The Almodóvar Project

When it comes to modern Spanish film, the first name that pops into everyone’s mind is Pedro Almodóvar.  The name Almodóvar is bound to strike a strong reaction from people in Spain, as they either love him or hate him. Just who is this man who has won three Oscars and turned a girl from Alcobendas into an international superstar (Penélope Cruz) and a boy from Málaga into another international superstar (Antonio Banderas)?

Almodóvar was born in Calzada de Calatrava, a small village of 4155 habitants (2014 figures) in Ciudad Real on Sept. 25, 1949. He moved to Madrid in the 1970s and took part in Los Goliardos, a theatre group, where he met actress Carmen Maura. While working for Telefónica, Spain’s biggest telephone company, he began to make short films which received a lot of play from Madrid’s alternative circuit. He made his first feature film in 16 mm in 1980, Pepi, Luci Bom y otras chicas del montón. The themes of female strength, empowerment, friendship and triumph over hard circumstances found in this film became a staple in virtually all his films.

Almodóvar began to grow in popularity as the movida madrileña grew. In 1988, Mujeres al borde de ataque de nervios (Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown) became his breakthough international hit. Starring Carmen Maura and a young Antonio Banderas, the film depicts two wacky days of the life of Pepa, a voice actress and the surrealism of Madrid life in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, Almodóvar broke away from his typical comedy to make women-centred dramas. In 1999, Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and introduced Penélope Cruz, who had a supporting part, to a wider audience. The film is about a woman who goes back to Barcelona to find the father of her recently deceased son after 17 years of life in Madrid. It stars Argentine actress and frequent Almodóvar collaborator Cecilia Roth.

He won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2002 for Hable con ella (Talk to Her), a film Spain didn’t even submit as a Best Foreign Film contender. (Los lunes al sol, really? It isn’t bad, but not as good as this one!) The film is about a friendship that develops two men visiting women in comas.

Volver in 2006 brought Penélope Cruz back to Spain and was quite successful. It gained her an Oscar nomination.

Even his most dramatic films have their zany moments. His films depict strong women or characters on the margins of society (gays, transsexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts). Long before Felicity Huffman excelled in Transamerica, Antonia San Juan excelled as Agrado in Todo sobre mi madre.

Almodóvar’s 20th film is set for release in March, right before Spain’s biggest holiday, Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter Week). It appears to be a return to his later form, where as 2013’s Los amantes pasajeros is seen as a failed attempt to return to his screwball 80’s style.

To honour this remarkable occasion, I will be revisiting each Almodóvar film every Thursday. Don’t worry, the travel and hiking entries will continue every Monday (and if I am trapped by the incessant Basque rain this winter, there will be some aspect of Spanish life explored). However, I do consider Spanish cinema an important part of Spanish life (even if every Spaniard, Basque and Catalán I have ever met has told me Spanish film is horrible, they still talk about their successful films.)  I had a course on Spanish cinema in university and before then, used Spanish films to learn Spanish.

I will review the films one at a time, rating them and including a checklist of the usual Almodóvar film staples (poisoned gazpacho) and listing the Chicas Almodóvar. I hope you join me on my journey over the next 19 weeks, leading up to the release of Silencio in March.

Cuando alguien habla del cine español moderno, el primer nombre que llega a la mente es Pedro Almodóvar. El nombre Almodóvar provoca una reacción fuerte a cualquier persona de España, como siempre les encanta o le odian. ¿Quién es este hombre que ha ganado tres Oscares y ha ayudado llegar a fama internación a una chica de Alcobendas y un chico de Málaga? (Penélope Cruz y Antonio Banderas).

Almodóvar nació en Calzada de Calatrava, un pueblo de 4155 habitantes (según cifras de 2014) en Ciudad Real el 25 de septiembre, 1949. Se trasladó a Madrid en los años 70 y participó en Los Goliardos, un grupo de teatro, donde conoció a la actriz Carmen Maura. Mientras trabajaba por Telefónica, empezó a grabar cortes con un cámera Super 8. Esas películas eran popular en el circuito alternativo madrileño. Hizo su primera película de 16 mm en 1980, Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón. Los temas de fortaleza feminina, amistad y triumfo sobre circumstancías imposibles encontrados en este película vuelven en casí todas sus películas. 

Cada vez más Almodóvar se hizo más popular como creció la movida madrileña. En 1988, Mujeres al borde de ataque de nervios, le dio una fama interanciónal. Carmen Maura era la protagonista y un joven Antonio Banderas tenía un papel pequeño. Se trata de dos días raros de la actriz de doblaje Pepa y el surrealismo de la vida madrileña de los años 80.  

En los años 90, Almodóvar empezó a hacer dramas centradas en mujeres fuertes en lugar de sus comedias surrealistas de los años 80. En 1999, Todo sobre mi madre ganó el Oscar para Mejor Film Extranjero y presentó al mundo Penélope Cruz, que tenía un papel pequeño. El film se trata de una mujer que volvió a Barcelona después de 17 años para buscar el padre de su hijo que se ha muerto. Se interpreta la protagonista la acriz argentina y amiga de Almodóvar Cecilia Roth. 

Ganó el Oscar por Mejor Guion Original en 2002 para Hable con ella, un film que España ni consideró para la categoría de Mejor Película Extranjera en los Oscar. (Submitió Los lunes al sol, que no está mal pero no es tan buena como esta peli.) La película se trata de un amistad entre dos hombres visitando mujeres en comas en el hospital. 

Volver en 2006 trajo Penélope Cruz a España otra vez y tenía mucho exitó. Penélope era nominada por un Oscar por su papel.

Incluso en sus pelis más drámaticas hay momentos chiflados. Sus films muestran mujeres fuertes o personajes en los margines de la sociedad (gays, transexuales, prostitutas, drogadictos). Mucho tiempo antes de Felicity Huffman sobresalió en Transamerica, Antonia San Juan sobresalió como Agrado en Todo sobre mi madre

La vigésima peli de Almodóvar estrena en marzo, justo antes de Semana Santa. Parece una vuelta a su estilo de los años 2000 en lugar de su estilo de los 80, como su última película fracasada Los amantes pasajeros en 2013. 

Para honrar esta ocasción, voy a ver de nueva cada peli de Almodóvar todos los jueves. No te preocupes, las entradas sobre viajar y senderismo seguirán cada lunes (y si estoy atrapado en casa para la lluvia vasca sin cese, escribiré de algo sobre la vida española. Sin embargo, considero el cine español una parte importante de la cultura española, aunque todos los españoles, vascos y catalanes que he conocido hablan mal de su cine. En la universidad tenía un curso de cine español y antes de ello, siempre vi pelis españolas para aprender castellano. 

Criticaré las pelis una a la vez, y voy a darles una nota y comentar cuales elementos de Almodóvar tiene cada una. ¿El gazpacho lleva venano? También nombraré las Chicas Almodóvar de la peli. Espero que os apuntéis a mi viaje del mundo Almodóvar durante las próximas 19 semanas hasta el estreno de Silenco en marzo.

Funicularando in Bilbao.

