Friday, September 2, 2022
Deba to Markina-Xemein: 29.3km / 18.2 miles
Weather 60°F / 15.5°C Light morning rain, overcast later
Arrived @14:00 in town, 15:00 at Hotel Antsotegi
Total Ascent: 3202 ft.
Difficulty Rating: Terrain 5; Waymarking 2
Scenery Rating: 4
Today we left the Cantabrian Sea behind to enter the Basque mountains and their hamlets. Luckily we started out very early! The beginning of our walk was beautiful, and we were feeling pretty good about our progress. It is one of the hardest stages since the continuous ups and downs were tough on our legs (knees especially). We quickly switched from the asphalt to dirt roads, surrounded by trees and among several hamlets so typical of this area.
While on this path 5 years ago, we missed a sign, and ended up following a very steep, very rocky path up, avoiding cow dung on the way. Then we saw lots of cows on the path. And cows leaping across the path. That should have been a hint that maybe we were no longer on the road to Santiago…. We continued up one route, decided that we took a wrong turn, back-tracked, and then took yet another path that was also wrong. Finally, we descended through the same wonderful (not wonderful) rocky path, avoiding the cow dung. At the bottom we saw the sign that we missed. By that time we’d lost an hour. This time, we paid closer attention. We knew that we had a grueling ascent ahead.
We planned to stop for a café con leche in the picturesque village of Olatz, what would have been our only opportunity to get food before we crossed from Guipuzcoa into Vizcaya, but the taverns don’t open until after 10:00, and we started out way too early that morning. So we made our way up to the tortuous “profanity hill” climb, thankful that we’d trained on Red Cloud trail in Deer Valley last month. The hill was paved since our last Camino, but the relentless switchbacks were just as hard.
With views of the Artibai valley we made it down the challenging descent, both because of the slope and because of the slippery cobblestone pavement. Our knees were screaming by the time we got to the bottom. The gentle meadow at the end of this stretch was a welcome relief.
Eventually we continued to the Urko River, which we crossed twice on our way to our destination, Markina-Xemein, considered the “university of the pelota” since many of the best Basque pelota players in the world are from there. We made it to a bar in the center of Markina, where we had a few sodas, jamon de Iberico and queso with a lovely peregrino from Alaska, Phyllis. (She was born in Milltown, NJ!)
We passed by the hermitage of San Miguel, an 18th century temple, built on top of another one at least four centuries old, is known for the three huge rocks that support each other, forming a kind of chapel. At the epicenter of this union is a figure of the Archangel Michael, protected by monoliths at least forty million years old. (I’ll post more about this later… we did go into the Ermita on Sunday.)
We stayed in Markina-Xemein for a few days to visit with cousins on my paternal grandmother’s side. Bernarda Arano Power was born in the little village of Berriatua. My father’s cousins’ children and grandchildren grew up in or near Berriatua. We first met them in 1973 when my parents, several aunts (Luisa and Bernie), my Dad’s Tio Jose, and more of my dad’s cousins (Marie, Viviana, Nieves) and their families traveled to Spain to see my dad’s Basque cousins Lucio (y Matilda), Severo (y Juli), Txomin, and Julian (y Karmele) Arano and their families. We’ve managed to stay in touch (haphazardly) for almost 50 years.
We’ve stayed at Hotel Antsotegi twice before, in 2017 on our first Camino, and again in 2018 with my mom, sister Jeni, and niece Maggie. My cousin’s son Josu told us that the pizza at the hotel bar was excellent. I can attest to the truth of his statement.
Some (23) of my Basque family arrived at 8:00pm, just in time for ensalada mixta, lots of pizza, wine, fun, and frivolity. The lady in charge happened to be from the US; Ainsley spoke English, Spanish, and Basque, and she arranged for us to have a private banquet room for our family “pizza night”. So. Much. Fun!!
From east (Deba) to west (Markina)… the uphill from Olatz and the downhill to Markina were pretty rough: