Bilbao, the cheapskate guide.

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Bilbao is one of the most expensive cities in Spain to live in, although it’s cheaper than its rival, the “barrio pijo” (posh neighbourhood) Donostia (San Sebastián). While waiting for payment for my July job that took six weeks to arrive, I’ve had to be creative with activities to enjoy the city while trying to save money so I can pay rent and stuff. Bilbao es una de las ciudades más caras de España para vivir, aunque es más barato que su rival, el barrio pijo de Bilbao Donostia. Mientras sigo esperando recebir el pagamento para mi trabajo de julio que aún no viene, he tenido que ser creativo para encontrar actividades para disfrutar de la ciudad y a la misma vez intentar ahorrar para aquiler. 

While the weather in Bilbao is not always (never) cooperative, when we do get a real glimpse of Lorenzo (their name for eguzki, or “sun” in Euskera), there are many wonderful mountains to climb and enjoy without even leaving the city. The most popular is Artxanda, where for less than a Euro you can take the funicular for some of the most incredible views of El Botxo (Bilbao’s other nickname for those who are too lazy to write “la capital del mundo” (Capital of the World). There are quite a few nice trails through Artxanda and Mount Avril (where the Camino de Santiago descends into Bilbao). A pesar del tiempo de Bilbao nunca quiere cooperar, cuando vemos Lorenzo (el nombre del eguzki (euskera por “sol) es Lorenzo. No sé si es igual en otras partes de la mejor península del mundo), hay muchos montes increíbles para subir y disfrutar sin dejar la ciudad. El monte más popular es Artxanda. Por menos de un euro se puede tomar el funicular para disfrutar de las vistas más espectaculares del Botxo (el otro apodo por Bilbao es “El Botxo” para los que somos demasiados vagos para escribir “la capital del mundo”. Hay muchas rutas bonitas por Artxanda y Monte Avril (donde el Camino de Santiago desciende a Bilbao).

Pagasarri is another favourite among the locals, although there is no funicular to reach the top. Kobeta is another popular mountain, and it is part of the Camino de Santiago too. There is another funicular just outside of Bilbao in Trápaga, the funicular de La Reineta, that is a bit more difficult to find but well worth to take for a nice lake and views of Gran Bilbao. Pagasarri es otro monte preferido por los bilbaínos, aunque no hay un funicular para subir. Kobeta es otro monte popular y es parte del Camino de Santiago también. Hay otro funicular en las afueras de Bilbao en Valle de Trápaga, el funicular de La Reineta, que es un poco más difícil encontrar pero vale la pena para ver un lago bonito y vistas de Gran Bilbao.

Vizcaya has a ton of great mountains and hiking trails for those who have the funds to leave the so-called Capital of the World. With the Barrik transport card, the province of Vizcaya is suddenly at your fingertips as BizkaiBus connects most places in Vizcaya with Bilbao on a regular basis (at least every two hours if not hourly). The Barrik transport card makes travel in Vizcaya cheaper and is also usable on Euskotren, the Bilbao metro and tram. Vizcaya tiene muchos montes grandes y rutas de senderismo para los que disponen del dinero para dejar la Capital del Mundo. Con la tarjeta de transporte Barrik, la provincia se encuentra super bien conectado porque BizkaiBus une la mayoria de sitios en Vizcaya con Bilbao frecuemente (al menos cada dos horas si no cada hora). La tarjeta Barrik hace viajar por Vizcaya más barato y también se puede usar en Euskotren, el metro de Bilbao y la tramvía de Bilbao. 

Bilbao has a few parks, and my favourite is Parque Etxebarria. Many people take their dogs here, and it offers some beautiful views over Bilbao. I tend to take a book and read while watching the sunset. If you take the stairs leading from Plaza de Unamuno, it’s at the very top. Bilbao tiene muchas parques, y mi preferido es el Parque Etxebarria. Mucha gente llevan sus perros para jugar, y tiene vistas preciosas de Bilbao. Suelo llevar un libro y leer mientras veo la puesta de sol. Si tomas las escaleras de Plaza de Unamuno, está arriba de todo.

For those who prefer the indoors, especially with the typical rainy Basque weather, most of Bilbao’s museums have one day a week when they are free. Even the Guggenheim is usually free on their anniversary weekend (In October).  Para los que prefieren estar dentro, especialmente con el clima lluvioso típico de Euskadi, la mayoria de los museos en Bilbao tiene un día con entrada gratuita. Incluso el Guggenheim tiene entrada gratis el fin de semana de su aniversario (en octubre)

The other art museum in Bilbao, el Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts) is free on Wednesdays and also on Sundays after 14:00.  El otro museo de arte en Bilbao, el Museo de Bellas Artes, es gratis los miércoles y también los domingos a partir de las 14:00.

The Museo Marítimo (Maritime Museum) is free on Tuesdays. Located on the Ría Nervión not far from San Mamés, it offers a history of the naval and shipyards of Bilbao. El Museo Marítimo es gratis los jueves. Está situado en la Ría Nervión cerca al nuevo San Mamés y ofrece una historia de las puertas de Bilbao.

The Museo Vasco, located in Plaza de Unamuno, is free on Thursdays. It has a fantastic interactive map of the province of Vizcaya.  El Museo Vasco, ubicado en Plaza de Unamuno, es gratis los jueves. Tiene un mapa interactivo fantástico de la provincia de Vizcaya.

