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      August 2011 > Andalucia to Iceland part 9: Opera & Flamenco

Andalucia to Iceland part 9: Opera & Flamenco

Flysch on the Basque coastYesterday evening we ate freshly caught fish on the terrace of a harbour-side restaurant in Zumaia – 30 minutes down the hill from Elena and Mark’s house. We slept by a cove with the sound of the ocean pulling at the pebbles.

Today’s an investigation-of-the-landscape day. Linda has left me in the van and set off intrepidly along the clifftops into the early morning sun, lugging her 2-kilo camera and even heavier tripod, and leaving me to my own devices – which is not usually a good move. She’s borrowed my shoulder bag to help carry her other bits and pieces (lenses, filters, memory cards), so I’m left with only a brown paper carrier bag from the tourist office, into which I throw a few walk maps and a small bottle of water. I decide it’s too hot for my walking boots, so I couldn’t look less like a professional walker as I wander down the streets of Zumaia in my sandals, swinging a carrier bag.

Walking in AlmeriaI’m unavoidably delayed in town by a large café con leche and equally large croissant, but soon I’m heading up the green hillside above town on an inland route. Unlike Linda, I don’t do clifftops. This is because I belong to a strange species called ‘Mountain Men with Vertigo’. If you ever do an Inntravel walk written by me, you can be sure it’s vertigo-free.  In the early days, many were the times when, totally immobilised by fear at the top of some terrible peak, I phoned Alison, my boss at Inntravel, for help while she stared disbelievingly at the phone, wondering what exactly she was supposed to do about it. Also there was the time when Linda – then a top paediatric oncologist in Britain – was in a meeting with a very eminent, knighted scientist, when she received a distress call from me. “Excuse me, Sir Ralph,” she said. “My boyfriend is stuck on top of a mountain – I need to talk him down.”

In fact, vertigo was the reason I nearly drowned Richard Branson’s mother, but that’s another story…  Nowadays I don’t do cliffs, edges, ledges or peaks – I just send Linda instead.

Camino de SantiagoI’m now on a gentle pull up overgrown tractor tracks, past old stone farmsteads, all with a great view of the town and harbour of Zumaia spread out below me – but not vertically. There is soon a detour down a wooded valley towards the sea, which I take, and wonderful views open up, which I don’t get too close to. Suddenly you can see down the coast in both directions – an amazing succession of cliffs, painted in swirling browns and reds and creams. Way below, platforms of layered grey rock extend into the ocean like millefeuille pastry. This becomes a terrific coastal walk (literally terrific for me) which any normal person would happily embrace. I turn back. Linda can write that bit.

My way then weaves along a lovely inland ridge with Green Spain spread out on both sides. I’m following a GR and it now briefly overlaps with the Camino de Santiago. I’ve met a lot of people in the past for whom the Camino holds some sort of fascination. However, I’m not particularly keen on it as a whole event (ie France to Santiago de Compostela), as I have seen that many sections now lay under asphalt and can even go along major roads. Just because a 16th-century monk took a certain route, that doesn’t make it a nice walk. There are plenty of pretty sections left, though, and we use some in both our Galicia holiday and our Picos de Europa one.

There are pilgrims on the path today, which is a perfectly lovely section in fact. Soon I am strolling alongside a large, powerfully-built and jovial German. He tells me he began at Irún on the French border and is doing the full whack to Santiago. I explain what I am doing and that I walk for a living. He eyes up my sandals and carrier bag. He himself has a backpack that would exceed an airline’s baggage allowance, but which he doesn’t seem to notice.

“Well,” he says, “I thought I had a great job, but yours sounds even better. I really enjoy my job, but maybe when I can’t do it any more, I’ll find one like yours.”

I had to ask. “So what do you do?” 

“I’m an opera singer,” he replied.

Pinchos in an authentic Basque barI had a great walk with my opera singer. He was a lovely, fascinating person. The Camino de Santiago soon diverged from the GR that I was following and I could see from my map that it was about to dive unpromisingly under a motorway. I asked if he was very strict about following the Camino, which he wasn’t, so I suggested that he joined me on the GR which I could see would take us pleasantly far from civilisation. We walked through a wonderful landscape of multi-coloured cliffs, with green pastures sloping up to them. There was plenty of room for me to keep well inland. We finished by dropping down a staircase of a path (luckily for me, screened by trees) into the resort of Deba, where we finished the walk (as all good walks should be finished) with a beer for me, a white wine for the opera singer, and pinchos (Basque tapas) all round, overlooking the beach. I was sorry to say goodbye, but he promised to email me with the progress of his adventure.

I’d had a good day. The walk, conceived by Linda as usual, was brilliant and it had two alternative beginnings, one along the cliffs and one for softies. I took the little narrow-gauge train back to Zumaia, which is another great plus about this walk – often coastal walks have to be there and back on foot.

GuitarWhen I got back, a great surprise awaited me – both Linda and the van had been completely engulfed by a gypsy encampment! The whole of the small space we were parked in, overlooking the cove, was filled with vans, all nose inwards like a wagon train in a Western expecting trouble. I had to push through naked children, drying washing and yapping dogs of more shapes, sizes and colours than in a Disney film. Flamenco music blared out.

“I just came back and they were here,” explained Linda. She had already made friends with some of the women, who now rushed over to try to sell us socks. I bought three pairs in an attempt to bridge what was probably going to be a cultural divide that would last all night. The men called us over to their vans – they weren’t going to move from their casual positions of leaning against vans and sitting on chairs the wrong way round. The younger ones were distant, aloof and cheeky, but the older ones wanted to know all about us and then came over to size up our van. They showed us one of theirs, which was spotless inside and, although a normal delivery van, had a plush double bed installed, overlooked by a flat-screen TV. They tried to swap one of their lesser vans for ours and also sell us a dog. I waved the socks at them to indicate I’d done my bit.

The opera singer on the coastal path
Posted: 25/08/2011 17:25:10 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, heritage, journey, nature, Spain

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