Day 4 – Up, down, up, down…

Day 4 – 36km, 1,854m climbed and the same again down, ~9 hours walking

The mood in the albergue was grim as we woke up to the sound of heavy rain on the roof. Reluctantly, people pulled on still-wet clothes from washing the day before and headed slowly out the door, farewelling the kindly hospitalero and – more practically – the excellent beds.

I had woken up slightly sick – not from the vino tinto the night before (I think) but just from travelling. I ended up forgetting about it after a few kilometers. Passing through more rolling hills and gentle-ish slopes, I soon overtook the two others I’d seen leave the hostel before me – a senior French Canadian man and a French woman. It was quite an empty road for a while – I’d expected many more considering the amount in the hostel. The landscape still looked like ‘petit Switzerland’, albeit with smaller mountains. Green grass carpeted the hills and white mountain houses were perched next to farm plots and horses with bells around their necks. Concerningly idyllic, really.

Another early start

Vineyards of white grapes for txakoli

One of many churches – Portugese guy in the foreground

They have pintxos for breakfast, too!

I eventually met an excitable Portuguese man sheltering from the rain and we walked together for most of the day. This was his 9th Camino, he was a nurse, an alpinist and walked 45km yesterday. He also wrapped his shoes in cling wrap or, as he called it, “cheap gore-tex”. He subsisted mostly on bottles of sugared yoghurt which he would sip mid-walk… We made good time as he set a ripping pace – but about 6km from the end I let him power onward while I stopped for food. The food stops and cafe con leche breaks were one thing I couldn’t give up. The last stretch I walked with Bruce, a recently-retired Australian who used to be a builder. Apparently he did well for himself, and was quite candid about his adventures in everything from dodgy builders to surfing to the stock market to giving Will and Jayden Smith snowmobile lessons in Aspen.
Other highlights of the day included a lunch pepper and bacon bocadillo (a sandwich-y thing) and white figs off a nearby tree. As usual, the blackberries were abundant too. Not exactly a highlight per se, but there were a couple of thigh-burning climbs that really made me think “why am I doing this?!” – a question which is, of course, answered when you reach the top of the hill or have yet another excellent meal.

Local pet pigs

Pastures

A surprising number of eucalypt forests populate the hillsides around here – smells like home

A brief moment of clear sky

Heavily pregnant

Life finds a way

The final cruel stretch, was used to move livestock. Bruce the Australian almost lost his thongs (yes, he was walking the whole way in them…)

Boots pre-mud-caking

Every hour or so an enormous grey cloud would pass over us and empty itself, driving us to shelter under a tree or some eaves. This was the ‘constant rain’ the forecast had warned about. But within a few minutes, much like South-east Asia, the rain would be replaced by blue skies and sun. I suppose the rain is technically ‘constant’ if you look at an entire region, but as a walker it just meant brief deluges. Although talk in the albergue had been depressive about the next few days’ weather, I found it surprisingly nice to walk in. Things are always damp so you get those lovely forest smells, and there’s just enough sun to dry your clothes before the next downpour. [I wrote this before walking into the albergue soaked]

Bouquet of jamon

Looking at the albergue check-in sheet, my new Portuguese friend and I were the only ones to come from Zumaia to Markina. Everyone else had come from Deba, 12km closer. I’m still not sure if I should feel proud or stupid, because my feet hurt like hell and I have a small blister on the ball of my right foot (from the day before last, a function of walking with damp feet – but it still hurts some). Oh well, it’s a shorter day tomorrow to Gernika, just 24km and 700m elevation. Then 30km straight into Bilbao.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have the pilgrim set menu from the local restaurant (€10 for what sounds like a *lot* of food), a glass of red wine, and fall asleep.
‘Til next time,
Alex

What did you think? Feel free to comment!