Be in Arantzazu, Gipuzkoa


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After the recovery from the 9-days of nonstop parties of Bilbao, I needed a break. I had an itch to get out and go for an adventure, although I was on a very tight budget. For most of the summer, I survived only on my paychecks from DaDa. DaDa pays on the 15th of the month, and I had recently paid my monthly bills. It also happened to be Labor Day Weekend in the States.

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My friend Holly had a similar feeling. Since we are both English teachers, summers can be rough, especially August in Spain. During August, everyone takes a vacation, and English summer camps finish. So we decided hiking and being in nature would be a perfect getaway. Since we were both on a budget, we also had to choose where to go wisely. Driving in Spain/Basque Country, you can expect to pay a lot of and expensive tolls.   

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Here it is rare to do something alone or with just one other person. It is almost always in a group. So with some of Holly's like-minded friends, we set off for a trail in Arantzazu, Gipuzkoa. Gipuzkoa is a province within the Autonomous Basque Country and roughly an hour from Bilbao, depending on where you go. While Bilbao(Biscay) has a deep culture driven from the sea, likewise Gipuzkoa's culture has roots from the mountain. 

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It was a beautiful drive with epic landscapes filled with lush green forests, as you can see by the photos above. While we got a slightly later start, the interior still had the morning mist and clouds. We almost thought we would be hiking in the rain; luckily, it burned off throughout the hike. 

I was immediately mesmerized by the panoramic views when we pulled into the tiny mountain town of Arantzazu. Then I looked up and saw the church's tower. As you can see, it has some fascinating architecture. 

Beside the church on the way to the start of the trail, people were setting up local food stalls. The air smelled like fresh cheese, pies and the morning dew.

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As always in the mountain, it's smart to start with too much on and slowly take off layers. The sun burned off the fog pretty early in the hike. We all took a break to change. I would later stay in my shorts, even in the chilly and robust wind when we were at the top of the mountain. 

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Since I was with locals, I took advantage of practicing my Spanish with my new friends Sandra, Alf, Alex, and Arantza. I also zoned out for most of the hike. I took it all in. I did a lot of thinking, what I've accomplished so far, what I still needed to achieve, new goals, thoughts on being single for a year. The mountains are and will always be my favorite place to think. Although I live close to the beach, so I've gone sun tanning before winter many times.


After climbing for a while uphill, we came to the first peak. Here we saw a herd of sheep along a cliffside. Further up, there was even a bar and restaurant with picnic tables. I couldn't help to think "classic Basque Country." Only in here would you find a bar and restaurant in the middle of nowhere on a hike.

Here is also where the trail became a fork. We could have gone straight toward some very tall mountains, but if we went that way, we would have been home at nighttime. It was also a much difficult path.

We went the other direction toward some shorter mountains. 

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When we reached the next peak, we decided it would be a perfect time and place to eat. To be practical, we all pre-made sandwiches. At the summit, we all signed an index card with the time and date and left it in a special box at the top. It was like a mailbox for hikers that looked like a rocket. I looked out the vast green valley. There were interesting crater-like circles below and inside you could tell there was a different kind of tree. I took many pictures. Along the opposite ridge, there were wind turbines. The wind up here was powerful. 

For some reason, I have enjoyed putting my body through the discomfort. Whether it's paddling for my life in the ocean,I got caught in the current and came pretty close to the rocks while surfing. Or choosing to be cold in the wind, it's been an explorative time in my life. David Goggins says it perfectly, "to grow you must suffer," I have kinda adopted this mentality in my adventure. The wind was reasonably strong, but I knew I wouldn't die from being a little cold. I was shivering, but I battled through the wind. There is a bunch of scientific evidence for cold therapy from sore muscles to depression. It didn't bother me much. The others in the group, probably thought I was slightly crazy. 


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When we started the decline after lunch, we came across these beautiful horses. I kind went into full photographer mode, and think I captured some of my favorite photos to date. The breed, like many things here, is 100% Basque. The brown and yellow ones are the Basque Mountain Horses and the black horses are called Pottok. Over the years, the breeders have been able to preserve the horse's original bloodline. In fact, they are one of the most genetically distinct horse breeds around the world. Molded from the centuries of living in the mountain conditions, these horses are like the cross-fitters and strongman of horses. According to pottoka.info, you can see them on cave drawings of the Esakin and Santimañe caves and have inhabited the basque mountain region since the Palaeolithic age. I also learned in my culture class when I studied abroad in Bilbao that these cave paintings are evidence that the Basque people could be the indigenous people of all of Europe. I hope my adventures take me to these caves to see them up close.


We then came across another impressive ridge line and around the bend there was huge horse blocking the path.


After the horse blocked the path we ran into some cows blocking the trail. It reminded me of the cows on Mission Peak. They, too, allowed me to take some pretty fun pictures. We saw some unusual looking trees with long scratches along the trunk. The group was convinced they were from a lighting strike, but I was convinced they were from a wild boar. There were also some more of the basque horses.



 As we made our way down the steep decline, we passed a few houses with groups of families having what looked like a birthday party. It was a pecurial sight. In the middle of nowhere in the mountain, people were having a party. I though to myself, "how peaceful it would be to live in a place like this, but I bet they have frigid and snowy winters."

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Along the entire path we saw these purple wild flowers that appear when winter is coming. We also collected some wild mushrooms.


When we got down the mountain, I did my part by helping out the local food stall and bought a chocolate muffin. Hiking gives you a sweet tooth. After hiking the crew and I went to a local bar down the hill from the main town for a post-hike beer. There is just something about hiking and drinking a beer at the end, its super refreshing. We determined that we all should go on another hike the next week. 

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