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La Arboleda, at the top of the Funiulcar de Larreineta

Bilbao is home to two funiculars (that I know of). A funicular is also known as a “cliff railway” or “inclined plane railway” according to Wikipedia. The Funicular de Artxanda is the more famous of the two, being close to the city centre, and the Funicular de La Reineta is located in the Valle de Trápaga. Hay dos funiculares (que yo sepa) en Bilbao. El Funicular de Artxana es el más famoso como está cerca al centro de la ciudad, y el Funicular de La Reineta (Larreineta) está ubicado en la Valle de Trápagan. 

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Views from La Arboleda at the top of Funicular de Larreineta

The Funicular of Artxanda recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Located near the infamous Calatrava bridge Zubizuri and the town hall, the funicular leaves from the Plaza de Funicular every 15 minutes.  Up to 70 people can make a trip at a time. It is 770 metres long and reaches speeds of five metres a second. The trip to the top takes three minutes. El Funicular de Artxanda ha celebrado 100 años de operación recientemente. Ubicado cerca al puente de mala fama de Calatrava, el Zubizuri, y el ayuntamiento, el funicular sale de la Plaza de Funicular cada 15 minutos. Cabe hasta 70 personas en el funicular. Es 770 metros y llega a la velocidad de 5 metros cada segundo. El viaje dura unos tres minutos.

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Views of Bilbao from Artxanda

The funicular was damaged during the Spanish Civil War but reopened in 1938, and it was closed again in 1976 after an accident. Following a closure of 7 years, it opened in 1983 only to temporarily close again in 1983 after the floods of August that year. It reopened and has remained open since November 1983. Artxanda offers amazing views of El Botxo (Bilbao), and on clear days you can see all the way to the Cantabrian Sea. There are also restaurants and a sports centre. El funicular era destruido durante la Guerra Civil pero abrió de nuevo en 1938. Se cerró otra vez en 1976 después de un accidente. Después de 7 años, reabrió en 1983 sólo para cerrar otra vez después de la inundación de 1983. Abrió la última vez en noviembre 1983 y no ha vuelto a cerrar. Artxanda ofrece vistas espectaculares de El Botxo (Bilbao) y en días claras se puede ver hasta el Mar Cantábrico. También hay restaurantes y un polideportivo. 

Located 12 kilometres (12 miles) from Bilbao, the Valle de Trápaga (Trapagan in Basque) is a town of 12,000 people. It’s connected to Bilbao by Cercanías commuter trains and buses. The Funicular de La Reineta (Larreineta) opened in 1926 and originally was used to transport goods. It was renovated in 1985 and connects the Trapagan with the La Arboleda neighbourhood. The funicular has horizontal cars and is 1179 metres long and travels 342 metres high. In July 2014 it was declared a “Bien de Interés Cultural” by the Spanish government.  There is a “free” (included with the price of the funicular, a Euro with the Vizcaya Barrik transport card) bus that goes to the barrio of La Arboleda from the Larreineta station. Ubicado 12 kilometros de Bilbao, el Valle de Trápaga (Trapagan en euskera) es un pueblo de 12,000 personas. Está comunicado con Bilbao por Cercanías y autobuses. El Funicular de La Reineta (Larreineta) abrió en 1926 para mercancías. Lo renovaron en 1985 y une Trapagan con el barrio de La Arboleda. El funicular tiene vagones laterales y es 1197 metros con un desnivel de 342 metros. En julio de 2014 fue declarado Bien de Interés Cultural del gobierno del estado español. Hay un servicio de autobus “gratis” con el precio del funicular (1€) que conecta la estación de Larreineta con el barrio de La Arboleda. 

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Funicular de Larreineta

While I go to Artxanda quite often, last Sunday was only my second time on the Larreineta funicular. I was recovering from the flu and not quite up for a hiking route, but I did want to get out and enjoy my fall  foliage. Voy a Artxanda a menduo, pero el domingo pasado solo era la segunda vez en el Funicular de Larreineta. Estaba recuperando de una gripe y no estaba lista para hacer una ruta de senderismo. Quería ir de excursión para disfrutar de los colores del otoño.

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Fall foliage!

The views from La Arboleda were incredible. I may complain about the constant sirimiri (drizzle), but it does give the Basque Country landscapes like no other. The biggest problem living in the Basque Country is deciding between the sea or the mountains on our precious few sunny days. Las vistas de La Arboleda eran increíbles. Aunque me quejo del sirimiri constante, pero la lluvia da a Euskadi y todo el norte de la península pasiajes como ningún otro sitio. El problema más grande de vivir en Euskadi es elegir entre el mar o el monte en los pocos días preciosos del sol. 

 

Director Spotlight: Julio Medem

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Paz Vega in a screenshot from Lucía y el sexo

Julio Medem has proven time and time again that he’s one of Spain’s finest directors. His career started with Vacas and has led to the underrated 2015 Penélope Cruz cancer drama Ma Ma.  Una y otra vez Julio Medem ha mostrado que es uno de los mejores directores españoles. Su career empezó con Vacas y hasta ahora en 2015 ha acabado con la subestimada drama de cáncer con Penélope Cruz Ma Ma.

Medem was born in San Sebastián-Donostia in 1958.  Although he studied medicine in university, Medem had always shown an interest in film since a child when he shot films with his father’s Super 8 camera while everyone was sleeping. After getting his start as a film critic and then screenwriter, Medem made his first feature film, Vacas (Cows) in 1992. This film would win him the 1993 Goya (Spanish Oscar) for Best New Director. Medem nació en San Sebastián-Donostia en 1958. Aunque estudió medecina en la universidad, Medem siempre había mostrado un interés en cine desde que era un niño y hizo pelis con la Super 8 de su padre mientras su familia durmieron. Después de un inicio como un critico de películas y después guionista, Medem hizo su primera película de larga duración, Vacas en 1992. Esta película le ganó la Goya para Mejor Director Novel en 1993.

After Vacas, Medem went on to direct La ardilla roja (The Red Squirrel), a dense romantic thriller. Emma Suárez, Karra Elejalde and Carmelo Gómez return, but it is Nancho Novo who shines as the protagonist Jota, a man on the verge of suicide who witnesses a motorcycle accident.  Lisa (Suárez) wakes up with amnesia, and Jota invents a story about their four-year relationship. As soon as she’s given the clear to leave the hospital, they take off to a campsite in the province of Álava (near Vitoria-Gasteiz), La Ardilla Roja. As Lisa begins to remember, how far will Jota go to protect his lie? Después de Vacas, Medem dirijó La ardilla roja, un thriller romántico profundo. Emma Suárez, Karra Elejalde y Carmelo Gómez, los actores de Vacas, vuelven, pero es Nancho Nova quien brilla como el protagonista Jota, un hombre al borde de suicidiarse quien es testigo a un acidente de moto. Lisa (Suárez) se despierta con amnesia, y Jota inventa una historia de su relación como pareja de cuatro años. Cuando se le dan la alta a Lisa para irse del hospital, se van a un camping en la provincia de Álava, cerca de Vitoria-Gasteiz, La Ardilla Roja. Como Lisa empieza a recordar su vida, Jota tiene que decidir hasta donde va a tomar sus mentiras. 

