Saturday, January 28, 2017

Good friends

Our evening spent in Agurain with our amigos Zazpi and his wife Esther was a perfect cap to a great day's walk from Zegama. Zazpi organized a special dinner the main course of which was chuleton, which is a piece of beef about the size of a spare tire. Being in the Basque Country for our wine selection we went with the ubiquitous Basque white wine called Txakoli. A platter of grilled prawns and a salad rounded out the menu. The curious part of the evening is that neither Robin nor I can hold a conversation in Spanish (let alone Basque), and neither Zazpi nor Esther speak a word of English. Yet, for two hours we ate, talked and somehow communicated. It was great fun. In the early morning hours of the following day, as I lay half awake, I could hear the wind sweeping the streets of Agurain, and rain pelting the cottage where we were encamped. Dawn thankfully broke with a brief respite from the worst of the weather. Last night we had arranged with Zazpi to get a ride out of Agurain to a place somewhere down the Camino to make the day's walk a bit shorter. At 9:30 we were off in Zazpi's car going right down the Camino. He dropped us off at a location that left us a 16 km walk to Vitoria-Gasteiz where we arrived at 2:00 pm. At 4:15 our other Basque amigo Jose Mari Lizarazu picked us up in the city center on his way back from a business trip to Pamplona. He brought us back to his nearby home where together with his wife Isabel we cooked and enjoyed a simple but very tasty Basque meal of potatoes and chorizo. But, this was also accompanied by a number of other treats and a great selection of wines. Fine dining indeed, and more importantly, a nice time to reconnect with good friends. 

The following morning as we gathered around the breakfast table Jose Mari offered to drop us off on the Camino outside of Vitoria. This sounded like top thinking so in due course we set out for Gometxa about 7 kms from Vitoria and resumed our walk from there. The weather was much improved over yesterday as we ambled along under sunny skies to La Puebla de Arganzón where we arrived at 2:00 pm. We are happily and warmly ensconced in the Hotel Arganzón Plaza where the heat is always on. Things are looking up indeed. Tomorrow our destination is Briñas and after that Santo Domingo de la Calzada, where this journey will end, and another will begin. Time is slipping by but we are making the most of it. 

Agurain to Vitoria

Eastern outskirts of Vitoria

The path into Vitoria

The next day in Gometxa

La Puebla de la Arganzón

Our hotel for the night

Thursday, January 26, 2017

We made it

Our lodging in Zegama proved to be a good conditioning experience for today's freezing mountain air. The señora initially fired up the heat in our room, as it was like a refrigerator. However, her generosity with the heat was short lived. Two hours later the radiators were cooling down never more to return. Our room held steady at 50 F. So Robin and I slept in everything we had not hiked in (including down jackets) and scored 3 extra blankets as well. Robin needed a total of four. I was okay with two. This morning, predictably, the radiators were stone cold and it was 21 F outside. Breakfast in the bar downstairs was also a bit tricky as a nice hot cafe con leche quickly became an ice coffee if you set it down for a second. Despite enduring the night at McMurdo Station we were very pleased with the clear weather we stepped out into. After a quick GPS calibration we set out uphill, on the road out of town, towards the mountains that beckoned us. 

We climbed easily up the gentle grade scanning our legs and feet for negative feedback. Happily it was all systems go as Robin and I followed the well marked trail up the road and then into the mountains. It was quiet as a church and we were traveling solo, and enjoying this peaceful start to a vigorous day's climb. As we made our way up the grade predictably steepened, but it proved quite manageable. On the Zegama side (north side) of the mountains there was surprisingly little snow. There were some icy spots, but nothing that ever became problematic. Another pleasant surprise was the good condition of the trail. It is also worth noting that due to embankments on either side it could easily be followed even in deeper snow. It was also wide enough to make you feel safe. There were no precipitous drop offs. So we enjoyed great weather, gorgeous views down to Zegama below and to the mountains around us. The well marked trail led us right to the San Adrian tunnel, where we arrived at 11:30. We had left our pension at 9:00, and walked another 30 minutes to the base of the mountains where the climb really begins. After the tunnel it was another 30 minutes of climbing through snow to the summit at Portugaina. So basically, from our pension it took us 3 hours to walk the 8.5 kms and gain the 850 meters that brought us to the summit. 

The trip down brought us through forested, snow covered paths that gradually thawed as we continued our descent. Again well marked trails helped us navigate with only the occasional comfort peek at the GPS. We walked into the first village off the mountain, Zalduando. As we were rounding the local church a familiar voice hailed us from a car. It was a local friend, Zazpi Ruiz de Infante, who is a bit of a legend for his knowledge of the all the nearby mountain trails. He has walked them all. We met him up on a Basque mountain on January 17, 2015, along with his good friend, Jose Mari Lizarazu while we were walking the Camino Ignaciano. They took us under their wing and helped us navigate through the snow fields. We have become great friends over the intervening years. Zazpi knew we were heading his way, but his timing today was just perfect. He bundled us into his car and off we went to his hometown of Agurain where we would be spending the night. We have set up a dinner with Zazpi and his wife, Esther for tonight, but now it is off to the lavendería to finally get some clothes washed. It has been a brilliant day, and we thank God for a safe passage across the Basque Mountains. This could have been a very different kind of day if the weather had taken a turn for the worse. We are off to Vitoria-Gasteiz tomorrow for the next stage of this Camino. I mentioned Jose Mari a moment ago. He lives in Vitoria, and has invited us to spend tomorrow night with him and his wife, Isabel. We are so thankful for the opportunity to catch up with both of these very good friends. An added gift is that they both truly understand the Camino spirit. What a day!

9:00 am, departing Zegama


The road out of Zegama

The climb begins

Up we go

Hermita Santi Spiritus 

San Adrian tunnel upper right. 700 meters from Santi Spiritus.

San Adrian Tunnel

Looking back from the tunnel

Almost to the top

Finally heading down

Looking back

Robin approaching Zalduando 

Zazpi and Robin in Agurain