey that day. A road that hugged close to the shoreline, mostly hidden from sun in the cool shade of the canopy. On occasion, it jutted inward along the edge of a crevice until it reached, an often small, old, bridge. I took my time, watching the wildlife and absorbing the energy of the place. At one point the land dropped away into a small bay and beach. Here the road became a curving bridge pressing against a cliff face covered in waterfalls of greenery. The opening the bay created separated the deciduous trees to the pines which stared across the gap at each other.

Eventually the road curved around a corner following the coast line into the large port of Ondarroa. Ondarroa was perhaps the strangest of all the villages and towns I came across on my journey. To enter from the West, as I did, you pass past several ugly high-rises which look across the large, mostly empty harbor. Along the edge of the seafront, restaurants and bars look out on the boats but the buildings they are housed in are mostly mid-century, unentertaining high-rises. Going up into the mound of the town I found many dead-ends, alleyways, 90 degree turns and steps. The buildings had a little more character in a rough and tumble kind of way. An unnecessarily large bridge stretches out from front center of the town, across a tamed estuary. The bridge takes you to a beach that, despite being directly in front of them, is mostly hidden from the inhabitants of Ondarroa. Despite all this, on its Eastern side, along the river, the facades of the houses become tall and appealing, adorned with balconies. Stone bridges hop over the river and many tourists weave in and out of cafés and restaurants.

After stopping for a very cheap beer, and exploring the peculiar town. I crossed the river and walked one and a half kilometer around the coast to the next valley where my next campsite was: Camping Saturraran. I pitched my tent in the simple camp. It was the smallest of my journey, sitting in the valley just a short walk from Saturraran Playa, a short beach with a small café and pretty view of the bay.

It was still early afternoon when I had arrived so I went to the beach. After having a Cola there I headed along the smooth coastal path that linked the beaches of Saturraran and Arrigorri (the one next to the town). I had a few drinks in the strange town of Ondarroa which to my dismay, did not have a fiesta in action. I watched the sunset across the bay and headed back to the camp on what was a very easy day’s walk.

Day 3. Mundaka to Lekitio – Cheating.

Day 3 dawned bright and hot. I woke late and went backwards. In my haste to reach the campsite and rest the previous evening, I had passed an intriguing little village on the coast. This morning I decided to go check it out and find some breakfast. Mundaka was a very cool little port, looking quite conservative with its well-kept streets and port of expensive boats, it is also an extremely famous surf spot.

Before a port was built not too far away and sand was extracted from the sea bed, the town held world renowned surf events, giving pros an opportunity to ride the “best left in Europe”. Now, the waves and consequently the competitions, surfers and visitors have gone. Surf shops and touches of its extreme sport past still linger in the simple Mundaka.

I wasn’t feeling as up for it on day 3. The previous day had tired me and shook a little confidence from me. I no longer thought I could freely travel anywhere I wanted. My mood was definitely not helped by the first leg of my journey that day; a long, boring walk down a main road. Today I planned another long walk. I had to walk about 12 kilometers in land, down river to the nearest bridge in a town called Guernica. After that I had to climb up an over some mountains before meeting the coast at Lekeitio. All in all, it meant it was going to be another 35 kilometers or so.

The first section, the long, boring road without shade or view did little to encourage me. When I reached Guernica it was already passed mid-day and I had a large mountain walk ahead of me. I couldn’t find any evidence of paths, though there surely must have been some. The only routes seemed to be along roads, one started off small but joined a motorway, the other was simply a walk along the motorway. All others were too long.

I paused. I didn’t want to be walking in the mountains at night, I also didn’t want to walk down a motorway. I knew I would and I did regret the decision I made next. I got the bus. While looking for signs for paths I had seen a bus stop. On it was clearly marked a route from Guernica to Lekeitio. I got on the bus a little downheartedly, paid something miserly like three euros and took my seat. The bus didn’t go along the motorway, it took one of the routes I had considered to be too long. It wound though the mountain roads, through villages and the stunning, green mountain landscapes. The mountains here, in this section of the Basque country, had a romantic charm. The road followed a valley with all the villages nestled amongst lush fields dripping down tree topped hills. They seemed a little more fresh, a little less dry than the mountainous stage of the previous day. I honestly enjoyed the bus ride but I couldn’t help but think how amazing it would have been to walk it. From then on out, it was always in my mind that I wouldn’t walk the entire route.