On the last Friday of every month, the Arkeologi Museoa (Archaelogical Musuem), located in Plaza de Unamuno, also has free entrance on the “Día de museo” (Museum day). I’ve seen reports that it’s every Friday, but I haven’t been able to verify this as I went on the last Friday of August 2013. I’ve been meaning to go back. El último viernes de cada mes, el Arkeologi Museoa, ubicado en Plaza de Unamuno, tiene entrada gratis en el Día del Museo. Algunos me dicen que es todos los viernes, pero no he podido verificar eso. Fui el último viernes de agosto de 2013. He querido volver.

There are also a few beaches accessible by metro, including the beaches of Plentzia, Sopelana and Getxo.  Visiting the famous hanging bridge, el Puente de Vizcaya (Puente Colgante), is free, 35 cents to be ferried over on its suspension cords but 5.75€ to cross on foot on the top of it. It’s located in Getxo and Portugalete. También hay algunas playas conectadas por metro. Por ejemplo, las playas de Plentzia, Sopelana y Getxo están situadas cerca del metro. También se puede visitar el Puente Colgante (Puente de Vizcaya) gratis, aunque se cuesta 35 centímos por ser transportado en el ferry y 5,75€ para cruzar a pie arriba de todo.

Also noteworthy is the Azkuna Zentroa, better known as the Alhóndiga. The Alhóndiga is an old wine storage place that has been converted into a library, gym, cine, restaurants and meeting point for the citizens of Bilbao. It’s free to visit. También hay la Azkuna Zentroa, mejor conocido como La Alhóndiga. La Alhóndiga antes era un almacén de vino que ha sido convertido a una biblioteca, gimnasio, cine, restuarantes y un sitio de encuentro para los bilbaínos. Es gratis para ver lo que hay aquí.

Bilbao has a lot to offer besides rain, pintxos and the Guggenheim, and it doesn’t have to be super expensive to visit. Bilbao tiene mucho ofrecer, más que el sirimiri, pintxos y Guggenheim, y no tiene que ser caro para visitar. 

Climbing Jata.

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Jata, located near the Basque village of Bakio (most famous for its surfing beach and proximity to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe) has been on my list of mountains to climb for a while. Sunday, Sept. 6 provided a sunny, crisp late summer day (still not autumn yet!), so I took advantage and caught the bus to Bakio, getting off in Larrauri, where I read on Biendealtura to begin the day’s trek. Jata, situado cerca al pueblo vasco de Bakio (famoso por sus playas de surfeo y proximidad a San Juan de Gaztelugatxe) ha estado en mi lista de montes para subir desde hace un rato. El domingo, 6 de septiembre, dio un día de verano fresquito y soledado (¡todavía no ha llegado el otoño!). Aproveché y cogí el autobus a Bakio, bajando en la parada de Larrauri, donde la ruta de Biendealtura empieza. 

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I found the starting point easily enough and lamented no place for a café con leche and pintxo de tortilla. I had brought a banana with me, but I forgot the biscuits. The directions from Biendealtura were easy enough to follow, but I still got off trail and back on trail. I paused at a small gathering of houses around a church to admire the views before continuing on my way. Encontré el inicio de la ruta fácilmente y lamenté que no habia un sitio para tomar un relaxing café con leche y pintxo de tortilla. Había llevado un plátano, pero se me había olvidado las galletas. Las direciones de Biendealtura eran fáciles seguir, pero me perdí del sendero…y después me encontré en el sendero otra vez. Paré en un aldea con una iglesia bonita para admirar las vistas.

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Church with a view

I was happy to see the Ermita (hermitage) de San Miguel de Zumetxaga and the sign pointing to Jata in one direction, Bakio the other. This meant I was on the right way. Me alegré ver la Ermita de San Miguel de Zumetxaga y la cruce de Jata y Bakio. Significaba que estaba en el camino correcto.

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San Miguel de Zumetxaga

I took the path to Jata, climbing some steep, rocky trails. This was a good mountain to get back into hiking again after a few weeks off as I was knackered. I paused to let families descending by. Seguí la ruta a Jata, subiendo un sendero rocoso y con mucho pendiente. Era un monte adecuado para volver al senderismo después de un descanso de unas semanas. Estaba cansado. Me descansé para dejar pasar unas familias bajando la misma ruta.

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I miss the Camino, but I have other hikes to walk.

After a half hour or 40 minutes or so of climbing, I reached the summit. Some families had brought their bocadillos (sub sandwiches) to eat lunch at the top. I paused and smelled the non-existent roses and admired the amazing views. Bilbao was off in the distance, and I saw my fave Gaztelugatxe on its island near Bakio. One of the best mountain views I’ve seen in Euskadi, and that’s saying a lot! Jata is 600 meteres high (about 1800 feet). Después de unos 35-40 minutos de subir, alcancé la cima. Algunas familias habían llevado sus bocadillos para comer en la cima. Aproveché para admirar las vistas otra vez. Eran estupendas, maravillosas. Se puede ver Bilbao en la distancia, y también más cerca, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe en su isla a lado de Bakio. Es una de las mejores vistas que he visto en Euskadi, y eso dice mucho. Jata tiene 600 metros de altura. 

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I started for Jata Txki (Small Jata at 555 metres), but I decided to opt for a trail that appeared to go straight for Bakio as I was hungry and my banana was long gone. I need to learn to pack more for these trips as God always enjoys laughing at my plans. The path was not straightforward and didn’t go straight to Bakio. It instead took me to a forest where I got lost. Después, empecé con la ruta a Jata Txiki ( Jata pequeño a 555 metros), pero decidí intentar con una ruta que pareció ir directo a Bakio porque tenía hambre y ya había comido el plátano. He de aprender llevar más comida para mis días de senderismo como Dios siempre disfruta de reirse en mis planes. El sendero no era recto y no iba hacía Bakio. Iba a un bosque donde me perdí. 

