Having walked the short few kilometres from Cabo Higuer (after dipping ourselves in the briny Atlantic) back to Hondarribia yesterday, today was our first day of on the real trail, packs on backs, with 35 kilometres of up and down trails to get to Bera (or Vera) de Bidasoa tonight.
We rolled out of the bunks at the crack of dawn. I had been awake already for a little while thinking about what lay ahead and wondering if my body could put up with what I had planned for it. I was sure that I had done my homework on the right equipment, it was just a case of seeing if the feet, legs, back, etc., could withstand the sudden change in lifestyle.
We had a breakfast of muesli and didn't say too much; I think we all suddenly realised that we did not have a clue about what lay ahead of us. We walked out of the hostel and down the hill to the edge of the water. It was raining lightly. Walking along the beachside road towards the centre of Hondarribia, we discussed the first section of about 5 kilometres which involved walking along a busy main road out of Hondarribia and then through the industrial part of Irun and then over and under a couple of motorways before finally reaching the beginnings of the countryside. We decided that it was stupid to walk through an industrial area and negotiate our way over, around and under motorways. We didn't travel halfway around the world to do that. So we did what any intelligent tramper would do; we caught a taxi. The taxi driver knew exactly where we needed to go and took us just to the other side of the main motorway that comes down from France into Spain. He pointed up the forested hill to a small church and waved us goodbye as we shouldered our 20 kilo packs and started the first of many uphill grinds. As I started walking through the green and lush Basque countryside, suddenly everything seemed so right and I felt myself feeling like it was all going to be OK. It had stopped raining but the little streams beside the track were running with water. It sounded good.
It was pleasant walking at first and we stopped for an early lunch at San Anton, a bar / restaurant. We didn't buy a meal there though we bought a couple of beers each and sat outside in the garden and made sandwiches and discussed how civilised it was to drink beer while tramping.
Pushing on, the going got steeper and tougher. We alternated walking in open countryside and forest. At one point we were very close to, though out of sight of, a couple of hunters out shooting birds. We became a little nervous as they appeared to get closer and closer, and it sounded like they had shares in an ammunition factory by the way they were firing through rounds. Finally we could see the village of Vera way down in the valley but it appeared that we had to follow a ridge all the way around to the south before we could begin the climb down to the village. It was our first day and after 30 kms with the full weight of the pack the feet were very sore. We began the descent down to the village and that was when it became clear to all of us that the descents were always going to be harder than the climbs. By the time we got down to the level of the village our feet were burning, not from blisters but just the pressure of weight, and having to constantly push with your feet against the steep downhill slope to reduce your speed. We found a hotel, dropped our packs and without even bothering to go to our room we sat in the bar and I introduced my travelling companions to the wonders of cold Basque cider. It was a moment of bliss.