Like it or not, I arrived in the small seaside town of Lekeitio in the early afternoon by bus, and guess what? The town was preparing for a fiesta. I chilled out a little for a while, had a walk down Lekeitio’s strong, narrow roads. Around its dark, gothic, spiky Basilica. Over its yellow sand beach. My campsite, Camping and bungalows Leagi, was just one or two kilometers the other side of the town. On my maps it looked like it would only take a few minutes, but maps are misleading as they often don’t portray gradients. The campsite was two kilometers up a steep winding road, an extremely steep, winding road. I began to climb when a small car beeped and pulled over.

“Going to the campsite?” one half of a young, tanned couple asked.

This really was a cheat day.

I arrived in the camp in a car after taking the bus on day 3 of my walking trip. I went to the reception and booked a spot to pitch, but what a spot it was. I set up camp on the edge of a grassy field overlooking a staggering view. From my tent I could sit and look down the steep, wooded hill to Lekeitio and the sea, with the mountains and coast line beyond. I set up, unpacked and just chilled. Looking out over my amazing view.

For obvious reasons, unlike my previous two evenings arriving into camp, I was bit more sprightly. I decided to go down to the fiesta, my second in three days. As I walked the ankle achingly steep road down to the town I did think of how I would have felt if this hill had been the final stage of a long days walk. I crossed the small stone bridge which spanned a rocky river cutting a ravine through the mountains and flowing out to sea on the far side of the beach. Like in Plentzia, hundreds of fish were ignoring the flow of the river and fighting up stream.

While on this walk, I would stop to explore many Basque towns and villages. Lekeitio was my favorite. To look across the beach towards the small town you would be immediately drawn to the tall, threating church which looms with dark character over the town. To look out to sea you would see Saint Nicolas Island and the long, mossy causeway heading across to the now empty, grassy mound. In the town the buildings are old and strong, with thick wooden doors standing guard either side of narrow cobbled streets. I love a place with character and Lekeitio is the dark, seaside village of many a fantasy.

As it was fiesta time, the many dark, traditional, often basement pubs were all in full voice. The bars were being stacked with and then quickly emptying of fresh Pintxos (tapas but you have to pay). I was on a budget, a very tight budget, but I allowed myself a few beers. In the plaza, next to the beach, the music was growing louder. Around the back of the plaza, cut off from the rest of the proceedings were two long bars either side of a small stage close to the water. Its placement  made it feel a little seedy and attracted many an unconservative character. This is where I hung-out for the rest of my evening. I asked a non-Spanish looking guy if he spoke English and it turned out he was a Londoner, here with his girlfriend. A few minutes into a conversation and he was beckoned on stage where a reggae artist had just been playing and began to beat-box.  He was a street performer, he told me afterward, traveling across Spain beat-boxing on the streets. He also told me that this fiesta was San Antonlines (the same as in Plentzia) and if I stuck around for another day I would see the Day of Geese, a combination of boats, rope pulling and greased up geese decapitation…honestly, look it up.

It was nice to relax and listen to some music and smell the marijuana in the air, next to the water in the gritty, pretty town of Lekeitio. Tomorrow was another day and I planned not to use any vehicle of any kind so I had to get back. Not a good days walk but definitely a good evening out.

Day 2. Part 2. Gorliz to Mundaka – Pine trees, scenic routes and post apocalyptical roads.

The following two roads where just what I needed to calm my nerves and reinvigorate me. Descending from the house, down the side of the mountain, along a safe, black road. Soon I reached a T-junction and began to climb again. Both roads were lined with unbroken rows of pine trees filling the air with a fresh, clean taste. The weather was warm and my excelled heartbeat had made me sweaty but amongst the pine forests, I was refreshed.

I knew that beyond the trees on my left was the sea although I couldn’t make it out just yet. The sounds of the trees and the birds within them silenced the sounds of any waves but I knew the coast was there. I climbed up high above the coastline where the pines finally parted for a small car park, a viewpoint. From here I gained one of the most beautiful views. The pine trees, dense and dark fell down into the sea to the North and down to the bay of Bakio to the East. After spending much of the morning and early afternoon climbing over a steep mountain and running from dogs, the beach and the sea were a welcome, stunning sight.

