The Road to Santiago.

September 25, 2004

Photo of tunnel passing under a church.

Getaria to Gernika

As I left the pension after a good night’s sleep, I walked back down to the waterfront where I had had dinner last night and took some pictures of the port. I’ve seen some unusual things in Spain, but this was really new to me — the road went under part ofthe church. Half way through, you can look out a window into the nave of the church which houses a gothic chapel.

I then walked to the tourist office to see if I could find a bus schedule to Gernika. The day before, I had decided to take the bus to Markina and walk from there to Gernika because the guide book said that it was the most difficult etapa (stage) in the entire part of the Pais Vasco (Basque Country). Then, last night, I read that the next etapa to Gernika was not difficult but poorly marked. The arrows were few and far between and when they were present, they were badly placed. In a couple places, the guide book said, the path went past private farms or across the farmers’ meadows. My experience of the past couple of days made me decide that I wasn’t excited about the possibility of meeting a dog that didn’t like pilgrims. So, I went with plan D — take the autobus.

In the words of an old New England Yankee I once knew, "You can’t get there from here." I would have to walk to Zumaia and then take a train to Gernika. Yeh, I can do that.

Lucky Hero

In Getaria’s Plaza Mayor, I saw a statute in honor of Juan Sebastián Elcano. Who is he, you ask? Well, he was just the first person to circumnavigate the globe. I bet you thought it was Magellan. Well, you’d be wrong! Magellan met his untimely demise in the Phillipines. It was left to Juan Sebastián to bring the ship and the surviving crew home. And he sailed into Getaria.

I left the town by taking a rocky road — you guessed it — straight up the hill. About an hour later, I came to the top of the hill where there were a few houses and a bar. I stopped, had a cup of coffee and a big bottle of ice water, and rested a bit before continuing.

Photo of Zumaia.
View of Zumaia

As I came down the other side of the mountain, I had a beautiful view of Zumaia and the bahia deVizcaya (Bay of Biscay). This Biscayne Bay is much more beautiful than that of Miami Beach. I saw an aguila pescador (fish eagle) riding the thermals looking for dinner. I knew how he felt.

As I approached the town, I asked a man ¿hay un autobus desde aqui a Gernika? (Is there a bus from here to Gernika?). I was crestfallen when he said ¡No! Then he and another man got into a disagreement as to the best way to get to Gernika. They both agreed that I had to leave by train and change in another town. I couldn’t understand which man said which town was the best place to change. Nevertheless, they said the train left at 1:30 p.m. It was already 1:10 and I didn’t know whether I could make it to the station about 500 meters away. I thanked them and started to hoof it, my aching legs be damned.

I made it to the train station in time and asked the clerk where I should change for the bus to Gernika. He said that it was better to go all the way by train. I would just have to change at Lemoa. (Yeah, that’s easy for you to say!)

The train didn’t go over the mountains: it went through them! Through a series of tunnels, the train climbed into the Viscaya mountains. Just prior to one tunnel, I heard my cell phone ring. It was one of the brief calls from home. The tunnel cut it off and made it really brief.

One of the cities the train came to had a familiar name: Durango. I associate Durango with American western movies, I guess. And Durango is always in dry ranch country. This Durango was a big city tucked in lush green mountains.

Speaking of westerns, remember the scene from the movie A Bad Day at Black Rock when the stranger steps off a train to an empty station in an empty town? That’s the way I felt when I got off to change trains at Lemoa. Well, fortunately, another stranger emerged and told me which train to get on. (Lots of unexpected help along the way!)

Well, the train came and I stood by the door and waited for it to open. After 30 seconds or so the door opened and the conductor was standing there. He told me that I was supposed to push the button if I wanted to have it open. (Live and learn, huh?)

When I got on the train, I asked the conductor which stop was the one for Gernika? Una abuela (a grandmother) spoke up and said that she would tell me when we got there. It wasn’t long until she called to me, “la parada proxima.” (the next stop).

That night was spent in a nice hotel that I found through the tourist office. After a good dinner, out I was able to use the hotel’s telephone hookup for a little Internet work.