Sunday, September 2, 2007

September 2nd Elizondo to Puerto de Urkiaga 18km

A 6am start and both Chris B and Chris J very hungover from the "rest" day. Everything was shrouded with fog. Upon leaving the town, the GR 11 led us immediately into a steep, hard, 3 hour climb; we had yet to find out that this would be the standard procedure for most of our mornings on the GR11. A real grind up through misty beech forest and farmland with the dull clonking sound of cowbells everywhere. Part way up we were greeted by an elderly gentleman who was walking down the path aided by a stout walking stick. Beret (or 'boina' as it is called around here) firmly in place on his head, he informed me cheerily that he had already walked up to the top this morning and did so every morning. They breed these Basques out of tough material. We finally climbed above the cloud at 800 metres above sea level and were greeted by a few local hunters who, after hearing that we had come all the way from New Zealand, invited us into the large cabin which was there base for hunting, though I suspect it was also a place to escape from their wives. Fitted out with a rustic kitchen, long wooden dining table and lounge area, as well as bunks, it was a snug haven in the mountains. Chimney ablaze, they gave us each a strong cup of coffee and then, after hearing that my wife is from Catalonia, they broke out a few bottles of ice-cold Catalan Cava. Champagne breakfast, just what the two hungover Chris's needed. We chatted with the local hunters for a while, getting a fair bit of local knowledge about what lay ahead, and then moved on, climbing steadily. Reached the French border at 1000 mtrs above sea level, weather perfect. Our highest point so far. Began the descent noting that the track markings had deteriorated and the track itself had disappeared but navigated our way down to Puerto de Urkiaga (800 mtrs above sea level) and camped for the first time. It wasn´t the most pleasant of places to camp but it was too late to push on. We then discovered that the fuel we had purchased in a hardware store in Hondarribia was not meths as we thought it was but kerosene. The cooker didn´t function with kero so it was a cold can of sardines for dinner. Nice...not.

Leaving Elizondo

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Climbing into the sun

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France frontier

Altitude 1000 mtrs for 1st time. We are exactly on the border of France and Spain as indicated by the large stone in front of us. Photo taken by helpful French tramper.

Giant slugs in Navarra

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¡Vaya babosa! The way through Navarra was littered with these giant slugs, some of them up to 150mm long!