Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Day 5. September 18, 2015. Markina Xemein to Gernika. 25 kms

But look, the morn in russet mantle clad
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill

On this very pleasant day, I witnessed some curious phenomena and encountered some interesting people. It was rather gloomy as I left the alberge, but soon the sun tinged the distant clouds, and a little later I was walking in full sunlight.

After leaving town, I followed a gentle path along a brook for about five kilometres, and then took a soggy track up into the hills towards the ubiquitous wind turbines.  After the recent rains it was slippery, even slooshy, as a Lancashire friend used to say, and I splashed confidently through the puddles in my leather boots while another pilgrim tried to negotiate the mud in his light hiking shoes. Up to the top, and then down a slippery gully, worn bare by torrents of water and many boots, into the valley where I reached the next village, and continued on into Gernika along lanes lined with apple trees and walnuts and the occasional fig, all  bearing fruit which I sampled from time to time.

As I turned a corner, I came upon what seemed to be a field of brambles with huge vines leaping over one other in an effort to conquer more ground. What a shame, I thought, for the farmer to have given up good land so easily. Then I noticed the kiwi fruit. So that was how they grew. I had never seen them before.

And then I came upon the largest zucchini I have ever seen, which dwarfed my size ten Scarpa leather boot.

I scarpered on and came to a field of corn, the individual plants earning their keep as bean poles. Was the maize for the cattle and the beans for the humans? Or vice versa? How was it harvested? Upon reflection, I decided it was all cattle fodder. What a meal! Beans and corn. Happy cows indeed! And much gas.

And then I admired a very effective way of stacking wood.

I met some interesting people along the way: among them an Irish banker and his French partner who had just quit her job in finance and was walking the Camino while she thought about a more satisfying career; a Quebecker who played "Amazing Grace" and O Susanna" on his mouth organ at the pub, as part of a fund-raising venture which brought in contributions for every tune he played on the Camino; and a young New Zealander, who had left the main stream with the perfect excuse, a collapsed bridge which had cut off his access to school after the earthquake in Christ Church, and was now living a hippy and happy life along the Camino and around the world. I arrived at Gernika at the same time as as a former soldier of the Spanish Royal Guard and a retired postman who lived only a couple of blocks away from me in my home town, and finding the hostel full we decided to look around for a room together, whereupon the Spaniard, who had volunteered as a hospitalier in Markina and made many contacts, negotiated free rooms for us at a pension, provided we ate at the associated restaurant.

I visited the legislative building next to the famous oak tree around which the Basque people had assembled for a thousand years or more. Miraculously it had survived the bombardment, but was now in its third incarnation, each derived from a slip of its predecessor. Vaguely familiar with the story of Gernika, I continued on to the museum to find out more. Franco had always denied that his government had collaborated in the bombing, claiming that the Communists had burned the town. This had been definitively refuted by foreign journalists at the time, but according to the museum, the Germans only admitted their role in the bombing in the bombing in 1989, and the Spanish military denies their part to this day. Now the town is modern, spacious and alive, in sharp contrast to the death and destruction shown in the photos taken after the bombardment.

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