In 1996, Medem returns with Tierra (Earth), along with Gómez, Suárez, Elejalde and Novo in another thriller. The last of Medem’s films featuring these actors starts to touch on the eroticism found in all of his later films. Gómez is Ángel, an exterminator hired to rid a small Spanish village of termites which have been affecting the flavour of wine. Recently released from a mental hospital, Ángel is unsure if he’s a real angel or just a regular human. He becomes involved with two women, neither one who are too appropriate, which divides him as much as the struggle as who he really is divides him. En 1996, Medem vuelve con Tierra, con Gómez, Suárez, Elejalde y Novo en otro thriller. Es la última película de Medem que presenta este grupo de actores y la primera que empieza presenta el eroticismo encontrado en casí todas de sus pelis que vienen después. Gómez es Ángel, un exterminador quien ha sido contratado para exterminar un pueblo español de termitas que han afectado el sabor de las cosechas de vino. Ángel ha sido instituionalizado en un hospital mental y no es seguro si es un ángel verdadero o un humano normal. Se lia con dos mujeres, ninguna que son apropiados para él, que representa el conflicto interior dentro de él. 

In 1998, we traveled to Finland in Los Amantes del Círculo Polar (The Lovers of the Arctic Circle), which in my opinion, is Medem’s best film.  Fele Martínez and Najwa Nimri star as the polar-star crossed lovers. Otto and Ana meet each other as children on a day that would mark their lives forever, for different reasons. As their widowed/separated parents begin dating, the two fall for each other in a complicated relationship. Their names are both palindromes, and Otto’s tale of a Nazi found in Euskadi after the bombing of Gernika plays an important role. There is also a sledding accident which may not be as it seems. As they grow older, their relationship with each other and their parents changes until they are destined to meet again (or are they?) in a town on the Arctic Circle in Finland. En 1998, viajamos a Finlandia en Los amantes del Círcular Polar, que, en mi opinion, es la mejor película de Medem. Fele Martínez y Najwa Nimri son los protagonistas de amantes desventurados polares. Otto y Ana se conoce como niños en un día que marca su vida para siempre para razones distintas. Como sus padres, viudos/separados, empiezan a enrollarse, Otto y Ana se enamoran en una relación complicada. Sus nombres son palíndromos. La historia del tocayo de Otto, un nazi encontrado en Euskadi después del bombardeo de Gernika tiene un papel importante. También hay un accidente de trineo que igual no es como parece. Como se envejecen, su relación cambia, como sus relaciones con sus padres cambian hasta que están destinados encontrarse otra vez (¿quizás?) en un pueblo de Finlandia dentro del Círculo Polar. 

Medem’s most famous film is Lucía y el sexo (Sex and Lucía), and it’s also one of his best. Paz Vega (who has been in a few Hollywood productions such as Spanglish) stars with Tristán Ulloa and Najwa Nimri. The title is provocative, and there is quite a bit of sex and nudity. However, the film has more artistic merit than sexual content. It tells the story of Lucía, who receives the phone call that her boyfriend has been in a bad car accident. Slamming down the phone, she takes off to an island (Formentera) with little baggage, determined to live alone. Then we meet her writer boyfriend and see how they met. As he struggles to write a novel, the lines are blurred between reality and fiction, and we’re never too sure what’s real and what’s fiction within the fiction. It all comes together with a bit of a twist but goes along with themes seen in Medem’s other works. Paz Vega won the Goya for Best New Actress for her role as Lucía.  La peli más famosa de Medem es Lucía y el sexo, y es una de sus mejores. Paz Vega, quien es también conocida en Hollywood en pelis como Spanglish, es la protagonista con Tristán Ulloa y Najwa Nimri. El título es provocador, y hay bastante sexo y personajes desnudos. Sin embargo, el film tiene más mérito artístico que contento sexual. Es la historia de Lucía, quien recibe una llamanda diciendo que su novio ha tenido un accidente de coche grave. Después de colgar el teléfono violamente, se escape a una isla (Formentera) con poco equipaje, determinado estar sola. Después conocemos su novio escritor y vimos como se han conocido. Como le cuesta escribir su novela, las líneas entre la realidad y ficción se hacen borrosas, y nunca estámos seguros que es realidad y que es ficción dentro de la ficción. Todo se junta al final con algo de sorpresa pero es igual a los temas que hemos vistos en otros trabajos de Medem. Paz Vega ganó la Goya por La Mejor Actriz Revelación en 2001.

In the 2000s, Medem produced the documentary about the Basque conflict, La pelota vasca, and directed Caótica Ana, Habitación en Roma and Ma Ma. For me, Ma Ma was a return to form after the his 00s films, which didn’t really grab me as much as his first five films. They are still worthwile entries in his oeuvre. En los años 2000, Medem produjo el documental sobre el conflicto vasco, La pelota vasca, y dirigio Caótica Ana, Habitación en Roma Ma Ma. Para mí, Ma Ma era una vuelta a sus mejores pelis después de las películas flojas (para mi)  de los años 00. 

Medem’s films always work on more than the surface level.  His films all deal with life and death and what’s real and what’s imaginary. They offer a different type of cinema that is usually associated with Spain (the surrealism of Buñuel and early Almódovar, the seriousness of later Almódovar, the matador and flamenco Franco’s regime wanted to produce as the image of Spain or the tragic stories about the Spanish Civil War. His films take a while to digest, and it’s a shame he isn’t more famous around the world. The language barrier for non-Spanish speakers has to hurt his popularity somewhat, but his films are some of the best Spain has to offer. Los films de Medem siempre son más que lo parecen. Siempre se tratan de temas de vida y muerte y que es real y que es ficción. Son un tipo de cine español diferente que lo que es normalmente asociado con el cine español, como el surrealismo de Buñuel y las primeras de Almódovar, la gravedad de las últimas pelis de Almódovar, el torero y flamenco el dictadura de Franco quería producir como el imagen de España o las historias tragicas de la Guerra Civil. Sus films tarden un tiempo para asimilar, y es una pena que no es más conocido en todo el mundo. El problema de idioma para los que no hablan castellano puede herir las oportunidades, pero sus films son unas de las mejores de España. 

I remember watching Lucía y el sexo from Blockbuster, and I also remember having Netflix send me Los Amantes del Círculo Polar in the mail back before Netflix took over the world, so they are widely available for the adventerous film buffs out there. Recuerdo llevando Lucía y el sexo del vídeo club Blockbuster, y recuerdo que Netflix me envió por correo el DVD de Los Amantes del Círculo Polar antes de Netflix conquistó el mundo. Entonces, sé que están disponbiles para los aficionados de film.

Medem’s films are hard to explain without spoiling, which I’ve attempted to do here. As Medem is definitely an auteur, his films have to be looked at as a whole to understand the individual. If you have a chance, I challenge you to check them out to discover a different type of Spanish Cinema. Las obras son difíciles explicar sin contar el final, aunque lo he intentando hacerlo aquí. Como Medem es un autor del cine, sus films tienen que ser mirados en completo para entender la individual. Si tienes la oportunidad, te recomiendo verlas para descrubir un cine español diferente. 

Spanish Nationalism: The Catalans, Basques and Spanish.

Disclaimer: I am Switzerland and not taking a side in this eternal argument. I am neither Spanish, nor Catalán, nor Basque, and this is not my battle. I am aiming to write a post about the current situation in Spain without taking a side, and I am trying my best to show respect to a delicate situation. So please, proceed with caution! Also, this is a VERY condensed history. The full history is much more complex. This is a watered-down version.

My first time in Barcelona, I fell in love.

