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  • Writer's pictureJessie Kretzer

Basque Country

Today we set out on the GR11 straight from our lodging, first navigating through the city of Irún, then gradually ascending the hills into the Basque Country. We passed and chatted with many Camino De Santiago hikers on the way, and no one seems to even be aware of the GR11. When we tell them we’re hiking over the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean, they look at us like we’re mad. In the states, especially in Colorado, this would be met with a nonchalant acknowledgment, and maybe an eye roll or a yawn.

The majority of Basque Country hiking is on pistas (small dirt roads) through hardwood forests and farmers pastures. It is oppressively hot and humid. Already I miss Colorado’s arid climate. The climate, fawna, and terrain remind me of the mid-Atlantic, where I’m from and which I’ve had enough of for the foreseeable future. Alas, soon we will be in higher country with chilly mountain air.

On the way, we passed a Belgian who naysayed our mileage goals and two young, effervescent English blokes who had bright aspirations for North American adventuring and hiking. Go get ‘em boys, it’s wild and free out there. Upon arriving to the small village of Bera, we took care of a few hiker chores, ate a gross hiker dinner, and hauled our stinky hiker asses up one last hill to camp for the night on mount Santa Bárbara. Here we met our first Basque-speaking folks! Spanish was their second language and I barely understood a damn word they said, but I managed to take a group photo for them and learn a couple Basque pleasantries.

As we were about to turn in for the night, the Belgian and an older English gentleman came galavanting up the hill. The Englishman yells “Are you the Americans? David (the Belgian) won’t shut up about you two!”. That’s right - we’re the “professionals” 😉. Off to bed with inflated egos and secretly tired legs.

Day 2 of hiking. More rolling hills, horse and sheep shit, and blistering hot sun. We ran into more friends, helping to fulfill my expectations of having a cultural experience. Another Belgian and an older Frenchman, both trekking the mountaineering HRP route. We walked and talked with the Belgian, Dreese, for sometime. We talked about other trails we’ve done, European and American politics, and our differing lifestyles in general. It was enlightening. Eventually, he had to turn off the GR11 to continue on his route, and we parted ways (we had outpaced the Frenchman, Jean Luke by this point).

We arrived in the picturesque town of Elizondo around 5:00 hoping to fill our bellies, only to discover that no restaurant was serving food until about 8:00pm. We filled up on beer and cheese instead. Not able to dilly dally any longer, we set out for another couple of kilometers before stealth camping on some farmers land for the night.

Upon awaking, Grace informs me that here knee was giving her severe pain all night, and to be honest mine was aching a bit as well. Not to mention the extreme fatigue that was hitting me, I assume due to jet lag. We decided it best to hike back into Elizondo, take a day or two off and catch a bus to a further point down the trail. We’re already pressed for time to finish the whole trail, so we are dropping our hiker purism, and “cheating” a bit to save our legs for the higher mountains. To be honest, I’m not lamenting the miles too much as the humidity here is not my favorite.

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