Days 32-34: Final Spain days

Gernika to San Sebastien, driving Thursday 30 April

With a midday checkout, began the fine day with an early 10km bike ride into the showcase fishing villages of Mundaka and Bermio before returning to pack up. Elly is convinced now bicycles are a time-efficient way to see a place; you can go the wrong way up one-way streets, dodge in and out shoppers on pedestrian strips, park anywhere, and do it quicker and easier than walking or driving. The towns rank highly on visual effect. Zig-zag wharves/breakwaters protecting clusters of fishing and pleasure boats with a backdrop of narrow, 18th century 4-storey houses in squashed streets against a steep cliff face.

On the road again with the car, we stopped at other guide-book coastal towns of Elantxobe and Lekeitio, took care passing the regular road-racing cyclists, imagined we were in a zipping, sports car while on a long section of winding ocean-viewing highroad, before getting to Igueldo Camping Ground on one of the many hills surrounding San Sebastien. Seemed like a good idea until we got the tent out and realised the fly didn’t fit – it was from our other tent! And that would be my fault. [Probably evened up the own-goal scorecard of clangers we’d been keeping from the outset. As it stands now, I’m in trouble – so far I’ve dropped one pair of my cycling glasses to have them run over by a truck, got locked out of our internet banking by using the wrong password 3 times, and now this!] Anyway, we made it fit ok, but not enough to allay Jordy’s concerns re the forecast for overnight rain, and he set up his pad in the back of the multi-purpose Kanga.

Saving by tenting, and with no camp kitchen, we tried the onsite restaurant for dinner. Not too bad – I had mushrooms and black pudding [micella] so the others wouldn’t want to share with me, while they went the conservative choice of calamari, grilled green peppers and chips.

‘Imajine all the pepple’ – San Sebastien, Friday 1 May

Emerged from our camping surfaces still limber and not too bleary-eyed. Drove to nearby Errenteria which had its 37th annual arts and craft fair [knew about this one], a festival of basque folk dancing and a May Day rally [didn’t know about these.]

Despite a range of beautiful, well-priced, modern rather than traditional craftwork on display we emerged empty-handed. Not even a pair of earrings for Elly, or a handmade pelota [basque squash/tennis] ball for Jordy. The folk dancing was performed by about 100 kids in traditional garb and represented dances of fishermen, farmers, and herders. The funniest part was watching them under the verandahs of the square waiting for the rain to ease, as the boys-will-be-boys frisbee-ed their mates’ black berets across the courtyard to their minders’ frustration! [The girls just kept quietly practising their dance moves.] The May [Labour] Day rallies seemed to be everywhere. [It is the anniversary of the first industrialisation-age, strike held in Spain on 1 May 1890 at a Basque iron-ore mine.] Perhaps they were organised by different unions or ‘Life of Brian’ political parties [the Socialist Workers party? The Association of Socialist Workers? The Basque Workers Party? etc etc]. Some lovely unaccompanied singing at one gathering by a young lady which drew much applause and sage head-nodding. The significance completely beyond us.] Oh, and we had great pinxos for lunch – it’s always about the food!

To fill in time in San Sebastien, and at least get close to a Spanish dinner time, we ventured in to the San Telmo Museum with permanent displays of Basque life to the present, collected artworks representing 500 years of evolved styles, and a couple of temporary exhibitions on the history of mountaineering in the Basque region, and an odd Japanese garden. All very interesting, especially the sections on depicting the Franco years and Basque Resistance. [When I first backpacked in Europe in the late 1970s the basque area was almost a no-go; but then there were rebels groups in every State like Bahder-Meinhoff in Germany, Red Brigade in Italy, the IRA in Northern Ireland, and ETA in Spain.]

The two celebrated features of San Sebastien came next: food and the bay.

La Cueva Restaurant just celebrated 50 years of management in the same family; preparing traditional basque cuisine over the years has served them well. Our contribution to their welfare was not hefty [it’s not one of the Michelin star places so wasn’t priced in the stratosphere], but we didn’t think it was great value anyway. Though I enjoyed my dishes of fish soup and grilled kidneys, Elly liked her bean stew but was underwhelmed by her salty lamb chops, and Jordy was totally unimpressed with his squid with burnt garlic sauce. Oh well, we’d tried.

Walking the spectacular 2km promenade around the bay in the sunset with a thousand other people strolling with kids, jogging, licking ice-creams, taking photos, talking in different languages…it seemed quite appropriate a busker should sing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, albeit with an odd Spanish accent. Yep, imagine all the people, living life in peace.

The Greenways – Andoain to Navarre cycling 60km, Saturday 2 May

Drove out 15km to Andoain – it was market day, but our goal was to ride one of the many dedicated bike trails in Spain, another rail trail up a river valley of 41km. Bit of a late start so after about 20 km of solid, steady uphill Jordy and Elly stopped for lunch and I pushed on another 10k until I came to 1 km long tunnel without lights inside. A couple of local riders thought I should turn around, given the next tunnel needed a bike light as well. Gunned it back down at 30kph but fell for the young players’ trap of not pumping my back tyre up really tight and one bump over a rock caused a ‘snakebite’ puncture where the tyre is depressed against the rim and the tube gets pinched. Met the others back in town and all agreed it was a very pleasant trail – totally enclosed valley of beech and oak trees, then some pine plantations with not even the sound of traffic or signs of habitation and agriculture. Quite a rarity and no wonder families and fitness fans were out and about on the trail. It’s quite uncommon to see obesity in Spain; it might be the diet, or the smoking[!], or the evening walking? But we really have a weight problem in Australia.

Back at our lofty campsite the sky had cleared so we again got a panoramic view of the hills and mountains behind San Sebastien. Washed our slightly muddy bikes, did a load of clothes, recharged all electrical items, and had basic but satisfying bar-tea of mushroom pasta, calamari, and pizza washed down with rehydrating beers.

Tomorrow…France.

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