|Azpeitia in the early morning light|
Day began clear, cold and calm. Last night had been a restless one for me, but Robin slept like a baby. The weather was perfect with 40 F temps and no wind. We were anxious to get underway. But, an interesting thing happened as we were settling the bill. Our host at the Hotel Loiola, insisted we take a nice bottle Basque white wine as a gift. This man seemed a bit reserved as we checked in but, for whatever reason (perhaps the backpacks) he treated us most kindly. He actually paid for two rounds of drinks the night before and then, this morning, a goodbye gift. We were very touched by his kindness, and as my pack only weighed around 13 pounds, it carried quite well all the way to Zumarraga. It is chilling in an ice bucket as I write this. Two thumbs up for Basque hospitality. We set out from the hotel shortly after 9:00 and by 9:15 we were moving along the garden wall of the Basilica inching our way out of town. It was here that we saw our first orange arrow (this way to Manresa). We didn't see many more for the next several kilometers. My observation is that if you walk this route make sure you have a smart phone with gps or a stand alone gps receiver. It just makes it so much easier to determine where the trail is. In truth today's walk was pretty straightforward. You jump on this wonderful footpath at the Sanctuary, and then you basically follow that to an abandoned rail roadbed (now a beautiful paved path) all the way to Zumarraga. The "rail" path has many arrows, but most of them were unnecessary as they were at the entrances to tunnels where there were no other options, save free climbing the tunnel face. And remember the "rail" path takes you straight to Zumarraga without any exit options. A perfect solution for a path.
|Off to church with a bottle of wine|
I read the trail descriptions before departing but tried to navigate by "arrow alone" and found that at times this was not enough. Too few arrows. Switch on the gps and problem solved. Once the foot path transitions onto the "railroad" you just enjoy the sights. You cannot get lost. Much of today's walk reminded me of the Valcarlos valley on the Camino Frances. This first stage is about as perfect a start to any pilgrimage that I could hope for. First, it is short at 17 K. It is scenic. The grade is gentle. It is quiet. It is clean. And you walk through a bunch of cool train tunnels with motion activated lights. It was just a gorgeous, wonderful day. Not surprisingly, we saw no other pilgrims, but there were lots of locals out jogging, cycling, walking, and simply enjoying this beautiful day. Another plus was the hotel we booked into in Zumarraga. It is the Hotel Etxeberri, and it is wonderful. It is 50 meters off the path right at the entrance to town. However it is easy to miss as the sign isn't facing the path. It took an extra 2 K tour of Zumarraga before a kind fellow pointed us right back they we had come. We arrived (the second time) around 2:00, and walked into a bustling lunch crowd filling a beautiful dining room. As many know lunch is a serious event in this part of the world, and so it was here. There was a team of very kind, efficient ladies taking charge, and ensuring that all went well in a courteous, pleasant manner. It was a sort of Downton Abbey meets the Basque Country kind of moment. They were most kind to us and even asked if we had come from Loiola. Perhaps the pilgrim attire tipped them off (but at least they were aware that pilgrims could be in the neighborhood). Shortly after checking in we returned to the dining room for a wonderful lunch (no dinner tonight). What a glorious day. Tomorrow, will ask a bit more from us as we head into the woods and then over the hill into Arantzazu. This second stage has some steep climbs at the end followed by some steep descents. More on that as it plays out. I must admit it did feel great to be out walking again. Both Robin and I enjoy pilgrimage. There is something about moving slowly along a map towards some compelling destination that fills our hearts with joy. Today did not disappoint. What a gift. What a blessing.
Saludos a todos
|Our first orange arrow|
|The path out of Azpeitia|
|One of the few villages|
|Mural providing a clue to the origins of the tunnels|