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Yep. Lost. I had to make my own trail, which I didn’t like to do, and use common sense, which I’m not the best with, to find my way back to a trail. I eventually did after near slips a few times. I now know that if I ever see a Nordic walking path to always take that one. It will lead somewhere. The others may just lead to a dead end. Sí. Perdido. Tenía que hacer mi propio sendero, que no me gusta hacer, y usar sentido común, que no es uno de mis puntos buenos, para encontrar otro sendero. Por fin encontré uno después de casí caerme unas veces. He aprendido de eso que si veo una ruta de Nordic Walking seguir esta ruta. Va a llevarme a un sitio.

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When I finally arrived in Bakio, I took some time to enjoy my first and last ice cream of the summer for my lunch while strolling on the beach. Cuando por fin llegué a Bakio, aproveché para tomar mi primer y último helado del verano para la comida mientras paseaba por la playa. 

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Me gusta la playa I like the beach.

All in all, it was a fun day. Even getting lost was an adventure in retrospect. The hike took about 4 hours in total. A pesar de perderme, que era una aventura, era un día divertido. La ruta tardó sobre 4 horas en total.

 

Ruta de los Pantanos (PR-BI 210)

pantanos 3 Even after two years of living here, Gran Bilbao still manages to find ways to surprise and impress me with its beauty. Después de dos años viviendo aquí, el Gran Bilbao todavía me puede soprender y impresionar con su belleza.

The suburb (which is a city in its own right, similar to Getafe in Madrid) has a bad reputation among the people who live on the other side of the Nervión, but the pantanos (ponds. They’re actually “embalses” or “reservoirs”) offer spectacular beauty. El suburbio (que es una ciudad propia, parecida a Getafe en Madrid), tiene mala fama entre la gente que vive por el otro lado de la Nervión, pero los pantanos (que son embalses) ofrecen belleza espectacular.

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Exiting the Bilbao metro at Ansio and walking past the BEC! (Bilbao Exhibition Centre! is in Barakaldo and also is named in English, because you know, we’re in Spain?), which is huge, I found myself on a very small portion of the Camino de Santiago, and I had fond memories of wanting to stop at the bar for wifi but wasn’t sure if they had it. I didn’t ask, but I did stop this time for a relaxing café con leche con hielo (ice) before beginning my quest for the pantanos. Después de salir del metro de Bilbao en la parada Ansio y pasar el BEC! (Bilbao Exhibition Centre!), me encontré en una etapa pequeña del Camino de Santiago. Tenía buenas memorias de querer de parar en un bar para wifi pero no sabía si lo tenía. No pregunté, pero esta vez paré para tomar un relaxing café con leche con hielo antes de empezar la Ruta de los Pantanos.

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I had tried last autumn but failed to find them. This time, armed with my trusty iPad Cesc (my Apple products all have Catalan names. My iTouch is Jordi IV) loaded with the information from Bien de Altura  and the informational sheet for the PR-BI 210, I…nearly found my way! Intenté el otoño pasado, pero no pude encontrarlos. Esta vez con la información de Bien de Altura bajada en mi iPad Cesc (mis productos de Apple siempre tienen nombres catalanes. Mi iTouch se llama Jordi IV) y la ficha de información del PR-BI210…¡casí encontré la ruta! ¡Casí!

Yeah, I got lost again. The trail is not clearly marked until you’re actually on it. And I had read something about not having to cross bridges. By the time I crossed the third bridge…and I wasn’t sure which way to go when I reached the end of the bidegorria (bike path). So I went both ways. One way I met a locked gate. The other way I met the bridge. I ended up deciding to cross it, and it was the real path. Pues sí, me perdí otra vez. El sendero no está señaldo bien hasta que ya estés en el sendero. También leí algo sobre el hecho que no tienes que cruzar puentes. Lo leí mal. Cuando ya había cruzado tres puentes…todavía no sabía muy bien en cual dirección ir cuando alcancé el final de la bidegorria (carril bici). Entonces probé los dos caminos. Un camino encontré una puerta cerrada. El otro me encontré con otro puente. Decedí cruzarlo, y era el sendero correcto.

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Unfortunately, all my confusion meant I wasn’t going to arrive to the end of the trail and make it back by nightfall, but I did make it to El Regato, a neighbourhood of Barakaldo located between the reservoirs.  It has a nice érmita, San Roque, and one sidería that was open on a Sunday summer afternoon. Dado de mi confusión y me haber perdido, significaba que no iba a llegar al final de la ruta y volver antes de anochecer. Pero sí, llegué a El Regato, un barrio de Barakaldo situado entre los pantanos. Tiene un érmita bonita, San Roque, y una sidería que estaba abierta un domingo de verano por la tarde. 

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Érmita San Roque

I returned along the highway, which offered views of the path I had taken to get there. Volví por la carretera, que tenía vistas del sendero que tomé para llegar a El Regato.

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I will return this autumn, when I am sure the fall foliage will be awesome, and armed for the full hike to the other reservoir. And now that I know how to get there…Este otoño volveré, cuando seguramente las hojas del otoño será preciosas, y estaré listo para completar el sendero al otro embalse.

Camino Alternativo. The alternate way out of Bilbao.

At the moment, all my Camino plans are on hold for various reasons. That doesn’t mean I have given up on arriving to Santiago nor have I lost my love and interest in the Camino. It just means good things come to those who wait. This is where I complain about how tired I am of waiting and admit that my dream of doing the Camino may never come true.