I fell in love with the city, my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea, and my first glimpse at this amazing language Catalán. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I loved the discos, the beautiful Catalan guys, the streets, I even loved the Rambles, the kilometre long street that now is completely filled with tourists and I have successfully avoided on my last three visits.

I went back to Toledo, where I was studying for a semester, full of dreams of an amazing life in Barcelona.

I was greeted with “No, no way would you ever want to live in Barcelona. The Catalans are horrible people, and you’d have to learn Catalán. It would be better when you return to Spain to work and live in Madrid.”

I unfortunately took this attitude back to the States with me.

In 2008, my last year of university, I took a Spanish nationalism course. We studied the works of the famed Generación de ’98. We looked closely at works by Valencian, Catalán, Galician and Basque writers. We constantly talked about what it meant to be Spanish, using Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno and Machado as our sources. I wish I could retake this course now after living in Spain for so much more time. I would understand so much more than I did then.

Spain is not a nation. Spain is a country that consists of many nations. Galician, Asturian, Cantabrian, Basque, Navarran, Aragonese, Catalan, Valencian, Balearic, Murician (not “I’m *Mer-i-cuhn, give me my hamburger!), Andalusian, Canarian, Extremadurian, Castilian, Leonese…Spain is a concept dreamed up by the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella of a unified Iberian Peninsula.

To understand the situation in both the Basque Country (further referred to here as Euskadi) and Catalunya, one must look at their history.

The Catalans were always tied to Aragón and the Kingdom of Aragón since the 1137 union of Aragón and Barcelona. During the Catalán Revolt from 1640-1652, Catalunya was a republic under French protection. The northern parts of Catalunya were ceded to France in the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, and the victory of King Felipe V during the War of Spanish Sucession lead to the abolition of Catalan and all non-Castilian institutions, along with the change to Spanish in all legal documents.  During the 19th Century, Catalan Nacionalism began to grow, and the Generalitat de Catalunya returned during the Second Republic of Spain. However, during the Franco dictatorship, Catalan was prohibited. Of course, people continued to speak Catalan in secret. I know people in Valencia who studied it in the basements of their teachers as it was forbidden to be taught.

In the 1980s, Catalanismo was rampant throughout Catalunya. As Barcelona prepared to host the 1992 Olympic Games, Catalán began to regain the strength it had before Franco. The Catalans were also jealous of their Basque brothers-in-spirit who were given much more autonomy and freedom to do things their way.

Euskadi is a small corner of Spain located between Aragón, Castilla León, Cantabria and the Cantabrian Sea. Euskal Herria, the land of the Basque speaking people, refers to Euskadi, Navarra and Iparralde, or Basque France. It’s hard to get to on foot, and the weather makes the Irish and the Seattlites wish to return home to a less rainier environment. Noah, builder of the arc, is said to have been Basque. The Basques remained isolated, and the Romans and the Moors left them alone for the most part. During the reign of the Catholic Kings, the Basques made a deal, exchanging an oath of loyalty to Queen Isabel in return for overseas claims and the ability to govern themselves. The French revolution brought about the end of this self-governing term.

During the Carlist Wars, the Basques feared a liberal Spanish constitution that would ruin their self-government, so they sided with the traditional army under Tomás de Zumalacarregui, who died in the Siege of Bilbao in 1835. A weak Pamplona in Navarra would sign the Kingdom of Navarra out of existence in the 1841 Ley Paccionado (Compromise Act), and Navarra became a province of Spain. At the end of the third Carlist War in 1876, King Alfonso XII’s army emerged victorious, the Act for the Abolition of the Basque Charters was signed, and the southern Basques were under Spanish control. (The northern Basques have a similar complicated tale with France.)

During the Second Republic, both Catalunya and Euskadi enjoyed a lot of autonomous freedoms. The Spanish Civil War began, and the Basques sided with the Republican side where Navarra was supporting Franco and the Nationalists. After the bombing of Gernika (Guernica in Spanish. You might know a painting or the song by Brand New), many Basques went into exile. During the Franco regime, any regional language was prohibited. Basque, Catalán and Gallego were banned. The treatment of the Basques during this time lead to the terrorist group ETA, now in a permanent ceasefire since 2011.  (There have been Catalan terrorist groups too, for the record, but none lasted for a long time nor had the impact of ETA.)

When Franco died in the 1970s and King Juan Carlos restored a parliamentary monarchy, Euskadi and Catalunya were granted autonomous freedom (along with the other 15 autonomous regions of Spain). The Basques and Catalans were free to come out of the underground cellars where they had been studying their languages and speak it in the street.

The problem is, the Basque Country was granted a lot more freedom than Catalunya. After living in the Basque Country for two years now, I can honestly say I feel a big difference every time I cross the border into Cantabria or go to other parts of Spain. I can’t pinpoint the exact difference, but there is one. The Basques live as if they have already gained independence from Spain, referring to Spain as if it were a different country.

I honestly feel like the guy who tells the preacher to go f*** himself in the middle of Sunday School every time I say something positive about Spain while living in Bilbao. For that reason, I use “the greatest peninsula in the world”  on my blog to try to emphasize my love for the entire Iberian Peninsula. And you always have to say “Aquí” (here) or “la península” if you want to refer to Euskadi and Spain in the same sentence. It’s being politically correct and avoiding conflict.

The Cataláns, in my experience, still refer to themselves as being Spain, although with a frown or a sigh, dreaming of a unified “Països Catalans” (Catalunya, Andorra, Comunitat Valenciana and Illes Baleares, plus Northern Catalunya in France). “Aquí en España” is something never said in Euskadi but still said in Barcelona. The Basques will say “Voy a España, a La Rioja” (I’m going to Spain, to La Rioja), where as the Catalans still tend to  say “Voy a Logroño” (the capital of La Rioja).

The difference in autonomy has led to some resentment from the Catalans. Their quest for independence honestly began by feeling if they asked for something big, they would be rewarded with what they wanted, equal footing with Euskadi. Today, though, many Catalans want complete independence, fueled by Spanish government who wants to take away freedoms from the Catalan language and trying to go back to a Spanish-only way of life. As Spain has been suffering a horrible economic crisis since 2008 (despite the prime minister’s words to the contrary, the crisis is NOT over), they feel that they would have a better chance on their own without being bossed around by Madrid.

The Basques are sitting in silence, trying to recover from the horrors of ETA and restore their goodwill with the rest of the peninsula, learning from Catalunya’s trial and error process and planning a day in the probably not-too-distant future when they present their own plans for a referendum.

The rest of Spain usually remains angry and upset, and it’s a topic that is 100% unapproachable for mixed company. I may jest to my closer friends about how I miss Spain, but it’s not something I would ever say to the Basques at large. I still have dreams of perfecting my Catalán and living in a village somewhere between Barcelona and València with my husband and two golden retrievers, writing the day away. However, I would prefer to do it in Spain and not an independent Catalunya, which at this point in time could be catastrophic for both Spain and Catalunya, as economically, one cannot live without the other.  I also don’t want to have to go through customs and currency exchange every time I travelled from a point in the peninsula to my beloved Barcelona!

That said, I do respect the Catalans a lot and understand their frustration. Sometimes I worry that having a blog named in Catalán could lead toward resentment to me, the American with the Valencian soul.