There were paths, well-trodden paths leading down to the bay through the pine trees but I hesitated to take them. The last path I followed took me straight onto the lawn of a dog guarded property. I knew the road I was walking would end up in the same place but I took the path and enjoyed an undisturbed dawdle down towards the town ending in a pretty stone walled alleyway. When I was near, Bakio came into view, it’s long beach was cradled by two steep banks either side and a modern looking town running all the way along its edge but not reaching deep inland. Bakio is a surf town, many of the villages and towns on the Basque coast are well accommodating towards surfers. The surf on the North coast of Spain is famous however today it was not great and so the sea was left to the paddlers and swimmers. I took off my walking boots and strolled along the beach, letting the air and sand massage my reddened feet. After, I stopped in a surf café for a café con leche. I knew I couldn’t stop for long, I still had a way to go and in a few hours it would be dark.

I checked my maps which showed a main road cutting off a peninsular of coast line. Knowing I had to get a move on I considered it. The coast road however was called the scenic route. If there’s any combination of words that can grab my attention, it’s scenic route. The road started up a sharp steep hill out of Bakio, steeper than any I had climbed so far. With the sun still blazing I cursed and muttered to myself as I climbed. Eventually the road leveled a little under some trees but still held a gradual ascent. Through the trees, down towards the sea to my left I saw a small island, perched atop was a simple building. Leading across the sea from the mainland was a broad, confident stone arched bridge, visibly being crossed by a steady flow of people. My scenic route ended as it met up with the main road. At the junction was a big sign: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.  It was a popular place, many people were arriving, parking and descending a path down to the bridge. I thought about it, but I knew I’d still be walking at night if I took such a large deviation, as curious as it seemed.

I continued, ignoring the main road, instead opting to take a road which hugged the coastline. No cars chose this route which I thought was strange, soon I found out why. A concrete hip-high boundary had been placed across the road to stop all oncoming vehicles. Beyond the barrier the road was potholed with massive cracks in its surface like what you might find after an earthquake. I wasn’t a vehicle and I didn’t fancy the main road without a pathway so I continued. I met no other walkers, cars or locals along this broken section of costal road. In my mind I convinced myself that I was in a post apocalyptical world. My daydreams were aided by the fact no pine trees lined the road here. To my left the sharp cliff dropped down to the Atlantic, to my right, only hardy plants clung to a short, dry slope.

My daydream ended when the scared road reconnected to the main road which I was now forced to take. Day quickly became night and what I really hoped to avoid became reality; walking along a main road in the dark. Eventually a new seaside village came into view with the sound of a school band playing hinting at another fiesta. But I only stopped to grab a slice of pizza before hurrying along to the campsite which was another 4 n half kilometers along the road. Gratefully, a pavement aided my evening walk here. The campsite was big and busy when I arrived. Its popularity meant the staff worked late so there was someone there to give me a plot. Despite all the sounds of activity and the draw of a camp bar, I passed out asleep.

Day 2. Part 1. Gorliz to Mundaka – Obstacle

Day two dawned and I was feeling strong. I woke mid-morning and by the time I’d showered, ate and packed away my tent it was gone 10 O’clock. Not the rising at the break of dawn and setting off before the sun had fully risen of many a walker. Many people who know me would be impressed that I’d left before 12.

Plentzia lies at the bottom of a green hill which climbs up, away from the sea to a wooded ridge, behind which are the mountains of the inland. I walked up and out of Gorliz, looking back frequently towards the picturesque town of Plentzia. From here you could see all of the town in its corner. The river to the West and the sea to the North with a beach to its East and the mountains behind. A pretty amazing location by any standards. Today I planned a much longer walk; around 40 kilometers. First inland, up and over a mountain or two and then descending back to the coast, thus cutting off a large bulge of coastline. I would reach the coast at one town before walking along it to the next. The distance didn’t matter, I was feeling good.