With a “heat wave” on the north coast (the rest of Spain is wishing they only had 34 degrees), I decided to check out the alternative Camino that leaves Bilbao, the one that snakes around the right bank of the river this weekend. As it was not a real Camino day, I went with my smaller backpack and had my iPod cranked up and had no plans on reaching Portugalete. I just went as far as I felt like it.

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Zubizuri

This route goes along the Nervión  estuary, la Ría de Bilbao and passes many bridges, the Guggenheim, the Torre Iberdrola and through Deusto.

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Guggenheim

For those not familiar with Bilbao, I’d recommend not going along the sidewalk that goes along the ría, as this will make you apt to make a mistake and go to the island of Deusto, which is a dead end. Instead, follow along the other side of the street, and you should be fine. As I knew of this, I went along the river. I was happy to see an arrow by a private albergue, meaning that this alternative stretch is Camino.

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Torre Iberdrola

As you finally leave Bilbao (it takes about an hour from my flat to the end of San Ignazio and where Erando begins), the sites of the ría become quite beautiful.

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All I do is soñar.

This part of Gran Bilbao has a bad reputation, but I really liked the views of the river. In fact, so much that I ended up deciding to stay a while on a bench and read while the sunset before catching the metro in Erando back to Bilbao.

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That meant I went back the next day to finish this part. I only had an hour or so until I reached the Areeta metro (which I took to avoid the crowds coming back from the beach on a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon.)

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The stretch from Erandio to Getxo follows the ría for a bit more before going in to walk along the metro. A few nice views of the ría, but nothing spectacular. The day would normally end by crossing the famous Puente Colgante to Portugalete and looking for their albergue (it’s not too hard to find, but the last time I crossed the bridge I went in a different direction.)

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Puente Vizcaya/Puente Colgante

Which would I take? It depends on a lot. If you’re doing a longer day from Lezama or something, I’d recommend this alternative route as it’s shorter and no hills to climb. It also avoids having to walk through that shopping centre.  You also get to see all the sights of Bilbao (and I honestly feel that the outside of the Guggenheim is prettier than the inside any day!)

If you’re a Camino purist or doing a shorter day, the traditional Camino does have some nice scenery, like the Puente de Diablo and the park in Barakaldo. It’s a bit more strenuous walking, and again, that walk through the mall past Ikea is a nightmare.

Either way you leave Bilbao has its pros and cons, just like every decision. For the indecisive like me, flip a coin.

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Pagasarri, Bilbao’s most famous mountain.

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Pagasarri, with its 673 metres, is Bilbao’s most famous and most important mountain. I’ve been a few times to this magnificent mount that dominates the skyline of the so-called Capital del mundo to explore its many trails and views. Pagasarri, con sus 673 metros, es el monte más famoso y importante de Bilbao. He estado unas veces a este monte precioso que domina el horizonte de la supuesta Capital del mundo para explorar sus varios senderos y vistas.

The word “pagasarri” is Basque, meaning “dense (sarri) beech trees (paga). See, Euskera isn’t so difficult! Due to a high need for wood and the fires during the Carlist Wars, Pagasarri was left nearly treeless in the 19th century but there is a conscious continuous effort to return the natural beauty to the mountain. There are also old underground ice boxes where they would store ice from the winter to be used throughout the year when it was needed. La palabra “pagasarri” viene de euskera y significa “denso” (sarri) y haya (paga). Ya ves que el euskera no es tan difícil. Dado de una necesidad y uso alto de madera y los fuegos durante las guerras Carlistas, Pagasarri estaba casí sin arboles en el siglo XIX pero hay mucho esfuerzo para volver a la belleza natural del monte. También hay antiguos cajas donde guardaban hielo del invierno para usar durante el año cuando hacía falta. 

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There are a few other peaks (like Arnotegi) on the massif, and I have quite a bit more to see. It was the third Basque mountain I successfully climbed in 2013, and I went back to find the trail to Buia once and to visit the San Roque ermita once. También hay otras cimas (como Arnotegi) en el macizo, y me quedan muchas para ver. El Pagasarri era el tercer monte vasco que subí en 2013, y volví para encontrar el sendero a Buia una vez y para visitar la ermita una vez.

This time, I wanted to climb the mountain via the trail that leads from Recalde. I had conquered Arraiz twice before, so I walked on past that trail, determined to climb the lesser talked about trail. The trail that approaches Pagasarri from San Adrían is probably better known and was the one I used in October 2013. Esta vez, quise subir el monte por la ruta que empieza en Recalde. Había conquistado Arraiz dos veces antes, y por eso no seguí esta ruta porque quería subir el sendero menos hablado. El sendero que va a Pagasarri desde San Adrían probablemente es más conocido y era la ruta que hice en octubre de 2013.

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The trail is quite steep and runs through some beautiful forest. I kept going, feeling this was much harder than any day on the Camino de Santiago and far less kilometres! I took some pictures of the beautiful views when the trees broke a bit and avoided the cows. La ruta es muy inclinada y pasa por un bosque bonito. Seguí aunque me cansé mucho. ¡Me sentí que fuera más duro que cualquier día del Camino de Santiago y con muchos menos kilometros!

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At the top, I walked around. There weren’t many people, which sort of surprised me as Pagasarri is a popular Sunday activity for the people of Bilbao. I guess the clouds kept them away. Cuando llegué a la cima, pasé por todo. No había mucha gente, que me soprendí algo porque Pagasarri es una actividad popular dominguera por los bilbaínos.