This has just been a very brief introduction to the politics, the feelings and the history that has led to Catalunya’s quixotic quest for independence.

For more information on the Basques, be sure to check out The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky. It’s a fascinating read. I’d love to find something so entertaining on the Catalán history!

Gorbeia, the Basque Everest (II)

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Last November, I went to the Gorbea Natural Park (Gorbeia in Euskera), but I didn’t have time to climb to the summit. It’s been hanging over my head ever since. Nearly a year later, I returned to take advantage of a magnificent autumn day. El noviembre pasado, fui al Parque Natural de Gorbea (Gorbeia en euskera), pero no tenía la oportunidad para subir hasta la cima. Lo he tenido pendiente desde entonces. Casí un año después, por fin volví a aprovechar un día estupendo de otoño. 

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From Bilbao, there are three Bizkaibuses a day that leave from Abando that stop at the gas station in Alto de Barazar to climb Gorbeia via Saldropo. As I didn’t feel like catching the 6:45 bus on a weekend and 12:45 was a little late, I caught the 9:00 bus from La Union that connects Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz by going through the villages. This bus runs once or twice a day. It’s 3,75 from Bilbao to Barazar. Desde Bilbao, hay tres Bizkaibuses al día que salen de Abando y que paran en Alto de Barazar para subir Gorbeia desde Saldropo. No me apetecía coger el autobus a las 6.45 en un sábado y el de 12:45 era tarde. Por eso, cogí el autobus de La Union a las 9:00 que une Bilbao y Vitoria-Gasteiz por los pueblos. Hay uno o dos todos los días. Cuesta 3,75 desde Bilbao hasta Barazar.

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Autumn in the Basque Country/Otoño en Euskadi

I arrived to Barazar a little past ten, stopped at the bar for a relaxing café con leche and pintxo (bocata de jamón serrano) and set off on my way. The bus dropped me off right where I needed to take the trail that goes to the parking lot of Saldropo, which leads to the trail through the Humedal de Saldropo which leads to a trail that goes to the summit of Gorbeia. I set out about 10:15, was in the parking by 10:50, and I reached Saldropo about 11:45. Llegué a Barazar un poco después de las 10, y me paré en el bar para tomar un relaxing café con leche y pintxo (una bocata de jamón serrano) antes de empezar. El autobus me dejó a lado del sendero para ir al aparcamiento de Saldropo, donde hay otro sendero hasta el Humedal de Saldropo donde hay otro sendero que va hasta la cima de Gorbeia. Salí sobre 10:15, estaba en el parking a las 10:50, y llegué a Saldropo sobre las 11:45.

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Saldropo looks like a huge rock, and the pictures I saw made the trail look even smaller than it is. As it is, I missed the turn off and had to find an alternative way up. My instincts told me where I needed to go, and they were right…this time. The views of the mountains of Vizcaya were incredible, and as I ate an apple at Saldropo, contemplating the vistas, I could see the cross way off in the distance. Saldropo parece una roca gigante, y las fotos que había visto antes mostraba un sendero aún más pequeño que es. Perdí la señal, pero mis instintos me dijieron…y esta vez tenían razón. Las vistas de los montes de Vizcaya eran preciosas, y mientas comía una manzana, contemplando las vistas, podía ver la cruz en la distancía.

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Views from Saldropo/vistas desde Saldropo

The sign said it was 40 minutes to Aldamín. Either I got lost, or it took longer than I thought. About 40 minutes later I saw a sign saying 1 hour 25 minutes to the summit of Gorbeia. La señal dijo que eran 40 minutos hasta Aldamín. O me perdí o tardé más tiempo. Unos 40 minutos después vi una señal que dijo 1 hora 25 minutos para llegar al cima de Gorbeia. 

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A skeleton of something between Saldropo and Aldamin.

The trail isn’t well-marked after Saldropo, and I had to use common sense, which I’m sometimes lacking. The cross was like a mirage, always way off in the distance and it kept looking farther away. La ruta no está bien señalado después de Saldropo, y tenía que usar sentido común que muchas veces me falta. La cruz era un espejismo, siempre en la distancia y cada vez pareció aún más lejos.

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The cross/La cruz

I began to see people, and I found my way toward the trail. At the 1 hour 25 minutes marker to Gorbeia, I let a Basque couple and their dog pass me, and I followed behind them for most of the way up the summit. Empecé a ver gente, y encontré el sendero adecuado. Cuando vi la señal de 1 hora 25 minutos hasta Gorbeia, permití a una pareja vasca y su perro pasar para poder seguirles a la cima sin perderme. 

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Autumn/Otoño

The grass was literally greener on the other side as I kept climbing and climbing. This summit is much more difficult than the ones I’ve become accustomed to on the Camino del Norte and even Pagasarri in Bilbao, capital of the world. Literamente, el césped estaba más verde por el otro lado. Subí y subí. La cima es mucho más difícil que las que estoy acostumbrado en el Camino el Norte y incluso Pagasarri en Bilbao, capital del mundo. 

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I hadn’t seen too many people on my way up, but the closer I got, the more it felt like what I imagine Camino del Norte and Primitivo pilgrims experience upon reaching the French Camino. The peace and quiet of the prior Camino are gone as the Camino suddenly becomes Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were a lot of people coming from the parking lot of Pagomakurre. No había visto mucha gente durante la ruta, pero cuando estaba cerca, me sentí algo que imagino los peregrinos del Camino del Norte y/o Primitivo se sienten cuando llegan al Camino Frances. El paz se desaparece y el Camino es algo parecido a Times Square en Nochevieja. Vale, no era tan mal, pero había más gente subiendo desde el parking de Pagomakurre.

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Upon reaching the peak, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. I had done it. I had climbed the highest peak of Vizcaya. 1482 metres, which is 4862 feet. Cuando llegé a la cima, me sentí que sí, he hecho algo importante. ¡Lo he hecho! He subido el monte más alto de Vizcaya.  1482 metros.

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At the top! ¡En la cima!

The crisp October sky made the views even more stunning. I could see Bilbao, the cliffs of Getxo and the Cantabrian Sea in the distance. On the other side was an incredible reservoir. I rested a bit and enjoyed the scenery. El cielo azul de octubre mejoró las vistas, creo. Pude ver hasta Bilbao, los acantilados de Getxo y el Mar Cantábrico en la distancia. Por el otro lado había un embalse bonito.

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I was a bit worried about going back down, but it was easier and quicker at the beginning. After Saldropo, I found my way on the trail and not where I had gotten off the trail earlier that day… Estaba algo preocupado de bajarme, pero al principio, era más fácil y más rápido. Después Saldropo me encontré en el sendero correcto y no me perdí como antes…

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Saldropo

Unfortunately, after a fallen tree cut off the trail and the signals had disappeared, I got lost. I fell and slid on some mud. I was worried that my ankle had resprained, but it was fine (knocking on wood). I thought I had found myself on the trail again, but alas, I had not. I took out my mobile and used Google Maps to slowly find my way back to the trail. I was a bit worried I was going to have to call for help (112 is Spain’s 911 by the way), but I persevered slowly but surely back to the trail. I had never been so glad to see the red and white of the Gran Recorrido trail marker. Lamentablemente, después de un árbol caído y perdí las señales, me perdí. Me caí en el barro. Estaba preocupado de tener otro esguince, pero estaba bien (toca madera). Pensé que había encontrado en el sendero adecuado otra vez, pero no. Tenía que usar el app Google Maps en el móvil para encontrarme poco a poco. Estaba preocupado de tener que llamar para ayuda, pero poco a poco encontré el Gran Recorrido otra vez. Nunca en la vida me había alegrado tanto para ver el rojiblanco de GR.

