The Coast of Misery

It’s actually just called ‘The Basque Coast”, but I like my name for it better.

Our hike in Durango hadn’t been super long, just super vertical. When we woke up we felt fine, but later we discovered that our leg muscles were trashed. And of course we had planned a coastal hike right after we left Durango. We weren’t worried though. Most coastal hikes are relatively flat, and it was only our climbing muscles that were sore.

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Except….This was the exact opposite of flat. Durango had been straight up and straight down. This hike ended up being a roller coaster, from the seaside to the top of some steep hill, repeat. There is nothing worse than working your ass off to climb a hill, only to go all the way back down to sea level right after. Then doing it again and again. It was only about 10 miles, maybe a bit more including the walking we did before and after, but it was the most miserable we’ve ever been on a hike. At least it didn’t rain I guess.

We also hadn’t bought any food for a picnic, so we we did this entire hike running entirely on the tostada we’d had for breakfast and some smashed granola bars we keep in our bag for emergencies.

This hike started in Deba and ended in Zumaia, and followed a leg of El Camino de Santiago. El Camino is a 500 mile hiking route that was initially intended for pilgrims from France to…well… pilgrimage to the burial place for Saint James. Today it’s full of lots of backpacker-types who are there for all sorts of reasons, spiritual or otherwise. Most of it lays on the side of busy highways, but this portion is notable for bringing hikers near the flysch rock formations which can be seen in Game of Thrones.

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The rocks are indeed breathtaking, and super fun to get up close and personal with.

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Just when we were about to bail and figure something else out (hitchhiking?) the trail evened out and became somehow even more beautiful. We spent the last quarter of the hike meandering above farming valleys with gorgeous mountains to our right, and the gorgeous sea to the left. It just about made up for our sore legs and empty stomachs.

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In Zumaia we bought an ice cream and took a train to Zarautz where we found our next hotel.

In the depths of summer this whole area is the go-to surf destination in Spain. But, since it wasn’t quite summer yet, it was quaint and sleepy.

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As starved as we were we were not about to order some pintxos, hell no. We ordered two massive hamburgers and got some pastries from a bakery. Then we made a half hearted attempt to explore the beach, only for the rain to show up and drive us back inside.

This day had been super difficult, mostly because of our own mistakes, but the hike was among the prettiest we’ve taken.

San Sebastian

Any good “Best Places to Visit in Spain” list will most definitely have San Sebastian somewhere on the list, probably somewhere pretty high. We were dreading it. Hooray for another tourist trap, right?

Why would we stay somewhere we knew we weren’t going to like? It’s complicated. First of all we weren’t sure we weren’t going to like it, we just had a hunch and we’ve been surprised with similar situations in the past. And secondly we figured we may as well see it since we were in the area, it had some things we were excited to see, and we really wanted to enjoy it. Plus we were only here for two nights.

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San Sebastian is a pretty large town situated around a horseshoe shaped bay with castle topped mountains protecting the seaward points, and a little islett right in the middle. One of these castles is a more modern artillery fortress similar to what you’d see in the Caribbean, and the other has been converted into a theme park. We were really excited for this theme park, so naturally it was closed for the season.

After checking into our hotel, we went out and did some window shopping in the old town, saw the beach, and had a pretty good time. It threatened to rain the entire time, so the world class beach that is usually seething with beach-goers was dead empty, and we had fun strolling it, rain be damned.

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We ended this night with a bottle of Txakoli, another hunk of Idiazabal cheese, and a half kilo of fresh cherries. Chris normally hates cherries, but we’d hiked by so many cherry trees in Durango that we just had to get some.

The next day was our only full day here, and it proved San Sebastian to be everything we had been afraid of when we first got here.

Since I don’t have much nice to say, I won’t say much. Though we did have a nice time going to both the aquarium and the Basque Cultural museum. The aquarium was full of atlantic sea life with lots of side exhibitions on the fishing industry. The Basque museum was all about the Basque people and what they’ve been up to for the past few millennia.

Without being too negative, I just have to mention that besides a small handful of people, everyone was a huge, gaping, asshole. Like 95% at least.

We weren’t doing anything differently here than we ever do in Spain, and after close to two years living here I think we know what we’re doing. We aren’t obnoxious American tourists, we never expect people to speak English for us, we speak as much Spanish as we can, we are patient and understanding with Spain’s unpredictability etc, etc. None of that counted for anything in Basque Country, and especially San Sebastian. Maybe they’re just done with tourists. I could understand that, but this wasn’t even during the high tourist season.

We’ve read that Andalusians and Basqueros usually argue over who is nicer. The Basques claim that they are the nicest people in Spain, and say that the Andalusians are just faking it. Though from what we saw, the Basqueros don’t even care enough to try. We never met an Andalusian half as rude as the average Basque waiter, excepting those bureaucrats in Jaen. It’s normal for waiters and cashiers in Spain to be disinterested in you, and many noobs to Spain take this as rudeness. But it’s not, they just don’t kiss your ass the way you are used to in England or in the USA. You want something? Ask for it, and they will help you with that specific thing. No more, no less. But we’ve never come across a Spanish waiter or cashier or any other kind of employee who went out of their way to make it clear that they resented our presence. Until Pais Vasco.

San Sebastian wasn’t a 100% fail, but I would struggle to recommend it to anyone. It was probably once the most beautiful beach location in Europe. The geography, the castles, the size of the beach and the quality of the sand, and the turn of the century palaces built along the shores, are incredible. But now it’s just another tourist resort, ruined by expensive food and crowds.

 


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