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I decided to visit “Ganeta”, which is next to the Pagasarri summit and a little bit higher. There isn’t much but a communication tower. I then decided to take the trail to Arraiz, just as the sun decided to come out. A beautiful walk, but then the part after Erreztaleku (Garraztaleku) was the steepest drop down I’ve ever encountered. I went slowly and a lot of sideways walking and nearly fell three times. If I ever encounter a yellow arrow going this way, I’m stopping for the day! The red and white GR markers just aren’t as conspicuous as the yellow arrows, but I think I found my way as I did eventually find Arraiz. I decided to go back down the road hoping to save time, but I think I added time. Elegí visitar “Ganeta”, que está a lado de Pagasarri aunque es un poco más alto. No había más que un torre de comunicación. Elegí seguir un sendero a Arraiz, y el sol elegió aparacer por fin. Un paseo bonito, pero la parte después de Erreztaleku tenía más inclino que he visto en la vida. Fui despacio con mucho cuidado y casí me caí tres veces. Si encuentro una flecha amarilla en el futuro en un monte parecido, ¡pararé por el día seguro! Las señales rojiblancas de los Gran Recorridos no son tan obvios como las flechas amarillas, pero creo que al final encontré el camino correcto. Decidí seguir la carretera para ahorrar tiempo, pero creo que tardé más tiempo al final. 

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It was a great Sunday afternoon walk that kept my leg muscles in shape for whenever I can take up the Camino again. And it inspired a new goal for myself, this blog and my last year in Bilbao. Era una tarde de domingo genial para mantener los musculos de pierna en forma para cuando empiece el Camino otra vez. E inspiró un reto nuevo, este blog y el último año en Bilbao.

How many important Basque (and surrounding areas) mountains can I climb this year? What mountains do you recommend I go to? I know Amboto, a return to Gorbeia and Jata are a few. (I am considering the Camino a conquista of Bizkargi, for the record!) What more are there? ¿Cúantos montes vascos (y alrededores) puedo subir durante este año? ¿Qué montes me recomendáis? Sé que he de ir a Amboto, Jata y volver a Gorbeia. (Considero el Camino del Norte que pasa por Bizkargi como un monte conquistado, por cierto.) ¿Qué más hay?

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Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte) Etapa 10: Ortuella-Castro Urdiales.

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I’ve arrived to Cantabria, and then some.

Saturday, June 20, has been my longest day on the Camino in terms of kilometres (there have been days that have seemed longer with a lot less kilometres). 38.4 of them. That’s 23 miles for the people from the United States reading this. I really didn’t mean for it to be so many, but I have reached a good “stopping point”, should I need to take an extended break and come back to the Camino later: Castro Urdiales (Castro).

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Selfie

It started out innocently enough. I arrived in Ortuella, had a café con leche as there were no pintxos de tortilla at the early hour of 9, and walked back to the fork in the Caminos to walk the one on the itinerary from Eroski. It was the bidegorri from hell (bidegorri is Euskera for bike path). It went on and on and on and on and on and on and had been going on since Sestao on the previous day. And it being a Saturday morning, a ton of people were out and about getting their morning exercise in as it was a beautiful day, about 25ºC (mid 70s F). I walked on.

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The bidegorri from hell

The bar along the way that is said to give stamps for credenciales was closed this Saturday morning. Grrrr. Then I came to a fork in the road where one path went away from the bidegorri, and the other path didn’t. I opted for the one that didn’t as I did NOT want to deal with more bikes.

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Agur, bidegorria 😛

I later found myself in a neighbourhood where the señoras were nice enough to tell me which way to go when I was confused and there was no arrow. Vizcaya may have 500 arrows to get out of Termibus, but they seem to have no arrows at some confusing places. They said just go to the beach, so I did.

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A Cantabrian arrow. More of these in Vizcaya outside of Termibus would be nice 😛

I’ve been to the beach in Muskiz, La Arena, before, and it’s quite nice. I wasn’t sure how far I was going to walk. I stopped for my pintxo de tortilla and a wifi check as I had to answer some important emails. It was 10 kilometres (6 miles, that one’s easy!) from Ortuella, and it had gone by fast. I wasn’t ready to end my day, and I wanted to arrive to Cantabria, which is very Spanish. So I continued past the bridge and up some stairs to some incredible views of Pobeñas. I wanted to take more picture, and the guy at the snack bar kept saying “El Camino por allí!” (The Camino goes that way). I was like “I know, I know!” Leave me alone to admire the beauty. I ran into some Spanish peregrinos who had been swimming in the beach, and I am mad I didn’t stop for a dip in the sea. I wonder how far they got.

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Muskiz-Pobeña

I’m not sure at what point the Camino entered Cantabria, but I was planning on stopping in Ontón and catching either the 1:30 or 4:30 PM bus back to Bilbao. Alas, God was laughing at me for my plans. Oh how he was laughing. I was so impressed with the stretch between Pobeña and Ontón and planning on a menú del día en Ontón. Ontón had some beautiful ruins and a closed bar and some yellow arrows I mistakenly followed. Oh, just a little bit more to a bigger town with the bus stop and food!

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Santiago 630 km or so away!

By the time I realised my mistake of following the traditional Camino and not the shortcut, it was too late to go back, and already 2 PM, time for lunch. Had I looked at my guide, I would’ve read about the shortcut and arrived to Castro in a short 8 miles, making the day’s total of 27. The next village, Baltezana was having a festival, and it was a small town festival and I felt like an intruder (though I know if it were a typical Spanish festival, they would’ve welcomed me and gave me vino, but there’s that fobia social thing I have. As I have crossed into Cantabria, the typical Spanish stereotypes of being friendly and welcoming apply.)