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Here, not easy to get lost. Once you get to the trees…yes.

I rested a bit at the parking lot before heading back to Barazar, where I had planned to read a bit while waiting for the bus at the lone open bar. It was closed, along with the gas station on the other side of the road. I played with a friendly German Shepherd who was a year old and hadn’t realised he was supposed to guard his property instead of playing with strangers waiting for the bus. I saw the BizkaiBus headed to Ubide, and I caught it so I could kill time in Ubide before catching it to head back to Bilbao. I was really lucky. Ubide is a quaint, small village. Me descansé en el aparcamiento de Saldropo antes de volver a Barazar, donde tenía pensado leer un rato mientras esperaba el autobus en el bar. El bar ya se había cerrado, y el gasolinera también estaba cerrado. Jugué con un pastor aleman que tenía sobre un año y no se había dado cuenta que en teoria era un perro de guardía y no debería jugar con los extranjeros esperando en autobus. Vi el BizkaiBus yendo hasta Ubide, y lo cogí para perder tiempo en Ubide antes de cogerlo para volver a Bilbao. Tenía suerte. Ubide es un pueblo pequeño pero bonito.

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Ubide

After a day like that, I was quite happy to arrive home safe and sound for an amazing sunset over Bilbao. Después de un día así, estaba supercontento para llegar en Bilbao para ver la puesta de sol.

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About Gorbeia: Located at the border between the provinces of Vizcaya and Álava, the mountain Gorbeia names the nature park that surrounds it. It is 1482 metres high (4,862 feet). The cross at the top is 18 metres high, or 59 feet. It was a meeting point in the past for the Basques, and it’s a tradition for the Basques to climb it on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1st (or both) every year. It is also traditional to climb the mountain on San Ignacio (July 31st), a holiday in Vizcaya. Acerca de Gorbeia: Situado en la frontera de Vizcaya y Álava, el monte Gorbeia da nombre al parque natural a sus alrededores. Es 1482 metros y la cruz es 18 metros. En el pasado era un punto de encuentro importante para los vascos. Es una tradición vasca subirla el día de Nochevieja o Año nuevo (o ambos) todos los años. También es tradicional subirla el día de San Ignacio, un festivo en Vizcaya.

Dr. Spanishlove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Spain)

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Spanish flags in Santander.

In honour of Día de la Hispanidad in Spain, I thought it might be interesting to write about how I came to fall in love with Spanish and the land of Jamón Serrano.

Maybe I thought wrong, eh?

When I was just six years old, my parents took me to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The trip later continued on to Miami and the Florida Keys. In Miami, I became fascinated with this cool language that was everywhere, Spanish.

I would have to wait until I was in 8th grade and 13 years old before I could undertake this journey to learn this amazing and beautiful language. I had a seven week introductory course so I could see if it were something I would be interested in taking in high school. From my first minute in Spanish, I was in love with the language and studied it as much as possible. I even was selected to take achievement tests and placed really high in the region and made honourable mention in the state. While others struggled with understanding subjunctive and preterite versus imperfect, I caught on rather quickly.

(The key to learning languages is not to bog yourself down with the WHY. Just accept languages don’t make any sense.)

In university, I quickly decided to make Spanish my minor to complement my journalism major. Most of my teachers came from various parts of Spain. I had a few madrileños, a gallega and even a vasca from Bilbao. They instilled a greater love of Spanish in me, and I had already fallen in love with Spain before I even came to the Greatest Peninsula in the World in 2003 for study abroad.

On the bus from Madrid Barajas (now known as Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas) to Toledo, I began to cry as I saw everything in Spanish and I took everything in. I was so overcome  to be in place that I had read about so much in books. Everything from then seven years (I would add two more to my official Spanish studies) was finally making sense and coming to life for me. It was a truly emotional moment.

That semester in Toledo, I absorbed as much as Spain as I could. I travelled to Barcelona the last weekend in October, where standing on the Rambles de Mar, I made the decision that one day, I would live in Spain. I also travelled to Sevilla thanks to my Eurorail pass and cheap AVEs (high-speed trains). It rained the entire weekend in Sevilla, but I made the most of it.

My regret those three months was not travelling more. I went to Madrid nearly every weekend to walk around the streets and absorb Chueca, and my dream changed from living in Barcelona to living in Chueca and having a Spanish boyfriend.

I returned to the States, finished out the semester and university, and dreamed for five long years of returning to the Greatest Peninsula in the World. After my journalism degree got me no farther than the nearest Hollister folding clothes, I decided to return to school to make my Spanish minor a second major with the hopes of graduate school. I found a way to do it in a year and picked up Italian 101 and 102. I studied Spanish Cinema, Early and Medieval Spanish Literature, Spanish in the World, and Spanish Nationalism, a graduate course I was permitted to take which discussed the ongoing debates between Spain, the Basque Country, Catalunya, Galicia and Comunitat Valenciana. (Feliç 9 d’octubre als valencians) and what exactly being Spanish means anyway.

I applied to three graduate schools, and I was rejected from all three. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. On a whim, I applied to this program from the Spanish government that placed native speakers in the classrooms. I was accepted and sent to Linares, a small city (but still “pueblo” in the heart of Jaén). My intention was to just stay a year or so in Spain to improve my Spanish so I could be accepted into grad school.

I fell so hard in love with Spain that I found it impossible to leave. Sure, Linares was NOT the place for me. I enjoyed my school,  I enjoyed tostadas con tomate, and I enjoyed travelling through al-Andalus seeing all the beautiful things that exist in the south of Spain. I applied for a change to Madrid, where all my dreams turned into nightmares, but I continued travelling throughout the peninsula as I could.

Valencia drew me from the start. It was the first place I visited on my first “puente” (long weekend), and it’s a place I return to at least once a year (along with my beloved Barcelona). After being non-renewed for “being too shy and reserved”, I took off to Valencia to try to pursue a graduate degree at the Univeristat de València. The thing is, you need money for that. I didn’t have it. I fought to stay in Spain though. I knew if I didn’t fight, it would be something I would regret the rest of my life.

Luckily for me, there was a need for native speakers with that same program I was too shy and reserved for. And Madrid’s loss was Valencia’s gain. I fell in love with the city and despite payment problems, I had the best year of my Spain life so far.

I left Valencia in hopes of studying at Univeristat Autònoma de Barcelona, but the FASFA cut the student loans for UAB and although I was admitted, that pesky no money thing crept up again. The day it fell through, I was offered a job in Madrid, which I accepted.

It was the best school I’ve worked at, but Madrid and I just weren’t a match. Since I could only be there two years due to some weird visa law, it was time to move again. I loved the north, and so I applied for Catalunya, Valencia and the Basque Country. The program has been cut in Catalunya and Valencia due to lack of dinero (yet a certain comunidad autonoma thinks they can survive as an independent country) and it was Euskadi where I’ve ended up.

