I suspect I shall carry the trauma of that descent into Ermua till the end of my walking days. The physical scars have all but cleared but the emotional wounds have carved themselves deep into my psyche. Still, a valuable lesson learned, never follow a path that looks like it might deceive, that will tempt and lead you down a dead-end track. But I am always an Eve, my spirit willing but my flesh easily led. In any case, if you don't stray, you'll never know what lies beyond the confines of the straight and narrowĤ. In the words of the legendary Buck's Fizz: 'Something nasty in your garden's waiting/Patiently, till it can have your heart/Try to go but it won't let you/Don't you know it's out to get you/Running/Keep on running'.
Ermua and Eibar lie deep in a steep, wooded valley that forms the main corridor of communication along the coast between Donostia-San Sebastian and Bilbao. Eibar is much the larger town, Ermua a sort of overspill. There's just too much going on in too small and narrow a space. The road and the railway are hemmed in; horizontal is not an option, there's very little sense of sideways so everything must go up. Apartment blocks, supermarkets, offices, the effect is overwhelmingly claustrophobic and I feel bad about not liking the place though it takes me a good two hours to leave as waste precious time searching, in vain, for gas cannisters - bear with me on this, it will become a major distraction.
Preparing for fiesta, Eitzaga
I'd planned a relatively short hike south out of the valley of the river Ego (I kid you not, if ever there were a geomorphological feature named for me, that is surely it) and into the adjacent comarca of Durangaldea but which your correspondent immediately - and quite predictably - began to refer to as DuranDurangaldea.
I know, there is no hope and there is no cure. I'm more or less condemned to a life of OED (Obsessive Eighties Disorder).
The ola de calor that seemed to have arrived alongside my train in Irun a few days previously was scaling the thermometer and it was another day of sweat and sweary words; even a relatively gentle climb of 250m along the GR121 to a small reservoir elicited a steady flow of both. The reservoir offered a good half hour of respite, level walking in the shade and I eschewed the kind offer of the GR121 to climb a hill (are you kidding?) and followed the pista around the lake. But all good things do come to an end and sure enough the track began to ascend, to the small town of Elgeta, its industrial estates simmering under the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. It was siesta time, the place was shut. A four or five km hike along a main road brought me to my overnight destination: Berrio-Aldape, a small hamlet - if that's not a tautology - in possession of a hotel and bar. Within a few minutes of arrival my overnight stay had extended itself.
The valley of the Rio Ego is deep, steep and narrow, the valley of the Durangaldea is high, wide and handsome, an extensive declivity backed by the fine, ridge-backed mountains of Udalatx and Anboto which, once I'd crossed the watershed, suddenly emerged. I had arrived, here was where the coastal hinterland ended and the Montes Vascos began.
Strange how the smallest of settlements can attract a noisy throng; my rest day, Sunday, coincided with the final of the Campeonato Manomanista between Aimar Olaizola II and Mikel Urrutikoetxea. Clearly I know absolutely nothing about Basque pelota, aside from the fact that two men - gender equality has not yet reached this sport - strike a squash-sized ball against a wall with their bare hands and fists. On the one hand, it's a bit like squash, on the other, it's nothing like it. But even when the commentary's in a language whose complexity has thus far utterly defeated me, I can tell a fighting comeback when I see one. Urrutikoetxea was cruising towards an easy victory until the veteran Olaizola II (his ninth appearance in thirteen years, having won the title four times - you can see I've done my research) fought back to close to parity. Olaizola had the momentum and the experience but he inexplicably threw it all away with two careless shots which handed victory Urrutikoetxea. And then, impresseive alacrity, the throng dispersed and I went off to listen to Forgotten 80s.
The hike was supposed to resume the following day - Monday, day 7. The intention was - note how often those two words, 'intention' and 'was', appear alongside one another - to purchase a gas canister in the town of Elorrio, about four kilometres away down in the valley, then head up into the mountains. There was a sports/hiking shop in Elorrio, just as there had been in Eibar, but as in Eibar they didn't sell gas for camping. I was directed to the nearby town of Durango - whence Durangaldea - so I checked in to a hotel and hopped on a bus. The heatwave had scaled another notch on the thermometer and the sky was cloudless, if the streets had been any busier we'd have been fighting for the shade. Eventually, the elusive gas cannister located in an out-of-town hyperstore. It was too late and far too hot to do anything else than return to Elorrio and plan a route for the following day.
I fell in love, quite unexpectedly, with Elorrio and would gladly have stayed another day or two. It's a pleasant town of some 7,000 inhabitants with a casco antiguo and old streets. Had I arrived the day before I'd have been able to partake in its dia de orgullo - Pride. For a town of its size that's pretty impressive but as it was over and done I had to console myself with the stunning interior of the Basilica de la Purisima Conception; I've no doubt the Virgin Mary was as present in the Pride festivities as she was in the church
|The elusive gas cannister|