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Ontón

So I continued on. Even here, I could’ve backtracked, but I still hadn’t broken out the guide. As I began to ascend La Helguera, I decided to see what villages were around I could take a bus on to Castro or back to Bilbao. This is when I read about the shortcut along N-634. (The shortcut does have the more impressive entrance to Castro, as I was on it during my last visit to Castro. However, the traditional Camino is beautiful. For those staying in Pobeñas, I recommend this Camino. For those wanting to do Portugalete-Castro, take N-634).

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Cantabria Infinita

The vías verdes (old train tracks converted into walking paths) took me through some beautiful mountain scenery. Otañas looks quite nice too, although I only admired it from the path. I ran into some cows and some donkeys running away today.

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¡Voy a Santiago! (Y no como una hamberguesa)

I also found three four-leaf clovers in one place while resting a bit. I suppose I’m about to run into better luck.

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Will my luck change?

In Santallún, I finally had a quick lunch, another pintxo de tortilla (my diet starts this week) and some M&Ms. I also finally got a stamp in the bar in the credenciales.

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Santallún

I debated about catching the next bus to Castro and coming back to this point the next day, but as there wasn’t another one for an hour, I went ahead and walked the last 5 km to Castro. Sámano has a nice church. I saw the sign that said Castro 2 KM and said “to hell with the arrows” as I was tired! It happened to be the Camino.

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Cantabria Infinita

I arrived to Castro and a walk along the beach before catching the bus to Bilbao just as it went away. I’m not sure when I’ll continue with the Camino (hopefully soon) as now I’m getting to a point where I’m going to want to stay in albergues and such, or kill my bank account with buses from Laredo and Santander to Bilbao.

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Castro Urdiales

According to one guide, I’ve hit the 200 km mark. I’m not sure if I trust it or not. It seems I just hit the 100 km mark!

A continuación…

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Buen Camino

Camino de Santiago Etapa 9. Bilbao-Ortuella.

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I found my Camino Mojo again, baby.

(I rewatched the Austin Powers mooooovies this week. Sorry for that reference)

After yet another job interview gone wrong, Thursday afternoon, I decided to go ahead and do the next strech of the Camino. There are a few ways to leave Bilbao, and an alternative route is walking along the river until you reach Portugalete as it’s easier, flat, and you don’t have to go through industrialized suburbia. I opeted for the one being marketed as the traditional one. As I have walked all over Bilbao many, many times, I went ahead and grabbed one of Bilbao’s free bicycles and headed toward Termibus. My favourite students live along this stretch of the Camino, which was recently covered with yellow arrows. It looks like someone had an accident with yellow paint. I had heard that the mountain climb was a bit tough, but I mean, after the mountains we’ve conquered so far on the Camino, it’s NOTHING! I stopped at the albergue and got an official Bilbao stamp, important as it has been my home for two very long years.

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I’m leaving Bilbaoooooo

The estastic feeling I had to be leaving Bilbao behind might be giving me a clue about whether I should stay in the rain Capital of the World. There was a lovely stroll through the hidden forest after crossing the Puente de Diablo (Devil’s Bridge).

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Puente de Diablo

I was quite shocked as I had heard stories about how ugly this portion was. I did run into some goats who weren’t too keen on moving out of my way though. I also ran into a camping pilgrim who I chatted with briefly. It was a bit weird doing it in the afternoon, but on nice days like today, I prefer afternoon walking when it’s not too hot.

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GOATS/CABRAS

At Santa Águeda, I was trying to take a good shot of the ermita (hermitage), but a loud-mouth dog kept barking at me. I wanted to play with the Bernese Mountain Dog (I think it was one), but his noisy friend wouldn’t allow for it. I love dogs, but even the Basque doggies are a bit cold until you get to know them.

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Guau guau at Sta Águeda

At one point, pilgrims wanting to head toward the Camino Frances have the option of walking toward Burgos instead of on toward Santander. I’m sure it’s a beautiful Camino too.

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Which way?

The Camino provided some beautiful views of the Greater Bilbao (Gran Bilbao) area, and I began the descent into Las Cruces, a neighbourhood of Barakaldo. The park the Camino goes through was quite nice. It reminded me a bit of the Parque de Oeste in Madrid, but even nicer.

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Gran Bilbao

Then I arrived to the first circle of Camino Hell. I had just crossed the Puente de Diablo, after all. The Camino somehow manages to go through the big shopping centre complex Mega Park. And goes on and on and on and on past a McDonald’s, Toys R Us, Declathon, Eroski, and Ikea. As soon as there was a path along a river, I went along it. Eventually, near San Vicente, I began to see arrows again. Granted, I just crossed that busy street to find them and had to recross it again. Whatever, the Camino crossed the river leaving Barakaldo behind.

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Obligatory selfie

I was hoping to have a café con leche and a pintxo de tortilla to fuel me, but the Camino didn’t really go by any nice ones to stop at. It joins the bike path in Sestao and avoids the town. There are a lot of views of the motorways/highways approaching and leaving Bilbao.

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Highways and by-ways of Euskadi

Following the Camino arrows, I missed the turnoff to Portugalete, which is one of my fave places to visit. Darn. I ended up following the bike trail and found myself having to make a quick decision. Backtrack a kilometre or two, or take the wrong Camino (as there is an alternative Camino that passes through Ortuella) and have no buses or anything for 10 KM. It was about 8:00 PM, so I figured out which one was Ortuella, had a mosto (grape juice) and caught the 20:36 train back to Bilbao Abando.

A good Zen day on the Camino mentally, although not the most beautiful stretch between Las Cruces and Sestao (unless you really like Ikea.)

A contiuación…

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Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte) Etapa 8: Zamudio-Bilbao

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It was a lazy day today, but I’ve arrived to the Capital of the World, Bilbao.