I cannot explain what it is about Spain that I love so much. A Spanish friend from the States says in the US, you live to work, and in Spain you work to live. I like that philosophy, the philosophy of “mañana”, the life in the streets, the amazing food, the 17 distinct cultures in one country the size of Texas, the Spanish language (and the Catalán language!)…Spain has some amazingly beautiful places to visit and one of the most fascinating histories. It may not always be a happy history, but it is an interesting history.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me past May 2016, but I do know that no matter what, Spain will always be a major part of me. I may not have Spanish blood, but I do know that my heart and soul belong to Spain. (Tengo el alma valenciana ;))

Viva España, Visca Catalunya, Gora Euskadi, y un saludo cordial a todos desde la mejor península del mundo.

 

Albergue de Güemes: La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto

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 In the world of Camino del Norte pilgrims, the Albergue de Güemes (officially named La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto) has a reputation for hospitality and being one of the best (if not the best) albergue on the Camino del Norte.

Located 15 coastal kilometres from Santander, the Güemes albergue is perched high on a hill in touch with nature and with incredible views of the Cantabrian countryside.

As pilgrims who have stayed here know, Father Ernesto, who runs the albergue, was born in the house that would later become the albergue. After becoming a priest and working on a village on top of a very high and steep Picos de Europa mountain, he went to South America in a green Land Rover to work with the third-world culture there. He still gives mass at two churches every Sunday and officiates the occasional marriage or other liturgical ceremony. For the most part, he’s retired and spends his time giving to the pilgrims on the Camino.

I arrived, not sure what to think as I’ve never stayed in a Camino albergue. I’ve had some nightmarish experiences in youth hostels during my first year in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I was welcomed with a glass of water and a bench to sit on and rest. I filled in my information and was shown my bed. (It was a top bunk, but it was already 17:00!) I met a few other pilgrims, but my social anxious self was tired after working 30 kilometres and losing a mobile phone.

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After a quick shower, I felt better. I played with the albergue dog for a while, as I always prefer the company of dogs to people. I was lucky, as there were free massages being offered from a massage school located coincidentally enough in the Capital of the World, Bilbao. Turns out that my right leg is having some problems with the calf muscles, which can be traced back to my 2-month limp after spraining my ankle in 2014. They taped it up taught me how to self-massage it. Eskerrik asko.

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Dog selfie!

Then everyone was gathered to listen to the story of the albergue, and as they had figured out I was fully bilingual…they called on me to be the translator! I was the translator for the entire evening. (I sat at the table full of Spanish speakers so I didn’t have to translate during dinner.)

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For whoever walks there is always a sun rising. Walking is to go through the night full of hope and discover every day the truth of utopia and the life of love.

Despite being a teacher, I have quite the stage fright of speaking in front of strangers or adults. I’m also not used to translating on the spot. I was nervous, but everyone told me I did a great job and thanked me for my translations.

Over dinner (sopa de ajo (garlic soup) and pasta), I listened to some stories from other pilgrims. I met a couple of young Basques from Plentzia who had been camping out since leaving Gran Bilbao a few days prior. I met someone from the greater Toledo, Ohio area who was interested in how someone from the greater Sandusky area immigrated to Spain. I met a pilgrim from Luxembourg, a few Germans and Swiss, and some Irish folks too. The Camino brings people from all over the world.

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Camino del Norte

After dinner, I played translator again as Father Ernesto told the story of the ermita (hermitage/place of worship connected with nature) he had had built near the albergue and the paintings of the Camino of Life. I was very tired and too busy translating the story to properly reproduce the story here. Fellow peregrinos del Norte and future peregrinos del Norte will know it. But the story is the Camino of Life, el Camino de la Vida. We’re all slaves to money, religion, corrupt politicians (not naming countries) and other things that tie us down, and we must look for our freedom. This is the Camino de la Vida, the Camino of life.

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Camino de la vida

Father Ernesto definitely tells it better than me.

It was a fantastic first albergue experience, and it helped me get over my fears of the albergues somewhat. I know that there are few like this one, but it is a night I will always remember.

Buen camino de la vida a todos, a tothom, a tutti, to everyone.

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Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte) Etapa 13: Güemes-Santander.

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I have reached my Camino goal for 2015. I have arrived to Santander.

On Sunday morning, after a restless night’s sleep in the famed Albergue of Güemes (entry to come soon. Stay tuned!), I had a quick breakfast and was out the door. I was wanting to walk alone as I needed solitude to process some emotions I was going through, and so I was one of the first to leave. However, as I was having some problems with my calf muscles due to the post AnkleGate (my 2014 sprain ankle), I had to take it slow and many amazing pilgrims I met in Güemes passed me. I let them, saying “¡hola!” with a smile.

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Buenos días

I loved the mist being evaporated by the rising sun.

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Buenos días

I passed some literally empty houses. I wish I knew the story behind them.

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Literally an empty house! Literally! 😉

I was hoping to have a second breakfast, my tostada con tomate that Euskadi seems to run from, but everything in Galizano was still closed at 9 in the morning.

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Galizano

I began to limp my way to the beach, and I realised I had forgotten to take my selfie of the day. I took out the camera to snap myself with the mountains, mist and still rising sun in the background. While doing this, I dropped my camera.

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The things we do for a selfie. Adéu, camera.

So far on this weekend on the Camino, I lost my mobile and broke my camera. Good going.

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The iPad takes good pics, right?

At least I have my trusty iPad Cesc, who snaps photos for me when my camera is tired. The camera lasted its average 15 months, and I’m sure I’ll have a new one coming at Christmas. Cesc was busy as the Camino arrived to the coast (of course I took the coastal way). I ran into some surfers, and the fields had been harvested. One photo I snapped was the contrast of the fields (which remind me of Ohio), the Camino, and the cliffs leading to some beautiful beaches.

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Cows.

Around one corner, Santander appears in the distance. I had already taken the ferry from Somo to Santander last June. I stopped to take off my hoodie and apply sunscreen, admiring the Cantabrian Sea in all its glory.

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Santander in the distance

A few runners came along, wishing me a “buen Camino”. The Cantabrians seem really open to pilgrims and friendlier than their Basque neighbours. Of course, I think the Basques are walking these trails themselves and don’t really differentiate between a pilgrim and a day hiker with no destination. But the Cantabrians also were taking advantage of these beautiful trails and a beautiful early autumn day.

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Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of this beautiful day?

I arrived to the beach, which I was hoping to avoid walking on the beach to help my muscles a bit more. No such luck. The beach was beautiful with some amazing views of Santander.

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More beach walking!

I saw fellow pilgrims from Güemes enjoying the beach. I remember thinking as some of them had passed me, “Am I doing this wrong? Am I pausing for too many photos?” I let this thought evaporate into the mist. My right calf muscles needed a slower pace, and as a writer with anxiety, I am more prone to contemplate the sea for longer periods of time.

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Fields…Camino…Cliffs…Beach…Cantabrian Sea…one photo.

I left the beach a bit too early, trying to remember where I had left it the year before. This lead me through a very residential section of Loredo and Somo and not the Camino. Oh well, it was a different sort of scenic route.

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I took too many photos of the sunrise, so sharing more of them.

