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2006 - 4
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The Basque region of Spain

It is with some trepidation that we arrive here in Spain or, more specifically, the Basque region of Spain, for we had heard tales from the French which put the Basques in a poor light.

Basque Flag
Basque Flag

So one thing we did do was to obtain a Basque courtesy flag and fly it in place of the Spanish flag. Whether this helped we'll never know but we did find Basques to be as friendly, open and honest as any other people we have met. Originally we thought our inability to speak Spanish would be held against us but it soon became clear that the unusual Basque language, having no similarity with any other European language, had caused the Basques to learn other languages including English in order to communicate with the world at large. So we often found English speakers even in small town shops and bars.

It is interesting to note that language is not the only difference between the Basques and Europeans in general. On average they are about 1 inch taller and have a non typical blood grouping. It has even been said that they were the first settlers of Europe, maybe millions of years ago.

Hopefully, as you read this page of our travelogue, you will realise how wonderful both the country and people are.

Hondarribia (17th May, 0.5 miles from Hendaye in France.)

Old town from the marina

O ur first Spanish port.  As we arrived in the marina the guy from the office asked that we tie up securely, as this is  something we always do we thought it a strange request, until later.  We managed our visit to the office to register, because, in response to our extremely limited Spanish, the girl replied you are English and proceeded to speak in first class English; apparently she had spent some time in Exeter where she learnt the language.  As we walked back along the pontoons we where amazed at the amount and thickness of the lines each boat was tied up with, lines where fixed to the pontoon either by plastic covered chain or small car tyres and all lines had either rubber surge dampers or metal springs.

A little later in the evening we understood why, the swell crept into the harbour creating constant movement on the lines and fenders.   In the three days we where there, one of our fender socks wore through, and our fenders without socks were covered in black rubber which transferred from the pontoon edge.  During our stay the wind was only an F3 from SW so it must be grim in a big blow. Other than that its a pleasant place with good facilities.  


Street in the old town

We were pleasantly surprised by the town, very pretty and a well stocked albeit small supermarket.  The old walled town is superb, and unspoiled. It has very few shops and bars just wonderfully old and well maintained buildings with beautiful geranium filled balconies and window boxes.

We also caught the bus to Txingudi an out of town commercial area, where Barry bought a new bike computer, well it is his birthday this week.  We visited a huge supermarket and we were amazed at the vast array of different sausages and hams.  Prices appeared to be slightly less than France.  However, we were asked for ID when we  wanted to pay by credit card, we were never asked in France.

We anchored here last week.
We anchored here
last week.

We were due to leave Hondarribia on the 21st, however the wind had picked up and we are getting forecasts of  SW F8-9  with 5-8m swell and F10-11 in Biscay. So we decided to return across the estuary to Hendaye as the marina is more sheltered and not affected by the swell. The surfers were out in force and the swell was quite spectacular as we watch from the safety of the beach.

There were lots of breaking waves out at sea so we decided to cycle along the coast back towards St Jean de Luz. The bay we anchored in one week ago was  deserted and the waves were pounding and crashing over the sea wall into the spot where we had anchored. It was good cycling, only 10km each way but very hilly. We hope to move on to the anchorage at San Sebastian on Wed. 24th if the swell settles.

Looking across the entrance from Santa Clara.
Looking across the
entrance from
Santa Clara.
San Sebastian (24th May, 20 miles from Hendaye)

The westerly F3 was not the ideal wind but we were able to sail for a couple of hours, before the swell started to win by shaking the light wind from the main. The entrance to the bay was no problem passing between Mount Urgull, with its 135m statue, and Isla de Santa Clara. We anchored in 6.5m, just outside the local moorings. The view of the town and the extensive promenades was very pleasing.  We did get some protection from the swell, except at high water when the anchorage was a little lively.

We ventured to the island of Santa Clara, it was very small but had good views from the path, and had lots of seabirds nesting on the cliffs.  Landing the dinghy was tricky in the swell and Janet did the walk with one very wet shoe & sock.  We never did visit San Sebastian as we spent the rest of the day lazing on board; its nice occasionally to do nothing.

