Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hiking my legs off

With only two weeks left before my job starts again, I have been trying my best to enjoy what remains of my time off...with a lot of outdoor time.  Also, it has been quite sunny, so I try to take advantage of that fact.  This outdoor time, when it doesn't include the beach, normally includes a bike ride or a walk in the country, but lately it has meant hiking! 
Basque Country is full of great hiking routes, numerous mountains to conquer and a coastal pathways to die for.  Joseba, a hiking fan himself, knows many of these spots, and last week we headed to a mountain named Ernio - which is basically known as the mountain of Orio, his town.  We checked the weather the day before and it said sunny in the morning with clouds creeping in in the afternoon, however it seems the weathermen here are just as accurate as a weatherman from home, because when we woke up, a strong wind was already blowing in clouds!  We decided to go anyways and got our hiking gear on and headed out.  A few days before, Joseba and I went to a sporting goods store and he bought me a hiking type of t-shirt...funny thing is that he has the same, so now we have matching hiking shirts - awwwwww such a couple thing hahaha.  

We started on one side of the mountain and as the path wound upwards, we ended up more on the other side of the mountain, and would you believe it that one side of the mountain was foggy and windy and the other side was clear blue sky?!  After a few kilometers we reached the base, which has a little house with picnic tables, and took a short rest before a total uphill walk to the top - standing at 3,500 feet.  The beginning part of the walk was quite easy, but the last part gave me and my running shoes a challenge.  Although I have a hiking shirt, I don't have hiking boots.  I assume that will be my next investment.  Anyways, the terrain changed from grassy slopes to steep hills with loose shale rock that changed the scenery from a green to gray quickly.  With small crosses lining the path, paying tribute to people who had fallen from the path and died, I made sure to watch each step and not to rush and made it safely to the top.  

At the peak were a lot of large crosses (I can't imagine carrying one of them up the shale hill) that had already been enveloped in fog.  Although we couldn't see the amazing view that the top has, the quick moving fog provided us a cool resting spot for a few seconds, where you could hear the wind and feel the droplets of mist on your face.  In between the fog, you could barely see down the hill and instead we were just in a land of clouds and crosses.  

As we came down, we stepped out of the clouds and back to reality, only to be surprised by lots of butterflies.  The 15 minute walk down again changed the outlook from gray to green and this time, the grass was dotted with fluttering butterflies, some of which I had never seen!  I am used to orange and yellow butterflies, but all of a sudden a light blue butterfly flew in our path!  It soon became my mission to snap a photo of it before our hike finished.  Joseba, and his camera skills, managed this shot!  I love it!

By the end of our hike, our tired feet were happy to slip back into flip-flops and our bellies happy to go home and eat lunch while more clouds blew in.  

Another day, with good weather blessing us again, we did a short 2-hour hike that is near his home.  The hike is named Itxaspe, which is obviously Basque.  On the walk, Joseba explained to me the meaning...itxas means sea and pe is a short way of saying the word behind, so the hike leads to a huge Basque house, named Itxaspe - behind the sea!  All large Basque houses have names and since the hike goes to this one, it is so named.

The hike starts in the Old Part of Orio - with windy stone streets.  We walked up the steep hill until we were out of town and passing the cemetary.  For some reason, cemetaries in Europe impress me immensley.  Maybe because they are adorned so beautifully, maybe because the headstones are so massive, I don't know,  all I know is that each time I see a cemetary, I always want to admire it.  This one didn't let me down.  With a stone exterior wall full of crosses, the cemetary guards the bodies of ages and ages of Orio's residents.  

Past the cemetary we came to one of the churches on The Camino de Santiago - a pilgrimage that passes through the Basque coast.  Named San Martin, this church is said to be the first parish church in town.  Even more impressive than this 13th century church that was restored in the 16th century is the crumbling wall that stands in front of it.  This wall are all that remain of a 'seroral house' that stood here centuries before.  A serora is a female sexton and was responsible at the time for the upkeeping of the chapel.  With this job duty, she lived very close to the church.  By the 18th century, the house was in bad condition, and town records show that one serora, MarĂ­a de Lasa, used money from her own dowry to reconstruct the quarters.  Now all that remains is a block of 26 feet of stones that were collected from the town and mortered together.  Along with all buildings from that time, stories swirl around about past uses, and this building is no different.  Because it is on the Camino de Santiago, legend has it that it was used as a leper hospital in the past, but no one can prove it!  

Seeing as we aren't lepers, we didn't stay and instead walked further into the Basque countryside.  A long winding road eventually led us to a spot called buenavista (good view), which is the highest point of this hike - a mere 410 feet above sea level.  But from this spot, we could see the neighbhoring seaside towns of Zarautz and Getaria.  A well-known spot on the Basque coast, Getaria is a small town set on a penisula that juts out into the ocean.  Although the town is charming, it sits on a mountain called 'The Rat', which kind of makes it lose its appeal to me, but from this photo you can see why it is called that.  The penisula consists of a large hill and then a small one - making it appear that it is a rat head and its fat body.  

Once we reached Itxaspe, we start the descent along a gravel road with vegetable gardens lining the road.  Not only gardens, but also goats!  Now, the big ones with the horns are tied up and can only wander so far, but the baby goats, cute as they are, can roam where they like, which kind of scared me.  I didn't want any goat bites!  We traveresed through the scary goat land and finished the hike on the beach - not bad eh??

The last hike I went on, included again this Itxaspe house, but noooo it wasn't a small 2 hour hike.  Instead, I hiked from the beach in Orio to San Sebastian - 11.1 miles.  Yea, long.  It was a sunny day, and I had no plans except to meet a friend in Donosti at 6pm, so I thought to myself, why not just walk there?  I know, its a crazy thought, but I had already done a 10 mile hike from Donosti to Orio once before and I thought that although it was long it was peaceful and enjoyable.  This time I decided to challenge myself a bit more and decided on a 'difficult level' hike, thinking there would more hills and such.  About an hour into the hike, I realized that 'difficult' should have been explained more with the word 'jungle'!  With plants covering the path, rock-climbing, cactus-looking trees that cut me up, and creeks to jump over and hills to scale down with a cable, this turned out to be a pretty serious hike for one little girl in shorts.  

Between almost falling, dropping my new sunglasses and walking 10 minutes back to thankfully find them and wanting to turn back a million times,  I eventually arrived in San Sebastian - 5 hours after I started.  While it was a tough hike, it was filled with great things.  I was quite surprised to see flowers still blooming this late in summer.  With pops of purple, yellow and pink, I was always happy to see these beautiful plants instead of the pokey trees that attacked me.  Also impressive where the hills of only slabs of rock.  While walking along the narrow path to cross them, I tried not to look down, because if I would have fallen I would have slide all the way to the ocean!  Once I finally got across I would always gaze back in amazement.  

With breaks for fruit and small sandwiches, I have to admit the views were beautiful.  Alone, I could hear the sound of the ocean crashing only feet below on the rocks, that over time have become rounded.  And, although by the end of the hike my body looked like it got in a fight with an angry cat and lost, I was so happy to arrive.  I don't think I had ever been so happy to see my town in my life!  From the last mountain I could see the whole town and picked up my pace down the hill, somehow my legs still going.  

With these hikes done, I am giving myself time to rest for a bit.  After that 11 mile hike my body hated me the next day - tired muscles, sore ankle and scratches all over!  But, my friend Emmie and I are already thinking of doing another tough walk next week - only 9 miles!  Piece of cake hahaha.  I'll let you know if I survive!


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