I slept about an hour and a half after my alarm went off, and I wasn’t sure I was going to go ahead and walk those 8 kilometres or so from Zamudio to Bilbao, where I live. After checking the weather forecast, I decided to go ahead and go for it as who knows when time and weather will coincide again.

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I had my token pintxo de tortilla y café con leche before catching the Euskotren to Zamudio. The grey skies matched my rather blah mood today, which I still haven’t been able to completely shake. It didn’t rain, though. Thank God for small favours.

There are two ways to conquer Mount Avril. I took the one from the center of Zamudio (population 3263) and walked through the streets and past the building I had been seeing from my workplace of the past two years a few kilometres away. The walk was not the finest point of the Camino as it’s a rather industrial area.

There were some nice views of the Txorierri valley and the Bilbao airport as I climbed Avril, a mountain I’ve been saving for the Camino. I saw more angry dogs than people, and I didn’t see a single pilgrim. Granted, I also took off as the Zamudio church bells were chiming noon.

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There was a nice little information plaque where people had written messages to motivate peregrinos. I signed the guest book (¡Hola! if anyone found this through the guest book :)) and felt a bit more encouraged.

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The arrows took off, perhaps by joke, through a small trail to the top of Mount Avril when I thought it was time to be descending. There was barely any room to move through the plants. I should’ve stuck to the Gran Recorrido trail, but I reached the destination all the same.

I crossed the pedestrian bridge over the motorway and admired Bilbao, where I’ve been living for two years. I tried to stick to the Camino, but as I tend to explore random streets when I’m bored, I may have misstepped a bit. I arrived at the Basilica de Begoña that officially welcomed me to El Botxo, Bilbao, Capital of the World.

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I thought I would be feeling excited, or something, to have reached the city where I have lived for two years on the Camino. I didn’t really feel anything. I’ve descended those steps down to Plaza de Unamuno so many times that perhaps that’s why it didn’t feel real.

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I’m going to take a few days to regroup and recharge and remind myself why I’m doing the Camino. It was a short day, June 7, 2015, only two hours and about 7-8 kilometres.  There are two ways to leave the Capital of the World, and I think I’m going to take the prettier, less travel one that goes along the river, as I can leave from my house that way instead of having to go through Bilbao’s ugliest street (Autonomia) and pass the same street I pass every Tuesday to teach a class (yes, some of my students live right on the Camino.)

So…while I have been having a blah day, I am excited about having walked from Irún to Bilbao since last August.

Etapa 9…a continuación…¿cuándo?

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Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte) Etapa 7: Gernika-Zamudio.

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Today, June 5, 2015, was the first day since my first day on the Camino last August  where I began to feel a bit of frustration and debated just giving up.

I trekked on.

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El Camino de Santiago en Euskera (Basque)

The seventh day for me started out well. I woke to my alarm without a problem, caught the bus to Gernika without problem and was in Gernika by 8:30. Many of the bar and cafés were just opening up, so I had to look around a bit before finding one that was 1. open and 2. had my traditional pintxo de tortilla de patata. I went past the famous Gernika tree (the old one died a few month ago, and they have replanted a new one. I plan on writing an entire entry dedicated to Gernika one day, so more on that later!) .

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Selfie in front of the Árbol de Gernika

 

The road of of Gernika seemed to go on forever. I stopped for an Aquarius to go, and I was thankful for the citrus sports drink later on as the morning got hot. After passing the ermita de Sta. Lucía at the edge of town, the Camino finally went began its ascent up Bilikario.

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I admired the views of Urikiola to the south and Urdaibai all around me. The Camino took me through a lot of rural Bizkaia, and save for an albergue in Eskerika, there wasn’t a whole lot of things around.

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I did see a snake though, and I let it slither away before I could take a photo. It looked big. There was a random hiker out who gave me the creeps, so I took some time to reapply sunscreen and drink some water while admiring the views and gave him some distance. Other than a few farmers, he would be the last person I’d see for a while.

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There were some muddy parts, but they were drying out after the 36ºC (90s F) day we had yesterday. A lot of the day was spent on paved backroads that were seldom used.

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The landscape was beautiful, but if it wasn’t mountainous, I would’ve felt as if I were in northern Ohio.

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I got excited to see the trail to Bizkargi, as the town where I worked these past two years had a bar with amazing pintxos de tortilla con jamón y queso named for this mountain. I’m not sure if it was the actual mountain I was descending, but the trail went along the Camino.

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Scarecrow

I eventually arrived to Goikolexea, and I saw a few other pilgrims resting in the villages’s only bar that doubled as the tobacco shop. I ordered my café con leche and became a bit annoyed when the pilgrims ordered “two cafés solos.” I knew the couple running the bar probably didn’t even know “hello”, and I know I’ve known the word “dos” since I was four, thanks to María on Sesame Street. However, instead of getting mad, I’ve just decided that eventually I’m going to write an entry dedicated to Essential Spanish for the Camino.

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Goikolexea

 

It was just another 1,2 kilometres or so to Larrabetzu, where some of my student live. I was quite impressed with this village and took some time to explore it before deciding it was too soon for lunch at 13:00 (1 PM) and headed on the last 3 kilometres to Lezama (where even more of my students live.)

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I will say that Larrabetzu is very Basque. I will also comment that the pilgrims who knew “café solo” but not “dos” had almost caught up to me on the way to Lezama, as they apparently skipped Larrabetzu! It’s definitely their loss. I am open to meeting other pilgrims (especially ones from Spain!), but I will always walk by myself, I think. I’m just an independent (and a INFP personality type, which means introverted to the core!) It’ll be interesting to see how I handle the albergues once I reach Santander.