I arrived to Somo, had an expensive tostada con tomate at 11:40 (typical Spanish breakfast ends at 12) and waited for the ferry with a German pilgrim I had met on the albergue. A few more from Güemes caught the 12:25 ferry with me, and I explained what little I new about Santander (Palacio Magdalena, the story about how it was the last province capital (or one of the last ones) to take down their statue of Franco and you can feel the conservative atmosphere in the air today). It was a bit hard to say goodbye to them and wish them a buen camino. A few of them stayed in Santander, and the German one was going on to…somewhere.

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Another sunrise pic

I was lucky as I arrived to the bus station at 13:10, and I bought the last bus ticket to Bilbao for the entire day. There are buses nearly every hour from Santander to Bilbao, but Sunday is a popular day for travel. I had a pintxo de tortilla at a Chinese-ran bar, and the Chinese man wished me a “buen Camino.” It’s the small things like that make me smile.

I am ready for more Camino action, and I may tackle another weekend if the good weather holds and I have money and energy for it. If not, there is always next year.

A continuación…

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Date of Etapa: 27 de septiembre de 2015
Kilometres walked: Around 15-16 according to the guide.

Camino Día 1 
Camino Día 2
Camino Día 3
Camino Día 4
Camino Día 5
Camino Día 6
Camino Día 7
Camino Día 8
Camino Día 9
Camino Día 10
Camino Día 11
Camino Día 12

Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte) Etapa 12: Laredo-Güemes. (29 km)

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It was the best of days, it was the worst of days.

It had been a long 2.5 months since my last day on the Camino in July, and I was ready to hit the road again.  My goal for 2015 was to arrive to Santander, and thankfully, the cranky Cantabrian Sea (perhaps jealous of nearby cousin Mediterranean Sea?) decided to bless me with an opportunity before I headed back to work on Oct. 1st.

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Morning selfie

On Saturday morning, I awoke at 6 in the morning, was out the door at 6:30 to catch a taxi…who told me “I’ll be right back.” 10 minutes later, he came back, and I was a bit worried about catching the bus on time. I should know that Alsa has not once been on time at Termibus in Bilbao (they are usually pretty punctual elsewhere in the peninsula, but the Ruta del Cantábrico runs into traffic problems or something all the time). I found someone in my seat. It was still dark out, which I hadn’t realised being on holidays and not having to get up so early.

At 7:45 the bus arrived to Laredo, and I made my way to the beach. They were having a medieval festival, which I wish I had known about as I would’ve spent the night there. Everything was closed, so I couldn’t get my café con leche before hitting the road.

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Laredo

The Camino I chose (there are two that leave from Laredo) went along 4 km of beach. About 1 kilometre into it, I realised that my mobile phone was missing. I searched my backpack to no avail. I wondered if it had fallen out when I put in new batteries in my camera, so I went back to the beginning of the beach. No luck.

I tried to put it at the back of my mind and not worry. I mainly have my phone for Whatsapp (a texting app popular in Spain), Facebook and Twitter, but I have a lot of important contacts via Whatsapp. I eventually found the Zen of the Camino. I can’t change it, and I can accept that I can’t change it. Wherever my phone is, I hope it’s enjoying itself.

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Cantabrian morning.

I had a café con leche at the end of the beach 4 kilometres later before catching the ferry to Santoña (2 Euros). The ferry was quick, and when I arrived to Santoña, it was instant like.

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Ferry to Santoña

The town of 11,000 is quite nice, and I had my breakfast of tostada con tomate with a second café con leche. They gave me a shot of orange juice and a small piece of cake to go with it. 2 Euro. I love Cantabria!

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Santoña

I took off my hoodie and applied sunscren before continuing on my way.

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The day is warming up.

The Camino passes the wildlife reserve park…and a prison. I knew the building was quite big and strange, but when I found out it was a prison, I was kind of shocked.

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The Camino passes between this…and a prison.

I arrived to another beach, and I admired it. I took the sidewalk/pavement along the road instead of doing more beach walking, and before I knew it, the Camino turned. It was hard to know where the Camino went on the beach, and two very nice strangers pointed out the way to climb Brusco (which had red sandy paths!)

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El Brusco

The mountain wasn’t so hard, and as I was climbing I saw an arrow painted on a rock that I should’ve been able to see from the beach.

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That missing arrow

Before I knew it, I was descending from Brusco to the endless Noja beach. I have several Basque acquaintences that go to Noja often, so I was expecting a bit more. The beach was lovely, but outside of a nice Plaza Mayor and church, the town left a bit to be desired in my opinion.

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Playa (Beach) de Noja

It’s been warned that it was easy to get lost, and after a small lunch of a pintxo de tortilla (it was too early for Spanish lunch, being 13:00), I indeed got lost. I went back to the tourist office, where they pointed me in the right direction. “Sigue recto recto recto” (Continue straight ahead, straight ahead, straight ahead.)

The next arrow was quite a blessed sight, needless to say.

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Iglesia (church) de Noja

After leaving the residential areas of Noja that never end, I passed a church and a lot of fields. The fields reminded me a lot of my old home Ohio, although Ohio does not have mountains in the distance. Some cornfields had recently been harvested, and I got that feeling of autumn that I love so much. Ohio also doesn’t have the church of San Pedro in Castillo in the distance either.

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Ohio with a medieval church or Cantabria? You be the judge.

I saw a lot of peregrinos, but as I like to walk in solitude, listening to the Camino and nature, I let them pass ahead. Some of them I would later meet at the albergue, but that’s a different entry.

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Barato means “cheap”, so…Bar Ato…barato? It was closed.

I stopped for a quick refreshing drink at the albergue in San Miguel de Meruelo, and I was so thankful to see only an hour more awaited me to the famed albergue de Güemes. I’m going to say I arrived at a bad time, as they were serving lunch to the pilgrims staying there, but I really didn’t feel welcomed there. So thankful I had planned to stay in the albergue in Güemes and was on my way after finishing a cold drink and checking wifi/emailing about my phone/uploading pictures to Instagram. (No mobile for 4G ahhh!)

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Waterfalls

Another six kilometres later. I tried finding a Roman church that was advertised to be 400 metres away, but after 400 metres and mean barking dogs…I turned around and missed it. I did see some beautiful views and more and more cows.

I was dying to rest, but I soldiered on to Güemes. I was excited when I checked Google Maps and it gave an estimated 15 minutes. I wasn’t sure I was following the right arrows, but I had been. The Camino was going along a road, and I was ready to leave the road behind. Asphalt walking is ugh.

When I saw the turn off for the albergue 800 metres away, I was ecstastic. It had been a long 29 plus kilometres, and I was ready for a rest.

I was also nervous about staying in an albergue, even if it is one of the most famous albergues on any Camino. With that said, I’ve decided to give an entire entry (look for it next Thursday) dedicated to my experience at this albergue, as it was also my first Camino albergue. This experience has been a fantastic one.

A continuación….

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Día del Camino: 26-septiembre-2015
Kilometres walked: Officially 29, but definitely more with the backtracking.
Book I was reading: Pues, me largo by Hape Kerkeling (a German (translated to Spanish) account of the Camino Frances.

Previously on:

Camino Día 1 
Camino Día 2
Camino Día 3
Camino Día 4
Camino Día 5
Camino Día 6
Camino Día 7
Camino Día 8
Camino Día 9
Camino Día 10
Camino Día 11