I did it! Today marked a number of achievements on the Camino de Santiago del Norte for me. I reached the province of Vizcaya (Bizkaia) and tackled the hardest day on the Camino so far. Around 25 kilometres (that’s 15 miles) of three mountains, I think. There are also very few villages and bars today.
The day began with a late start. I had intended to catch the 8:00 train from Bilbao, but a fitful night of sleep in a broken bed (yes, my bed broke last night. I hope to write Etapa 6 from a new apartment/flat) lead me to snoozing a bit longer. I am so glad I went today and not Sunday when it’ll be 30ºC (upper 80’s F). The cooler temps of 22 (lower 70s) helped a lot. I ended up catching the 9:00 train, starting Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs on the way.
I arrived in Deba at 10:44, and once again was left very unimpressed by the customer service there. I think this town likes being kept to themselves. I stopped to get some tasty integral biscuits and for my staple pintxo de tortilla de patata and café con leche before hitting the road. I also played with a golden retriever and got a map of the Camino in Euskadi, as I had read a lot of warnings that it was easy to get lost on this stretch and there weren’t a lot of arrows.
Lie. I think the Basque Amigos del Camino have been working hard to make sure there are a ton of arrows everywhere. I know in Bilbao, the stretch I take every Tuesday to give a private lesson was recently vomited upon with bright yellow arrows everywhere. No chance of missing it. There weren’t quite as many arrows as there are near Basurto in Bilbao now, but there was a lot more than I had been lead to believe.
This stretch of the Camino leads away from the Cantabrian Sea, but it stays in sight, thankfully, from the mountains.
I wasn’t too sad to say “agur” to Deba (goodbye in Basque) as I climbed the first mountain. A local was climbing back down and told me to take it “with calma”. I guess I was climbing too fast, but I wanted to keep my momentum. I heeded his advice and stopped many times to smell the roses (figuratively, but I did see some pretty flowers all along the Camino today).
An hour later I had only gone four kilometres and arrived at the Ermita de Calvario and admired the views. I stopped at the bar for a café con leche con hielo (iced café con leche) and played with a cat before continuing on to Olatz. (Sometimes I do like cats, but I am totally Team Dog).
There is an amazing albergue (I didn’t stay as I wanted to get to Markina and Bizkaia and have this hard day over with) and bar in Ibiri Auzoa with amazing, friendly owners. I chatted with a peregrino from Austin Texas and told her want to see in Bizkaia. She’s taking her sweet time seeing all the sights, like I am. I downed my Aquarius de Naranja and braced myself for ta long 20 KM or so ahead.
Olatz was a nice little valley between the mountains, and the bar was closed, as usual (they say it only opens at the weekends). I took some time for Whatsapp/Facebook updates (I normally walk with my data turned off) and began climbing mountains again.
The walk just did not want to end today. It was all very beautiful and very tiring. The final descent into Markina is as bad as the Eroski Camino del Norte guide warns, but I was ready for it and did NOT re-sprain my ankle! Team Pablo! I was a bit disappointed that there was nothing that marked the division between the Basque provinces of Gizpuzkoa and Bizkaia. I think from my own guide I was able to tell from the map and their description where it was (there was a dividing farm that historically people had to stop at.)
There was an abandoned (I think) farm house that I would love to take over and start an albergue. Something I’ve been wanting to mention: All the farmhouses in Euskadi face east to greet the sun. (I feel like that’s a True Blood plot waiting to happen. I miss Pam!)
In Markina, I stopped at the ermita and found it was surrounding three huge stones or megaliths. I just looked up the story for reference. The church was built around the stones, and legend says that if a man wants to get married, he must pass three times under the stones. I did not know that and will have to do that next time. St. Pollino had built his cell beneath these stones, legend says. It was not what I was expecting to see when I entered, and it might just be the coolest thing I have seen all Camino.
I got my credenciales stamped at the local peregrino restaurant, bought some integral bread at Eroski and caught the bus back to Bilbao after an exhausting but very worthwhile and amazing day.
Day 6…Etapa 6…¿cuándo?