San Sebastián to Mundaka

Saturday-Sunday, 13-14 April 2013

San Sebastián and Irun

I had intended to spend the weekend in San Sebastián and continue walking on Monday.  I wanted to watch some of the rugby matches involving the Irish clubs – it was nearing the climax of the season, but there was no wifi in the pension. Moreover the room was uncomfortable and rather expensive, at least by my standards, so I decided to return by Euskotren to the comfortable and inexpensive hotel in Irun for the weekend.

Despite the forecast of heavy rain over the weekend, I woke to blue skies. I passed the morning wandering around and spent some time in a tiny café, with a coffee and reading the newspapers. Every bar and café in Spain (and most of Europe) has the local and national papers readily available to read, and I usually took advantage of them.

The cathedral in San Sebastián

Early afternoon I caught the Euskotren back to Irun, arriving in time to watch the first game.


Monday 15 April 2013

San Sebastián to Zaraútz – 20 km

I left the hotel early and shortly after 08h00 I was back in San Sebastián, on my way to the beach and the promenade along Bahia de la Concha. The pavements and benches were still wet from the overnight rains, but the sky was clear and the early morning sun felt warm and reassuring.

From the end of the promenade the path climbed to the top of the headland and from there it undulated, parallel to the coast, finally descending abruptly to the little fishing port of Orio.

Orio (photo from internet)

I stopped in the little square by the river and had my typical lunch – una caña y una ración de tortilla con pan.  I sat outside, in the shade, as the sun was strong, even if it was still early in the year.  On one side of the square were several examples of apartments with dark wooden balconies and façades. They looked so solid, and reminded me of similar buildings in the old quarter of Lima.

Typical wooden balconies and facades in Orio

From the square the route crossed the river, and then followed the riverbank toward the sea. Just before the headland, the path turned up a steep valley, and ahead of me I could see a rather frail old man, moving very slowly.  He had a large pack and sticks in both hands.  When I caught up with him he turned out to be an old Frenchman walking to Santiago de Compostela from somewhere near Bordeaux.  He spoke no English nor Spanish and he seemed to be more than a little bewildered.  We chatted for some time about nothing and everything – he reminded me very much of my old friend Roy Bishop. Eventually I wished him ‘Buen Camino’ and moved on. The old man had about another 700 km to walk to Santiago.  I suspect that he either made it, or died on the way. He neither looked like nor sounded like a man who would ever give up.  One day that may be me.

Once at the top of the valley there was a short walk along an escarpment followed by a steady descent to the main road into Zaraútz.

Coming down from the headland to the beach at Zaraútz, with the golf course below

I had no problem in finding an inexpensive room, but it turned out to very cold and damp. It felt like a room that had not been inhabited since the previous summer. But once showered and dressed and seated in a nearby bar with a beer and a newspaper, I was quite revived.  I had a walk around the town, but there was a cold wind from the sea, so I returned to the bar and snacked on tapas, washed down with a delicious red wine.

Being a Monday evening, the bar was quiet and the barmaid had time to chat.  I asked her about the walk next day to Deba and she said that it was similar to the walk from Zaraútz. But she said that the next two days after Deba were quite challenging. Apart from the small village of Markina-Xemein there was nothing for about 50 km, not even a farm. And there were some steep sections. She advised me not to tackle it alone, especially as there had been a lot of rain and me with a noticeable limp.

When I went to bed it was once more raining heavily.  I was not quite sure as to what I was going to do the next day.

The deserted beach at Zaraútz in late afternoon


Tuesday 16 April 2017

Zaraútz to Mundaka

Next morning, when I saw how wet everything was outside from the overnight rain and with more heavy rain forecast for the next few days, I decided to call a halt to the walking and leave it for another time and warmer weather.  The camino and the mountains will still be there.

So after a leisurely breakfast, I headed to the station and caught the train to Lemoa, where I would have to change to another train to Mundaka. The train progressed slowly, going on a long loop to avoid the mountainous area that I had intended in crossing on foot. It took over two hours to get to Lemoa, where the train to Mundaka left just as I was crossing the bridge to the other platform.  I had to wait for an hour on the deserted platform of the unstaffed station for the next train.

The train to Mundaka consisted of two small carriages, more like two joined-up buses on rails.  Progress was slow and there were frequent stops, including two in the town of Gernika-Lumo, better known as Guernica. It was the scene of the first major aerial bombing by the German Nazi Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. They had been ‘invited’ by Franco to practice their tactics on a real target. The town was razed and official reports claimed that 1654 people were killed. It inspired the famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso.  I don’t imagine that many Mercedes, BMWs or Volkswagens are ever sold in Guernica.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

The station at Mundaka is on the hill at the edge of the town and from there I walked down through the narrow streets to the open square in front of the church.  There I found a room in a very comfortable hotel.

Mundaka hotel
The hotel in Mundaka

I was about to start my search for the Lázaga family (see here).