Once I’d reached and gone beyond the ridge of the hill, out of sight of the sea, I was walking down the steady decline of a shallow valley, along a single lane country road. Fields of light, lush green blanketed the ground softly either side of me as the road made its way down to a small village called Lemoiz. The village lay in a deeper, conjoining valley. It had a high, steep, pine wooded hill on one side and the shallow grassy bank on the other. After my easy walk to the village I had a hard climb out. As I ascended up the small dirt road on that warm summers day, sweating profusely under the canopy, I did ask myself if I was going in the correct direction. Google maps said yes.

With the smell of pine deep in my lungs and glimpses of the immense, densely forested mountains behind I strode on. Thankfully the steep road leveled out but it also stopped. It was replaced by a pathway the other side of a stile. This was more like it, I thought, I’d much rather cross the mountains via a footpath than a road. The path continued to gain altitude gradually until the trees generously dropped away to reveal the Basque mountains in full spender. Only a few heavy duty dirt tracks spoiled the endless woodland. I continued along the narrow path that descended sharply before rising once again. More butterflies than I’d ever seen before fluttered all around me while small lizards made way as I approached. Due covered spider webs also regularly stretched across the path so I picked up a conveniently sized branch to: A. help me walk and B. bash spider webs out the way. As I was looking up at one of the many birds of prey which soared in the sky, I realized I was dawdling in a dreamy manor, not paying much attention to direction. I eventually bumped into a three-way junction where my path met one of the dirt roads, I checked Google maps. After looking at the map confusedly for several moments, I realized that the little blue dot of my location had not moved since I last checked it. My eyes darted from the blue dot to the GPS symbol, it wasn’t there, no GPS. I checked my physical maps but before I had even looked, I knew that this little path or the dirt road it entangled with would not be marked.

I decided just to continue in the direction of a road which was marked, a road which would take me all the way to the coast. With my walking/ spider smashing stick in hand I continued along the track that vaguely lead in the right direction. Without a gate or a sign, the track gave way to a low cut lawn at the rear of a big house. I stopped, puzzled. Two dogs saw me from across the lawn and started barking. One big and one small. They barked but did not approach. Their non-immediate approach coupled with the lack of gate lead me to believe that the dogs must be tied up. I peered beyond the house and saw the fabled road I’d been heading towards. I took a step closer, but as if that was the trigger the smaller dog began to run. Not at full pelt but very much running across the grass towards me. I thought of running away but I knew I couldn’t out run a dog so I stopped, my big branch in hand. At first it had been a spider web remover, then I had found it a convenient walking stick, now it was a weapon. I stood in batsman position, branch two handed over shoulder. The dog came closer but paused about 4 meters from me. It looked back at the big dog who hadn’t moved as if waiting for back-up. Gratefully, his big friend showed no sign of moving, instead howling at a distance. Maybe that one was tied up. I wasn’t taking any chances and backed away, off the lawn, into the undergrowth and the forest beyond.

Then I began to run. I didn’t run back towards the dirt road, I instead ran around the side of the house. All I needed to do was get around to the opposite side. After getting a little distance between me and the lawn I had to slow. To my left the hill dropped away steeply and between many of the trees were webs housing big, brutish spiders in their middles.  I am far from being an aracnafobe so when I say they were big, they were big. In here, under the canopy, with the big spiders and the sound of the dogs barking behind me, I felt a new kind of adrenalin. One fuelled by fear mixed with the thought of the craziness of it all. It wasn’t an especially negative feeling though; I still had adventure burning strong within me.

I managed to make my way around to the corner of the long front garden. The house was on a large plot of land containing two buildings, so it took a little time to make my way around. The roof of the nearest building was visible over the rim of its perfect green lawn, it was a very wealthy looking place. There, I was met by another problem. Between me and a lane that linked to the black asphalt road was a dip. A dip full of brambles and stingers and too steep to contemplate tackling. I thought for a moment, thought of the dogs and the stories I’d heard of unforgiving Basque folk. Here, unlike at the back of the house, was a fence. A freshly painted, hip high, white wood thing. I climbed under it, well aware of how it may have looked to any possible on-lookers. I slid my bag under first and then myself. I ran along the edge of the fence, crouching over so not to be seen from within the building. At the end of the garden I slid my bag and body back under the fence on the other side of the dip. From there I crunched my way over some brambles and let out a joyful sigh when I felt the road beneath my feet. I hurried along the road, continuing my journey, just a few small scratches worse off. I didn’t look back at the house.

 

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