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Larrabetxu

 

Lezama, home of the Athletic de Bilbao’s training facilities, didn’t impress me as much. I went in to take advantage of a Pilgrim’s Menú to learn that the kitchen was already closed. This is where my frustration kicked in. 14:00 (2 PM) is the normal eating time in Spain, and here I am being punished for having adapted to Spain’s culture. The guy could see I was hungry and treated me to a pintxo de tortilla and Aquarius de naranja on the house. So nice of him!

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Lezama

 

The albergue wasn’t open, so no stamp. I decided to go on three more kilometres to Zamudio (where even more of my student live!) Zamudio is also quite a nice town, but the Camino leaves a lot to be desired here, as it passes a lot of factories and the like. I wasn’t able to get a stamp, but it’s okay, I think. There is a really nice ermita outside of Lezama worth mentioning practically in the middle of the road.

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Ermita after Lezama

 

I now have less than 700 km (681 supposedly), and my next day will be quite the short day as it’s just around 7 km from Zamudio to where I live, Bilbao, Capital of the World.

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Zamudio

I also started Infinite Jest on the way to Gernika this morning, which is definitely preparing me for a heavier backpack.

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The Camino caminos on…Etapa 8…¡pronto! ¡A continuación!

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Camino de Santiago (Camino del Norte) Etapa 6. Markina-Gernika (Guernica)

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It makes perfect sense that Simón Bolívar can trace his roots back to the Basque Country.

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Simón Bolívar

I passed through the very small village that gives him his family name, Bolibar (Euskera doesn’t have the letter “v”) while walking the 25 kilometres from Markina to Gernika (Guernica). It was rather remarkable, but I did have a nice, relaxing café con leche con hielo (ice) in the Plaza de Simón Bolívar.

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Leaving Markina behind

The sixth day of the Camino de Santiago del Norte for me (Saturday, May 30, 2015, going to start keeping record) began as almost all of them do, me shutting off the alarm and snoozing. I made the 9:10 bus to Markina and arrived in Markina about 10:00. After my routine pintxo de tortilla y café con leche, I was on my way. I saw some peregrinos (pilgrims) having café too, but they seemed unfriendly, so I didn’t bother to find out if they had just done that long, long, long stretch between Deba and Markina I did on May 8th.

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Although the Camino didn’t go near the Cantabrian Sea today, I was still impressed with its beauty. It ran along mountain streams for a good portion of the day.

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The first few kilometres to Bolibar were no problem, and before I knew it, I was passing through Iruzubieta and then Bolibar. The guide made it look like more of a climb than it actually was to the Zenarruza Monastery.

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After getting my credentials stamped at the albergue in Ziortza, I went on to this incredibly monastery. It was high in the mountains (I still don’t know how I didn’t feel the climb that much today!), I walked around the monastery. An older man asked me where I was from, and I explained that I was from the US but live in Bilbao. He didn’t seem to realise I was doing the Camino until his wife said “Look at his Concha! (shell). They were with his 96-year-old mother out for a Saturday drive.

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Zenarruza

I continued on my way, hoping the village of Munitibar would have some food. An hour later, thinking of the food, I was disappointed with what passed for pintxos there. I took a quick walk around the village and went on my way.

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Munitibar

At some point, I think it was before Munitibar, I heeded the advice written on a Moleskin notebook page to their mother: “Mum, go for the road.” I knew this etapa had a bit of flooding problems from time to time, so I just went for the bike Camino on the road.

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Ay los vascos…

There were a few nice ermitas along the way, including the one of Santiago (namesake!) and one in Mameta. The views continued to be amazing.

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 During this part, I played leap frog (not the game, but passing, resting, being passed, then repassing) a young guy who reminded me of Alex Supertramp. I think he was British, but with just a “Buen Camino”, it was hard to tell. I rested a bit after taking my shoes and socks off to wade through a small puddle pond that had formed. I definitely know why the Eroski Guide warns BARRO BARRO BARRO (Mud Mud Mud) as when the weather is typically Basque (nonstop rain), this part would be a stream, not a path. As it was, it was pure mud for a while.

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After passing an amazingly beautiful church (I felt I stumbled upon it), I finally found a bar around 16:00 so I could have an Aquarius de Naranja and a pintxo.

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Church/iglesia

The Camino had a bit of a detour on the sidewalk/pavement of the road, but I didn’t complain. The woman at the bar in Elexalde wished me a buen camino and was one of the nicest barkeeps I’ve encountered on the Camino. She even asked if I wanted my pintxo “caliente”, and made sure I got back off on the right Camino.

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Ayuntamiento (Town hall)

This was the last stretch of six kilometres onto Gernika. I saw a few more peregrinos, which is a new experience as I’m used to doing it so late I miss all of them.

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This stretch of the Camino went mostly on a bike path/walking path. The views continued to be spectacular. This part of the Camino went through my favourite part of Euskadi (if not the world), Urdaibai.

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While today seemed long, it didn’t seem especially hard. I left around 10:20 from Markina and arrived to Gernika at around 17:30. I made a lot more stops than I usually do just to soak in the beauty. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t seem so exhausted. I really feel the Camino is my ZEN in so many ways.

One thing I forgot to mention in the first draft is that I crossed the 100 KM line somewhere before Munitibar. Which means, if I wanted, I could just bus it to Santiago and get credit for it. I don’t plan on doing this, but it was a major milestone. On my next day, I’ll cross the “under 700 km left!” line.

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A continuación…Etapa 7…cúando?

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The most creative and grossest arrow ever