Saint-Jean-de-Luz to San Sebastián

Thursday 11 April, 2013

Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Irun – 14 km

I set out in high spirits soon after breakfast – the sun shone and the air felt warm. The road climbed out of the town and into the country, past beautiful Basque farms with their traditional houses of white walls and red roofs, doors and shutters. The road climbed and descended without cease.

Typical Basque architecture on the outskirts of Saint-Jean-de-Luz

The way was well marked, or at least it was, until I realised that I had not seen a sign for some time. I could see the sea in the far distance, and rather than retrace my steps, I decided to continue and follow the coast to Hendaye.

Eventually I came to a sign for Hendaye Plage. It was soon after that the wind picked up and I could see a huge pile of black clouds over the mountain, heading directly towards me. The rain started slowly and then suddenly with full force. I was drenched before I could react and get out my poncho. There is not a lot one can do with no shelter, except press on and hope it soon passes.

But it did not pass and I eventually reached the centre of Hendaye Plage only to find out that I should have gone to Hendaye Ville, for which I never saw a sign. The guy who gave me the bad news that it was a further three kilometres, offered to drive me there, for the storm was getting worse. He was a surfer complete with board and I squeezed into the back seat.  He did not seem to mind that I was rather wet.  He said that he had once hiked around England and had received so much help from local people, often going well out of their way to help him find accommodation. He said that it was now his turn to be the Good Samaritan.   He dropped me outside the train station at the Spanish border.

I caught the local Euskotren for four short stops to a hotel in Irun and checked in, still dripping wet.


Friday 12 April, 2013

Irun to San Sebastián – 25 km

I had a schematic map of each stage of the route across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, and from my hotel room I could see what was almost certainly the path cutting across the mountain that stood between where I was and the sea.  As the day was going to be somewhat more challenging than the days since Bayonne, I had an early breakfast and set off before 08h00.

I caught the Euskotren two short stops back to Irun, asked in a bar for directions and I was soon on the path, following the familiar yellow arrows indicating the Camino del Norte. The arrows are painted on walls, rocks, trees, posts, pavement etc. all the way to Santiago.  The Spanish are rightly proud of their many well-marked caminos and whether one is a genuine religious pilgrim or just a casual hiker, the local people make one feel genuinely welcome. At least that had been my experience over many weeks of hiking in Spain in the previous two years.   In contrast, my recent short walk in France did not leave me with such a positive impression.

For the first hour, the going was easy – a flat walk through marshlands, and then a steady climb to a path that followed the contours of the mountain, the same path that I could see from the hotel earlier that morning.

Looking back to Hendaye Plage, on the other side of the river, from the path starting to ascend the mountain

For the next ten kilometres, the going was gently up, gently down, until finally a sharp descent down to an inlet of the sea, at Pasai Donibane.  I ended up on a quay, with no sight of the bridge that I had expected to cross to the other side. I spotted a man fishing and I asked him how I could cross the water. He laughed and said that I could walk across, but he did not recommend it.  But just around the corner there was a boat that I could take.  I did not mention my expected bridge, but I felt rather foolish nevertheless.

The short crossing from Pasai Donibane to Pasai San Pedro

Once on the other side, the yellow arrows resumed and led me seawards. Eventually, they pointed towards a steep stair cut out of the rock of the cliff face.  The steps were steep with only a low wall and I soon felt my heart thumping.  I ascended slowly.  The steps seemed to be interminable and I was glad that the rocks were dry; with rain, a strong wind and my bad leg, I would have found it quite challenging.

Once up and away from the cliff, the going was straightforward, with several short climbs and descents. Finally, there was San Sebastián below with its beautiful concave beaches. It reminded me of Acapulco in Mexico.

But I had not noticed the gathering clouds and before I got off the mountain, the rain started. I sheltered under some trees until it passed. It was obvious by the dark clouds that more rain was on the way, so I continued on my way down and to the centre of the town, to find a hotel for the night.

San Sebastián with the rain about to fall

Finding a hotel did not prove to be very easy. Normally I would look for hotel signs, but where I expected there to be hotels, there were none.  All I could find were pensiones and sleeping in somebody’s spare bedroom was not my scene.  I asked some locals and they did not seem to know of any hotels and recommended that I find a pension. By now the rain had started falling heavily.  I tried several pensiones, but all were full.  In the end, I found one that had a room available, but the old lady that answered the door would only let me have it, if I paid for double occupancy. By then I was getting tired and quite wet, so I reluctantly agreed to an exorbitant rate for a room with a little bed, no table, no chair and the only socket contained the plug of the only lamp. And of course, no wifi.

But after I had showered and put on dry clothes, I felt better.  It was still raining heavily, but I found a McDonalds close by, with wifi, and I caught up on my mail and the sports results.

And despite the crap bed, I slept the night through, without once wakening.  The fresh air and the exercise always seem to have that effect on me.