Zumaya (26th May, 14miles from San Sebastian)
Guetaria from the Pilgrims Way.
Guetaria from the
Pilgrims Way.
One of the many beetles we saw.
One of the many beetles
we saw on the walk.

Very light winds, sailing at 3knots, oh well its okay for fishing although not for sun fish and one passed very close to us.  Sailed for a couple of hours, but again swell was a problem in the light winds so we persevered until about a mile from the entrance, before turning on the engine.  Coastline interesting, lots of cliffs and mountains.  The entrance is between two very long training walls, very pleasant, surrounded by hills.

Janet had been looking forward to Zumaya as it was possible to walk on the pilgrims trail from here and we did just that.  We walked a section eastwards and found it very hilly but a mixed walk with superb views to seawards. At times passed through forests and vineyards.

There were at least 20 different types of butterfly and quite a few beetles, including this one.

At one stage we could look down to Guetaria a traditional fishing harbour.

On another day we walked west along the cliffs, here we got spectacular drops to a beach below which had some unusual rock formations.  Again the walk was very up and down and passed close to farms where, at one of them, we saw a local shepherd  and his dog walking a large flock of the local Latxa sheep, the ewes had all been sheared but the lambs were snowy white and very curly.  We saw lots of interesting flowers, some we had never seen before and some particularly beautiful  orchid like flowers which were very deep purple with a velvety texture.  The weather was very warm and sunny so a very enjoyable but thirst inducing walk. 

The town of Zumaya is also very pleasant, it is obviously a real town were people live rather than a holiday centre.  The streets are quite hilly and in the small local supermarket we noticed a large number, of shopping bags on wheels,  parked just inside the entrance, afterwards we noticed that all the  senior inhabitant used them to transport their shopping.  We as usual resorted to the rucksacks, don't feel we have quite got to the shopping trolley stage yet!  The town also has a couple of beaches, but one is  at the foot of the cliffs and sun bathers are warned of falling rocks!  Well worth a visit.

Bilbao (29th May, 60 miles from Zumaya)

Today we are going west, and where is the wind, in the west, right on the nose, so we tacked out to sea.  We were sailing well in a W F3 with occasional poor visibility in the rain showers. Tacked back in shore so as to catch a glimpse of the pleasant coastline, before next rain shower, then tacked back out to sea to make the headland.  And so it went on all day for about 9hours. We did however see a pilot whale but unfortunately the poor thing was dead. During the late afternoon the wind rose and we where making good speeds albeit, best course to windward.  The entrance at Bilbao was busy with commercial shipping but once inside it was just a case of motoring the 4 miles to the anchorage at Getxo.

Worlds first transporter bridge.
Worlds first transporter
bridge.
Guggenheim Museum.
Guggenheim Museum.
Oh Buoy!
Oh Buoy, oh Buoy!

  We found the anchorage between the new pricey marina and the pontoons of the "Real Club Maritimo del Abra - Real Sporting Club".  We spent 6 nights in the anchorage and one on the yacht club pontoons 50m from the anchorage.

The transporter bridge over the river Nervion is worth a visit, we paid 4 euros each to be transported 50 metres up by lift where we then walked on an enclosed walkway along the bridge to the other side.  The views were great, but Janet did not like being able to see the river below through the boards we were walking on.

We also took the very efficient, cheap and clean metro into the centre of Bilbao.  Very busy modern town, with a lovely old town area.  We walked along the river beside the Guggenheim museum and during the walk we saw a cycling race pass by and, from the huge entourage of vehicles and support crews, it must have been one of the Spanish classics .

Despite the other side of the harbour being a commercial area, where huge vessel come to collect coal and ferrous metals, and where cruise ships and P&O's Portsmouth ferry call three times a week, the anchorage is very pleasant and safe, and very secure due to its bottom of  thick black mud. 

However, beware buoying your anchor, as our friends on Morgan found when the local dinghy school used the buoy to tie up their dinghies!

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