DAY 6: Walking in Bolívar’s Origins
The mountains that loomed from behind the mining town of Markina-Xemein glistened in the morning sunlight. I was watching the track ahead, waiting and wondering when the path would take that first sudden and deadly turn and reveal its true steep nature. The strange thing was, it wasn’t happening. Instead, the four of us were simply walking beside the hills’ sturdy base, hopping over gurgling streams and taking care not to step on the gargantuan slimy black slugs that had slithered out from under the deep precincts of the wet grass to find a new home, one that was preferably not flooded from last night’s pouring rain. Finally, the road veered off from any form of civilisation and thrust us deep into the swampy woods. The trees around us gave off an eerie blue glow as we battled our way through the marshes to the safety of dry ground. Passing by a fellow pilgrim who had stopped at the base of a large birch tree to take a moment to write in her journal, we continued onwards to enter into the town where the famed Simon Bolívar’s surname had been derived from.
We stopped to marvel at the quaint little town square where a large white church’s bronze bell began to toll at an ear-splitting volume. Taking that as a cue, we snapped a few photos and re-entered the domain of the forest where the oozing mud reigned supreme. In the next hour, we made the slowest progress as we were stuck coming down the side of a mountain, with slippery-sludge of all kind just waiting to trip us up. We finally re-emerged at a small checkpoint where we could fill up our water bottles from the shell-shaped stone water fountain. To the right, there was a large sign advertising a Pilgrim House that had free tapas (snacks) and drinks and a large living room for the walkers to take respite. Following the instructions for 30 metres ahead, we peeked our heads in through a large wooden door to see a candle-lit room filled with the other pilgrims we had met back in Markina-Xemein. The room was packed with everyone lounging on large blue pillows on the floor, eating, laughing and talking. Having not much desire to squeeze ourselves into an already overflowing shed, we turned around and headed onwards down a paved road that fully re-immersed us into the beauty of the Basque countryside.
It was after another two long hours of walking when I finally came to rest my blistered feet in the small city of Gernika. We made our way to the Albergue with much apprehension. We had learnt the night before that the Albergue we were planning on going to first, had been closed for an extermination of bed bugs! So instead, we had been directed to the only Youth Hostel in this city, but one look at the absurd prices they were charging, and we marched straight out of there and didn’t look back. We stopped at a small restaurant that also offered the “special” Pilgrim’s Menu and while eating, we made use of the lightning fast Wifi to figure out what we would do next.
There was not much on offer in budget type accommodation options, so we decided to head to the Tourist Information Centre to ask about our camping options. Roaming the cobblestone streets of Gernike, we ran into another pilgrim. A friendly Texan lady, who was here to walk the Camino for two weeks, snapped us out of our somewhat disheartened trance and made us smile and laugh at her funny jokes. We found out from her that most of the other pilgrims were splurging on a Pension or Motel for the night. We were determined to stick to our daily budget and wanted to see if we had any other options. Turns out we did. The ladies at the Centre informed us (when they found out we had tents) that if we keep following the Camino trail signs, it was no problem to stealth camp on the outskirts of town. At no charge for the night! We had found our solution. Bidding a temporary goodbye to our new Texan friend (as we would be seeing her along the Camino tomorrow), we set off to find our camp spot with a small detour to the supermarket.
After buying some food items for our dinner and breakfast, we realised that it was beginning to rain. Not wanting to get our backpacks wet, we donned our ponchos and only then did we see the comedic picture in the surveillance of our reflections. Dad’s resemblance to The Hunchback of Notre Dame was strikingly hilarious and we spent the whole walk out of town gasping in laughter (and some embarrassment on my part) at his funny jokes.