Camino – Bilbao to Portugalete

So, today we learn that kids are wonderful wherever they are in the world and you can get the best food in the roughest of places.

Today we’re walking from Bilbao to Portugalete.

The weather is threatening rain so I move my wet gear outside of the bag for easy access and decide to don an old pair of shorts that really ought to be washed. Our first stop is at the Bilbao local police station about our friend’s lost wallet and we get very sympathetic, helpful and cheerful treatment from those on the front desk and the plainclothes person that takes the details; full marks Bilbao police you’re a credit to the town and our friend came out looking positive and more importantly, smiling. I contrast this with my own experience in Brazil when I had some camera equipment stolen and they were rather less helpful taking the attitude that it is just normal and why didn’t I take more care!

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Our little unit is a joy to be with, all experienced walkers with many miles under their belt. Dave Rider has walked all over the UK with his wife Karen and Dave Bowman has walked with his wife Chris in the UK but also trekked in Nepal where he’s been to the base camp of something big and the Pilgrim has been on the Camino before; in fact, three times before so she’s keeping us right.

The route today is not like the wonderful walks in North Yorkshire being a transit walk from two industrial towns with a port and our expectations once out of Bilbao are that it’ll be either industrial estate or docks for several kilometres until we reach a site to which I’m really looking forward; one of the few transporters bridges that are still operational in the world.

We pass the Guggenheim and head to the new footbridge and like all of the constructs in Bilbao it’s thoughtful, highly functional and very easy on the eye. We like it and use it for several photos including some of the Guggenheim itself which looks good from this angle.

So this walk is as expected but with two wonderful incidents.

Number one is when we’re passing a school and it’s playtime for the kids. The school is The Intxixus Ikastola (first word pronounced ‘Eenchichus’ and the other as spelt) and it is a Basque school set up to preserve Basque culture. The name is derived from a mythological character that appears mainly in the forests of Oiartzun (Oeeaarthun) and means little elves, naughty, hardworking and magical. What a base to build a culture for a school.

It opened in 1977 with just a couple of classrooms and the expectation was that the children would indeed be small, a little bit naughty, hardworking and somehow magical. Well, this is what we found…

They’re about eight to eleven so I guess it’s junior level and playing all of the things that English kids play very nearly segregated by gender, football for the boys with a smattering of girls and dancing for the girls with a smattering of boys. As we pass we’re being called by a group of boys and girls clinging to the edge of the fence. “Hey, señor Eeengleesh, the ball, the ball. Hey senora Eeengleesh, can you get the ball?”

How they know we’re English is a mystery but it happens regularly.

Anyway, we look around when Dave spots it under a car and after a certain amount of prodding and sweeping with our walking sticks we manage to extract it and the Pilgrim throws it over the wire fence like a basketball pro.

They’re delighted and offer many thanks all delivered yet again in good English but with Spanish elongated vowels and follow it with a wave and “Buen Camino”. We turn, smile and wave back and see them return to their game. It’s a wonderful sight to see kids at play.

The teachers and head should be proud of them for impeccable manners and great English. It sets us up for the day.

We return to the walk and it begins to rain; firstly in short bursts then in a steady fine drizzle, the sort that can drench in just a few minutes so we cover our bags with the wet weather overlays and don our wet weather trousers and jackets. It’s really rather pleasant walking in warm rain when you have appropriate clothing and especially when the company is good.

In the next thirty minutes, the drizzle becomes a torrent and someone spots a cafe/restaurant that looks promising for a perigrino meal. This place looks like it doubles as a works canteen but the tables are all covered with linen tablecloths and set with knives and forks with napkins and even some centre table decoration, this is indeed a nice place.

We find a table near the door so that we can leave our rucksacks in the porch, we don’t have to, they’re more than happy for us to take them in but it seems appropriate. We order leak and potato soup and paella with a bottle of wine and several bottles of water with a basket full of the most divine sourdough ciabatta bread and whilst we make every effort to see it all off it defeats us by virtue of sheer quantity. The lady that serves us speaks excellent English, she worked in London and various other cities and intends doing the Coast to Coast across England when she’s got time. She knows the Camino and takes every opportunity to advise and guide us.

We eat our fill and ask for la Cuenta (the bill) and it comes to the princely sum of twenty-seven euros, we check it in disbelief but it is correct, this has just fed four adults with first-rate food, several bottles of water, fruit to take away and a full bottle of excellent wine (we won’t say who drank it!) – what a place!

As we leave we see more workers from the docks in their slick and clean high quality, monogrammed overall-come-uniforms. They enter the cafe for their lunch at the tables set out with the same degree of love and attention as any high-quality evening restaurant – it’s testament to “look after your staff and they’ll look after your business”, I don’t think any of them took more than 50 minutes for their lunch break but enjoyed every second in socialising.

As we approach Portugalete we see the Transporter Bridge and immediately become proud of our own. It’s a wonderful sight although the paint could do with a touch-up, the cost is 40 cents apiece and we enjoy the crossing.

In Portugalete our albergue is a little higher in the town than we would have liked after many miles walking but then we discover moving pavements that were projected as commonplace by the Blue Peter crew when I was a kid. We indulge ourselves and find the albergue with space for us – result!

Twenty minutes into the stay and Martin, the guy that runs the albergue is in discussion with the Pilgrim about the Transporter, it lasts for several minutes and is quite animated with each asserting their points of view as to why theirs/ours is the best and is terminated with the following two profound remarks:-

“Ours the best in the world”, says he.
“Well ours is blue!”, says she….

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

If you think others would enjoy the pictures, walks and anecdotes please feel free to “share” using the links. Thanks.

This is life after an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm open repair. Don’t be afraid of the operation, it set me free. Please be encouraged and inspired to walk, it’s liberating…G..x

Here’s the next article:

Camino – Portugalete to Castro Urdiales

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