As we hiked it became evident that the cow bell was the sound of the pasturelands up here. All the farm animals including cows, horses, donkeys, goats and sheep have cowbells around their necks and whilst walking in a herd it sounds like a cowbell orchestra.
We made it into Markina town for breakfast and met "peregrines" from England who were fun to chat with and had previously hiked two other Caminos as well as Hannah from Germany, a young woman hiking solo. It is a bit of a struggle being a vegetarian in Basque Country as almost every dish has meat in it except for "pan patata tortilla" which is a fried potatoe and corn slice stuffed between two slices of white bread. Nevertheless, It tastes delicious.
Making our way through the town we came across an unusual park with really weird exercise contraptions. Like a chair with pedals in front of it that had no resistance and a wheel that you turn to do arm circles with, once again without resistance.
Lots of paved walking today interspersed with trail hiking. Loads of ups and downs, usually ups as the Camino takes you past huge churches and monasteries many of which are strangely abandoned and locked up and most of which are on top of steep hills.
It was quite a social hiking day as we met couples from England and Sweden.
Late in the afternoon we arrived in Gernika, a town that was almost obliterated by bombing in 1940. Apparently Franco, ruler of Spain allowed Hitler to use Gernika as a bombing target practice. Most of the buildings were destroyed and many residents were killed. After this terrible sequence of events, the city was eventually rebuilt and 76 years later I am standing here marveling at how humans bounce back. Hearing this history gave me my message for the day: whatever appears to be destroyed can always be rebuilt because of the incredible strength of the human spirit.
Onwards and upwards out of Gernika we hiked in the early evening trying to make it to a monastery located about 6-7 km away.
Our legs felt weak and our feet ached but the thought of sanctuary for the night kept us going. When we arrived there we found yet another abandoned and boarded up church with an overgrown yard.
Exhaustion and hunger helped make the decision to camp in the grounds of the abandoned church. After a tasty meal of Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai and some fresh bread and cheese we settled down to another night of camping the Camino, which I might add is not for the faint of heart. There are very few suitable camping spots and we have been very lucky so far! Most of the land is privately owned.
Discussions about "best gear in our pack today" have led to differing items depending on what we experienced on each day. These items have included a tent on day 2; the sawyer water filter on day 3 which allowed us to collect and drink water from a pipe spring and thereby camp, or else we would have had to make it into a town and electronic recharging packs on day 4 which has kept our phones charged without having to sit in a town and waste time waiting for our phones to be recharged from a wall plug. The knife Josh bought at the Decathlon store in Paris enroute has proved invaluable.
The camp was struck at 07:30 am after a restless night for me. I woke up at 03:00am and was a bit spooked by our surroundings but fortunately eventually went back to sleep for another hour and a half. We're planning on sleeping at an albergue or pension
tonight so that we can shower and do laundry. We've kept remarkable clean by doing sponge baths in the tent with wet wipes, but I would like to wash my hair.
After a breakfast of bread and cheese, we're out of here in the crisp, moist morning air after Josh is done with threading the blisters on his feet to collapse them. Fortunately we have a first aid kit with needle, thread, alcohol wipes and iodine which will hopefully prevent infection from these nasty little nuisances.
We hiked with a pair of Austrians all the way into the big bustling city of Bilbao. In the Oldtown section of the city called Casco Viejo we found a lovely room in a Pension in an old art deco building.
I could not leave Bilbao without going to the Guggenheim Museum and to our good fortune it was a free entrance today, so after dropping off our backpacks we hot hoofed it across this exquisite grand Basque city and did a walkabout through the exhibits.
There was a disappointing Andy Warhol exhibition and an extremely dark psychological exhibit called "The Universe of Eloise Bourgeois".
It was a treat to see the sculpture "Puppy" in person and wonderful to stroll back along the river to get to our favorite European store, the mega sports "Decathlon" to buy a few sports bars and resupplies.
I'm sitting at a laundromat typing out this story on my phone.
Tomorrow we leave Bilbao towards Portugalete. It looks like a long city street walk but that could be fun too.
My lesson today was political and historical and the Basque people's liberation and self determination movement is very strong:
Adios for now and see you later along the Camino.