When I imagined the Camino de Santiago, I imagined a walk. More of an amble, actually. I imagined a flat path, sometimes paved, sometimes not, crisscrossing through pasturelands always with a beautiful view of the coast, forever meandering through impossibly quaint Spanish towns.
But this is not an amble. This is hiking. Or at least today was. Today's leg, from Deba to Markina-Xemeina, was about 24k, though a great deal of that was spent shuffling up rocky paths, cursing, and then daintily lowering myself down pine needle-covered rock descents. Actually, it didn't seem that bad, but when I got to my lodging I read through the comment book and saw almost half the people had remarked about how grueling the walk had been to get here and how glad they were to be able to rest. And then the more I thought about it I decided I agreed with them.
The winds were near hurricane force this morning, and I left before sunrise from the train station in Deba after being woken up by a strange dude coming into the hostel who presumably worked there but looked like he had just showed up -- at 6:47am while it was still pitch black outside -- to go number two in the bathroom and then immediately leave. It was very strange and I decided to get out of there as soon as possible. The first part of the trail was all climb, from sealevel up to about 300 meters. After that it was a beautiful forest path, through a valley of lowing cattle and a house that looked like it might've been helicoptered in from Lichtenstein, and then back into the forest. My big problem today was not properly rationing my water. I was already thirsty and out of water when I got to a sign that said "Markina -- 9.3k". And it was not 9.3k of flat. It was 9.3k of ups and downs with rocks, one of which I semi-turned my left ankle on, and at one point I heard a cow bell behind me and felt the ground under me tremble and turned around to see a clydesdale or some other equally massive equine barreling down on me full speed. I stayed calm and stepped off the road, and he went by without incident to join his friends further down the road.
Finally in Markina I found good cheap lodging for 12 euros and for the second night in a row it appears I'm the only one in the room. I went to the restaurant that's also owned by the hostel owners to use their wifi and got to talking to Cecilia, an Ecuadorean girl who works there. I finally got to ask someone the question I've been wondering about these tiny towns in the middle of the Basque Country -- How are there so many Africans? I had speculated that the Basque Country had programs for refugees and people seeking asylum, not only for humanitarian purposes but also because the more people the Basque Country can get speaking Basque and living in its small towns the more it bolsters the prominence and relevance of the language, but it's still strange to show up to a town of less than 5,000 people in a historically inaccessible and mountainous part of Vizcaya, and see a bunch of people from Cameroon standing on the corner. From what I understood from Cecilia I was basically right. In her case though she was slightly miffed because she said a lot of people come here and get help from the state and even though they could get a job, they don't. She said there's no real incentive to work when the state will just maintain you.
I had hoped to work a couple hours but the internet wasn't cooperating. One of my goals on this walk is to not stress out about things I can't change, so rather than getting pissed off about the lack of internet I got to talking with a Polish kid who had walked into the restaurant who's also doing the camino. The kid was an animal. He basically walked all the way from where I was two days ago to Markina -- in one day. In other words, he took today, one of the most challenging sections of the Camino in terms of elevation change and terrain, and tacked on about another 13k. He explained that in Poland his job is to walk around in the mountains, so he's pretty used to it. When he found out I was lugging around a computer so I could work he frowned and said, "I could never do that. Computers aren't really my cup of tea." I explained that they're not really mine either but that I had to make money somehow and that this job was allowing me to do this -- travel all over the world and do things like 825k walks through the north of Spain -- but he was staring glaze-eyed off into the distance at this point, so I quickly changed the subject and we began poring over his guidebook and discussing tomorrow's walk.
I had decided that if I didn't work tonight it wouldn't be the end of the world, and went for a stroll to the church Markina is famous for. Despite being dark inside and night outside, the door was open and I went inside where I was confronted with a massive rock. By massive I mean about 20ft tall and 30 feet wide. It's sitting in the middle of the church and it's the only thing in the church. There were some pews around it and an alter in front of it, but basically there's a church in Markina - Xemeina that contains nothing more than an enormous boulder. I have no idea about the history of the church or why the rock is there, but I assume it has something to do with paganism or that it's a meteorite and for the time being don't plan on going out of my way to read about it more, since in this case I actually do like the mystery.
After leaving the church I walked back past the cultural center which had a nice glow about it and what looked like a cafe inside. There were pinchos (little sandwiches and things -- basically tapas) out on the bar and the internet was plentiful. The guy working there was extremely kind, too. I worked for about an hour and a half and then my neck and shoulders started to hurt in pretty much every posture I tried, so I decided it was time to get out. While working there though I enjoyed a glimpse of community life in Markina. On one end of the cafe a group of guys in their early 30's prepared the stage for a concert this weekend, and people were constantly filtering in and out in little groups, speaking Basque and Spanish and saying hi to each other. The music was also good. The barista had Matt Costa playing, which was awesome until after about the third time through the same set of five songs on repeat.
At the end of the night, the guy working there walked over and put some sandwiches on my table. "Help yourself if you'd like," he said, "otherwise I'm just going to throw them out." I happily accepted them and instantly devoured two of them like a golden lab eating food that's fallen on the floor, and as I was getting ready to leave he came over and set down yet another sandwich. When I was leaving he shook my hand and said, "My name is Borja", charged me 2.80 cents total, and I was off into the unseasonably warm Basque air rejoicing and thinking about what a wonderful night it had turned out to be.