Friday, June 6, 2014

Day 39: Markina-Xemein to Guernica (25 kms)

Markina from our bedroom
Yesterday's walk was truly stunning as we moved between peeks and along lush valleys. We followed that with a very nice dinner, last night, at the Pitis Restaurante. It was interesting to note that except for a couple of local guys talking over a brandy, the entire place was occupied by pilgrims. This was obviously a popular spot for dinner. We spent a comfortable nigh, in the Pitis albergue thanks to our sleeping bags. There was no heat in our room, and the mountain air was still cold at night. But, with our sleeping bags, everything was snug and warm. We awoke around 6:00, got our stuff together, and dropped by a cafe that opened at 7:00 for a coffee and a roll, before setting out for Guernica. The day was dry, and chilly in the morning, but promised a lot more heat in the afternoon (85F). Robin and I downed our breakfast and pushed off. There was no lingering over coffee when the terrain is uncertain and there are many kilometers to cover.
We climbed up to the village of Bolibar, ancestral home of Simon Bolivar, and found the church, dedicated to Santo Tomás, open. In we went for a visit and a prayer. We lingered a bit in Bolibar and then climbed up to the Monasterio Zenarruza, now a Cistercian monestary. We heard organ music as we approached and followed it through the church door where a group of six monks were saying their mid morning prayers. Robin and I stayed until they were through. We then wandered through the grounds and the cloister, and generally felt our pilgrim spirits had been lifted.
All this morning's climb, and descent has been through a forested area where the path has been a mix of logging roads, drainage ditches, rural roads, and muddy bogs. The mud has been the worst so far. Let's call it hubcap deep. Mud happens in nature, and for the most part people try to deal with it. But, when you are following a pilgrim road and have many kilometers to cover each day, mud can become a problem. Two issues up for consideration. First, your safety. The mud we experienced today was very slippery (think ground covered with grease, and then feet covered with grease). This creates one level of problem on flat ground, but becomes something more serious when negotiating steep, narrow, descents (don't forget the grease). It is hard to explain the energy you consume when each foot fall has to be planned and cautiously executed. Even with this level of care, feet unexpectedly shoot out from underneath you as muddy soles meet more mud, or rocks or roots covered with mud. The steepness of some sections of our descents made caution the word of the day. This brings me to my second point. The time lost as you cautiously squish through bogs, and more importantly, negotiate descents, just limits the kilometers you can reasonably cover in a day. In mud the best laid plans simply slow down.
We did our best and eventually arrived in the hamlet of Gerrikaitz where we pulled over for lunch and some route planning. Several other pilgrims were in the square, all with mud over their ankles, all looking for alternative routes. Two were departing by road and two were in the bus shelter. We had our coffee and lunch and decided to walk the road to the next town where the Camino intersected the road. There we would drop back onto the Camino, and if the mud was still as bad as before we would call it a day, and hail a bus or taxi, otherwise we would push on to Guernica. So we tried the road only to find there were no shoulders to walk on. The fog line was at the extremity of the pavement, so no room to dodge cars hugging a bend. We were committed at this point so we carried on as planned. After a couple of kilometers we came to the Camino and rejoined it. At first, the pavement seduced us, but not long thereafter we were in the bogs again. The path here was flat (thank God) but still a bog. We continued on from tuft of grass to rock to a splash in the mud until pavement reappeared and we took a hard right onto the main road to Guernica, the BI2224. We were not going back on the Camino today. No way. We started walking towards Guernica, looking for a bus stop. The road hazards hadn't changed, but at this point we deemed them acceptable. Onward we strode looking for signs of civilization, and a motorized way to Guernica. The kilometers passed, and we rounded a bend to find ourselves in the village of Arratzu, 6-7 kms from Guernica. We came to a crosswalk. On the far side of the road was a bar, it was open, and in front of it was parked a taxi (manna from Heaven). In less than ten minutes we were on our way to the Hotel Guernica. Day was done, and so were we. Robin and I have decided to take the train to Bilbao tomorrow, and continue our Camino from there. The local hillsides need some serious drying out before we move up into them again. Hot, dry weather is in the forecast, so hopefully that will sort things out. Today was just crazy. Full disclosure, I spoke with an Australian couple this evening and they thought the day was brilliant. I also noticed they both were holding new pairs of recently purchased trekking poles. To each his own. Robin and I are pretty tired, and are looking forward to a couple of days off in Bilbao. So, that's it for tonight, from Guernica. We are not done yet, just recuperating. Stay with us. There is still much more to come.
The all pilgrim dinner crowd at Pitis
Robin working through the scrub
Pilgs on the Camino
The village of Bolibar
The church of St. Tomás in Bolibar
Monasterio of Zenarruza
There is a story behind this
Monks at mid morning prayer
The cloister
The monastery
The neighborhood
Then we hit the mud
Where we bailed out and hit the road
I'm outta here!

1 comment:

  1. We empathize with your 'mud' issues. We had weeks of it on the Chemin Arles last year. It sure looks like 'nasty' mud...... Stay safe. Enjoy Bilbao. Loving the photos. Thanks....Dayton and Karen